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Sign of the future? Detroit newspapers curtail home delivery

Your heart has to go out to Detroit. Its lifeblood industry needs a federal bailout to survive. Its political leadership could be the warm-up act for the governor of Illinois. Its football team is winless. And now, its newspapers are restricting home delivery in a move that is sure to be watched throughout the world of journalism.

Today, the joint company that operates Detroit’s two newspapers, The Free Press , owned by the Gannett Co., and the News, owned by the MediaNews Group, announced that the newspapers would stop providing home delivery for much of the week. Starting sometime in March, Detroit area residents who want the papers’ coverage and advertising seven days a week, (six days for the  “>News) will have to go online or check out the newstand, coin machine or other “single copy” distribution site. Those who like to get the paper at home will have to wait for Thursday and Friday for either paper and Sundays for the Free Press

“There is a day of reckoning coming for newspapers, which in my mind don’t change and change rapidly,” Free Press Publisher Dave Hunke said to one of his reporters. “That is a way of life that is going to disappear (for some newspapers) as early as this coming year.”

The impacts of this change, brought about by the declining economy as well the fortunes of newspapers, will be widespread. Some things to watch:

Will circulation dwindle as readers realize they can do without the paper during large parts of the week?
Will advertising dwindle as well, or will businesses struggle to communicate with large portions of Detroit?
Will online traffic increase dramatically and will online advertising also rise?
Will politicians and other subjects of investigative journalism rest a little bit easier?

The national circulation Christian Science Monitor is transforming into a digital-only newspaper. But the Detroit newspapers represent the first time widely circulated daily papers will stop home delivery seven days a week. Truly, this will be a test of the newspaper digital business model.

As for me, while I enjoy a digital news update as much as the next guy, I cherish my printed newspaper in the morning. There is something about drinking coffee and relaxing with a newspaper that helps start my day. Tomorrow, when I go out to collect my morning newspapers from Akron and Cleveland, I’lll savor them just a bit more before heading off to work.

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