Journal changes won’t forsake the essentials

Layoffs, plant closings and other signs of economic distress are appearing regularly on the front page of the Daily Journal these days. Our regional economy is clearly experiencing troubled times.

Newspaper advertising generally reflects, and sometimes foreshadows, economic downturns. This newspaper isn’t immune, and our revenues are affected when businesses close shop or trim their advertising budgets. We in turn have to tighten our belts.

That’s the most basic explanation for some changes you’ve probably noticed in the Daily Journal recently.

Advertising pays most of the bills for a newspaper. It can run anywhere from 3-1 to 4-1 over revenues from subscriptions and single-copy sales.

The amount of advertising we have determines the size newspaper we can provide to our readers. That’s why the bigger the market, generally speaking, the larger the newspaper will be. The pool of advertising dollars papers can draw from makes the difference.

Since newsprint -the paper the Daily Journal is printed on every day – is our largest expense besides staff, we watch its use very carefully. When advertising revenues aren’t meeting expectations, the necessity arises to use less newsprint.

That shouldn’t mean we give you a newspaper of lesser quality. It should mean that we give you a newspaper that’s better planned, better edited and containing the essentials that you expect.

We want to give you a complete newspaper, one that provides an overview of all the news and sports of the day. But our core mission at the Daily Journal is to provide local, regional and state news, features and sports that you can’t get anywhere else. That’s the unique content we can offer in an age of 24-hour news channels and endless Internet sources of world and national news.

We haven’t cut back on the news that’s our specialty. We don’t intend to in the future.

We have, however, reduced the number of pages -or newshole, as we say in the business – devoted to national and international news. By moving our nation and world news from its own separate section to the front section with local news we have saved on newsprint, which helps us hold down costs to you as well as to us. The Daily Journal has had only one modest subscription rate increase in the last eight years, and it’s important to us to keep our cost to readers among the lowest in the nation for a seven-day newspaper of our size.

What this change means is that we have to be more diligent in selecting our nation and world news from our wire services to ensure that you get a summary of the top stories of the day.

We’ve done a few other things that, frankly, we’d rather have not, such as reducing the size of our weather package, eliminating some stock market summaries, and dropping the daily prime time TV logs. Earlier we reduced the weekly stand-alone tabloid Scene to a smaller section in the Thursday paper.

Each of these changes was made only after considerable discussion and, in some cases, subscriber surveys. While we know there are readers who valued some of the things we’ve cut back on or eliminated, we don’t think we’re without anything that a majority of our readers found essential in their daily paper.

And our tweaking hasn’t all been about cutting back. We redesigned our weekday editorial page to make room for an extra column every day and added an interactive online poll question related to the day’s editorial. We moved our staff-written columns from page 2A to the editorial page, giving us more space for local news in the front section.

Most important, unlike many daily newspapers our size and larger, we have maintained a news gathering, editing and production staff sufficient to cover the news we need to cover.

Any business needs to work smarter in tough times. A newspaper is no different.

If we use the opportunity to focus on what’s essential to our readers – and to commit more strongly than ever to that – we can come out of this economy and its effect on our business stronger than before.

Let us know what you value. That will help us stay on the right course.

Lloyd Gray is editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@djournal.com.