Media Moves

Savannah daily finds success with standalone weekly biz tabloid

May 11, 2010

TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE

Last month, the Washington Post raised eyebrows in the business journalism field with the launch of its weekly business news tabloid, Capital Business, that is separate from the daily newspaper.

But it wasn’t the first daily to take such a step. The Savannah Morning News, a Morris newspaper, launched Business in Savannah, or BiS, last year as a Wednesday tabloid that is separate from the business news coverage that runs in the paper on a daily basis. It also has a separate website and a Twitter feed. The weekly tabloid now has a circulation of more than $5,000. Subscribers to the daily paper pay $29.50 for a one-year subscription, while non-daily subscribers pay $37.

Running BiS is Gale Baldwin, who also serves as the managing editor/business editor of the Morning News. He has an editorial staff of five that works on the weekly as well as business news for the daily.

Baldwin talked Tuesday by e-mail with Talking Biz News about BiS. What follows is an edited transcript.

1. How did the paper come up with the idea of BusinessinSavannah?

Our publisher, Mike Traynor, suspected there was a demand for more and better business coverage in the community. A bi-weekly business report existed but wasn’t doing much, and the only other outlet for business news was our daily coverage. With that in mind, we held a series of meetings with people in the business community, and they were unanimous
(no exaggeration) in saying yes, they would like to see more business news and felt there was an opening for a new publication.

2. Did you look at what other papers, like weekly business newspapers in metro cities, were doing?

No, we based our decisions on what we heard doing our conversations with business people, on the reality of what resources we have available and on past experience with business sections here and elsewhere. Savannah is a city that likes to see itself in print and we heard over and over again that there was a demand for business profiles and items about
people. So we based much of our content on that feedback.

3. When did it launch and what was the reaction?

July 29, 2009, and the reaction was favorable across the board. I’ve been in newspapers since the mid 1970s, been involved in a number of launches of various kinds of newspaper-related publications, and this is the first time I’ve not heard negative feedback or criticism of a new product.

4. Are you selling subscriptions? How is it delivered?

We have a basic mailing list of people who receive it free; we sell subscriptions as an add-on to the daily Savannah Morning News and we have a number of racks in the immediate area.

5. How is its content different from the business news in the Morning News?

The daily business section is, by definition, about breaking business news and what I would call “hard” news; our Sunday section is reserved for short-term and long-term business enterprise. BiS, on the other hand, is more profile oriented in addition to a weekly cover story that sometimes is about a particular business and sometimes about a business-related issue or concern. We also re-purpose much of the content from the daily into BiS by reworking it into truncated stories or briefs columns.

The other thing that’s different in BiS is that we used information from our database at savannahnow.com, such as property transactions, bankruptcies, restaurant inspections, etc., to create what we call ‘data central’ in the back of the book.

6. How do you decide what content goes in BiS, and what content goes in the daily newspaper?

The predetermined definitions of the content for each take care of that for the most part. The only real question is whether a subject might be a cover story for BiS or an enterprise story for the daily or Sunday. Usually, it’s an easy call because of the more feature oriented nature or BiS; sometimes it’s pure judgment or individual preference.

7. Why a Wednesday publication date? Most weekly tabs come out on Friday or Monday.

In talking through what day we wanted to distribute, Wednesday fit best into the mix of such questions as (1) when is press time available? (2) When does it work best for circulation to mail/distribute it? (3) When do ad deadlines fit best considering all the other products we have coming out of the building? When the answers were distilled, Wendesday was the result.

8. How is BiS distributed, and what are the circulation goals?

As mentioned, direct mail, add-on subscription via the Morning News and single-copy racks. Circulation goal is between 5,000 and 5,400. (Editor’s note: The weekly tabloid is circulated in three counties around Savannah and has more than 30 racks and in-store locations.)

9. The Washington Post launched a similar business news tab last month that is separate from its daily paper. Why do you think daily newspapers are making such moves?

I would suspect their thoughts/motives are the same as ours: There appears to be demand for and a vacuum in terms of content. By filling that vacuum, you can add readers, increase market share and add to or improve the bottom line.

10. Are the lessons learned with BiS something that is being shared across all Morris newspapers?

To the best of my knowledge, yes. We just tied for first place for the Morris annual award for innovation and shortly after we launched, we briefed an editor from our Athens, Ga., paper on how and what we did.

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