Du­rango pa­per trims news­room in fo­cus on dig­i­tal

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Jesse Paul Jesse Paul: 303-954-1733, jpaul@den­ver­post.com or @JesseAPaul

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.”

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