Will Cincy Paper Find New Kentucky home?

By: Joe Strupp

When the joint operating agreement (JOA) between The Cincinnati Enquirer and The Cincinnati Post ends in three years, the Post may well live on ? but only in Kentucky. “We have reversed our emphasis,” said Mike Philipps, editor of both the Cincinnati Post and its Kentucky Post edition. “We used to have a smaller group [of staffers] in Kentucky and a larger group in Cincinnati, and we switched them.” Philipps declined to comment on the future of the Cincinnati paper, but said the reversal began several years ago and has gained steam with the JOA’s pending demise.

The Post, owned by E.W. Scripps, and the Enquirer, a Gannett property, entered into the JOA in 1977. They will part company when it expires on Dec. 31, 2007. Gannett, which owns 100 dailies, announced plans last March not to renew the JOA. (The agreement requires either side to give three years notice if it wants out.)

Both Posts are published under the JOA, but their combined daily circulation has plummeted from about 188,000 when the agreement was established to 36,990 during the six months ending September 2004, according to the most recent FAS-FAX. Most of the circulation for both Posts is in northern Kentucky. The Enquirer, meanwhile, holds a commanding daily circulation of 183,000.

Currently, Kentucky Post readers receive a copy of the Cincinnati Post with an additional A section bearing a “Kentucky Post” banner wrapped around, with local stories. Most bylines identify reporters as “Post” staff writers, which do not tie them to either edition. Sources at the paper say as few as four reporters are often on duty on the Cincinnati metro desk. “Everything I do, I weigh against how it will serve our Kentucky readers,” Philipps said.

Scripps officials have been reluctant to speculate on what may become of the Cincinnati Post, but Alan M. Horton, Scripps retiring vice president of newspapers, agreed that the paper’s efforts are mostly focused on Kentucky.

Another sign that Scripps has distanced itself from the Post is the growing convergence alliance between the Enquirer and Scripps’ Cincinnati television station, WCPO, an ABC affiliate. “They are partnering more with the Enquirer than the Post, ” Horton said.

Horton has said the Post could exist in another form, publishing less frequently, becoming a free paper, or partnering with someone else, but indicated no decisions had been made. He added, “The last thing you are going to get me to do is speculate about something in 2008.”

Rumors circulating during the past year include the possibility that Cox Newspapers, owner of the Dayton Daily News, could keep the Post going in some way. With its purchase of two suburban Cincinnati papers ? The Journal-News in Hamilton and the Middletown Journal ? in 2000, Cox has moved closer to the area. It also built a new $90 million printing plant south of Dayton in 1999. In other scenarios, Gannett could buy the Post and close it, merge it, or run it as an afternoon Enquirer. Both Gannett and Cox officials said no plans are in the works to become involved in the Post.

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