Ventura Paper Latest to ‘Reinvent’ Itself — Admits Cost Cutting, Not ‘Better’ Paper, Is Aim

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By: E&P Staff

In the past two weeks, the newspaper industry has seen a wave of job cut announcements — and promises by numerous publishers and editors that their papers will soon “reinvent” themselves. The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and the Ventura Country Star in California are just two of the latest, with the PD’s big changes coming tomorrow.

Publisher Terry Egger of the Cleveland paper wrote in a letter to readers yesterday that some changes “are instantly recognizable as improvements that will bring you better content and convenience. Others are necessities that may take some getting used to.” The paper posted a two-page PDF on its Web site with shots of tear sheets and full descriptions of some of the deletions and revisions.

The Ventura’s paper’s editor Joe R. Howry wrote a lengthy note to readers in the Sunday paper in which he admitted that, unlike previous redesigns and big changes, the new ones will not be to make the paper “better” but are purely due to cutting costs. The changes include doing away with a daily Business section.

Here is his letter, also up at:

http://www.venturacountystar.com/news/2008/jun/29/the-star-reinvents-itself/
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The Star is changing ? again. Over the years, the newspaper has gone through many changes. From separate community newspapers with different names to a single countywide newspaper under the Ventura County Star banner, we have changed our appearance and we have worked hard to provide greater local focus. For the most part, the changes were all designed to make The Star a better newspaper; one that better served the needs of its readers.

The current economic downturn ? and whatever you call it, in the newspaper industry it’s a recession ? is forcing us to make changes for the sole purpose of cutting costs. Newspapers were struggling with declining revenues long before the economy turned sour; that only made the situation even more acute. The reasons for the decline have been well-documented and we are left with an industry that is going through a tremendous transition. In short, we are in the process of reinventing ourselves.

The Star is not failing, not even close. In fact, we are having great success in growing our audience. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which is the industry bible on circulation numbers, in the past six months The Star had the sixth-highest circulation gain in the country. Our online audience at VenturaCountyStar.com is growing as well, with an increase of more than a million page views over a year ago.

As positive as that is, it doesn’t change the fact that we need to do more belt tightening. We’re not trying to fool anybody with phony catchphrases like “new and improved” or “to better serve you.” Beginning Monday, we’re eliminating some things from the paper; it’s as simple as that. It was our decision to make these cuts. We weren’t ordered to do so by our corporate bosses, and we did so keeping in mind Publisher George Cogswell’s directive that we remain a vibrant, local newspaper.

Our decisions on what to cut were guided by one simple, overriding principle: We will not cut back on local news. That means we want to preserve our staff and the space we devote to local news. We will continue to aggressively enhance our local coverage with citizen/reader partnerships in each community. And we will remain a strong voice that encourages and facilitates public dialogue.

Almost all of the cuts involve information provided to us from either one of our wire services or one of the syndicates. Where we could create savings by moving information to different parts of the paper and incorporate that information in sections that made sense, we did so. What little local information we did eliminate was information that had narrow interest but was extremely labor intensive to produce, or was easily available elsewhere. We would be willing to continue providing this information but only with help from citizen/reader partners. We are establishing an Internet path in which our partners will be able to provide us with information directly.

The most noticeable cut will be the Business section as a stand-alone section. We are creating a two-page Business report in the daily A section that will cover all business news of the day, including local business news stories. Our local business lifestyle stories will be incorporated into a new section called “Day To Day.” This section will replace the Arts & Living section and will focus on how we live our lives. Our plan is to make this a well-rounded source of information that encompasses all facets of our lives. It will include the arts, business, relationships, health, food, entertainment, consumerism, advice and much more.

We are no longer going to have a separate Escapes travel section on Sundays. Travel news will move to two pages in the Sunday Day To Day section.

We’re planning major changes to the Monday paper as well. It will be four sections made up of the A section with national and world news; the B section, which will be a combination of local news and local features, including comics, puzzles, columns and TV listings; the C section, which will be Sports; and the D section, which will be classified.

These are the more significant changes we have planned, but there are many more, too many to be detailed in this column. The changes are scheduled to begin Monday. We will be running a series of stories and full-page ads that will list all of the changes we have planned. And, of course, we’ll encourage readers to tell us what they think. Our hope is that by working with readers we can minimize the pain any of the changes might cause and together build a stronger newspaper.

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