First North American Berliner Debuts in Lafayette, Indiana

By: E&P Staff and AP

The Journal and Courier of Lafayette, Ind., looked different to its readers Monday — smaller, and the size of no newspaper they had seen before.

The state’s second-oldest newspaper became North America?s first to publish in the more compact Berliner format when it rolled off the press late Sunday night.

At 18.5 inches long by 12 inches wide, Lafayette’s Berliner is smaller than the broadsheet common to U.S. dailies. The Journal and Courier previously was 22.5 inches by 13.5 inches.

But the Berliner is larger than a typical tabloid newspaper of 13.5 inches by 11.25 inches. It allows an edition to be packaged in familiar, physically separate newspaper sections.

The Berliner format, named after a newspaper designer, has been growing in popularity in Europe in recent years. It is not used by any newspapers in the German capital but is used by Britain’s Guardian newspaper and France’s Le Monde.

It was time for a U.S. newspaper to try the new format, said Barbara Henry, senior president of the Interstate Group of Gannett Co., parent of the Journal and Courier. “I think we’re slow to change in this business,” she said.

The format conversion was announced early last year by executives from the newspaper, Gannett and press maker MAN Roland at the annual Nexpo newspaper trade show and conference. There, a prototype printed a similar press in Austria was displayed.

The new J&C, as the newspaper of 36,000 daily circulation is known in this city 50 miles northwest of Indianapolis, is produced at a new, $24.1 million offset printing plant that Gannett fitted specifically for the Berliner. Besides making the paper smaller, the new presses will add more color pages — up to 48 a day. The previous plant could print fewer than 20 pages in color.

The J&C’s MAN Geoman press consists of three full-color towers, four inline end-mounted reelstands, five formers (two pairs and a commercial former for webs up to 35 inches wide), jaw folder with quarterfolding capability, and a stitcher.

Gannett chose Lafayette for the Berliner because the paper needed to replace its mid-1960s letterpress operation anyway, said Gary Suisman, the newspaper’s president and publisher.

When the conversion was announced last year, Mark S. Mikolajczyk, then Gannett?s senior vice president of operations (and now publisher of its Florida Today, in Melbourne), called Lafayette “a prototype site” to serve as a test bed for the Berliner format.

The project began two years ago with a focus group of residents who examined a prototype of the size.

“They were overwhelmingly positive,” Suisman said. They liked that it was easy to handle while reading it in breakfast nooks and such places. One man considered the Berliner such an obvious reader-friendly format that he asked “What took you so long to figure this out?”

The new format was popular among young people, especially women, Suisman said. That was encouraging, since West Lafayette is home to Purdue University, where thousands of students are potential new readers. Older readers also liked the format.

Advertisers reacted favorably, too, Suisman said. Instead of selling ads in the traditional measurement of inches, ads in the Berliner will be sold based on the percentage of space they fill on a page.

The J&C’s new look got a warm reception by city Fire Department Sgt. Greg Phillips, who read the paper as he relaxed with a co-worker at a picnic table in their fire station’s bay.

Both said they liked the use of color throughout the edition. As longtime readers of the paper, they said finding the parts they regularly read will take some time, but they expect the new format to be more convenient. “It’s definitely easier to handle,” Phillips said.

Newspapers across the country have been getting smaller in size as the cost of newsprint has increased steadily. Suisman estimated that the Berliner could reduce the paper’s newsprint costs by 10% to 15% the first year.

The smaller page means there will be more of them so that the amount of space devoted to news coverage stays about the same, said Executive Editor Julie Doll. Although the inaugural edition was 76 pages, most Monday morning editions will be 28-32 pages, compared with the previous format of 24 pages.

Still, she said writers will have to be more concise and provide more “quick hit” ways to tell stories to fit a smaller page.

“But that doesn’t mean we won’t do longer stories,” Doll said. A front-page report Monday about the quality of the nearby Wabash River continued to two full pages inside.

If the Berliner in Lafayette succeeds, other newspapers could follow, said John Kimball, senior vice president of marketing for the industry trade group Newspaper Association of America.

But switching to the Berliner would be a costly venture, primarily because of the new press equipment that would be required.

“It’s not an easy decision to make,” he said.

Henry said the Berliner format could be appealing to newspaper owners already looking for new equipment. “This will be in the mix,” she said.

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