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Scaled-back newspapers leave older readers behind

Gigi Douban Aug 20, 2012

Scaled-back newspapers leave older readers behind

Gigi Douban Aug 20, 2012

Tess Vigeland: The newspaper world is still grappling with enormous changes to its industry prompted by the Internet. Most recently, several papers including the New Orleans Times-Picayune and three in Alabama announced they would cut circulation to fewer than seven days a week and shift their focus to online news delivery.

But there are plenty of people out there who don’t want to get their news online. Folks like Susan Leara, a 40-year subscriber to The Birmingham News.

Susan Leara: I was in shock. I really and truly thought, “Whoever made this decision has really and truly lost their mind.”

So what becomes of those who prefer print to pixels? Gigi Douban reports from Birmingham.

Gigi Douban: Call them casualties. When a newspaper goes digital and prints less, hardcore readers clinging to their daily papers are fresh out of luck.

Hunter George: That’s the tough part, and those are the people who are writing the letters to the editor that are appearing every week in the newspaper.

That’s Hunter George, retired executive editor of The Birmingham News.

George: They feel hurt, and they feel let down, and they’re going to miss seven days a week of the newspaper. But you know the world is changing.

So newspaper publishers are trying to change, too, shifting to digital platforms. Cutting back on print while not eliminating it entirely, George says, is a bold experiment. And it’s one that other newspaper publishers will watch closely.

George: If this works here in Alabama and New Orleans, you’re going to see newspaper companies all over America asking themselves whether they need to publish seven days a week. Four days a week? Maybe Sunday only?

When papers do scale back, they’re sure to keep the heaviest advertising days — Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. And if traditional newspaper readers aren’t thrilled, it’s not that big a deal, according to Robert Picard, editor of the Journal of Media Business Studies.

Robert Picard: Well some readers will probably be lost, but essentially most newspapers today have already lost those people that aren’t hardcore news readers.

The big question is whether a scaled back staff can cover Birmingham’s local scene the way it was covered before the cutbacks.

In Birmingham, I’m Gigi Douban for Marketplace.

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