Durango paper trims newsroom in focus on digital
The Durango Herald is laying off a big portion of its newsroom staff — possibly as much as a quarter or nearly a third — as the southwestern Colorado newspaper cuts its print edition to four days a week and works to focus more on its online product.
“We’re filling in the gaps that we need to continue serving our online audience,” said Doug Bennett, CEO of Ballantine Communications, which owns the Herald. “We don’t have a hiring freeze. We’re basically making trims to resources toward where we are seeing the large audience growth.”
Bennett declined to say how many staffers are being let go. But a newsroom source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, said six Herald staffers were losing their jobs after getting notice last week, as well as a seventh person at one of its sister papers, The Journal in Cortez and The Pine River Times in Bayfield.
The Herald’s website lists 19 reporters, editors, photographers and page designers as part of its news gathering and production side. There is also an editorial page editor and an editorial writer.
Bennett says the individual cuts were based on the journalists’ role in print.
“I know, for the most part, most of the changes were on the print portion,” he said. “Print is still a very important aspect to what we’re doing. The things that we cut out were the days that were least read and that the advertisers least supported. We’re trying to do it in a very logical fashion so we are not having a total negative impact to our print readers while we are trying to bolster our online.”
Starting in April, The Herald’s print newspaper will be published Monday, Wednesday, Friday and, in a “showcase” edition, Saturday. Sue McMillin, the paper’s interim senior editor/ city editor, says readers were notified March 1 of the change, which follows focus group studies.
“That’s part of a whole new look at how we are going to do business here,” she said this week. “Our online readership has grown tremendously here in the last few years, so we need to concentrate more on that. A lot of it’s a consolidation effort toward where we are going to put our resources.”
Newspapers across Colorado — and the nation — have been hit hard by staff reductions in the past several months as part of a years’ long trend of plummeting circulation and advertising sales as the industry looks toward its digital future. For the most part, however, smaller newspapers, until recently, have been a bit more protected from cuts because of their loyal print audiences and solid local advertising base.
The Pueblo Chieftain cut its newsroom staff and announced it would limit its print circulation area just after the new year. Newsroom positions have also been slashed in recent months at The Daily Camera in Boulder, The TimesCall in Longmont and The Coloradoan in Fort Collins.
“At the end of the day, the newspaper company has to respond to what its audience wants,” said Paul S. Voakes, chair of the journalism department at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “There’s no reason why this trend should abate. Americans are gravitating toward media sources that are available 24/7 online. Every single pocket in America is adapting to a faster rate to the digital era. It used to be that was just a medium of information for technical people or urban people, and now it is truly a national phenomenon.”
Voakes said there has been a growing national trend of smaller newspapers following their larger counterparts into the online news realm.
“The one sort of extrapolation that I don’t see is regional and local newspapers going out of business because they have a really important franchise that nobody else on the internet is really doing,” he said. “That is playing the role of the paper of record — the one reliable, professionally gathered information source for a community.”
The Denver Post, the state’s largest newspaper, has seen dramatic staffing cuts over the past decade as it has moved toward a digital focus. Last summer alone, more than 20 members of the newsroom either took buyouts or were laid off, including many veteran, award-winning journalists. The Post’s staffing reductions were the second in a two-year span.
The Durango Herald’s print circulation, McMillin said, is about 5,000 and the newspaper is coming off a stretch in which it won awards for its aggressive Gold King Mine spill coverage. Bennett said “a large percentage of our revenue is still derived from our print products, and I see that being the case for quite some time.”
By comparison, the revamped DurangoHerald.com has more than 300,000 users each month.
“Those numbers have gone up, and they’ve stayed up pretty well,” McMillin said. “We have readers coming back all day.”
McMillin said some readers are upset with the reduction in the Herald’s print product. “I think there’s disappointment,” she said. “People who are used to having their paper with a cup of coffee every morning are upset. But the reality is, in the industry in general, you can’t keep publishing something when readership goes down.”