DETROIT (AP) — Beset by falling revenue, Detroit’s newspapers announced Tuesday that they plan to offer only three days of home delivery and will push their online editions instead, making the city the largest in the nation to undergo such a makeover.
The Detroit Media Partnership, which runs the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, expects to cut about 9 percent of its work force but “hopefully” less, and there will be no job reductions in the newsrooms of either paper, said David Hunke, Free Press publisher and chief executive of the partnership.
“We’re here because we’re fighting for our survival,” Hunke said at a news conference. “We’re also here because we have an absolute resolve to not only save but rethink and rebuild two of the greatest newspapers in this country.”
Hunke described the moves as “a geometric leap forward.”
The calculation made by the Detroit papers reflects a decision facing newspapers across the country. With circulation dropping as readers increasingly get their news online, several publishers have tried ending delivery to costlier outlying areas and publishing on only some days of the week. By curtailing home delivery, the papers reduce printing, fuel and labor expenses.
The key question, though, is whether the cost savings from producing fewer print editions are worth the resulting loss of print advertising. What makes the decision difficult is that while print advertising is being clipped by the recession anyway, significant ad revenue online is not easy to come by either.
“Our decision to limit home delivery to three days a week reflects the reality that major newspaper markets are facing daunting economic challenges,” Hunke said in a statement. “Advertising in this economy is down and costs are up. We can’t live in the past.”
He added: “Today consumers are more empowered then ever before. … That means we have to change the way we deliver that news — not just in subtle ways, but in fundamental ways.”
The Detroit Media Partnership, which includes business and editorial operations for the newspapers, has 2,151 employees.
Ron Renaud, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 372, which represents delivery personnel, said after he and other union leaders met with Detroit newspaper officials that the executives “took a long hard look. They feel they need to do something to maintain two newspapers.” Renaud said he fears drivers and other members of his union “will be hardest hit.”
Beginning in March, the Free Press will be delivered on days that are among the busiest for advertising: Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, while the News will be delivered Thursdays and Fridays. The News does not have a Sunday paper.
Roughly 32-page editions of both newspapers will be sold at newsstands on other days and be available online. Both papers will maintain their free Web sites, freep.com and detnews.com.
Detroit would be the largest metro area to have its daily papers changed so thoroughly.
The Daily Tribune in Royal Oak, a Detroit suburb, recently cut its print edition to four days a week from six. In Arizona, the East Valley Tribune near Phoenix next year plans to have print editions on four days instead of seven. The afternoon newspaper in Madison, Wis., shifted to being an Internet publication this year, except for twice-weekly free print editions.
The Christian Science Monitor recently said it would become the first national newspaper to drop its daily print edition and focus on publishing online.
“I’m skeptical. This is a sea change. No one has done it on this scale in North America,” said Lou Mleczko, president of Local 22 of the Detroit Newspaper Guild, which represents 350 newsroom employees at the papers. Mleczko said not all readers will be able to change their habits and read the paper online.
The Free Press is the nation’s 20th-largest daily newspaper, with a weekday circulation of 298,243, double on Sunday. The News had circulation of 178,280 at the end of September. The News saw a 10 percent reduction in circulation over the past year, while the Free Press had a 6.8 percent drop.
The Free Press is owned by Gannett Co. and the News by MediaNews Group Inc., whose chief executive, William Dean Singleton, is chairman of the board at The Associated Press.
Mleczko said newspaper executives told union leaders “their current business model is unsustainable.”
“They say they’re losing money,” Mleczko said. “They didn’t say how much.”