In the face of problems confronting the entire newspaper industry, the Eugene Register-Guard is spending $1.2 million to alter its press to print a smaller version of the paper beginning Monday.
“Readers need to understand that we’ve made this investment because we think we are going to be around for the long haul. We’re riding out the economy just like everybody else. We feel very comfortable that we will be around for a long time in the print version,” Production Director Janet Owen said.
The page width will shrink by 1 1/2 inches, to 11 inches, an evolving standard for many of the nation’s midsize and smaller newspapers.
Fewer columns across the sports statistics and classified pages is intended to make reading easier and allow for the use of easy-to-see pictures of for-sale items alongside the classified ads.
The changes will play to the newspapers strength: local news. “There will be a little more condensing of the wire news. Instead of a 30-inch story it may be a 20-inch story,” chief operating officer David Pero said.
“We live in a world now where information especially national and international news and sports is commoditized. You can get it just about anywhere. The local news you can’t. Our local reporting staff is our strength.”
He said the paper may go to one locally written editorial opinion per day at times to allow room for more letters to the editor.
The change to a narrower newspaper is a nationwide trend in the face of a steep decline in advertising revenue brought on by competition from Internet-based information sources and the recession.
Gannett Co. led the way toward the new 11-inch width beginning in August 2007 with its Visalia Times-Delta in California and moving on through the chain’s 80-plus newspapers across the country, including The Statesman Journal in Salem.
“The (narrower size) is less and less unusual all the time,” said Mark Fitzgerald, an editor for the Editor & Publisher trade magazine, which tracks the newspaper industry. “It wouldn’t surprise the heck out of me if that becomes a de facto standard.”
The Register-Guard shaved an inch off its sides in 2003, bringing the width to 12 1/2 inches. The new trim will bring the paper to the emerging new standard.
Newsprint is the paper’s largest expense after personnel.
Reducing page size provides newspapers with some insulation from newsprint price swings, Fitzgerald said.
It may be more than three years before the size cuts recover the costs involved.