By: Mark Fitzgerald
After more than a century, the Westerly (R.I.) Sun switches sp.
AFTER 102 YEARS, the only Sunday afternoon paper left in America has moved to morning publication.
Giving away packets of sunflower seeds to promote the conversion, the Westerly (R.I.) Sun published its first Sunday morning edition April 2.
Despite its name, the Sun is an evening paper and will continue on the p.m. cycle for its editions Monday through Friday.
The paper does not publish on Saturdays.
The history of the Sun’s unique Sunday afternoon cycle neatly symbolizes the changes in U.S. newspaper journalism:
The paper began coming out on Sunday afternoons in 1893 because of the religious beliefs of its first publisher ? and in 1995 moved to Sunday morning publication as the result of a readership survey.
“Readers told us they preferred getting their Sunday paper in the morning,” said publisher William Sherman. “The market found that fit their lifestyle and preference better.”
And, like any newspaper in the ’90s, the Sun heavily promoted its Sunday conversion.
In addition to distributing the sunflower seed packets, the paper ran radio spots, put out rack cards, held communitywide promotions and published numerous house ads.
“Really, the whole works,” publisher Sherman said.
It was an effective promotion that boosted single copy sales from 1,560 copies the week before to 3,300 on April 2. According to the most recent Audit Bureau of Circulations report, the Sun has an average Sunday circulation of 11,895, and comparable daily circulation of 11,849.
When the Sun was founded more than a century ago, it eschewed Saturday publication and began its press run at 11 a.m. Sundays because of the religious beliefs of George H. Utter, the paper’s first publisher and a former Rhode Island governor and congressman.
Utter was a Seventh-Day Baptist and observed the Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunrise Sunday.
While Saturday afternoon publication was mostly just a quirky practice of the paper, it paid off big on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
The Sun was the only U.S. newspaper to report on the attack ? which came at 2:22 p.m. EST ? in its regular edition.
With Sunday morning publication, the press time has been moved back from 11 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. on Sundays.
There has also been a small turnover in the delivery force, to replace a few youth carriers who did not want to work the dawn hours, Sherman said.
“Still, 25% to 35% of our [delivery is by] adult motor route,” Sherman said. “Outside of Westerly, we have a fairly rural market.”
Sunday morning publication does not necessarily mean that the paper will have a Saturday edition, Sherman said.
“For any paper that is not in a seven-day publishing routine, there is always discussion about whether you should be publishing every day. That comes up from time to time. But, at this point, we are still fine-tuning Sunday,” Sherman said.
In an interview with the Associated Press, however, former co-publisher Charles Utter noted that the paper once almost ? almost ? put out a Saturday edition. The day was Sept. 7, 1901.
“President [William] McKinley was shot on a Friday night,” Utter told AP. “By that time, it was getting dark early, and the Sabbath begins Friday night at sundown. Well, the superintendent of the shop decided to get a Friday night extra out because the president was shot.
“My grandfather came by and found the doors open, and it infuriated him that this was going on during the Sabbath.
“He fired everyone in the building ? just outright fired them,” Utter recalled. “Of course, the next day he hired them back because he had a paper to get out.”