Detroit Stations Eye Opportunity As Papers Pull Back

Station managers say they are interested in reaching out to paper's advertisers

As a pair of venerable daily newspapers prepares to scale back distribution, stations in Detroit wonder what sort of opportunity the papers’ decreased visibility spells for them. As had been hinted at, The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News will cut home delivery dramatically in March. Gannett’s Free Press will deliver Thursday, Friday and Sunday, and MediaNews Group’s Detroit News will be delivered Thursday and Friday. (The two are published jointly by the Detroit Media Partnership.) The papers will print slimmer versions for the newsstand the rest of the week.

With its auto giants reeling, the economic climate in the #11 DMA is grim. While station managers say they’re saddened to see their print brethren take such drastic steps, they’re happy to reach out to the papers’ advertisers. “We’re doing a thorough analysis of who advertises in the paper on the days it won’t be delivered,” says WDIV VP/General Manager Marla Drutz.

WDIV, owned by Post-Newsweek, has a partnership with Free Press that sees both parties’ reporters pop up in the other’s outlets. Drutz says the station will meet with Free Press executives to see how the downsizing affects their “co-marketing” agreement.

Layoffs at the papers are reported to be as low as 200 and as high as 300, though the newsrooms are reportedly being spared. The 177-year old Free Press has vowed to keep its newsgathering strong as ever. “We're putting more emphasis on up-to-the minute news and multimedia reports and conversations on Our traffic has soared, up to almost 4 million page views in a single day, and we're a leader in online growth,” reported today. “Combining print and Web, we're reaching more readers than ever. We're working on enhanced delivery of news and multimedia, including video and photo galleries to our mobile Web site, which is important to a growing number of people who use handheld devices including smart phones.”

A Free Press spokesperson said the revamped model will set a $12 monthly subscription fee for either paper, including home delivery on those specific days, and an enhanced digital version of the paper--more interactive, laid out differently from the Website, and delivered to the reader’s email address each morning--the rest of the week.

Free Press vows to take the fight to local television. “We're looking at ways to develop our broadcast capabilities, because technology now allows Web sites -- including -- to offer video reports and broadcast news,” reports “That's no longer the province of traditional TV. The Free Press and have already won three national Emmy Awards for broadband video.”

Station managers say it’s too early to speculate on what sort of competition the papers will pose come spring. But they like their head start, in terms of video. “At any point in time we could be challenged by them [on the Web],” says WXYZ VP/General Manager Bob Sliva. “But that’s right in our wheelhouse, and we expect to do it better than anybody.” (WXYZ is owned by Scripps.)

While Motown’s broadcast veterans say they’ll miss the image of the two papers slugging it out each day, they don’t have to stretch to see the silver lining. “If you ever needed [proof] that morning news is important,” says Drutz, “think of this market when there’s no morning paper being delivered.”