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BEHIND THE SHRINKING APPEAL

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Noticeably absent Sunday in a Commercial Appeal story about the daily decreasing the size of its pages was a disclosure about the potential millions of dollars in paper costs the newspaper stands to save after the switch. The story, penned by the paper’s editor and president Angus McEachran, mentioned several other benefits the smaller paper size will yield, such “less clutter” and being easier to read in cramped spaces. But the paper failed to mention that in reducing the size of the printed page, The Commercial Appeal will be reducing its operating expenses and possibly reducing its news hole Ñ the amount of space available for news stories. When there’s less paper space, stories must be cut or shortened. And when papers elsewhere have used smaller print to keep from reducing the number of stories, as the CA’s new design does, some readers have gotten upset. In his column, McEachran maintains that by using a new, smaller, typeface the paper will be able to reduce the size of the paper without cutting into the number of stories. He goes on to write that the “letters will be clearer and appear bigger although their computer-assisted design actually makes each word more compact.” McEachran did not respond to the Flyer‘s request for comment. The Commercial Appeal is not the first newspaper to adopt the “smaller is better” logic. Papers nationwide, including USA Today, The L.A. Times, and The Washington Post have already made the switch. Major newspaper publishers have discovered that by going from 54 to 50 inches they can save a bundle on the cost of newsprint. And with the cost of newsprint currently on the rise, many papers have succumbed to temptation and cut back on paper usage. The Boston Globe, which recently reduced its paper size, expects to save about $4 million this year. News industry experts estimate that newsprint can constitute as much as 60 percent of a paper’s total costs, so the Memphis paper’s profitability could improve significantly. Nationwide, page sizes aren’t the only newsroom causalities. At many of the other shrinking papers the editorial staff has also been cut. At The Asbury Park Press, the second largest paper in New Jersey, newsroom staff has dropped from 240 to about 180 since 1997. And The Akron Beacon Journal announced earlier this month that it will lay off some 60 employees in order to meet financial goals set by Knight Ridder, its parent company. According to sources at The Commercial Appeal, the paper has a hiring freeze on new reporters and positions left empty after the departures of Sara Derks, Bobby Hall, and Larry Rea. Warren Funk, The Commercial Appeal's director of human resources, did not respond to calls from the Flyer, nor did Deputy Managing Editor Otis Sanford. It’s possible The Commercial Appeal is feeling pressure from its parent company, Scripps Howard, to help maintain the company’s impressive profit margin of nearly 30 percent in its newspaper division. As the second largest paper in the Scripps chain, the Memphis paper would seem to be in a position to greatly impact profit margins. But the newspaper division is the slowest growing of the Scripps ventures. (The cable channels Home and Garden Television, the Food Network, and Do it Yourself are more aggressive properties). Whether or not the CA will have less news when pages are reduced a couple of inches remains to be seen. And the new size may be indeed be easier to handle in cramped spaces and beneficial to trees. But other beneficiaries will no doubt include Scripps Howard and its stockholders.

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