Detroit newspapers end home delivery

The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News are the first major U.S. papers to end their daily delivery service.

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By Brad Lendon

A publisher said paper, ink and fuel costs were forcing cuts in newsroom staff.
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News will become the first major metropolitan newspapers in the United States to end daily home delivery, the papers announced Tuesday.

"We're fighting for our survival," said David Hunke, publisher of the Free Press and CEO of the Detroit Media Partnership, a joint operating agreement between the two papers. "We think its time to take a geometric leap forward in what we've known as newspapers."

Beginning sometime in the first three months of 2009, the two newspapers will provide home delivery on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays only, Hunke said in a news conference in Detroit, Mich. Papers will be on newsstands every day, and the papers' online offerings will be expanded, he said.

"The dynamics of delivering information to audiences has changed forever due to technology," he said in a written statement on the plan.

Delivery costs force newsroom cuts

Costs for paper, ink and fuel to deliver papers were forcing cuts in newsroom talent that would damage their abilities to report the news, Hunke said. Paying for delivery vehicles to cover 300,000 miles nightly, he said, did not make economic sense at a time when 63% of readers have broadband Internet access.

He conceded that for those without computers and broadband access at home, "this isn't necessarily going to be the best news for them."

"Our economics have become unsustainable," said Jonathan Wolman, publisher and editor of The Detroit News.

"We've got to embrace reality, and we've got to embrace innovation," said Paul Anger, executive editor of the Free Press, owned by Gannett Corp., (GCI, Fortune 500) the country's largest newspaper publisher. The Free Press, the nation's 20th-largest daily paper, had a daily circulation of 298,243 and 605,000 on Sunday as of the end of September. Those numbers were down almost 7% and 4%, respectively, from the previous six months, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

The Detroit News, the country's 49th-largest newspaper, is owned by MediaNews Group and had a daily circulation of 178,280 in September. It does not publish a Sunday edition.

The Free Press' circulation is down 19% and the News is down 22% since 2002, the Free Press reported Tuesday.

Hunke said the newspapers will face about a 9% reduction in their workforces under the plan. However, no layoffs were planned for their newsrooms, which he described as "fiercely competitive."

The Detroit Media Partnership employs more than 2,100 people, CNN affiliate WDIV-TV reported.

Personnel cuts will be negotiated with the papers' unions, Hunke said.

"We believe it will break the cycle of buyouts and downsizing" that has become common in the newspaper industry, Wolman said.

A rough year for newspapers

Newspaper publishers have had a rough year. Across the industry, daily circulation dropped 4.6% in the six months ending in September.

Gannett has been in the process of cutting 10% of its workforce across its 85 newspapers nationwide. McClatchy Co., (MNI) the nation's second-largest newspaper company, has been pursuing cuts at its papers, including The Miami Herald. Tribune Co (TRBCQ)., which owns The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times, among others, announced earlier this month it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Arizona, a 100,000-circulation newspaper owned by Freedom Newspapers, announced in October it would move from a daily to a four-day publication beginning in January. The national Christian Science Monitor is moving its daily content online and dropping its daily print edition next year.

Anger said Tuesday that Detroit readers have been seeking those kinds of changes in how they get their news.

"Generations of readers are telling us they'd like information delivered in a different way," he said, promising "a fast-reading, provocative news report in print as well as online."

The Detroit papers will price their three-day home delivery subscriptions at $12 a month, including a daily edition delivered by e-mail, Hunke said.

Wolman said mail subscriptions would be available to home-bound readers. To top of page

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