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Nov 28, 2011

Canberra Times facing down a tabloid future?

Canberra Times management are knuckling down to develop a strategy to preserve the storied broadsheet in its current form as circulation and profit plummets.

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Canberra Times management are knuckling down to develop a strategy to preserve the storied broadsheet in its current form as circulation and profit plummets.

Newsroom insiders say a brainstorming session at a lakeside Canberra hotel last week discussed several options including moving the paper to a tabloid and the closure of the low-selling Sunday Canberra Times to cut costs.

Crikey understands that one possibility is the merger of the Saturday and Sunday papers to form a larger Saturday weekend edition.

Crimes editor Rod Quinn informed the newsroom last week that the paper was still profitable, that he was hiring fresh staff said there were “no plans” to close the already-tabloid Sunday Times. However, the possibility of a merger with its more popular Saturday sister was left open.

Rather than the secret crisis talks that some hacks suspected, Quinn reassured staffers that the low-key summit was merely an opportunity to “grab some space to think”. Senior Fairfax management in Sydney have said to have taken a keen interest in the deliberations and are awaiting plans detailing the turnaround.

A staff survey earlier this year is believed to have delivered a lukewarm verdict on the current management team, led by Quinn and general manager Ken Nichols . Results of a follow-up “Pulse” survey distributed by Sydney-based Fairfax Metro tsar Jack Matthews and due last week are expected to contain further criticisms.

September quarter Bureaux of Circulations data released earlier this month made for grim reading inside the national capital’s newspaper of record, once edited by legends Michelle Grattan and Jack Waterford (Waterford remains “editor-at-large”).

Official figures show that the weekday masthead hived off another 2,000 copies in the last year to a low of 30,420 or 5.3%. The Saturday paper has dipped below the crucial 50,000 mark to 49,965, down 5.8%. And the Sunday has fallen a massive 6.4%, from 33,439 to 31,308.

In general metropolitan, regional and national newspapers eased a comparatively more healthy, but still disappointing, 3.5%.

Six years ago, the Canberra Times was selling on average 6,000 more copies between Monday to Friday (36,091), 16,000 more on Saturdays (66,340) and 5,000 more copies on Sundays (36,273).

CT columnist Crispin Hull, who edited or deputy edited the paper for 14 years until 2005 and now teaches media at the University of Canberra, told Crikey this morning the paper was facing the same kind of profitability problems besetting the industry more broadly.

“Like all newspapers The Canberra Times print version has suffered during the transmogrification to  the internet and the search is on to find a successful business model,” he said.

“It doesn’t indicate an imminent collapse, but they’ve gone from being highly profitable to nearly profitable. I suppose like all newspapers they’re trying to find a business model that embraces the internet … you just don’t get the same sort of revenue.”

Hull questioned whether a shift to a tabloid would automatically generate revenue because of the loss of “gutter space” in the classifieds section. The full page display ads popular among broadsheet would also be less attractive if they were spread across two pages, he said.

Crikey phoned and emailed Rod Quinn this morning, but we didn’t hear back before deadline.

Andrew Crook —

Andrew Crook

Former Crikey Senior Journalist

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