The parent company of The Kansas City Star plans to eliminate the Saturday print editions of its 30 newspapers by the end of next year.
The McClatchy Company, the second largest newspaper chain in the country, previously announced plans to eliminate Saturday print editions in 12 of its markets, including Wichita. The Wichita Eagle notified subscribers last month that it would move to digital-only coverage on Saturdays after Nov. 16.
In a conference call with analysts on Wednesday, McClatchy President and CEO Craig Forman said the rest of the company’s newspapers will move to digital-only on Saturdays by 2020.
Forman announced the move in the course of discussing McClatchy’s third-quarter financial results. The company lost $305 million in the quarter (although almost all of it consisted of a markdown of assets) even as it said digital subscriptions grew 45 percent over a year earlier.
“This encouraging growth in digital subscribers came as we also expanded our digital Saturday rollout to include conversions or announcements to convert 12 of our markets to digital-only editions on Saturdays,” Forman said in a news release about the financial results. “We are seeing wide acceptance of digital Saturdays among our subscribers in the markets where the change has been implemented and/or announced, and in those markets where implementation has occurred we are seeing an accelerated conversion to our digital products.”
Forman said “digital Saturdays” were already underway at four McClatchy properties: The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; The Bellingham Herald in Bellingham, Washington; The Durham Herald Sun in Durham, North Carolina; and The Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania.
McClatchy newspapers, including The Star and Eagle, have undergone multiple rounds of layoffs and buyouts over the last decade as print advertising and circulation revenue have plummeted in tandem with the rise of digital media.
McClatchy has contended with high debt, much of it incurred when it acquired rival newspaper chain Knight Ridder in 2006 for $4.5 billion. The Wall Street Journal reported in May that McClatchy was engaged in merger talks, and in the news release reporting its results McClatchy said it and its advisors “are exploring all available options” to address its cash crunch problems.
McClatchy spokeswoman Jeanne Segal confirmed that all McClatchy newsrooms will be going digital on Saturdays, although she said no date has been announced yet for Kansas City.
“We’ll produce a print newspaper Sunday-Friday and invite subscribers to go digital on Saturdays,” Segal said in an email. “The print editions on Friday and Sundays will be enhanced with additional puzzles and comics and on Friday we will add 'Uplift,' a new section with inspiring stories.”
Segal said going digital on Saturdays will allow McClatchy to invest in digital offerings “for a large and growing audience and provide our readers with strong, independent local journalism that is essential to the communities we serve.”
“In fact,” she said, “our digital audience is now bigger than our print circulation on Saturdays.”
Segal said print customers will have access to a daily eEdition, which she described as “an enhanced digital replica of our print product.”
“The eEdition lets our subscribers turn pages and skim the headlines and find the news that interests them in the same way a print newspaper is used. The e-Edition also includes a supplement, EXTRA EXTRA, which features more national news, entertainment news and general interest features. And for sports fans, we also have SPORTS EXTRA,” Segal said.
Kansas City Star editor Mike Fannin, who was promoted by McClatchy to president of The Star last month, did not respond to an email seeking comment.
As local newspapers contend with shrinking revenue, the pressure to cut costs and maximize financial returns has only increased.
On Thursday, shareholders of the two largest American newspaper chains, Gannett and GateHouse Media, approved a deal to combine the companies, creating the country’s biggest newspaper conglomerate. The combined company, which will operate under the Gannett name, will own more than 250 daily newspapers, including USA Today, and hundreds of weekly and community newspapers.
That will make McClatchy the country’s second biggest newspaper chain, as measured by the number of newspapers it owns. (The McClatchy papers have combined print circulation of 1.7 million, compared with 8.7 million for the combined Gannett company.)
GateHouse owns several newspapers in the Kansas City region, including The Examiner in Independence, Missouri; The Topeka Capital-Journal; and The Leavenworth Times.
The combined Gannett company has pledged to come up with $300 million in annual savings in the next two years, which likely means further reductions in the company’s reporting ranks.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.