Detroit’s papers to cut back on delivery

Detroit’s two main newspapers (The Free Press and News) are scaling back their delivery due to the worsening economic conditions.

Beginning in March, both papers will be delivering to homes only three days a week, while being exclusively on newsstands and retail outlets the other four in a slimmed-down version. Both papers are refocusing on their respective online sites, with an emphasis on offering more on the Web.

Both The Free Press and News are published jointly, but owned by different companies. (Gannett owns The Free Press; The News is owned by MediaNews.)

The move is expected to open up opportunities for Detroit three local television news operations, including grabbing more available advertising dollars. However, those dollars are becoming harder and harder to come by as many national advertisers have stopped buying local spot time in the market. According to TVNewsday, local spots make up a whopping 65 to 70 percent of a station’s revenue in the Detroit market.

Fox-owned WJBK dominates in the morning, while NBC affiliate WDIV and ABC affiliate WXYZ-TV slug it out in other time periods throughout the day. Under Fox’s current ownership, WJBK has become a bigger player in news, more so than the days when it was a CBS affiliate when its newscasts would often lose to The Jetsons in the ratings (I’m not making this up.)

CBS-owned WWJ-TV still does not have a news operation. WWJ (on Channel 62) became a CBS outlet in 1994 after the Fox-New World deal ousted CBS from its longtime home at WJBK, which was owned by New World at the time. WWJ shut it news operation in 2002.

Meanwhile, WMYD-TV (My Network TV) launched a new 10 p.m. newscast last July to compete with WJBK’s, but it’s produced by Independent News Network in Iowa.

Detroit’s economy has been battered for decades, and has gotten worse in the last few years, thanks to the Big Three automaker’s woes, massive job losses, and a political scandal featuring the city’s mayor which gave Detroit a black eye nationally (though the recent pay-for-play scandal featuring Governor Arrogant hurting Chicago’s image may even top that.)

Worse, political spending froze after John McCain condeded Michigan to President-Elect Barack Obama in the recent election.

And, the Detroit Lions may become the NFL’s first 0-16 team. On the other hand, the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup last June, the Detroit Tigers went to the World Series two years ago, and the Detroit Pistons remain competitive on the hardwood four years after winning their third NBA Chamionship.

With the auto industry in decline, Detroit’s stations has had to refocus on other ad categories. While media outlets have been successful in filling holes left by the automakers, the revenue coming in is nowhere near what the car companies brought in. Like newspapers, local television and radi outlets are hoping a beefed-up online presence will ease the revenue pain.

While the economic slowdown is hurting cities from coast-to-coast, this is proof it is hurting more cities than others.