From Crain’s Cleveland Business

The Plain Dealer’s shift to a so-called “digital first” strategy, and the end to seven-day home delivery, is an attempt to retain the lion’s share of the audience for local news and eventually translate that hold on the local news audience into advertising revenue, its managing editor, Thomas Fladung, told a professional journalism organization Tuesday evening, Feb. 18.

The strategy is an attempt to re-create as much as possible online the domination of local advertising revenue that hometown newspapers had in the days before the Internet.

The digital first strategy is predicated on what the newspaper’s owner, New York’s Advance Publications, believes is an unstoppable slide in print advertising revenue at the Cleveland daily and at other newspapers as advertisers move spending online.

“For six consecutive years, The Plain Dealer had double-digit losses in advertising revenue; that’s compounding on one another,” Fladung said at a gathering sponsored by the Cleveland chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists at the Market Garden Brewery in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. “Whether you are a business reporter or not, it’s not hard to see that that’s a jetliner nose down. The business model was broken.”

Fladung said the decision to cut back home delivery from seven days a week to four was precipitated by the revenue dive. 

The strategy, Fladung said, “is a market-share play in the digital space.” In other words, by focusing on the kind of news the online audience prefers — shorter stories, posted continuously during the day and updated if necessary — the newspaper hopes to attract as many local readers as possible away from television station websites and other sources of local information.

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