Wave of Future? Why Paper Decided to Add Tab Edition

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By: Graham Webster

It all started over ketchup. Some editors at The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., were joking around last September about a New Yorker article that mentioned how misguided restaurants used to be when they only offered one condiment option. Then someone realized: The newspaper only gave readers one option.

“Whether you’re a loyal reader with plenty of time or an occasional reader who’s time starved, you’ve got to take the same package,” John Kirkpatrick, the Patriot-News’ president, publisher, and editor, said of the broadsheet-only model. Eight months later, the paper launched The Patriot, the first regular compact edition of an ongoing U.S. broadsheet, not counting the two “Red” youth dailies in Chicago. This one’s aimed at busy readers of any age who weren’t reading the broadsheet during the week.

So far, with no advertising, the new paper is selling about 1,900 copies a day. (The broadsheet’s weekday circulation was 102,710 in the last reporting period.) “We started it here without any promotion at all … and in a week or so we start full promotion so we expect that number to go up,” Kirkpatrick said. He said advertisers have gotten on board without much convincing, excited at the prospect of reaching added or new circulation.

Unlike some European papers that have inaugurated tabloid editions, the Patriot-News didn’t have a large mass-transit readership. But that didn’t mean a tab wouldn’t fit.

“We knew there were a lot of people who read us religiously on Sunday but don’t read us during the week,” Kirkpatrick told E&P Thursday, one week after the unannounced launch of the new tab. “The other thing that happened was, although we’ve done very well in our ABC reports, we don’t think we’re immune from the same forces striking everyone else.”

The paper, which currently has less than 1% non-NIE third-party sales, didn’t want to resort to third-party deals. Instead, it focused on growing full-paid circulation, even though their town is not a growth market.

By the end of 2004, the Patriot-News had decided to start a new edition, but not before lots of planning and logistical work.

Over about a dozen hours of focus groups, the paper refined prototypes, scrapping some ideas and emphasizing others.

Original prototypes, for instance, had a stylized “PN” for a flag. Readers in focus groups responded negatively, advising that the paper’s brand was strong, so the title became “The Patriot.”

Feature-heavy front pages and a roundup of bite-sized news and gossip on pages two and three also got the axe. “The younger they were the more hypersensitive they were to anything that made them look not smart,” Kirkpatrick said. Readers wanted hard news, but “no micronews,” he said, emphasizing the biggest, most substantive news of the day.

Also banished were stock listings and some comics, and the “Living” section only appears on Thursdays in the compact.

The Patriot’s news mix cuts some stories to fit without jumps (which brought negative responses in focus groups), and ends up with roughly half of the broadsheet’s news coverage. Sports, which is already a special tab in the main paper, is just re-placed for the Patriot edition. The classifieds, which remain a broadsheet, are tucked inside.

Readers also liked color, Kirkpatrick said, so the compact has color throughout, with pages even color-coded by content.

With the paper’s format in place, producing it was another challenge. The paper used to print four broadsheet editions every day. Now, three of those editions are collapsed into one, and the pressroom handles a statewide broadsheet edition — then the Patriot, then the final edition for Monday through Friday papers.

The focus groups said they liked the Sunday edition, so weekends have remained unchanged.

The staff has grown slightly to accommodate the new edition, adding two copy editors to retool the broadsheet’s coverage while shifting some other existing resources.

With Patriot-News staffers casually leaving copies of the Patriot around town when they go out to lunch, and about 400 retail locations for the tab, the paper has received about 60 e-mails in response, and the staff is listening. Some readers have asked for lottery results in the new edition, and that information will be added soon.

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