‘Charlotte Observer’ Cuts Pages, Not People, In Latest Savings Initiative

By: Miki Johnson

When Charlotte Observer Editor Rick Thames explained cutbacks at the paper recently, he established a dichotomy between print and people. Together they constitute the bulk of newspaper expenses, but the Observer has decided to decrease the former rather than the latter.

The paper, beginning Sunday, Jan. 15, will consolidate or cut several sections in order to shrink its 500 weekly print pages by about 20.

?Given a choice of where to reduce costs, I?m going to do my best to keep the great staff that we have,? Thames said, citing myriad studies that show readers are interested in ?smartly crafted? newspapers, not thicker ones. Thames says the page reduction should save the paper about $1 million over the course of the year.

Sunday will thin down because it is the thickest edition, but Thames believes readers will spend more time with the slimmer, improved edition. Monday, which is ?already the most hurried day of the week,? also will shrink and will include more summaries, lists, and guides to help readers ?get in gear? for the coming week.

To help combat confusion, the Observer ran a full-page illustration explaining where sections would be moving and how new sections would serve readers? needs. The illustration is now available online, along with a Q&A with Thames, which, among other things, has turned up suggestions that the paper switch to tabloid format and make its Web site more user-friendly.

Although the timing of these cut backs seem to coincide with recent news that the paper?s parent company, Knight Ridder, has the potential to switch hands soon, Thames said the paper had already begun their budget process when word of a sale started circulating. While he wouldn?t say how much these talks had influenced the budget handed down to the paper, he said every publicly owned publishing company now ?needs to signal to investors you can grow business.?

This need has often expressed itself in staff cuts, but Thames said the Observer has no plans to get rid of any positions, although several staffers may be reassigned in keeping with an ongoing re-emphasis on Web content.

?Online is really taking off,? Thames said, and now constitutes the paper?s fastest growing revenue stream. He mentioned that one day last week the site carried 40 new postings, while that number would have been closer to six or seven a few months ago.

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