Today, A Smaller 'NYT': Tomorrow, None at All?

By: Joe Strupp Readers: This morning marks the last issue of The New York Times in print. To keep up with escalating printing and distribution costs, as well as the diminished revenue in the newspaper business, the Times has gone to an all-web format. As our print circulation has been slipping for years and our Web audience has been soaring, it is clear that the Web-only approach is the wave of the future ...

OK, this was NOT the message to readers this morning when the new, smaller-by-an-inch-and-a-half, fewer-words-per-page, not-as-many-letters-on-the-editorial-page Times debuted. Still, the latest cutback in newsprint space is just another sign of what will eventually come to pass: no more print paper at all.

This, of course, is not a surprise. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. himself said not too long ago that, "I really don't know whether we'll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don't care either." He later pulled back on the time frame, saying the non-web edition remains an important part of the paper.

Still, it was a sign that Sulzberger, correctly, was looking to the Web. The Times shrinkage, as it were, is not new among major papers. The soon-to-be-Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal cut back its size months ago, and so have most other national papers.

Yes, the feel of a smaller Times was obvious when I picked up my copy at the foot of my driveway this morning, with more of an impact when I compared it to The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., also tossed in front of my home each day, and still at its regular size. The Times also chose to reduce the size for the first time on a Monday in August, already a thinner paper.

Although Page One had the usual great mix of color photos and broad range of stories, the typeface, pictures, and headlines were smaller.

As each major daily cuts back in size, space, or expands on the Web, which the Times has been doing steadily for years with more blogs, online video and audio, and expanded posting of background information and poll data, the relevance of the print product has somewhat diminished.

But when it comes to the Times, the impact of the change has to have more, well, impact. Many still consider this the best paper in the nation, and among the most influential ? not to mention the most criticized by those who claim to find bias in its pages. It is still the measure by which a story?s relevance is judged and editorial influence considered.

The Times got similar scrutiny when it started to discuss advertising on section fronts and, of course, charging for access to columns online ? a move that has brought some 200,000 Web-only subscribers paying for that privilege. This may or may not prove to be just as controversial. But in the meantime, it is a sign of the future -- and likely a smart move as the Times, like every other newspaper, deals with cost increases and revenue challenges.

The paper sought to be straight with readers, if not gentle, noting on Page One that ?the move cuts newsprint expenses and, in some printing press locations, makes special configurations unnecessary.? Then it makes clear the paper will have ?somewhat fewer words per page.? Translated, that means less news, perhaps. On the editorial page, a longer note reveals fewer letters will be published, but stresses that more will be on the Web. ?Please have a look,? it begs.

The truth is, a smaller print paper does not have the stark impact on coverage that it would have 10 or 15 years ago, simply because the limitless Web will carry all the news, and more, from the newsprint edition.

It may eventually mean something if the print version is drastically reduced, or, more likely, some day eliminated. Newspaper collectors like me, who have kept famed headlines about Nixon?s resignation, the Sept. 11 attacks, or the Kennedy assassination may eventually feel the effects. What will we do in the future? Print out the Web page? Not the same, folks.

And the same complaints that have been mentioned before continue about losing the relaxation and intimacy of reading a print paper by yourself on the train, bus, or even on the beach on a Sunday summer afternoon. Yes, I know hand-held Webby devices make it just as easy to read the newspaper, but not nearly as fun. Having a paper in your hand makes it feel more like a one-to-one experience.

In the end, this will be yet another change that readers will accept and get used to. Of course, in one irony, it will give new meaning to the Times classic slogan, offering just a bit less room for ?All The News That Fits."


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