Major Detroit Newspapers to Slash Workforce, Home Deliveries

Two major newspapers will be making sweeping changes to the way news is read in Detroit, following the path of smaller papers across the country that have slashed print circulation and shifted focus online to stay in business.

The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News annouced their "strategic and innovative" moves to confront plummeting revenues Tuesday. Rumors that the Free Press will discontinue home delivery service to several days a week were confirmed.

The News will be delivered Thursdays and Fridays starting in March, while the Free Press will be delivered Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, abandoning its seven-day week.

"Americans are reading with their feet. They're walking over to the computer screen," Jonathan Wolman, the editor and publisher of the News, told The Associated Press.

The Detroit Media Partnership, which runs the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, plans to cut 9 percent of its work force but its chief executive David Hunke said there would be no newsroom layoffs at either paper.

Hunke described the moves as "a geometric leap forward," My FOX Detroit reported. "Our decision to limit home delivery to three days a week reflects the reality that major newspaper markets are facing daunting economic challenges."

"I don't think we're ever going back," Hunke, also the publisher of the Free Press, said at the press conference.

Free Press reporter M.L. Elrick, a member of the Newspaper Guild union, told My FOX Detroit staffers were told at a meeting months ago the print edition of the newspaper would continue.

"I'm going to hold the bosses at their word that we will print the Free Press seven days a week," Elrick told ahead of the announcement.

The rank-and-file are eager to hear what's next. The Free Press is owned by Gannett Co. and the News by MediaNews Group.

"I am as much in the dark as my members are," said Lou Mleczko, president of Local 22 of the Detroit Newspaper Guild, which represents 350 newsroom employees at the papers.

Slashing home delivery would force readers to either purchase the paper from newsstands or get it online. Though the daily's print circulation has been steadily declining, its online readership is up, My FOX Detroit said.

Detroit would be the largest metro area to undergo a major media makeover.

Newspapers are desperately seeking new business models that will help them survive dwindling readership and a deep advertising slump exacerbated by the recession.

The Christian Science Monitor next year will become the first national newspaper to drop its daily print edition and focus on publishing online.

The East Valley Tribune, a daily in suburban Phoenix owned by Freedom Communications Inc., is reducing the number of publication days of its print edition while posting news on its Web site daily. The Daily Tribune in Royal Oak, a Detroit suburb, recently cut its print edition to four days a week from six.

The changes at the Detroit papers include "a focus on more robust and more engaging digital delivery methods, and support the continued publication of two daily newspapers in Detroit," the partnership said in a statement Monday evening.

Big-city papers have suffered from a loss of classified advertising, but "Detroit is suffering more than most," said John Morton, an independent newspaper analyst in Silver Spring, Md.

"When you have automotive, real estate and help-wanted in the tank, it can have a profound effect on revenue," he said.

Bassett said the Free Press is the 20th-largest daily in the country, with a circulation of 298,243; double on Sunday. The News, which does not publish on Sunday, had circulation of 178,280 at the end of September.

Joint-operating agreements allow papers like the News and Free Press to share business and production operations while keeping their newsrooms separate.

The Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 makes the arrangement exempt from antitrust laws if the attorney general certifies one paper is in danger of failing.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.