'Detroit News' and 'Free Press' cut delivery to 3 days a week

ByEd White, The Associated Press
December 17, 2008, 7:48 AM

DETROIT -- Fighting to stay in business, Detroit's two daily newspapers will radically change their relationship with readers by slashing home delivery to three days a week, printing small editions on other days and encouraging people to get information online.

The Detroit market is the largest in the country to undergo that transformation. But it reflects a calculation facing newspapers across the country, with print circulation dropping as readers increasingly get their news on the Internet.

By curtailing home delivery on certain days, the papers reduce printing, fuel and labor expenses for editions that tend to attract fewer advertisements.

The chief executive of Detroit Media Partnership, which runs the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, said the move would keep the papers alive.

"I don't think we're ever going back," said David Hunke, who also is publisher of the Free Press.

If it fails, "I'm fired, and I may have led two great institutions down the wrong path," he said. "It's a huge risk. It's disruptive to folks. I understand that."

The Free Press is owned by Gannett, gciparent of USA TODAY.

Detroit Media Partnership is losing millions of dollars this year, and Michigan has been hammered by home foreclosures, high unemployment and the near-collapse of the auto industry.

Newsrooms will be spared layoffs, but Detroit Media Partnership still expects to cut 9% of its workforce of 2,151 employees.

Detroit has company in making major changes, but the other papers are in smaller towns.

The Christian Science Monitor recently said it would become the first national newspaper to drop its print edition and focus on publishing online.

Ken Doctor, media analyst at Outsell, said the Detroit papers' decision will "significantly reduce costs. It gets them ready for a bad 2009." But he added: "The biggest risk is it breaks the daily newspaper habit for readers and marketers. Newspapers are accelerating their own print demise."