Iowa City’s war zone

By: Joe Strupp

Cedar Rapids daily ventures into enemy territory

When you think of cities with great newspaper wars, which come to mind?
Denver? New York? Philadelphia?
How about Iowa City, Iowa?
In just the past few weeks, this municipality of 65,000 has found itself in the middle of a major newspaper battle, pitting a longtime local daily against the expanding efforts of its nearest out-of-town rival.
“We have an old-fashioned newspaper war going on here,” says John Soloski, director of journalism and mass communications at the Iowa City-based University of Iowa.
The battle lines were drawn last week when the Iowa City Press-Citizen, a 15,000-daily-circulation paper owned by Gannett Co. Inc., launched its first Sunday edition Aug. 29. The new Sunday paper is drawing further attention because it’s wrapped around the state edition of the Sunday Des Moines (Iowa) Register, another Gannett paper.
“It’s a tremendous bonus for our readers,” says Charles Wanninger, publisher of the 150-year-old Press-Citizen.
Just days before the new Sunday Press-Citizen hit newsstands, The Gazette of neighboring Cedar Rapids announced it will launch a new Iowa City edition under a remodeled Iowa City Gazette flag.
The new edition will draw heavily on The Gazette’s Iowa City bureau, which has been open since 1981 and will double in staff size, from six to 12 employees. The new edition is expected to hit newsstands Sept. 19.
“It’s a logical progression,” says Dale Larson, vice president for newspaper and magazine publishing for Gazette Communications, which owns the newspaper and several other media properties. “We are going to be modifying our whole approach to coverage.”
Larson says the 67,000-daily-circulation Gazette, which claims about 5,500 daily and about 10,500 Sunday readers in Iowa City, hopes to add more than 1,000 readers at the beginning of the new edition. He declines to say how much the paper plans to invest in the new venture.
Both The Gazette and the Press-Citizen say the expansion efforts are aimed at drawing readers and advertisers at a time when Iowa City, and surrounding Johnson County, have seen significant retail and population growth.
U.S. Census Bureau data say the county’s population has increased from about 80,000 in 1980 to an estimated 120,000 today. In addition, retail business ? spurred by last year’s opening of a new mall ? has boomed.
“There is money to be made here; the economy is very good,” says Soloski.
Bill Monroe, executive director of the Iowa Newspaper Association, agrees. “The competition between The Gazette and the Press-Citizen has been heating up over [recent] years,” Monroe says.
But the two daily papers are not the only sources of news for the Iowa City community. In addition to The Daily Iowan ? the campus newspaper distributed to all 21,000 University of Iowa students ? local residents also receive same-day editions of The Des Moines Register, the Davenport, Iowa, Quad-City Times, the Chicago Tribune, and The New York Times, according to Wanninger.
“The entire landscape for daily newspapers has changed in Iowa City,” says Wanninger, who notes he has not decided how he will counter the new Gazette edition and adds he believes readers will continue to turn to the local Press-Citizen for coverage. “I have not seen [the new Gazette edition] yet,” he says. “They have been here in the past, so this is not new, just an expansion.”
Gazette Communications remains one of the most locally dominant media companies in the country, with a daily newspaper, a tv station, a news radio station, two bimonthly magazines, a weekly farming publication, several free weekly publications, and a number of Web sites.
(Editor & Publisher [Caption]
(copyright: Editor & Publisher September 4, 1999) [Caption]

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