New Baltimore Free ‘Examiner’ Launches Wednesday

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By: E&P Staff

With newspaper readership declining, it may seem a tough time to launch a new daily in a one-paper town. But Clarity Media Group Inc. is hoping disaffected readers still yearn to hold a paper in their hands ? as long as they can get through it quickly.

The Baltimore Examiner, a free tabloid from the media company owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, will hit newsstands and doorsteps in the city and five suburban counties starting Wednesday.

According to industry analysts, The Examiner is a more ambitious variant of the free tabloids that have popped up in the past decade in several cities, many of them targeting younger readers. But it follows a less tried-and-true model than papers like AM New York or Red Eye in Chicago. Instead of targeting commuters with distribution on mass transit systems ? Baltimore has little centralized transit ? it will be distributed largely through home delivery.

“Ten years ago, it was very rare that you would find anyone actually starting a newspaper from scratch,” said Miles Groves, president of Washington, D.C.-based MG Strategic Research. “All these free dailies show what many people didn’t believe ? that people still read.”

That is, as long as they can read in a hurry. The Examiner’s publisher hopes to reach people who feel they don’t have time to read The (Baltimore) Sun, Maryland’s largest newspaper.

“We’re eager to have our readers be able to read the newspaper in 18 to 19 minutes,” publisher Michael Phelps said. “My wife calls it ‘Newspapers Without Guilt.’ I can read the newspaper, get through this newspaper before it goes on the recycling stack.”

Launching a newspaper in the current environment is fraught with difficulty, said Randy Bennett, vice president of audience development with the Newspaper Association of America. Readers of traditional newspapers are getting older, and such standbys as classified ads and stock tables are being slashed because they are available free on the Web.

“As media proliferates, people have a variety of media choices, and competition for traditional media is pretty intense. Newspapers are seeing a slow, gradual decline in their readership. The question is, can a free newspaper without much of a brand enter the market?” Bennett said. “I think there are a lot of challenges for that sort of business model going forward.”

The Examiner will have an initial circulation of 250,000, with more than 230,000 delivered to homes. The remaining copies will be offered in newspaper boxes and by hawkers.

The paper’s potential readers have been carefully selected. Most of the recipients won’t ask for the Examiner to be delivered to their homes ? if they live in the right neighborhoods, they will receive it. The target demographic is one advertisers want to reach: 25-to-54-year-old adults in single-family homes, with children and a median household income of $73,000.

That distribution pattern, as well as its focus on serious news, indicates The Examiner is not as obsessed with the youth market as are some other tabloids.

“What they’re targeting are people that are still active in their careers,” Groves said.

An October 2005 study by Scarborough Research found that readers of free tabloids skewed slightly younger than readers of paid dailies. The average age of paid daily readers ranged from 46 to 49 in four markets (Boston, Chicago, Dallas and New York) that also had free tabloids, while the average age of free tabloid readers ranged from 36 in Dallas to 41 in Chicago, according to the study.

The Sun is taking the competition seriously. Timothy Thomas, The Sun’s vice president for marketing, acknowledged there was concern that the new paper would cut into The Sun’s advertising revenue.

“The Examiner is a good reminder that we have to continue to stay at the top of our game,” Thomas said.

The Examiner’s managers expect their readers to turn to cable television, the Internet and other outlets for national news, but they hope to exploit what they see as limited choices for local news. Media consultant John Morton of Silver Spring-based Morton Research Inc. said that approach would be attractive to some readers, but it was unclear how many.

“It is in some sense analogous to the kind of reader that is attracted to USA Today, who typically is a traveler, but with local news,” Morton said. “I suspect there is a percentage of people who would find that appealing.”

Clarity Media, a private company, does not release financial information, but Phelps and Jim Monaghan, a spokesman for Anschutz, said the performance of its existing San Francisco and Washington newspapers has bolstered their confidence in the Baltimore paper’s chances. Clarity Media has trademarked the name Examiner in more than 60 markets, Monaghan said, but there is no timetable for launching additional publications.

While the Examiner will have a “commonsensical centrist” editorial page, Phelps said that Anschutz, a Christian known for conservative politics, is not as interested in putting his personal stamp on the media landscape as he is in creating a successful business model.

“I have not been given any direction about what news I’m supposed to cover, and I don’t expect to be,” said Phelps, adding that Anschutz is “intensely interested in the newspaper business. He asks lots of good questions. He really believes we can create the Southwest Airlines of newspapers ? as do I.”

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