Biz Sections Dying Off for Lack of Ad Revenue

Hamstrung by Online, National Rivals, Local Papers Losing Their Niche

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CHICAGO ( -- Shrinking newspapers forced to make cuts are increasingly regarding their stand-alone business sections as expendable.

The Denver Post -- which folded its business section into other sections on every day but Sunday -- this month became at least the eighth daily to cut its stand-alone daily business section since early 2007. The Orange County Register made a similar move just a week earlier.

While the cuts are a source of much consternation among business journalists -- and also to public-relations executives at small local firms and agencies that may have trouble securing news coverage without them -- analysts, advertisers and publishers say that the stand-alone sections were relatively poor sources of ad revenue that tended to be overmatched by national and online competition on anything beyond the most hyperlocal stories.

"We've never had much use for local business sections with B-to-B clients," said Andrew Swinand, the top print buyer at Starcom USA, whose clients include major business advertisers such as Oracle. To Mr. Swinand, the best local business sections tend to be the ones that dominate an industry of particular local interest, such as the San Jose Mercury News' exhaustive coverage of Silicon Valley's tech firms or the New York Post's media obsession. "The Merc's business coverage is relevant because it's covering the dominant local industry, which makes a lot of sense. It wouldn't be a disconnect to cover such a hyperlocal story in the metro section, if they decided to do that." (It hasn't.)

'Rip and read'
Said veteran newspaper-industry analyst Ed Atorino, of Benchmark Capital: "You do get a story once in awhile about a local storeowner or a closing or something, which you might miss, but most of what's in those sections is rip and read [wireservice copy]," he said. "With all the business news on TV and the internet, the consumer is getting it someplace else."

Those moves would seem to be a boon to publishers of local business journals, who compete aggressively against dailies for breaking news, but publishers of those books say the sections had so little advertising in the first place that there's not much to be gained by their absence.

"It really doesn't have an effect on us one way or the other," Denver Business Journal Publisher Scott Bemis said of the Denver Post's move to eliminate its stand-alone section on weekdays. "The reason they couldn't justify it separately was they didn't have enough advertising."

What little overlap there is between dailies and business journals, Mr. Bemis said, is in local business- to-business ads and high-end retail, which doesn't necessarily fall in the business section of a daily newspaper.

National fight
Meanwhile, the fight to deliver business news on a national scale is being waged anew -- thanks to News Corp.'s recent purchase of Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal, the launch of Fox Business News to challenge CNBC, the renewed push behind Reuters under new owner Thomson, and even a high-end glossy in Condé Nast's Portfolio.

But the magazines catering to small businesses probably are best positioned to try capturing any advertising displaced by the newspapers' retrenchment; their story at the moment is more intriguing. Ad pages at Fortune Small Business fell 13.8% last year but grew 6.4% at Inc.

So are there opportunities for, say, national business magazines in all this? "If there are, I'm going to find them," said Jim Berrien, president- publisher at Forbes Media Group. "If you look at a lot of the advertisers in the business sections, they are national in nature." The more localized marketers, however, are more likely to turn toward the web if they lose newspaper sections.

The demise of the stand-alone newspaper section is clearly traced to shifting of stock tables online by many papers during the last few years, and that space generally has been eliminated to save newsprint expenses rather than filled with additional business coverage. A study by Arizona State University's National Center for Business Journalism found that roughly 75% of daily newspapers today run, on average, one page or less of business news a day, and only one in eight daily papers runs a stand-alone section.

Folded in
In addition to the large papers in Denver and Orange County, others that have cut their standalone sections include the Akron Beacon- Journal and Cincinnati Enquirer (both Ohio); Reno (Nev.) Gazette- Journal; and the Monterey (Calif.) Herald. In most cases, the sections continued to exist in smaller formats, consolidated into other sections.

Syndicated Chicago Tribune business columnist Andrew Leckey, who runs the ASU program, said the editorial impact of the section consolidations is limited because business news has gradually leaked into other pages. Front pages, he noted, have been dominated in recent weeks by stories about the mortgage crisis, a potential recession, Super Bowl ads and even box-office returns.

"Business news makes it into the other sections more than it used to," he said.

Andrea Mathewson, publisher of the Akron-Beacon Journal, which merged its weekday business section into the sports section, said the advertising impact has been minimal. "There really wasn't much support for the stand-alone anyhow," she said.

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Contributing: Nat Ives
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