Gannett growing in weekly
market, ranks No. 1 among owners
By Chas J. Hartman, graduate assistant,
and Al Cross, director, Institute for Rural Journalism
and Community Issues
Gannett Co. started or acquired 85 weekly newspapers
in the last 11 months, giving the country’s biggest media
company another superlative. It is now the No. 1 owner of U.S.
weeklies, according to data compiled by Editor & Publisher
and analyzed by the Institute for Rural Journalism & Community
Surveys of E&P’s Yearbook Online in
August 2004 and July 2005 found that the number of weeklies owned
by Gannett during the 11-month period rose to 207 from 122. That
70 percent growth put Gannett above the 2004 leader in number
of weeklies, Community Newspapers Inc., which
showed very modest growth, to 179 weeklies from 174.
Figures include community weeklies, shoppers, Total Market Coverage
(TMC) papers, and some specialty/niche publications. E&P defines
a community weekly as being published one to three times a week,
and shoppers, TMCs and specialty/niche publications come out at
least once a month. Specialized shoppers and TMCs, such as auto
shoppers, are not listed. Gannett’s weeklies include 137
community weeklies, 51 shopper and TMCs, and 19 specialty/niche
Gannett’s weeklies have a strongly suburban focus, often
in areas where the company publishes dailies.
Of its 207 weeklies listed in the E&P database, 157, or 76
percent, are based in metropolitan areas and 50, or 24 percent,
are outside metro areas, according to U.S. Census Bureau
data. The five states boasting the most Gannett weeklies include:
Michigan (32), Wisconsin (27), Ohio (20), Iowa (18) and New Jersey
Much of Gannett’s weekly growth earlier this year was in
the Cincinnati area, where it owns the dominant daily, The
Cincinnati Enquirer. In March, the company bought for
an undisclosed sum HomeTown Communications Network Inc., which
included the Community Press and Community
Recorder newspapers. The Community Press is a network
of 26 community weeklies in the Cincinnati area; the Recorder
papers are in the Kentucky part of the metro area.
The HomeTown purchase also gave Gannett several weeklies in suburban
areas around Detroit including the Observer & Eccentric
and the Mirror. Gannett already owned
The Detroit News, one of three daily newspapers
owned by the company in Michigan.
One of Gannett’s most recent additions is The Indy
Herald Weekly, a network of free weeklies with separate
editions for three areas of Indianapolis. It already owned Topics
Newspapers, a non-daily operation with readers in the city’s
northern suburbs. Gannett bought The Indianapolis Star
from Central Newspapers for $2.6 billion in 2000.
Gannett says the actual number of non-daily publications it owns
dwarfs E&P’s figures. The company has almost 850 publications,
and “The majority of them are weeklies,” said Tara
Connell, Gannett’s vice president of corporate communications.
She said a specific breakdown was unavailable.
Many of Gannett’s non-dailies fall outside E&P Year
Book parameters, because of publication frequency or subject matter.
In some cases, eligible publications do not appear in the Year
Book because E&P could not obtain personnel and circulation
data. Those factors account for Connell’s higher total,
and the lack of listings for free weeklies published by daily
Gannett’s purchases reflect a trend in the newspaper industry
toward regional operating units composed of one or more dailies
and a group of weeklies sharing business and news functions in
the same metro market.
In western North Carolina, where Gannett owns the Asheville
Citizen-Times and its two offshoot weeklies, the Haywood
County News and Black Mountain News.
The latter weekly, which predated Gannett ownership, is listed
in E&P’s database. Gannett’s other Asheville non-dailies
are the quarterly magazine Blue Mountain Living
and the monthly magazines Mountain Maturity and
WNC (Western North Carolina) Parent.
There are an unusually large number of independent niche publications
in the relatively small Asheville metro area. Weeklies include
the Asheville Daily Planet, Asheville Global Report, The
Asheville Tribune and Mountain Xpress. The last paper
is the only one in E&P’s database.
In recent years, Gannett has acquired many weeklies as part of
package deals. In July 2000, the company purchased 19 dailies
and several weeklies in Wisconsin, Ohio, Louisiana, Maryland and
Utah for $1 billion from Thomson Newspapers. Last July, it bought
six weeklies in Wisconsin and one daily, the Green Bay
News Chronicle, from Brown County Publishing Co. Gannett
already owned the Chronicle’s chief competitor, the Green
Bay Press Gazette.
Gannett’s largest growth spurt in weeklies occurred between
December 2003 and December 2004. During that time, its number
of non-daily publications jumped from about 500 to 750, Connell
In February 2004, Gannett increased its domination of weekly
papers around Nashville by purchasing The Review-Appeal
in Franklin and The Rutherford Courier in
Smyrna. The Gannett-owned Tennessean and The
Review Appeal had competed in affluent Williamson County, just
south of Nashville. “These publications complement our existing
titles in the Middle Tennessee region and will allow Gannett to
increase its profile in this dynamic region,” Gary Watson,
president of Gannett’s Newspaper Division, said in a press
release at the time.
A growing number of Gannett’s weeklies are alternative
papers, which cater more to leisure activities. The company’s
weekly growth reflects its strategy of providing readers with
more options, Connell said.
“The daily newspaper is no longer the only source. People
like to get their news and information in a variety of ways,”
Connell said, adding that free-circulation newspapers and youth-oriented
weeklies are gaining popularity.
Seeing declines in daily newspaper readership in the 25-34 age
group, Gannett formed a task force in 2000. Charged with the goal
of attracting younger eyes, the task force suggested the company
should consider alternative weeklies. Most major metropolitan
areas already have alternative papers, which focus on arts and
entertainment and usually offer liberal views.
Gannett is known as one of the first daily newspaper chains
to start producing alternative weeklies. From the moment Gannett
announced its expansion plan, alternative weekly owners cried
foul, fearing Gannett would offer lower advertising rates, pinching
Starting in November 2002, Gannett launched free weeklies as
offshoots of daily metro papers. The weeklies are distributed
in bookstores, coffee shops, fitness clubs, restaurants and supermarkets.
Some of these publications and their parent newspapers include
CiN Weekly (The Cincinnati Enquirer), Noise (The Lansing State
Journal), Thr!ve (The Idaho Statesman in Boise), Velocity (The
Courier-Journal in Louisville), Insider (Rochester Democrat and
Chronicle in New York) and Link (The Greenville News in South
Carolina). None of these free weeklies appear in E&P’s
database, which does include some free publications.
At Gannett’s newspaper management conference in April
2004, managers heard findings from focus groups about such publications.
The lessons included:
• Most readers are hard-working Americans concerned about
their families and careers.
• They are news junkies, who prefer multiple sources of
• They seek out news offered for free on the Internet or
• They want the news to be convenient. They don’t
want to travel far for information.
• They place importance on leisure and social activities.
The Project for Excellence in Journalism’s
2005 The State of the News Media report talks about changes
in the alternative newspaper market: “After years of essentially
owning the weekly news and arts market and seeing rising readership
and revenue, the nation's alternative-weekly publishers are finding
a different world in the beginning of the 21st Century. Competition
has come to the field from a variety of sources. Daily newspapers
in major cities have launched free commuter tabloids that are
available at mass-transit stops. Big chains like Gannett have
launched free weeklies that compete directly with the smaller
alternatives. Online services like Craigslist serve
as everything from classified-ad pages to community news centers,
and are drawing away classified-advertising dollars.”
That report said large firms have a different approach to weeklies.
“They want to take on the alternative weeklies more directly
in terms of editorial packaging and are looking to attract younger
audiences with heavy emphasis on entertainment coverage. There
have been some significant startups in recent years. Tribune has
attempted to climb into the free-weeklies market in Florida. Gannett
has launched free weeklies in small and medium-sized cities around
the country . . . in hopes of grabbing some audience that would
normally gravitate to the alternative weeklies. Times
Publishing Co., which publishes the St. Petersburg
Times, started tbt* (Tampa Bay Times)
in the Tampa Bay area. Cox has entered the game with AccessAtlanta.
And for several years now Knight-Ridder has been
publishing Street Miami.”
All of those developments come during a time of readership growth
for alternative weeklies. The Association of Alternative
Newsweeklies reported that circulation increased from
7.3 million in 2003 to 7.5 million in 2004. AAN recorded its all-time
circulation peak in 2001 with 8 million.
Gannett is conducting an impact study on its non-daily growth
during the last three years. “We’re assessing the
ways people are acquiring their news,” Connell said.
UPDATE from The Wall Street Journal,
March 22, 2006: "To boost its presence in local markets,
Gannett Co., the nation's largest newspaper publisher, is increasing
its number of specialty publications. These are usually free weekly
papers, targeted at niche readers, in areas near its large daily
papers. Gannett has nearly 1,000 such publications, up from just
above 200 in 2000. In Arizona, for instance, Gannett says roughly
half of the adults in Phoenix read its Arizona Republic
daily paper at least once a week. But including people who read
its Web site, Spanish-language newspapers or its free coupon-filled
'shoppers,' Gannett says it reaches 76% of Phoenix adults weekly.
Sue Clark-Johnson, president of Gannett's Newspaper Division,
said in December at an analyst conference that revenues from the
company's 'nondaily' publications would be up nearly 13% in 2005
and were expected to rise again 'in the teens' in 2006. (Gannett
doesn't break out profitability of this segment.) 'This opens
up good opportunity for new revenues from new businesses; it reduces
reliance on major national accounts,' she said."
The top 10 owners of weekly newspapers in the
United States as of July 2005, according to Editor and Publisher
data compiled by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community
1. Gannett Co. (McLean, Va.) 207 (122 owned in August 2004)
2. Journal Register Co. (Trenton, N.J.) 180 (118)
3. Community Newspapers Inc. (Athens, Ga.) 179 (174)
4. Liberty Group Publishing (Northbrook, Ill.) 141 (139)
5. Lee Enterprises (Davenport, Iowa) 113 (51)
6. Landmark Community Newspapers (Shelbyville, Ky.) 83 (82)
7. Hollinger (Chicago, Ill.) 82 (74)
8. Advance Publications (Staten Island, N.Y.) 80 (75)
9. Community Newspaper Holdings (Birmingham, Ala.) 73 (73)
10. MediaNews Group (Denver, Colo.) 63 (61)
Sources for this report:
Editor and Publisher http://www.editorandpublisher.com
American Journalism Review http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=2646
Gannett Co. News Watch http://www.gannett.com/go/newswatch/2004/april/nw0430-5.htm
Nashville City Paper http://www.nashvillecitypaper.com/index.cfm?section=9&screen=news&news_id=30774
Business Courier http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/stories/2005/03/28/daily45.html
WisBiz In-Depth http://www.wisbusiness.com/index.iml?Article=30761
U.S. Census Bureau quick facts http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/
(Also referred to several Gannett news releases and visited newspaper
Web sites for size and location information.)