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Wednesday, June 22,2011

NOISE quiets down

Gannett weekly ceases print publication after nine years

by Andy Balaskovitz

In 2002, Lansing and Boise, Idaho, were
guinea pig markets for media giant Gannett’s plans to launch weekly
tabloids — which the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies dubbed
“faux alt-weekly” publications — that targeted a young and hip news
consumer.


After this week’s issue, NOISE becomes an online-only publication.


NOISE started as a robust 48-page product
with a full-time staff of nine and a distribution of 20,000 copies.
Several years ago, the full-time staff disappeared and its page count
dropped to 16 or 20. Its distribution fell to 17,000; about two years
ago NOISE tried to generate more pick-up by deploying a wave of red
boxes around town. No matter: Stacks of old NOISE copies were returned a
week later. One NOISE driver told City Pulse even if 80 out of 100
papers were left at a stop, numbers never got cut.


(City Pulse printed 19,995 copies this week, of which 5 to 10 percent will be left over, publisher Berl Schwartz said.) 


Mickey Hirten, executive editor of the
Gannett-owned Lansing State Journal, announced the news on the LSJ’s
website last week: “The move reflects the news and information
preferences of NOISE’s young audience,” he wrote. “An enhanced
lansingnoise.com Web site, set for a June 22 launch, will be immediate,
personal and portable, featuring the region’s most comprehensive local
entertainment calendar, profiles of musical acts headed to local stages,
food reviews, LCC video and other favorites.”


Hirten said in an interview that the move is strictly market-driven and denied Noise was losing money.


“I’m not discussing our finances any more
than how are you guys doing?" (City Pulse has been profitable for about
six years, Schwartz said.) "It was a viable publication, certainly,” he
said. “It’s a market. This is how people want their stuff. They don’t
want to wait until Thursday when they can have it on Friday. Or
Saturday. Or Sunday.”


Identical news about Gannett’s Indianapolis-based weekly Metromix also surfaced last week.


Kate Marymont, vice president of news at Gannett, could not confirm if any more of Gannett’s weeklies were moving online.


“In this case, our young audience has
gone very digital,” Marymont, who has been at Gannett for three years,
said. “We can reach some better with a digital platform than print for
something like NOISE.”


Gannett owns 82 daily newspapers in the
U.S., including USA Today, and 23 television stations. Other products
include careerbuilder.com and specialized publications like
momslikeme.com and highschoolsports.net.


Marymont could not comment on whether NOISE was hemorrhaging money. “That was all discussed at the local level,” she said.


If it turns out NOISE is not viable
online, either, Marymont said “we’ll have to weigh the importance of
serving those audiences in those ways. We do things that don’t have
direct revenue tied to them. Our great watchdog journalism doesn’t pay
for itself but it’s a commitment we have.”


Brian Fisher, editor of NOISE from
November 2004 to December 2008, was there when the paper had two
full-time reporters, a full-time photographer, a creative manager, a
copy editor and one part-time staffer. Hirten said now the staff is a
mix of “freelance, internal staff and staff-assigned.”


Fisher was laid off from Gannett in 2008
after working there since 1997. In 2008, Fisher said Gannett made a 10
percent employee cut “across the entire organization.” Between August
and December 2008, the LSJ cut 40 positions — including the full-time
NOISE staff — and another 26 in 2009 (though some blogs that cover
Gannett said it was 28).


Between 2002 and 2008, Fisher said NOISE
went from being a “separate thing” from the LSJ to “definitely
contributing more to the LSJ as an entity.” Fisher said the news about
going online-only “didn’t surprise me.”


“Unfortunately the distribution system
for NOISE as a print product wasn’t always as strong as I thought it
could have been. It made it difficult at times to have that kind of
penetration on a local level in the community. That will be a definite
challenge for the online product for people to really recognize NOISE as
a brand.”


Fisher said he understands the market-driven move to digital, but you can’t deny the economics of a daily print newspaper.


“My guess is that the amount of
advertising they were selling wasn’t enough to keep it alive as a print
product. I’m guessing they weren’t making enough revenue to cover print
and distribution costs,” he said. “They took the next logical step.”

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