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New GR Press Editor Speaks to the Progressive Women’s Alliance

November 19, 2009

Starting last July, Paul Keep has been the editor for the Grand Rapids Press, replacing long-time editor Mike Lloyd. Wednesday night Keep spoke at a forum hosted by the Progressive Women’s Alliance.

Keep began his talk by reading some comments from readers about Sarah Palin’s visit to Grand Rapids, with one of them being from a someone who referred to the GR Press as “liberal,” a comment that drew laughter from the crowd of about 75 people who came to hear the new Press editor speak.

The speaker talked about the reasons that newspapers are financially challenged in the US. Keep said that one of the big things that have happened at newspapers across the country was lay-offs. However, the editor said that the Press did not lay people off, rather they offer employees a buyout. Another change that is evident at the Press has been the reduction in the size of the paper.

Keep said there were three main reasons for these changes at the only daily newspaper in Grand Rapids. First, he said, the national economy’s recession has meant that Sunday inserts are cut or reduced to fewer weeks, since national companies were spending less on advertising. Second, since Michigan’s economy was also hurting regional businesses like Art Van’s and Meijer were also reducing their advertising revenue.

At this point Keep wanted to make it clear to the audience that 75% of the revenue that the Press generated was from advertising and since advertising revenue was down they had to make changes. The third, and last reason for the changes was the role that the Internet was playing. More people are getting their news content online and less likely to read newsprint. Keep did say that the Internet has been a positive aspect for the paper in some ways since it allows their reporters to do more with video and audio. However, fewer people are paying for ad space in the classified section, so again it seems that all three reasons for the changes at the Press were based on a decline in advertising revenue.

Keep then wanted to reassure the audience that the news side of things will stay the same and that the Press “will do whatever it can to provide good news, with an emphasis on local.” He said that national and international news changes so much, so what they print in the morning is old news by the time that people receive their paper, which is why local reporting is important.

The editor mentioned that the Grand Rapids Press was part of the Booth Newspaper chain and that it was a family business. While it is true that the Press is part of the Booth newspaper chain, Booth is just a subsidiary of a much larger media conglomerate known as Advance Publications, which owns dozens of newspapers across the country, magazines and some broadcast media. So it seemed a bit dishonest to present the Press as owned by “a family business.”

Keep went on to say that the Booth Newspapers have made changes in the past year across the state, but he didn’t mention that the consolidation of the Booth papers meant that the Grand Rapids office would been doing the design and copy editing for all the Booth papers. The Press editor did say that the Booth chain was doing some experimenting right now with their papers and he provided three examples for the audience.

First, reducing the size of the paper in Grand Rapids is one experiment. They reduced the amount of national and international news and also moved it to the back of section A opposite the editorial page. A second experiment is what happened in Ann Arbor where the decision was to shut down the print paper and go to an online presence.  They did start up a different print publication that is only printed on Thursdays and Sundays. The Third experiment is with the papers in Flint, Saginaw and Bay City, which are share some content, national news and local sports. They cut out 4 days of publication, leaving Thursday, Friday and Sunday as the days people would get newspapers. Keep said they are waiting to see which of the three experiments works best.

The Press editor concluded by saying, “We are a profit making company, so we need to make more than our expenses. Since it is a big retail time, it is also an important time for the papers.” Apparently ad revenues are big this time of the year for the paper.  Keep also said that he thinks that journalism is going to be fine and that newspapers will be fine, based on the fact that people will always want local information.

There was a question and answer period after the talk but most of the questions continued to deal with issues like readership, advertising and competition with the Internet. There was one question about the editorial process used in deciding which candidates to support and Keep said there are four of their staff, which makes that decision.

Someone also asked about the GR Press relationship to the Rapidian. Keep said that they have had conversations with them, but frankly he hasn’t followed the site much in recent weeks.

Another person asked about process for deciding local stories versus wire service stories in the religion section of the paper. Keep said that that depends on what is happening locally, how many reporters they have available and whether or not the wire story has interesting content.

GRIID did ask Keep about their claim to have a commitment to local news. We asked him about our recent study that concluded that the Press gave way more coverage to ArtPrize than they did to local elections this fall. Keep responded by saying that they want to focus more on local elections and then said they plan on doing monthly election issue themes leading up to the 2010 Governor’s race. Apparently, his definition of local is different than ours.

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