By BRAD WARTHEN
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
SINCE YOU’RE reading this, we can assume you found us in our new location. Actually, Page D2 is sort of an old location for the Sunday editorial page. We were here for many years before jumping to the A section a little more than a year ago.
Being back on D2 feels like home to me; I hope it will make our pages more convenient each week for you as well.
But my purpose today is not to talk about a change already made, but one coming up. And this one is going to feel a lot less familiar to all of us.
Starting six days from now, we will no longer publish opinion and commentary pages on Saturdays in The State. Instead, we’ll unveil a new Web page featuring content of the sort that we would have published in the paper, only more of it. The new page will be called “Saturday Opinion Extra.”
Why are we doing this? Two reasons, which I’ll keep as simple as possible:
- We have to cut costs.
- There are things we can do online we can’t do in the paper.
Now, about the cost-cutting:
You may have read that newspapers don’t make as much money as they used to. We still make money, just not as much as the stock market demands. And when you’re a publicly traded company, you have no options: Making less money is something shareholders don’t stand for.
So you do two things: You work like crazy to bring in more revenue, which is not my department. And you cut costs, which does involve the editorial staff.
When we lost one writing position three years ago, we eliminated staff-written copy from our Monday pages. Now, faced with further reductions, we’re eliminating editorials from another day, plus eliminating two pages of newsprint a week.
But just as we replaced the staff copy with a lot more letters to the editor (one of the most popular features in the paper) on Mondays, you’ll get more content on Saturdays online than we could possibly put in the paper. For instance:
- We get far more syndicated and local guest columns than we can fit on our op-ed pages during the week. On our new Saturday Web page, we’ll be able to give you several op-ed pages worth of columns from the likes of David Broder, Kathleen Parker, Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, Cal Thomas, Paul Krugman and Charles Krauthammer.
- Add to that at least one column from a local writer, just as you would normally have received on Saturdays. But the particular columns we put online might be something you’d never have gotten in the paper. We often get more than one column in a month from such newsmakers as Gov. Mark Sanford (Columbia Mayor Bob Coble has submitted three this past month). But since space in the paper is at such a premium, we try to limit each writer to no more than one a month. We also turn down most columns that other newspapers have published. So we turn down some interesting, relevant columns — but finite space in the paper demands tough choices. Online space is virtually unlimited, so you’ll get additional chances to read what newsmakers, and others, are thinking.
- You will see at least as many letters to the editor online as you would have received in the paper, with the added bonus that some of them will be letters held out for no reason other than that they were too long for our page, and didn’t lend themselves to trimming.
- We regularly shoot video during editorial board interviews with newsmakers. I’ve been using some of it on my blog the last couple of years, but sporadically; the Saturday Opinion Extra page gives us a place to showcase some of the most interesting footage from the past week.
- You’ll find links to such things as a new, improved page devoted to Robert Ariail’s recent cartoons, featuring such DVD-style bonus features as unpublished sketches, archives, and video of Robert talking about what he does. (There will also be links to recent posts on my blog, of course.)
That’s the content we’ll be starting with, and I hope you will suggest more.
This is a big and scary step for us in the editorial department. We have always published editorial and op-ed pages daily, and departing from that feels a little like stepping off something firm and secure into thin air.
But like skydiving, it’s also pretty exciting. Ever since the 1980s — since before there was a Worldwide Web — I’ve been interested in the potential of an electronic opinion forum, with immediacy and interactivity you can’t get on paper. That’s why I started the blog; this takes us another step.
Sure, we’ve let our paper content flow onto the Web for years, but we’ve hardly scratched the surface of what we can do there in the opinion realm. The editorial board needs to turn some attention to better serving the 800,000 unique visitors who come to thestate.com each month.
Please check out this new feature on Saturday, and let us know what you think of it. Even more than a published page, this new venture will always be a living work in progress, and I’m counting on our readers to help us shape it.
Until the new Saturday Opinion Extra page appears, please come to my blog to share your thoughts: thestate.com/bradsblog/. Or send us a letter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brad, after reading that another part of the paper will be posted “online”, my question is why I should pay $200 a year for a hard copy of the newspaper, when more and more of the content is available only online?
I subscribe to the paper to relax, kick back and have coffee and take my time to read and reflect. Not hunch over a computer to read the news. I get enough of that all week. The editorial and opinion page is the most interesting and important part of the paper for me. I realize that I must be old fashioned and hopelessly out of date, but I think that doing what you are doing is a mistake if you are interested in retaining your remaining readership. Why not go out of business altogether? Think of the money you will save!
Brad … You have my condolences. I’m sure you fought hard against such a moronic, bean-counter mentality.
… do shareholders really believe that gutting a product is the way to protect it? Probably about as much as they believe McClatchy when its CFO blames the real estate industry for his own malfeasance.
Such a waste.
McClatchy Reports February 2008 Revenues
SACRAMENTO, Calif., March 17 — The McClatchy Company (NYSE: MNI) today reported that consolidated revenues in February 2008 decreased 11.7% and advertising revenues were down 13.3% compared to revenues in February 2007.
Pat Talamantes, McClatchy’s chief financial officer, said, “We continue to see a majority of the decline in advertising revenue from newspapers in California and Florida, two states severely affected by the real estate downturn. ….
I agree with Dave Hammond. The newspaper is an integral part of my breakfast! I want to be able to enjoy it on the porch in warm weather or sitting in my recliner with coffee at hand. I do not enjoy “newspapers” on a computer screen — they’re right up there with TV news and Educational Radio commentators.
Brad, I get most of my news online anyway so I welcome this announcement. However, my very active parents (75 is the new 55?) prefer reading an actual newspaper, and they will probably not be regular visitors to any blog or online news site. I assume the paper will continue to lose readership because of their need to satisfy faceless shareholders, many of whom probably never open a local newspaper. McClatchy had the same short-sightedness back in the ’90s when they bought the Raleigh News & Observer. I worked in the “new media” (internet) division, nando.com, and McClatchy slowly picked us apart much as they’re doing to The State. My condolences, friend. Keep fighting and know that your public is behind you.
Brad, I look at the paper more online than I do on paper, but this development saddens me nonetheless. Usually, the editorial page is the only thing past 1A in the A section other than the jump page that’s worth reading.
What this bodes for the future of newspapers, like every other development in journalism the last 20 years, frightens me.
Come to think of it, we are tailoring not just journalism, but life in general, for easy access and the short attention span.
Here’s hoping this post wasn’t too long.
Thanks for the input and words of support, folks. Here’s hoping I get some more of it (I’m surprised there have been so few thus far.)
As for those who don’t like it, I certainly hope you’ll at least give this Saturday online thing a chance, because I’m going to be working myself to a frazzle doing it, and at what was already my worst time of the week. Basically, it’s going to be lot harder for me to do this online stuff than to put out the two pages. If you don’t like it, fine; I’m sure you’ll let me know. But at least try it out — and suggest ways to make it better. This is my reality, and as usual I’ll be doing my best to serve you as well as I can within the constraints of the real challenges I have on my plate.
That said, I should probably clear up any confusion: This was my idea. This was both a realistic response to having fewer people to do the job, and a way to cut something other than even more personnel. When you go, for instance, from four associates writing editorials to essentially two, you either write fewer editorials or you don’t put as much into the editorials. I opted for maintaining quality rather than mere quantity, and that had a lot to do with this unusual move.
Wait a minute. Now that I know this is your idea…
April Fool! ;>)
Wow. It was 12:02:25 when I finished that post. April had started. No wonder you’re losing the Saturday edit page. You’re an hour behind.
Maybe you should hand over that unused space in your newspaper to real news about issues which are not being covered.
If the paper can’t afford to pay reporters, just open up to us “amateurs”, who could inform the readers about the high taxes Obama and Hillary are threatening to put on EVERY working person.
For example, Hillary proposes a new income tax of “between 5 and 10 percent” to be paid in health insurance premiums.
Obama proposes removing the cap on FICA taxes.
Obama said yesterday he, “would not deport a single illegal alien, not one.”
This change is just about the one that broke the camel’s back. I have subscribed to The State for years and have seen it go downhill gradually. I don’t understand the monetary reason for this latest change since the majority of your paper consists of full page ads that I’m sure generate much money. I’m seriously considering cancelling my subscription even though I do like to read my paper while having my morning coffee.
As some people grow older and older, their worlds grow smaller, partly because they can no longer do all the things they once could, partly because they don’t have the energy to do all the things they once could, and also because they’ve learned that the grass isn’t really greener outside their own back yards.
Today, when I saw The State without an editorial page for the first time, it hit me harder than I expected. The coming death of the newspaper has been rumored for some time, but I never really imagined how that would happen until now. The newspaper’s world will get smaller. Little by little, the content will dwindle until every newspaper is a rah-rah-sis-boom-bah homer that no more performs the job of the Fourth Estate than a politician running for re-election.
Worst of all, no one will tell the readers, the folks who make the whole thing work, why the newspaper is pulling back. It will be like the wonderful explanation on today’s front page, which creates the illusion of progress with no mention of cost-cutting.
On this blog, Brad mentioned cost-cutting, but he stopped short of a complete explanation:
“This was my idea. This was both a realistic response to having fewer people to do the job, and a way to cut something other than even more personnel. When you go, for instance, from four associates writing editorials to essentially two, you either write fewer editorials or you don’t put as much into the editorials. I opted for maintaining quality rather than mere quantity, and that had a lot to do with this unusual move.”
Fewer people? For instance, from four associates to two? “For instance”? Who’s leaving? Did I miss something? What’s really happening?
The Opinion/Letters to the Editor section of The State is one of the few sections of the paper I actually read everyday. Now that you’ve eliminated it from the actual paper, I feel that I’m not getting what I’m paying for. I’m not really that interested in Sports, so why not eliminate it and seems to me it would save a lot more money -or, put the advertising online and that would cut paper. Not everyone has or uses a computer, so you’re cheating those folks out of part of the paper they’ve paid for. If you don’t get what you think you’ve paid for, then why subscribe to it. Just read it online and forget the extra expense.
The most important parts of the paper for me are: Opinion/Letters to Editor, Metro Section, Obituaries, Dear Abby, and the Television Weekly. The rest could be put online and I’d never really miss them.
Your editorial section decision,is clearly the most recent example of the urgent need for a complete change of all personnel in that department.I cannot understand the logic here.
It’s not just Bolton’s sermonizing, or Scoppes”
all-knowing,nothing working right, attempts to right all wrongs,nor your ” I give up!”attitude,there seems to be a fundamental
lack of common sense in your management of the newspaper.You seem to be overwhelmed by the prospect of someone diverting a reader from the editorial page to some Blog. Print news and editorial opinion will always carry a newspaper if they are well done. Yours is sadly lacking.
Wow – a whole section of USC spring game hoopla -maybe they might just win one – and we can’t have a Saturday editorial page.
Mr. Warthen (Brad),
I am trying the Saturday online – but I hate it – similar to those above. It just isn’t a real paper anymore without Opinion.
This may shock and depress you, but though I enjoy your writing style, I’d gladly accept less local (left page of your typical layout) … say 1 editorial from you and staff Tuesday-Sunday … in order to keep 2 national and 1 regional per day all week.
With numbskull decisions like endorsing McCain – with absolutely no recognition given to the despicable conduct of his campaign and the incompetent choice of Palin – maybe it really doesn’t matter if we – the readers of The State – don’t have an editorial/opinion page at all.
I guess since South Carolina is polling heavily in favor of McCain, this was just another gesture to stave off the inevitable demise of The State, which is being bludgeoned by McClatchy’s complete incompetence managing newspapers of any size. The consistency with they shaft their personnel and crush news content seems to indicate their intention to whittle down the circulation of every newspaper they own to a size they can understand.