No more op-ed pages Mondays, Fridays

Well, there’s just no way to sugar-coat this, so I’ll go ahead and tell you what I’ll be telling you on the Friday editorial page:

No separate op-ed page today
     Starting today, The State will not have separate op-ed pages on Fridays and Mondays. This is a cost-saving measure, reducing our newsprint expenditure. Instead, we will frequently run a syndicated column on this page on Fridays, and a local guest column on the Monday letters page. We also invite readers to explore our offerings at, and Brad Warthen’s Blog at

             — The Editors

This is a continuation of the painful recent cutbacks we’ve experienced in personnel and operational funds. As I’ve mentioned before, Mike Fitts’ departure brought the editorial staff down to less than half what I had at the start of this decade. Our elimination of Saturday pages earlier this year was a reflection of both the staff cutbacks — so few people can only do so much — and newsprint savings. This one is pretty much all about the newsprint.

You don’t like this? Well, guess what? I’m pretty sure I hate it a lot more than you do. All of us do. There’s nothing we can do about losing these pages, so we struggle constantly to figure out what we CAN do instead to keep serving readers. (What do you think this blog is about, for instance?)

Consider the earlier "cutbacks." When we eliminated staff-written editorials on Mondays, we gave you a full page of letters that otherwise would not have been published, and added the blograil feature. You’d be surprised how much staff time those take.

Then, when we eliminated the Saturday pages, we launched the Saturday Web-only super-op-ed page, with a whole lot more content than we could get into the paper (plus video). Yeah, that’s been an unpopular move with many — but the people who complain about the Saturday feature don’t seem to understand that it’s not a choice between that and having our pages in the Saturday paper, it’s a choice between that and nothing. And believe me, it takes a lot more trouble to produce that Web page than "nothing" would.

Now this, the loss of those half-pages on Monday and Friday. What that means is that on each of those days, we’re losing two columns (one syndicated, one local) and maybe a syndicated cartoon. So far, our best idea for compensating for that is to put a syndicated column on the Friday page whenever we don’t have an overriding staff-written column (and that’s happened about once a week in the past; this just pushes that event to Fridays), and put a local guest column on the Monday letters page. That means in both cases fewer letters.

It probably will NOT mean fewer staff-written columns. Our first and foremost priority is always South Carolina — you can get news and commentary about the rest of the world from a thousand sources, but what Warren and Cindi are able to say about local and state issues is something you can’t get anywhere else. But since we "frequently" have one weekday without a staff column — today’s page was an example of that — we’ll just try to push that vacancy to Fridays, and run a syndicated column there instead of the long letter and the secondary cartoon.

We’re still scrambling to figure out what else we can provide, and I’ve been really pleased at the initiative shown by my colleagues under these circumstances. Warren Bolton, who just became a proud Papa for the second time and took some family leave, surprised me with an editorial (which ended up on the Sunday page) and a column written from home last week. I’m grateful to Cindi for suggesting today (and making it happen, which is more valuable) that we post the Charles Krauthammer column that I almost used on the Friday page (we used Kathleen Parker instead) online. We’re going to have to start doing that more systematically, not just on Saturdays.

Robert Ariail today offered up an extra cartoon for the Monday letters page. Randle Christian, our letters editor, came to me while I was typing this post to suggest a better way to use the Web to provide more letters on the election. More work for each of them, of course.

There aren’t as many of us as there were, but I’m proud and privileged to work with each of the folks I have. They’re all striving harder than ever to fulfill our mission of providing a forum for discussing the issues of greatest importance to our community.

And we welcome your suggestions as to how we can do that better.

29 thoughts on “No more op-ed pages Mondays, Fridays

  1. Reader

    Suggestion on how to do it better: Cut out your local editorial the other five days as well. You guys write very well, but even when you come down on what I believe is the right side of an issue, it is typically done with such personal derision or scorn for the other point of view that it doesn’t really advance the cause you are promoting, and consequently doesn’t particularly benefit the community.

  2. p.m.

    Rock of ages, cleft for Brad
    He does not have the space he had
    Let his webpage and the word
    That he wishes we had heard
    Be of sin the double cure
    Let his edit page endure
    Rock of ages, shelter Brad
    He does not have the staff he had
    Let him rise to worlds unknown
    By the virtue of pure stone
    Rock of ages, cleft for Warthen
    As his birdcage liner’s morphing.

  3. KP

    I won’t miss the syndicated columns but I hate losing the local columns. There’s too little voice of reason in this state as it is.

  4. Dick Carlson

    As a recent transplant to Columbia (from Seattle), I often read your paper both in the print version and on line. But I get most of my national news via the web — starting the morning with the Drudge Report, CNN, NY Times, WSJ, etc.
    The most interesting and readable information on the local scene that I’ve found is in the Palmetto Scoop. Entertaining, a great voice, and often breaking interesting stories.
    I don’t really know much about your readership and what they want from a paper — but my business is developing content for companies that want to communicate with their customers. (Learning, knowledge management, training, support.)
    We have to START from what the customer wants and needs, and work backwards from that — developing content that the reader will find engaging and useful. Just coming up with things that WE think they should hear would put us out of business very quickly.
    I don’t really see that happening in your paper, from my POV. Maybe that would help increase your page count, staff levels, and reduce the negative attitude of the posters on your blog.
    And you could lose the misleading titles — there was no “firefight”. If the choppers had been allowed to respond under their ROE, there would have been nothing left on the rocks but grease. My high-school journalism teacher trained me not to use sensationalism in heads that I couldn’t back up in the copy.

  5. jeff

    I hope we don’t miss any of warren’s weekly reprints of his payday loan sermons. I am sure the readers can’t live without.

  6. Doug Ross

    I think McClatchy’s biggest mistake is thinking that cutting newsprint will somehow work as an interim measure while the business model for print news gets figured out. It’s a lifeboat mentality that never works…
    I saw it happen with a company I worked with from 1978-1995 (Digital Equipment Corp.). Grew from a few people to over 100,000 employees in 25 years… and now doesn’t exist except in pieces of the company that were bought on the cheap by other companies. I saw the handwriting on the wall when the company stopped giving out a $10 turkey to employees at Christmas.
    Rather than cut pages, The State should be adding pages. What else will attract readers (which in turn can drive ad revenues)? My idea – have two full editorial pages every day – with two different editors (ideally one from the conservative view and one from the liberal view). Let them work both independently and together to present both sides of an issue to the readers (just like blog commenters do). Make the editorial page so strong that people are willing to pay to read it.
    Get back to being a NEWSpaper, not an ADpaper.

  7. Doug Ross

    And, Brad, I mean this with no disrespect at all, but in this age of technology, I can’t fathom how laying out a newspaper page should take more than 15 minutes. Maybe it’s time to look for a solution to that problem so you can spend more time on content.

  8. martin

    re: newsprint. 20 +- years ago I read a story, in The State or maybe the old News and Courier, about research at Clemson about a plant, I believe the name was kefir, that was being tested as a eco-friendly, the ink won’t get all over your hands, our farmers can grow it, source of newsprint.
    Do you know whatever happened to that?
    Obviously, all newspapers, all magazines that decided to give away their entire product on the internet made a mistake; do teaser stories and web subscriptions work any better? I guess you were assuming you would pick up enough web advertising, which I tune out completely, to make even more money. From the continuous downsizing, that does not appear to be working.
    It’s a real problem, probably for the literacy of the country, and I don’t know what the answer is. Does The State give papers to middle and high schools for use in classes?

  9. Ralph Hightower

    I noticed another cost-cutting measure in The State today:
    The comics moved to the Weekend section and uses teeny, tiny font. Ooh, but the comics are in color! Another two pages is removed from the paper.

  10. Bill C.

    Print journalism is dead, it’s just that those who work in the field aren’t fully aware of it. Why spend $200-$300 per year for a subscription when you can read 75% of it online. I’d like to see a line graph of The State subscription numbers… but I have an idea of what a downward sloping 45 degree angle looks like.

  11. some guy

    Interesting discussion here. I actually agree with Lee, somewhat — and with Doug. If readership is down and people aren’t thrilled with the product, why give them even LESS? I understand: it’s not that simple. Newsprint costs money. Writers cost money. McClatchey is in the business of making money, not losing it.
    Still, how in the world does a company think it’s going to turn things around by weakening its product even further? I don’t get it.
    I commend Brad for keeping up this blog, and I do think newspapers are doing a lot to enhance their offerings online. That’s great. Really. But it still doesn’t quite add up. The online product is FREE, and it seems that it’s tough to sell ads for the Website.
    Meanwhile, even as bells-and-whistles are added and some new content (like this blog) is created for the online publications, layoffs of reporters and editors would seem to mean that truly beefing up serious journalistic content on newspaper websites will be a major challenge.
    I’d be fascinated to hear Brad’s perspective on all this.

  12. Lee Muller

    I agree on the layout time.
    I used to layout a 10 page tabloid newspaper using a typesetting machine with a one-line LCD display. Then we would cut and paste up the pages, articles, text and artwork. I could do the whole thing in a day.
    Today, the big Unix typesetting systems like Mergenthaler, Quark on the Mac, or whatever, will just let you drop in the wire feeds of the articles and opinion pieces and flow them around and into blocks. It’s a 15-minute job, max, for 2 facing pages.
    The Free Times used to be put together, everything, by one person on a Mac.
    And McClatchey is already paying for the opinion colums.

  13. david

    Brad, Doug Ross seems to me to be the smartest guy in the room on this. I don’t know about his idea to actually ADD pages, but I am perfectly sure about one thing: What you’ve BEEN doing has gotten you where you’re at now, so even less of the same thing seems a pretty sure prescription for continued failure and deeper loss.
    So, if adding pages is not an option, consider Dougs’ suggestion for content change. I think the idea to present both the conservative side and the liberal side of issues on separate pages and without all the sermonizing and attempts to find the “third way” that we get from you, Scoppe et al, is simply brilliant.
    I know that for me at least, and I think for many others, the problem with The State editorial pages has been the editors. We need to hear less what you think, and more what the strong ideologues think, whether right or left. There is a definitive ideological tension in this country. Ideas which are often mutually exclusive are competing with one another. The State should embrace that tension and present those competing ideas without washing them through the BradCindi filter.
    Good job Doug.

  14. Doug Ross

    I would be interested in knowing if The State has to pay to print a syndicated column or does it just pay a flat yearly fee that allows you the right to print any column?
    If there is no additional charge to run a Maureen Dowd next to a George Will, then why not?
    I readily admit to being a newspaper fan… I set a personal record last week when I read four of them in one day while traveling back from NH to SC – USA Today, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, and Atlanta Journal. Why spend $5 on a magazine that you can go through in an hour versus .50-.75 for a paper that can keep you occupied for the same amount of time?
    I have also suggested to Brad in an email recently that The State should just raise the price of the paper at the newsstand/paper box to 0.75. I would be willing to bet that the increase in price would not impact the quantity sold in those outlets… The Boston Globe charges 0.50 in most areas and 1.00 outside that area.

  15. Brad Warthen

    Let me try to address some of your questions and comments roughly in order:

    • Reader, thanks for saying we write well, but I’m sorry that you think we push too hard. Blame me for that. Your critique is far more on point than Lee’s down below, who says our offerings are "bland." Yes, we mince no words once we’ve reached a conclusion. We present it strongly, and we don’t have a great deal of patience with foolishness. And unfortunately, public policy in South Carolina has been guided by foolishness for far too long. I moved to the editorial board in 1994 convinced that what was needed was a strong, insistent voice that worried less about offending people, and more about calling loudly and clearly for change in the many areas where it was needed. We deliberate carefully before we take a position; often they are years, even decades in the making, since every position we take arises from the local knowledge we have accumulated from observing these things up close for more than 20 years each. But once we take that position, we push it strongly, and we do tend to be impatient with counter-arguments that have been shown time and again to be without value. You will see those opposing points of view in guest columns and letters, but we will continue to explain in our editorials and staff columns why they don’t hold up.
    • KP, thanks for the kind words. You MIGHT lose one local op-ed in the paper per week, but no more than that, since we’re going to start putting a local oped on the Monday page. There will still be just as many staff-written columns. And if you count online — which we do, since they’re just as much trouble to us editors — we’re running more now than we used to. It’s just that some of them are online. We’re running as many as three on the Saturday Opinion Extra page online. Again, I urge readers to check that out.
    • Dick, you talk about "customer wants and needs." The problem with our business model is you have to ask, WHICH customer? Looking at it as a business — which isn’t what I do, but it’s what the people who determine the resources I have do — your primary customer is the advertiser, because that’s where most of your revenue comes from. Someone on a previous comment implied that our problem was losing subscribers. Not at all. In fact, we intentionally lost subscribers last year by no longer delivering to vast swaths of the state, because those readers cost more than they brought in in revenue. Our problems in this business have not been caused by something between the journalists and our readers, but profound shifts in the advertising market. For instance, just to cite one problem, while it’s just as easy for me to publish online, and we can sell ads online, that advertising doesn’t produce nearly as much as print ads do. So we’re left short of the revenue needed to publish a newspaper.
    • Doug sort of gets it, but sort of doesn’t. He knows I would be happy putting out nothing BUT news and commentary. But that’s not possible. Once again, the ads are what pay for the paper.
    • Also, Doug, I CAN produce an editorial page in 15 minutes — the initial part, anyway, not counting proofs being read and corrections being made, which takes a while. That’s not the problem. As I said, this latest move is about saving the newsprint, not the time. I expect we’ll be spending just as much time, since we plan to put even more content online.
    • Martin, it’s my understanding — and I’m not the best person to ask this — that when we went to more eco-friendly, soy-based inks, it increased the rub-off problem. The only kefir I’ve heard of is the fermented milk drink.
  16. slugger

    I may as well put my two cents worth in the mix.
    The problem is not with the content of the newspapers. The problem is that each generation of would be readers of the newspaper do not read. They do not read anything. They know nothing about current events. They do not even watch the news on TV.
    Having said that. I will go back to my book and read instead of watching it rain.

  17. Doug Ross

    If your customer is the advertiser, you’re screwed. There is no way that the help wanted, automobile, and real estate advertising will do anything but shrink in the near future.
    Who looks for a car, a job, or a house in a newspaper any more?
    Each week I get a stack of fliers for the grocery stores, wal mart, etc. in my mailbox delivered via The State. They go directly from the mailbox into the recycling box. The Sunday paper can now be read front to back in about 20 minutes while the stack of advertising inserts is at least two times the height of the newspaper.
    Sell papers, not ads.

  18. Lee Muller

    Most people I have ever met do not like the editorial content of the most large newspapers and the editorial slant of the news.
    If the editors think their customers are happy with the content, they simply do not know the customer, especially the potential customer and lost customers.
    The editors will deny any bias, which is hogwash, and deny a socialistic liberal bias, which is refuted by 86% of them describing themselves as “liberal”, “progressive” or “socialist” in polls among themselves.
    Just like TV did for so long, they think they can insult their customers without economic impact. Technology has made it a new game, from having to compete with national newspapers, to the rebirth of local tabloids with in-depth reporting, to Internet news.
    If you don’t serve the public with timely, accurate and complete information, they will look elsewhere for it. If you shade the news, and withold information in order to assist politicians in deceiving the public, they will actively punish you.

  19. notverybright

    Wow. Tough crowd.
    I know I’ve been one of your most persistent critics, mostly because of that tonal thing mentioned by the very first commenter (and it’s not exactly, as you recharacterize the charge, that you “push too hard”). But I am sorry to see this happening. Like a lot of people, my first moments of the day are spent with the newspaper. And whether I agree with you or not, you’re pretty passionate about what you do, which is a good thing. So there’s no joy in Mudville over this continuing drip drip of bad news from the world of print journalism.
    It will be interesting to see how papers like the State continue to adapt.

  20. john

    Brad protrays himself as a passionate agent for change. Is that what his Jake Knotts endorsement was about? How ’bout all the other encumbents Brad endorsed and committed newspaper space to. As for his contention that subscriptions don’t matter- he’s a close rival of Matt Millen in regards to executive competence. Brad needs to go downstairs and ask an ad man whether subscriptions are important.

  21. Lee Muller

    None of us want to see newspapers fail.
    We especially don’t want to see local papers fail, or be converted into local outlets for a national news chain.
    But we aren’t in control. We can’t make them improve their product. All we can do is buy or not buy.

  22. p.m.

    OK, I’ve read everything here, and having spent 20 years of my life in the newspaper business writing stories and columns and laying out pages, I see four quotes as the executive summary here.
    Lee hit the nail on the head with his analogy: “It’s like a restaurant with bland food and decreasing sales, whose response is to make the servings smaller.”
    Doug’s mostly right, particularly since the editorial page basically looks the same over and over and over again, or follows a small set of relatively strict, prescripted formulae: “…in this age of technology, I can’t fathom how laying out a newspaper page should take more than 15 minutes.”
    If, however, somebody actually bothered to write headlines for all the op-ed stuff in The State, rather than just stick a two-word title in the middle of six columns of white space, I can see how it might take an hour to do each page.
    Brad alludes to the production phase of the layout taking longer than the conceptual part: “I CAN produce an editorial page in 15 minutes — the initial part, anyway, not counting proofs being read and corrections being made, which takes a while.”
    In the computer age, considering print preview and Spellcheck features, time-and-money-consuming paper proofs should be as much a thing of the past as linotype, but for some reason, they aren’t.
    And, then, this last quote from Brad is the killer: “Mike Fitts’ departure brought the editorial staff down to less than half what I had at the start of this decade.” – Brad Warthen
    Not counting Brad, Cindi plus Warren is two, if that’s the staff of which Brad speaks, so sometime within the last 10 years, Brad had Mike and two others — five people working for him, six counting himself.
    Or, if you include Brad as part of the staff in his quote, a total of seven people.
    What the heck did the six or seven of you do to pass the time, Brad? Play checkers?
    No wonder they’re taking your space away. You’ve wasted too many man-hours filling up.

  23. Ish Beverly

    In 2006 I had been a subscriber to The State newspaper (and Columbia Reccord) for 40 years even though all the editors supported the Democratic Party and Lee Bandy was always acting press secretary for the Democratic Party, Iwas still loyal. The week I stopped my subscription, you ran reprints of Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, Maureen Dowd, Tom Teepen, Derick Jackson, Eugene Robinson and one or two other liberals. Also our very own Tom Turnipseed who never knows what he is talking about. All this with nothing or very little from the other side, I just decided to quit paying for all that junk.

  24. Reader

    Your comments in reply were interesting. It is apparent that you and your main partner down there really believe that you are the only two people in the State of South Carolina who have things figured out. Some reasonable people would consider such an arrogant point of view to be a character flaw. It is that attitude of arrogant condescension that, in my opinion, does not particularly advance your cause. By analogy, every campaign season you folks in the media like to harp that voters don’t like negative campaigning. If that is the case, might not your readership likewise be turned off when your editorial page engages in negative debating? And by that I mean attacking people in a personal way simply because they have a different point of view from your own. But hey, while I believe your style impedes your ability to pursuade, you obviously have a passion for what you do and every now and again you even somehow come down on the right side of an issue.

  25. Robert

    Brad, for what it’s worth, if the print edition keeps getting thinner and thinner, at some point in time, I’m not going to buy it. Is there some genius at McClatchy that knows the magic number or is someone throwing poo at the wall? For me, I want the op-ed page, the metro, neighbors and the sports (minus the op-ed there, no offense to your collegue Ron Morris). When I determine that I’m not getting that from the State, I also won’t be reading ads from Maurice talking about his great work environment or from car dealers. Is there something we can do (besides buying the paper and supporting the advertisers) to help keep all the news that we pay for?

  26. Lee Muller

    Big Media is lined up behind the establishment , pushing for legislation they haven’t even read, much less reported the details.
    Brad Warthen fills the editorial page with opinions blasting those who stopped this bailout and cover up of the largest bank robbery in history, yet his paper has not printed a synopsis of the bill.
    That is so typical, and it is why America doesn’t trust news media and doesn’t buy print media.


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