CASUALTY OF WAR IN TEXAS TURF BATTLE?

By: Lucia Moses

Arlington Morning News to Become a Zoned Edition


Four years after launching the Arlington Morning News and starting an intensive suburban newspaper fight with Knight Ridder’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Belo is scaling back its operation in Tarrant County, Texas, as part of an ongoing change in its suburban strategy.

The Arlington Morning News, which now publishes seven days a week, will become a Wednesday-through-Sunday section in The Dallas Morning News beginning April 4. The operation will move into a nearby building owned by Belo that has space available as a result of the new strategy.

Belo executives said that while there will be an undetermined number of staff reductions and fewer pages for Arlington news, the changes shouldn’t be taken as a sign that Belo is backing off its commitment to the area. In fact, they said, Arlington will remain Belo’s most powerful zoned edition.

“We’re still going to cover the hell out of Arlington and Grand Prairie and Mansfield,” Arlington Morning News Editor and Publisher Gary Jacobson said. “It’s still an important market that Dallas wants to grow in.”

Still, the development was viewed as a positive one by the rival Arlington Star-Telegram, whose Arlington edition was started 10 years ago and accounts for about one-fourth of its circulation.

“I think it’s definitely a pullback from what they’ve been doing,” said Gary Hardee, associate publisher for the Arlington Star-Telegram. As for his own strategy, he said, “I think we just keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

Arlington, located in southeastern Tarrant County, midway between Fort Worth and Dallas, has a population of 300,000 that’s well-educated and well-off, making it highly attractive to advertisers. When Belo moved in, the Arlington Star-Telegram nearly doubled its staff of 70.

Both papers say they’re thriving in Arlington, but the Arlington Star-Telegram leads in circulation, with a circulation of 50,000 weekdays, 70,000 Sundays, versus the Arlington Morning News’ circulation of 29,000 weekdays, 39,000 Sundays.

Belo started turning its suburban papers into zoned editions about a year ago with the goal of reducing costs and improving circulation and advertising revenue while keeping or adding bureaus in the suburbs. Reader surveys supported the consolidation decision, said Robert W. Mong Jr., president and general manager of The Dallas Morning News.

“Basically, what we’re creating is a zoned ring around Dallas, with a particular emphasis on the western wall,” Mong said.

Belo hopes to see a circulation boost in Arlington, as it has in other places that went to zoned editions, Mong said.

The Arlington Morning News started as a five-day daily and later went to seven days. With its return to a five-day schedule, Mong conceded that Belo didn’t get “the kind of economic bang from those two [extra] days that we hoped for.”

For Arlington Morning News-only subscribers, Mong said, the home delivery price for the future zoned edition will increase.



Lucia Moses (lmoses@editorandpublisher.com) is an associate editor covering business for E&P.



Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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