About Me

  • I've spent more than 25 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. I've helped to invent ways to read and interact with the news and advertising on computer screens and iPads, and before that, I wrote news stories on typewriters and six-ply paper. I co-founded WashingtonPost.com and hyperlocal pioneers Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland; and have done product-development and strategy consulting for all sorts of media and Internet companies and startups. You can read more about me here.

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« Au Revoir, Minitel | Main | Conventional Wisdom–Not »

August 10, 2008



It's not just the missing bylines, but there are other obvious signs of newspaper cost-cutting. The Sunday Washington Post now appears at my local store on Saturday mornings, and I live just 30 blocks from the Washington Post building, as the crow flies. When this early delivery started, the local Giant supermarket put a green canvas blanket over the stacks so people wouldn't buy the Sunday papers on Saturday. If you lifted the blanket and took one anyway, the cashier would say it wasn't yet meant for sale, and refused to ring it up. Since the nearby CVS sells anything to anyone anytime, the Giant eventually gave up and put the green canvas blanket away. So on Saturdays I have the peculiar option of buying today's news today, or tomorrow's news today. I can tell you, tomorrow's news is often staler than today's.
I hazard a guess this early distribution is to get around paying double-time for Sunday work, but it is leading to Sunday newspapers that read more like magazines than newspapers. If you do that, I think you need to establish a system like the British and have a separate staff dedicated to thinking about the Sunday edition and to make it unique. I loved the British Sunday papers when I lived in Europe, especially as they had a different voice from the weekday editions.
I know this idea is not in the cards for newspapers today, but it goes to a problem I am seeing at other newspapers. For example, you can often read the Sunday New York Times magazine online on Thursday, and some newspapers post their Sunday think pieces in advance. The Post resisted posting its 13-part Chandra series all at once, and the Philadelphia Inquirer is trying some plan to withhold stories from the Web until they are published in print.
This all shows to me that newspapers have yet to think through what they are going to be in the future: print or Web. Sundays are incredibly lucrative for newspaper publishers and they are reluctant to give up that franchise and all those ads. But by their actions, they are degrading their product and ruining its vitality.

Mark Potts

Actually, Edward, that's the "bulldog" edition of the Sunday Post, and they've been publishing it for several years. It's intended for sale on Saturday, sort of as a weekend paper. Other papers do something similar. Basically, it's the feature sections and a bunch of wire copy, and the paper is totally redone overnight with live copy. Not real sure why Giant would hide them--they're MEANT to be sold on Saturday! Now, why anybody would buy that paper (coupons? An early look at Parade?) is beyond me, but it's not some sort of distribution error. It's a deliberate attempt to sell a few papers 24 hours early.


That's hilarious. This scene at the Giant went on for months because I normally shop on Saturday. Initally, I thought they were just dropping off the inserts for the Sunday papers, but you could sometimes see through the blanket that they were full Sunday papers. I only noticed that the CVS was selling themm when I stopped in the drug store after shopping at Giant.

Laura Lee Dooley

This is really useful -- what would be even more helpful is if we had the staffing/operations numbers before the cuts as well.

Mark Potts

Laura: I agree, but overall staffing size numbers are very, very hard to come by. They're very rarely released.

Danny Sanchez

Nice work Mark.


43, Cincinnati, it's Enquirer with an E.

Mark Potts

Thanks for the catch on the Enquirer. It's fixed. Must've been a reflex action from my Philadelphia Inquirer experience.


Thanks for your good work. Now please consider doing a similar chart for how many jobs have been ADDED on the online side during the same time period. I think that will create an interesting, fuller picture. Not that it would cause one to cease to worry.



Great blog, Mark. I'm writing a pseudo-article on how newspapers have had to change quite a bit to adapt to new media such as blogs and CraigsList. Is it alright if I quote some of this article?

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