By: Jennifer Saba
The Copley Press, owner of The San Diego Union-Tribune, has quietly launched a new free daily that will compete directly with the North County Times. Called Today’s Local News, it covers the area roughly 30 miles north of San Diego, and hit the market on Nov. 7.
Unlike many new start-up free papers that have a youth or commuter bent, Today’s Local News is more ambitious in its targeting. The paper is delivered to 75,000 homes Tuesday through Sunday in Carlsbad/Oceanside, San Marcos/Vista, and Escondido. It’s a 32-page broadsheet with an emphasis on local news, business, sports, and lifestyle.
“The idea is that we wanted something vibrant with personality that will jump off the driveway,” said Linda Hastings, publisher of Today’s Local News.
With a staff of 38 people, the new paper operates independently of the Union-Tribune as a wholly owned subsidiary, even outsourcing the printing. Hastings would not comment on how much money The Copley Press put behind the publication or how long it will continue to do so.
What Hasting did say however, was that it was a way for the company to grow its circulation.
Indeed, for the six-month period ending September 2004, the Union-Tribune’s daily circulation declined 3.7% and its Sunday circ dropped 2.9%. The North County Times however, experienced a slight increase in daily circ, up 0.9% and a gain in Sunday circ, up 2.4%.
Though Hastings said the two reasons behind the paper are to offer “tremendous local coverage in the area” and to provide a way for advertisers to expand their reach, the Times considers Today’s Local News a full-on assault.
“We see this as threat to our existence,” said Mark Henschen, circulation director for the Times, which has a daily circ of 93,051. “It’s directed at the heart of who we are and what we do. We don’t take that lightly.”
The Times manages to not only grow its circulation in a state that has seen declines across the board, but it also has the highest amount of quality circ (more than 50% paid) in the nation, according to Deutsche Bank.
“[Today’s Local News] is not charging, so we can’t fight on price,” Henschen said who added that the paper is galvanized by competition. “They’re not going to out-localize us either.”