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Cluster pluck

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“Shuffling portfolios, even in a sophisticated way, won’t alone solve the problems of declining circulation, shrinking advertising market share and eroding reader confidence,” Alan Mutter writes. “But concentrating assets in tight, efficient clusters is one sensible step toward equipping newspapers to be more viable competitors in the age of good, fast and cheap new media.”

That comment comes from a recent item posted on Mutter’s blog, “Reflections of a Newsosaur” (newsosaur.blogspot.com). A longtime newspaperman who held editorial positions at the Chicago Sun-Times and San Francisco Chronicle, Mutter is now a managing partner in a company involved in media ventures that combine journalism and technology.

Such clustering is behind the newspaper swap occurring in Detroit, with Gannett, which earlier this year bought a chain of suburban weekly papers in the metro area, consolidating its position here by acquiring the dominant Free Press. Knight Ridder, which has owned the Freep for decades, received smaller papers in other parts of the country where it has a stronger presence already.

It’s part of a trend.

“The concentration of dailies and weeklies into ever-larger contiguous regional clusters creates new advertising products for publishers to sell,” Mutter writes. As a result, “the costs of content, production and delivery can be reduced through the consolidation of staffs and capital-intensive printing facilities.”

There is, however, a downside to all this efficiency.

“Greater media concentration inevitably will lead to a decline in the diversity of regional editorial voices serving our communities,” Mutter warns.

The key to success, he says, is funneling that newfound profit into producing “compelling and competitive new products.

“If the goodies garnered at the swap meet go only to pumping up short-term profits,” Mutter writes, “the industry will be cheating its readers, its investors and itself.”

See Also:

Shuffling the deck
By Steve Lovelady
When big deals trump goodwill.

Meet the new boss
By Curt Guyette
The two sides of Dean Singleton.

Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or cguyette@metrotimes.com

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