What Saturday change means to you

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

One of the wonderful aspects about working at a newspaper is nothing is ever routine. We never produce the same product twice; each newspaper has different stories, photos, graphics and ads. Each day -- even each hour -- brings a new challenge that Southeast Missourian staff must embrace in order to bring the important issues of the day to our readers.

For nearly 16 years, the Southeast Missourian, which celebrates its 105th anniversary this year, has published a newspaper seven days a week. That, too, will change in the near future. We will be suspending the Saturday edition of the print newspaper, beginning Sept. 12. See today's front page for more information.

You would think with all the flexibility we must accommodate in our daily work lives, making a change to our publishing frequency would be an easy decision for us. It was not.

We understand you count on us to cover the important news and events of the area. We will continue to do so. We know you enjoy seeing your friends, family and neighbors featured on our pages. We will continue to publish those stories and photos. We know you rely on information provided in the newspaper to plan your days. We will continue to provide that information. We will just be delivering it to you six days a week rather than seven.

Many transformations in our industry have caused us to make this decision. It's no secret the newspaper industry has struggled during the current recession, just as many other industries have also faced challenges. Advertising-fueled national media organizations -- TV, metro newspapers, magazines, radio -- have been hit particularly hard. To a lesser degree, this is true on the local level. Of course, you're also familiar with the recession's impact on automobile manufacturers, banking, home building, agriculture and the rest of this nation's economic base. Few industries are impervious to the tough economic times.

Because of the quality of its news reporting, the Southeast Missourian's print circulation has remained strong. Combined with new technology, readership has actually grown substantially, as evidenced by record daily online unique visits and lengthening text alert subscriber lists. The Southeast Missourian has always maintained the largest full-time news gathering staff in the area. Our staff attends public meetings, not just when hot issues cause a great number of citizens to attend, but we're also there for the tedious budget sessions and the mundane policy reviews.

Historically, however, our Saturday newspaper has been one of our weakest days for advertising, and the rising cost of putting it together, printing it and distributing it to the reader is just too high to continue, especially in the current economic climate.

Changes like this can generate a lot of questions. Let me answer many of them here. But first, let me also say thank you for your continued support and readership of the newspaper.

How will the newspaper cover local events that happen on Friday?

The same way we always have. Breaking news will continue to be posted online as it happens. But instead of the comprehensive follow-up appearing in the newspaper the next day, it will be printed in Sunday's edition. This includes Friday night sports.

When will the Saturday obituaries be published?

They will appear online at www.semissourian.com by noon every Saturday and printed in the Sunday Southeast Missourian.

What will happen to regular features that currently appear in the Saturday newspaper?

The Saturday church listings will be added to the Friday edition, along with Saturday's comics, crossword puzzle, TV guide and Dear Abby. Dr. Gott, who writes a column only six times per week, will be added to Thursday's edition, where he doesn't currently appear. The Religion page will be added to Sunday's edition. You will not miss any of these features.

How about garage sale listings?

These will be printed and promoted during the garage sale season on the front page of the classified section on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, allowing shoppers and collectors to plan in advance for sales.

Will there be any other content changes as a result of the suspension of the Saturday edition?

The high-school oriented "NeXt page" will move to the Thursday edition of the newspaper, and an expanded seLive will move from Thursday to Friday. The idea is to make the new Friday-Saturday edition into a meatier weekend preview. In addition, the Good Times section on Sunday will be redesigned to include more news, and the Sunday Sports section will be expanded.

What about subscription rates?

Monthly home subscription rates will remain the same. Had we continued publishing a newspaper seven days per week, subscribers would have faced significant price increases.

What if I've paid in advance for a specific period?

Your subscription will be extended so that you receive the same number of issues you had originally paid for. For example, if you are currently scheduled to expire on Nov. 1, we will extend your subscription by eight publishing days -- the number of Saturdays we have eliminated from your original payment. Your new expiration would be Nov. 9.

When will the change take place?

Your last Saturday paper will be Sept. 5. Beginning Sept. 12, there will be no more Saturday edition.

Will the Southeast Missourian ever add back a Saturday edition?

We don't know at this time. For most of its 105-year history, the Missourian did not have a Saturday edition, which was added Oct. 2, 1993. We will review as the economy improves.

What about the price of a newspaper if I buy at the rack?

These rates will go up to $1 daily and $2 Sunday, also effective Sept. 12, which offers an additional reason for readers to sign up for home or business delivery. We understand that most readers who buy the newspaper from racks do it as part of a lifestyle decision. But home subscriptions -- which allow us to control print waste -- will save readers 57 percent of the cost of buying at the rack. It's something to think about.

So, to be clear, the cost of my home subscription will not go up?

That is correct. Your monthly subscription rate is staying the same. The Saturday paper was eliminated so we would not have to increase monthly home and business subscription rates.

The decision not to publish on Saturdays was difficult. But by repackaging the local news presentation and eliminating one print edition, subscribers will get the same level of local coverage they've always enjoyed without having to pay more.

Your comments and questions are welcomed. E-mail: jrust@smissourian.com. Telephone: 573-335-6611. Thank you for your support and understanding.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian.

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