Some readers are angry, but change must come

August 12, 2007|By PAUL MOORE | PAUL MOORE,PUBLIC EDITOR

News organizations across the country are searching for new ways to generate revenue and avoid further cuts to staff and other resources vital to providing readers with a high-quality newspaper. In this intensely competitive media era, the choices for managers at The Sun and elsewhere can be tough. Methods designed to boost revenues may also disturb readers, some of whom dislike changes in the newspaper.

Two recent decisions by The Sun illustrate this trend. The newspaper has begun selling advertisements that run along the bottom of Page One (it began selling ads at the bottom of section fronts earlier this year). And The Sun has reorganized its Sunday edition.

The front-page and section-front ads, which appear periodically, are indeed providing increased revenue for the newspaper. But these ads also reduce the amount of space available for news, increasing the possibility that one fewer article might appear on the page.

Another concern is the potential for awkward juxtapositions of ads and news articles. And, if an ad's color and presentation is bold, the ad can be a distraction for readers. These are important concerns. So the advertising department is working hard to minimize disruption while editors have recently adjusted the Page One and section-front designs to maximize the space available for news.

Still, some readers expressed frustration.

Said J. Kopecht: "I am disappointed that The Sun is now using its front page for advertising. It interrupts the presentation flow of news and photos for me. It feels very strange to see an advertisement on this page."

From Jackie Watts: "My observation is that front page ads diminish the space available for news. ... All other media have gone for Paris Hilton stories. Newspapers are the only media left to cover actual events and issues."

I sympathize with these readers, but The Sun is hardly the only newspaper running such ads. The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and The Philadelphia Inquirer have had front-page ads for some time, and The Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times will do so soon. Like The Sun, they are all competing in the hyper-competitive advertising market.

Linda Hastings, The Sun's vice president for advertising, said: "The newspaper industry absolutely must find new ways to generate revenue and to serve its clients better if it is to survive and flourish. This is also a very challenging time for advertisers, and front-page ads give them better opportunities to be successful."

Front-page ads are, of course, not unprecedented. They were found in many newspapers, including The Sun, in periods of the 19th and 20th centuries.

In my view, if the present front-page ads produce revenue that helps ensure that The Sun has the resources to produce good journalism, they are worth it. As preferable as an ad-free front page may be, the realities of the newspaper business and the current economy must be confronted.

Meanwhile, the Sunday edition has been reorganized. Arts & Life Today has replaced Modern Life and A&E Today. Also, more Sunday sections,, including the Real Estate, are now printed with the main news sections on Saturday night and delivered Sunday morning. This configuration reduces costs and should help the newspaper provide later-breaking news and accommodate advertising changes.

The later delivery of the Real Estate section has produced the most pointed reactions.

Reader Frank Watson said: "Not receiving the Sunday Real Estate section early on Saturday really hurts those who use the information in the section to plan what open houses to visit on Sunday. When it arrives on Sunday, it's often too late to make decisions."

Said Wendy Lloyd: "I'm not happy about the changes in the delivery of the Sunday newspaper. I always looked forward to receiving my paper on Saturday because of the supplements that came with it and the Modern Life section. Receiving it on Saturday allowed me time (something in short supply for all of us these days) to look at the ads and read that section."

Sun managers recognize the real estate issue and are developing a new package that will soon appear in the Saturday edition. It will be geared to potential homebuyers and realtors who attend Sunday open houses. Editors believe that the Arts & Life Today section has retained the best-read features from the two previous sections and that it will be a substantial single section for readers. The first issue was generally well received.

Business managers and editors are walking a fine line as they work to increase The Sun's profitability without doing damage to the newspaper's quality. Change means risk - in this case, the risk of upsetting some of the newspaper's most precious commodity, its readers. But in my view, standing still is more dangerous.

Paul Moore's column appears Sundays.

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