Delegates in Fort Worth, Texas, for the Key Executives Mega-Conference find themselves in the midst of an experiment.
Not just because the publisher of the local Star-Telegram, McClatchy took itself into Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week, but because it is among the latest to test the concept of "digital Saturdays".
Titles in Myrtle Beach (SC), Bellingham (WA), Durham (NC) and State College (PA) were early adopters of the concept - expected to speed the transition from print to digital subscribers - with the Fort Worth paper, the Miami Herald and the Charlotte Observer following in late November.
Chief executive Craig Forman says there has already been an accelerated conversion in markets where implementation has occurred. The Fort Worth changeover coincided with news that third quarter circulation revenue had exceeded advertising revenue for the first time in the company's history, with digital-only subscriptions growing nearly 50 per cent from the same time last year.
"There's an emerging trend for publishers to replace print on certain days with a digital edition or enhanced web content," says Lucy Tozer, marketing director of PageSuite, which delivers the enabling technology for McClatchy. "Publishers are looking to cut costs but without having to compromise on the quality of their content by cutting newsroom staff."
McClatchy's approach is to load Friday and Sunday printed editions with content such as comics and puzzles, and only produce digital stories on a Saturday. Readers "would still get the same content, just in a different way".
In Portland, Maine, a similar approach is 'Masthead Maine', Monday print editions being discontinued across the Press Herald, Lewiston Sun Journal, Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal - seven editions per week, but one of them available digital-only. Chief executive Lisa DeSisto says the savings from 'digital-only Monday' - traditionally the weakest day of the week for print advertising - enable them to keep newsrooms at the size they are.
Tozer quotes US statistics which show more than 100 daily newspapers have cut the number of print editions they produce each week over the past 15 years, and the University of North Carolina's Center for Innovation and Sustainability which predicts a dramatic increase this year in the number of US daily newspapers that will be printing fewer than seven days a week.
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