Update: Times-Pic plan step beyond Advance’s Mich. strategy

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Posted: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 11:51 am

The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune and three Alabama dailies also published by Advance Publications will move to three-day-a-week publication this fall as the publisher expands the digital-centric strategy it launched earlier this year in Michigan.

In addition to the 158,000-subscriber Times-Picayune, the move affects the Press-Register in Mobile, Huntsville Times and Birmingham News.

All four papers will be printed on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and placed under the management of new entities while a separate firm, Advance Central Services, will oversee printing, distribution and other operations.

The reduction in print days will also be accompanied by an undisclosed number of job cuts across the four properties.

The initiative is similar to what Advance did in Michigan, where it launched a new entity, MLive, to oversee the newsgathering operations of the Kalamazoo Gazette, Jackson Citizen-Patriot, Grand Rapids Press and Muskegon Chronicle. The papers also cut back home delivery to three days a week, but they continue to be printed each day for newsstand and retail distribution.

That won’t be the case for The Times-Picayune or the three Alabama dailies, whose printing schedules will be closer to AnnArbor.com, the twice-weekly print supplement to annarbor.com that Advance launched in 2009 after folding The Ann Arbor News.

“We did not make these changes out of desperation — we have a very strong operation in New Orleans — but we face tremendous challenges in terms of both revenue and the 24-hour news cycle,” Steven Newhouse, chairman of Advance.net, the corporate digital arm of Advance Publications, told The New York Times about the initiative. “We needed to make a plan for the long-term and not sit still for a spiral of losses and cutbacks.”

Still unknown is the fate of The Times-Picayune printing plant, an aging facility near downtown that houses the paper’s Goss Headliner presses. The plant was due for an upgrade, with The Times-Picayune switching out its film-based prepress for CTP.

MLive, meantime, said it made progress since shifting to the new strategy, although MLive President Dan Gaydou told The Grand Rapids Press that, “Some processes still need to be straightened out.”

The interview with the paper followed the May release of the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ spring Fas-Fax and Audience-Fax circulation reports, which found that online traffic at the four MLive papers increased even as daily print circ declined anywhere from 2.7 percent to 11.8 percent. Sunday circ declines ranged from 2.1 percent to 5.4 percent, with The Press dropping the furthest.

Gaydou said the papers were going to lose circ regardless of the change in distribution. But the drops, he told The Press, were not “to the degree people might have thought.”

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