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Gannett growing in weekly market, ranks No. 1 among owners

March 2006

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 Issues.

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 publications.

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 (13).

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 metro papers.

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 said.

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 cash-strapped weeklies.

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 information.
• They seek out news offered for free on the Internet or in print.
• 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 Issues:
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
Journalism.org http://www.stateofthemedia.org/2005/printable_ethnicalternative_alternative.asp
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.)

Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues
School of Journalism and Telecommunications, College of Communications & Information Studies
122 Grehan Building, University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-0042
Phone 859-257-3744 - Fax 859-323-3168

Al Cross, director al.cross@uky.edu

Last Updated: 09/14/2007