Size change keeps reader in mind

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 7, 2008

If you woke up this morning and grabbed your newspaper and thought something was a little different, you’re very perceptive.

First, don’t worry; your arms have not shrunk overnight.

The newspaper you are holding — assuming your not reading this online — is exactly two inches narrower than Saturday’s edition. That’s two inches across the “opened” width. Each single page is one-inch narrower.

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Reducing the width of the paper is simply an effort to reduce expenses.

Last month, comparing our newsprint costs to the same month in the prior year, the difference was staggering. The price had increased approximately 60 percent.

The page size change may seem minor in nature at first glance. How much could possible be saved by trimming out a couple of inches?

As you consider that we’re printing thousands of copies and dozens of pages every single day of the year, it adds up fast.

A good estimate would be more than two 18-wheeler loads of newsprint saved in a year. That’s more than 90 tons of the stuff.

That’s a pretty staggering number, but so is an increase of approximately 60 percent.

As we were considering how to address the issue of prices spiraling out of control, we could have done what some companies do — raise rates significantly or slash our staff to the bone.

Neither of those options seemed like a good solution.

Customers are already facing rising prices for just about everything under the sun. Wouldn’t it be nice, we thought, if we could keep the newspaper subscription rate constant?

Our staff is our most important asset so, although we’re always looking for ways to work more efficiently, drastic, across-the-board staff reductions are a last resort.

In addition to reducing expenses some, the change also sets us up mechanically for a possible printing press expansion at some point in the future. The reduced newsprint size would allow us to — with some additional press modifications — print more color pages in the paper than is possible now.

So when considering what to do, the changes in newsprint size quickly became the most obvious choice.

As we worked on reducing our templates, Ben Hillyer, our Web editor and design guru, helped come up with some changes that will ultimately make some of our readers happy.

The daily crossword puzzle beginning with Monday’s publication will be printed slightly larger than it was before. Doing that required us to modify the page on which it is published.

As part of that redesign, we decided to drop the comic strip Doonesbury. I’m sure that will thrill some readers who have long complained that Doonesbury is a liberal political tool that did not belong on the comics page. Conversely, some readers will hate the change.

I can sympathize with those readers. I’m a creature of habit. It’s easy to get comfortable with the way things are.

But sometimes change ultimately is good. If through this change we can reduce our expenses and keep our staff impacted very little, our readers will come out ahead. We’ll continue to provide the best local news coverage we can provide and continue to be a key member of our community.

As you have feedback on the changes, please share it with me.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or