Fredric D. Rutberg: Eagle to adjust print frequency, go all in on digital
The mission at The Berkshire Eagle is to become the finest community newspaper in America. While COVID-19 has thrown some obstacles in our path, our commitment remains constant. However, our commitment requires that we adapt to the times and the economic changes they present.
Without taking you deeply into the weeds, the economic havoc that COVID-19 has wreaked hit newspaper publishing particularly hard, and The Berkshire Eagle was no exception. Our advertising revenues plummeted by almost 50 percent with the lockdown that came in March. They are inching up, but are still more than 30 percent lower than what we earned a year ago. The uncertainty that the pandemic has created stretches further into the future as each month passes. No one knows when it will end.
We have devoted the last four months to examining where we are, what we believe the future will bring, and how we can best position The Eagle to soar into that future. For years, we have known that the future of our industry is with digital publishing, and COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to 21st-century publishing, which we call Being Digital. Being Digital means delivering the news in a way to fit the times and accommodate the future. Being Digital allows us to modernize and enhance our digital presence by expanding our use of digital tools in our reporting that incorporates the use of podcasts, video, interactive graphics, and links to underlying references and sources.
Beginning Oct. 10, we will publish a weekender print edition of The Eagle on Saturdays. The last Sunday print edition will be Oct. 4. Beginning Oct. 5, The Monday Eagle will be available only in the e-edition form. However, Monday's e-edition will be even more enhanced than those on other weekdays. Yet, even we print newspaper devotees recognize that some novel forms of journalism have created an online reading experience that can, in some cases, be superior.
While obvious savings come with printing two fewer papers each week, our decision was dictated by our commitment to content and influenced by you, our audience. Between July 2019 and July 2020, the number of digital-only subscriptions increased by 50 percent, while new print subscriptions barely made up for those that lapsed during the year. The choice to read a print paper is largely generational, and the number of people, like me, who prefer to read a print paper is dwindling.
We have made several investments as part of Being Digital. Some of these things you may not notice, like replacing our content management system. However, that change will allow our reporters and editors to move more swiftly to bring their stories to you, while allowing them to add audio, video and photo galleries for our online readers. It allows us to give our website a noticeably new look and feel.
We consciously choose to meet the changing realities of the times without sacrificing our commitment to publish a newspaper of which our community can be justifiably proud. We believe that the content of the publication is more important than the method by which it is presented to our readers, and the increase in readership that followed COVID-19 convinces us that our readership is equally interested in receiving news and information that is accurate, reliable and local.
While we do not wish to, and will not, abandon our print readers, we must adapt so we can thrive and bring you the news and information you want and deserve. In summary fashion, here are the changes you will see beginning on Oct. 4:
On Mondays, we will publish an expanded e-edition of The Eagle, but no paper edition; the e-edition is, in effect, a photocopy of the print paper, but we will be adding more to the Monday e-edition. Currently, we add four more pages to our e-edition, and we plan to add even more to our digital Monday paper.
From Tuesday through Friday, nothing will change. We will publish a print edition, along with an e-edition, of The Eagle from Tuesday through Saturday, while we update the news digitally all day, every day.
On Saturdays, we will publish the Weekender edition of The Eagle, which will contain all of the news and features of today's Saturday paper, plus all of the special Sunday sections, such as Weekend Fun and Games (the comics and puzzles section), TV listings, Berkshire Landscapes, Berkshire Business Insider and SportsPlus. I believe that many families will keep the Weekender paper on their coffee tables through Sunday night at least.
"Sunday-only" subscribers will become Weekender-only subscribers and have their papers delivered on Saturday mornings.
We will constantly update our website and app with the latest news and other features by our reporters; this will occur seven days a week, 365 days a year.
The cost of your subscription will not change, because we will continue to bring you the news seven days a week, as before.
I view these changes as laying the foundation for the coming decades, as it allows us to bring our publications and web presence to you in an up-to-date and modern way. I know that some may view them differently, and I would like to remind those folks that we have changed before: For decades, until 1987, The Eagle was a six-day-per-week newspaper, and prior to 1979, it was published in the afternoon. Other newspapers throughout the country have made similar changes to their print frequencies.
Next month, we turn the page again, and I want to thank our loyal readers and advertisers for the unwavering support you have given this newspaper. We have worked to earn your trust, and we are humbled by it. We will always respect it as we go forward together to meet the challenges that COVID-19 has brought and to report on the post-COVID world when that occurs.
If you have questions that I have not answered, please call our customer service representatives at 800-245-0254. Or, you can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please stay healthy and keep supporting quality local journalism.
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