In circulation: Changes do not signal the end for agile papers

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Words such as “decrease,” “layoff” and the more diplomatic “streamline” abound in the latest coverage of the newspaper industry. Just last week, DMNews covered cuts at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and various local papers published by Gannett and Tribune Co.

The dramatic and the negative make headlines, of course, but they're not necessarily an indication that the newspaper industry is on its last legs. Under the right leadership, some unpleasant changes now can clear the way for great innovation in the future.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), for instance, is doing away with 8% of its work force, but cutting costs there gives the paper more leeway to invest in improvements elsewhere. The paper is putting $30 million into printing and press technology in efforts to create a more colorful and graphically interesting product. 

The Wall Street Journal, for its part, cut 50 jobs last week, but it has also announced plans to hire 95 new reporters for the Journal and its news wires over the coming months.

More narrowly focused reporting often follows newspapers' slimming of staff rosters. According to a study from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, “Papers both large and small have reduced the space, resources and commitment devoted to a range of topics. At the top of that list, nearly two thirds of papers surveyed have cut back on foreign news, over half have trimmed national news and more than a third have reduced business coverage. In effect, America's newspapers are narrowing their reach and their ambitions and becoming niche reads.”

Again, such cuts do not necessarily represent the slow demise of print. Rather, changing news sections often reflect the demands of the reading public. National and international news is easy to find online. A paper offering more community focused pieces offers a unique — and possibly more valued — product. As an example of this type of refocusing, the AJC recently dissolved four separate news sections covering outer Atlanta suburbs in order to focus more squarely on its metro Atlanta core.

“The streamlining of products is based on reader feedback,” Jennifer Morrow, external communications manager for the AJC, further explained. “They're time-starved, and they want a paper that's easier to navigate and easier to read. The product moves help position us because part of our mission is to cover metro Atlanta in depth.”

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