National Newspapers' New Focus: Local Markets

WSJ, NYT Add Editions, Coverage for San Francisco, Chicago

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- National news outlets' battle to provide local news and win local advertisers is suddenly heating up fast.

The Times described its San Francisco play primarily as an effort to strengthen and perhaps grow its circulation in the area.
The Times described its San Francisco play primarily as an effort to strengthen and perhaps grow its circulation in the area. Credit: AP
The Wall Street Journal's new weekly San Francisco Bay Area edition will appear for the first time tomorrow, confronting a similar Fridays-and-Sundays push from The New York Times that began there on Oct. 16. The Journal is simultaneously planning to hire new reporters for metro coverage of the New York area, according to insiders who confirmed a New York Times report breaking that news yesterday. And The Times plans to introduce a Chicago edition in the next few weeks, fed by a deal with the new Chicago News Cooperative.

Because no modern newspaper war is complete without incursions from new media, on top of that, The Huffington Post has already introduced sections aggregating local news in Chicago, Denver and New York.

"Any time a national brand can provide any local information or serve their readers locally, they'll only grow that relationship," said Michael Rooney, chief revenue officer at The Journal.

With readers, everyone hopes, comes advertising. And results so far look promising. The Journal's San Francisco edition is sold out through the end of the year. Nasdaq OMX is sponsoring the Thursday debut, partly because so many Nasdaq companies are based in California and partly because the Bay Area edition offers local traction combined with broader interests, said John Jacobs, exec VP-chief marketing officer at Nasdaq OMX.

"We value the fact that they're targeted editions of the paper, because there is a local flavor, but still it's complemented by that national and international flavor that they bring," Mr. Jacobs said.

The Times described its San Francisco play primarily as an effort to strengthen and perhaps grow its circulation in the San Francisco area. "By providing a modest amount of local coverage, we saw this as a way to further cement our existing relationship with readers," said Scott Heekin-Canedy, president and general manager of The Times. But it, too, wants new advertising. So far its Bay Area report has attracted ads for a local furniture store and a visiting Shakespeare production on the University of California's Berkeley campus.

The Journal actually used to publish six regional editions, including one for California, but discontinued them in 2000. The difference now, according to Mr. Rooney, is the paper's new owner for the past two years: Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. "We had limited resources as Dow Jones and now we have more resources as part of News Corp.," he said.

The other, unspoken difference: circulation weakness at the local newspapers that once owned their respective markets.

Don't expect anybody to stop at the cities they've broached so far. The costs, for one thing, seem reasonably low. The Journal is filling its San Francisco pages with reports from existing staffers at the paper, at Dow Jones Newswires and at MarketWatch, a Dow Jones sibling. The Times is already using outside partners to fill its Chicago pages and is talking with Bay Area news organizations about providing news there.

Mr. Rooney declined to comment on plans for New York or any cities beyond San Francisco, but would not rule anything out. "We see opportunity," he said.

"We want to see how our initial foray into this area works," said Mr. Heekin-Canedy. "If it does work to our satisfaction we're open to taking it to other markets across the country. It has to be a market where our circulation is significant enough to justify it. I can't imagine how we would do it beyond the top 10 or 15 markets."

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