Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Further Reduction at Lee Newspapers
12th in a series by contributor Mark Wilson
(©2011 Mark Wilson)
In a move yet to be officially announced, Post-Star owner Lee Enterprises, Inc. of Davenport Iowa merged two of its central Illinois newspapers on September 26th.
The move combined the Journal Gazette of Mattoon and the Times Courier of Charleston into a single publication now called (unsurprisingly) the Journal Gazette & Times Courier.
The neighboring communities of Mattoon and Charleston,12 miles apart, are located in southern Illinois, about 130 miles northeast of St. Louis, Mo. The combined average daily circulation of the papers is roughly 13,000. Since 2006 the Charleston Times Courier has lost over one quarter of its average daily circulation, placing it ninth on the list of Lee Enterprises’ worst performing newspapers.
The move by Lee to merge an underperforming publication with a nearby neighbor may foretell the fortunes of other newspapers in the Lee portfolio. The Lompoc (CA) Record with a daily circulation of 3,874, and the Beatrice (NE) Daily Sun with a circulation of 5,321 have lost even more readers than the Times Courier over the past half decade. Both may well be merged with larger nearby publications: In the case of Lompoc, the Santa Maria (CA) Times is forty miles away, and the Lincoln (NE) Journal Star is only 43 miles from Beatrice. By comparison, the Auburn (NY) Citizen—whose size and recent circulation losses are in the same ballpark—is over 150 miles from its nearest merger candidate, the Post-Star. This summer Lee placed the staffs of the Helena (MT) Independent Record and the (Butte)Montana Standard (a distance of 68 miles) under a single editor, though the offices of each paper were not combined.
Lee Enterprises, Inc., which is experiencing financial difficulty, has not yet officially acknowledged the merger of the two Illinois papers. However, a press release dated October 10, announcing the appointment of a new publisher at the Carlisle (PA) Sentinel, did mention that Lee wholly owns 48 daily newspapers. Last month the number stood at 49. Lee has yet to report how many staffers were laid off in the most recent consolidation.