Washington Daily News to undergo changes

Published 8:38 am Friday, November 7, 2008

By Staff
In less than a year, the Washington Daily News will celebrate its 100th anniversary.
For 82 years of that history, the paper published six days per week. That tradition will re-emerge next week as the Daily News goes “back to the future.”
In response to the general turndown in the economy and the specific challenges of the newspaper industry, the Daily News will eliminate its Monday publication beginning next week. We believe that our subscribers can more easily adjust to the dropping of a weak publication day than to a significant price increase. The Daily News will become the 10th newspaper in North Carolina publishing Tuesday through Sunday mornings.
I am proud of the fact that we have not increased our subscription price since April 2000, a remarkable achievement given the dramatic increase in the cost of energy, newsprint and other supplies over the course of the past eight years, a fact which serves as a tribute to our dedicated staff. We have worked hard to keep the price down and provide quality local news coverage while maintaining the smallest seven-day newspaper in North Carolina. Many North Carolina cities with populations larger than Washington, such as Havelock, are served by papers published weekly. And our $9 per month subscription rate compares favorably to the daily closest to us, which charges $12 per month.
So to maintain our current rate structure, the elimination of a publication day is warranted. But why choose Monday? As a morning newspaper, our Monday paper is printed on Sunday night, so its content consists of the news that is generated on Sunday. Therein lies the problem. There are no local governmental meetings scheduled on Sundays. There are no local sporting events scheduled on Sundays. There are no financial markets open on Sundays, so no reporting on stocks of local interest. Consequently, our Monday papers are disproportionately heavy with national wire copy, an anathema for a paper which prides itself on local news copy. And for a number of years, our Monday paper has cost us more to produce than the revenue it has generated.
We will compensate for the absence of the Monday newspaper by offering live updates on our Web site, www.wdnweb.com. We will include obituaries, Monday television listings and a new Monday listing of comics, as well as national sports stories recognizing local interest in NASCAR, NFL and ACC basketball games from Sunday.
We are also sensitive to the fact that when our current customers subscribed to the newspaper, they were entering into good-faith contracts to receive seven newspapers per week for the length of their respective terms. We will honor that commitment. Over the next several weeks we will be publishing coupons in the paper offering a 15-percent discount off the renewal rate for the paper. Present subscribers may submit the coupon with their renewal and choose a one-time discount for a term up to one year, which will more than compensate for the lost value of the Monday paper.
We will continue our longtime policy of not publishing on Christmas Day, but we will publish newspapers annually on the Mondays prior to primary and general election days. These papers will allow us to provide extended election coverage and will also provide candidates with final advertising opportunities.
In addition to eliminating the Monday edition, beginning with the newspaper of Tuesday, Nov. 11, the Daily News will begin printing its papers at the Cox/Daily Reflector facility in Greenville. The Daily News’ press, installed nearly 40 years ago, is outdated and in need of replacement and expansion. Newer and more efficient press and production equipment in Greenville will allow us to employ later news deadlines and produce our paper in a more cost-effective manner while improving overall print quality. The only two downsides of the move will be that some very valued Daily News employees will be laid off, a painful process for our newspaper family, and that a few customers might see the paper delivered a little later in the mornings. We will closely monitor delivery patterns to minimize any changes.
We have set up a special dedicated phone line to receive comments from our readers and to help address questions. We invite our customers to call 940-4224.
The changes announced today represent a difficult but very necessary new business model for us. But I am pleased to report that these decisions are minor compared to many already confronted by our friends in the industry. Cox Communications has placed its newspaper holdings in eastern North Carolina for sale, including daily newspapers in Greenville, Rocky Mount and Elizabeth City. Landmark Communications has placed the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk for sale as well. The News and Observer has announced several massive layoffs, eliminated sections and consolidated some editorial positions with its sister paper in Charlotte. These are tough times for the newspaper industry.
But there is some good news as well. Although the method of delivery will continue to shift from print to the Internet, there will always remain a need for a local entity to be the primary source for the gathering and dissemination of local news. We intend to fulfill that role for many years to come, with a renewed commitment to fairness, accuracy and honesty.
There is one fate I am determined to avoid. In one of my favorite songs, “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” Jimmy Buffett sings, “My occupational hazard is, my occupation’s just not around.” My occupation is local news, and with these steps and the support of so many friends in the Pamlico area, my family looks forward to pursuing a second century of service with humility and vigor.