By: Lucia Moses
The faces of Dallas Morning News executives may have turned red when they learned the paper’s former president had been planning a free daily right under their noses for more than a year, with the launch date just two weeks away.
What to do? The Morning News spun around and rushed to get out its own free daily, and ended up getting a two-day jump on the competitor, A.M. Journal Express. Granted, it already had a prototype in place, having studied the very same concept more than a year ago.
“It was a surprise,” Morning News Publisher and CEO James M. Moroney III said of the free-daily war. “But it has been a great opportunity for the Dallas Morning News to demonstrate that it can move so quickly when it wants to.”
The freebies, which both came out last week, have much in common with each other as well as other quick-read papers that also are aimed at non-readers of traditional dailies. The Dallas versions are tabs filled mostly with wire news and are distributed by hawkers and in racks or boxes.
But the Morning News‘ product, Quick, is aimed at a younger cadre, with its magazine-like cover design and emphasis on sports and entertainment news. Inside Quick, which is labeled a “product” of the Morning News, readers also find features called “Gadgets” and “Get Ahead,” a career news page. Eventually, Quick will be distributed in black news boxes, “a cool color,” said Moroney.
Despite its tab format, Journal Express looks more like a broadsheet — heavy on serious news and gray. Many of the stories run short, but not all; one book review that appeared in Thursday’s edition ran a whopping 969 words.
Jeremy L. Halbreich, founder of Journal Express parent American Consolidated Media LLC, said his paper probably will favor shorter story lengths over time, although it will continue to emphasize hard news. But while Quick is aimed at 18- to 34-year-olds, the Journal Express defines its target audience as 18 to 55. Dallas has room for both, Halbreich said. “As long as they are not giving away advertising for free, as long as they are not operating under cost, or engaging in any illegal tie-ins or bundling arrangements with advertisers, we think the competition is great,” Halbreich said.
Quick, which had just two weeks to ramp up, did give away ads to current and non-Morning News advertisers, but will charge after the first week, Moroney said.
Journal Express lacks the big metro daily staff and advertiser base Quick has to draw from. It does, however, benefit by being the local affiliate of national job site CareerBuilder.com, which lost its Dallas presence after Morning News parent Belo dumped the network in July 2002. (Belo, saying it wanted a service that would emphasize its local newspaper brand, signed on with CareerSite.)
Dallas isn’t the first city to have dueling free dailies. But it’s not a commuter city, which makes this experiment different from and potentially more costly than that of other U.S. cities, which rely on walking and commuter traffic for distribution. To gain reader acceptance, the Dallas papers might have to spend more on distribution — undermining somewhat the low-cost business model on which freebies are based.
In other cities with quick-read dailies, the papers have shifted their reliance on transit-related distribution to hawkers, honor boxes, stores, office buildings, and universities. Philadelphia Metro, for example, distributes more than half of its copies by the latter methods.
While Moroney said Quick hopes to eventually scale back its use of hawkers, given the expense, Halbreich took a different stance: “Our plan is to keep hawkers out there. We think that’s an important part of the model.