A reader of the Courier-Journal and Times in Louisville recently wrote the ombudsman there, requesting more news for the small investor.
"You have a world of information at your finger tips in the field of journalism and only a tiny portion is put into the business section," she wrote.
According to Carrol Sutton assistant to the publisher of the Louisville newspapers, the reader is "right . . . because we know there are a lot of readers out here just like her who want more on subjects of special interest . . . because we have increasing capability to produce that information quickly and to deliver on an individual basis."
Altogether Sutton told a meeting at the American Newspapers Publishers Association convention here last week, about 70 percent of the news material that comes to the Courier-Journal and Times each day is virtually untouched and "a lot of that material, in world affairs and business particularly, is of very high quality.
So the Louisville papers have launched a new project - serious exploration of what Sutton called the "tailored newspaper."
Although there was no formal theme for five days of newspaper industry talk and presentations last week - first at the annual ANPA convention and later at a two-day forum for securities analysts - it was clear that leadership and circulation issues are attracting the most concern.
Given a record of slow daily newspaper circulation growth over the past four years, following a long period during which circulation failed to keep pace with national population expansion, the newspaper industry is marshalling its combined editorial, marketing and management resources to attract new readers, keep existing subscribers as their lifestyles or interest change, and encourage newspaper use in the schools.
Paul Rixon, general manager of the 20,000-circulation Sun Chronicle in Attleboro, Massachusetts, said his manager told him: "This is war. It's them or us."
"Them" is different for each publisher and each market. In the case of Rixon's paper, the Sun Chronicle sought and gained circulation by competing with other newspapers. In other markets, the competition comes from free shoppers, aggressive out-of-town newspapers, increasingly specialized magazines, cable or pay television operations that may include classified advertising, and the incessant demands on an individual's time that force picking and choosing among the mass media.
In many instances, American newspapers are moving toward more specialized editorial and advertising products. News and feature content are being organized to appeal to small segments of a region's population, and advertising sections or pages are aimed at specific geographical or high-income segments of the local market.
In studying the concepts of tailoring newspapersto small markets, "We are walking somewhat cautiously through uncharted territory and trying to draw a map," said Sutton of the Louisville newspapers. If carried to its full extreme, the concept would mean 375,000 different papers a day from the Louisville presses - each tailored to the interest of an individual subscriber. But it won't go that far.
As Sutton said: "Now before some of you conclude that we intend to give readers only what they want, let me head you off. Our concept of the tailored newpaper does not include an abdication of the newspaper's traditional responsibility of carrying the news to the citizens of a democratic society.
"However, if you could have more satisfied, better informed readers by putting two extra pages on the arts in one paper, two extra pages of foreign news in another paper, rather than, let us say, two pages of unread stock listings . . . wouldn't it make sense to do that?
Sutton noted that technology is not advanced to such an extent that these individual inserts are feasible today. But the Louisville executive and other publishers indicated last week that they are moving in that direction.
For example, about 75,000 subscribers to the Louisville newspapers recently received on Tuesdays for eight weeks a special "consumer extra" publication. The 12-page tabloid was produced at a cost of $25,000 and with a staff of four persons.
The tabloid contained a mixture of local staff stories, syndicated material and local free-lance articles, plus color art, all focused on consumer issues. There were no advertisements or promotional efforts.
Subsequent leadership research showed that men and women liked it equally but many people said they wouldn't want to pay extra for it. The Louisville executives recently decided to "do what people in Louisville always do during the week of the Kentucky Derby. We're going to gamble," Sutton said, with regular publication starting in the fall to see if the consumer Weekly is a correct step toward the tailored newspaper.
From Baltimore to San Jose, newspapers are introducing special editorial sections although few, to date, seek to pinpoint specific audiences in a way similar to the project in Louisville.
Alvah Chapman Jr., president of the Knight-Ridder Newspapers, summed it up for analysts at the John Morton forum for John Muir & Co.
With a "technological revolution behind us," at least at most newspapers, the industry's "new thing is marketing concepts . . . seeking ways to make papers . . . more essential in the lives of our subscribers," Chapman said.
For the Knight-Ridder chain of 32 daily newspapers, new attention to marketing last year meant the introduction of 150 "new products" or "product improvements" - new sections, magazines, zoned editions or special-interest publications added to the regular news-and-feature diet.
At all of the newspapers, these new editorial products reflect a search for readership growth and continued increases in advertising revenues because specialized circulation can attract advertisers now attached to other media.
At the New York Times, for example, the business news section is about to be repackaged with extensive use of graphics, a daily news summary and expanded space for articles. Already, the Times has started special sports, home, food and weekend sections.
James Goodale, executive vice president of the New York Times Co., was candid in discussing his firm's goals with the expanded section. "Very frankly," the move is being made "to make it more competitive" with the Wall Street Journal "It will be stronger on company news" to attract new readers and advertisers, he said.
Ray Shaw, executive vice president of Dow Jones & Co., later expressed little concern about the forthcoming challenge from Times Square, noting that half of the subscribers to his company's Wall Street Journal are in top management and have an average annual income of $52,000, a level not matched by "any paper with visions of becoming a national paper."
Goodale said the revitalized business section would give the Times a "possibility" of starting a national edition and using the main business page to start a second section but that there is "no national paper in any planning" now before Times Co. management.
The emphasis that newspaper executives are placing on increasing readership and ending technical bottlenecks that hamper circulation growth was made clear in results of an ANPA survey conducted by Yankelovich, Skelly & White Inc. and made public last week.
Exactly 75 percent of executives at 677 newspapers said circulation and readership problems were among the two or three "main issues facing their industry today. The next highest response was 27 percent, for two related issues - declining reading skills and competition from the free advertising shoppers.
A major three-year industrywide effort to study newspaper readership problems was launched last year by ANPA and 15 other national organizations, including editors, circulators, advertising executives, teachers and researchers.
Otto Silha, president of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune and co-chairman of the Newspaper Readership Council (NRP), said it is much too early to reach conclusions from research now underway. But he did spell out several approaches being pursued.
Promotional programs are seeking to make the newspaper a daily habit for occasional and infrequent readers. The Newspaper Advertising Bureau has prepared a series of ads that focus on certain kinds of readers as well as radio commercials, already in use by 240 newspapers.
Films are being produced and distributed to show how newspapers are manufactured and used by readers. "First Edition," a documentary on the Baltimore Sun, is being shown thoughout North America.
Through the ANPA foundation, there is an effort to increase use of newspapers in education programs with teacher training institutes and new classroom tools. "We have already learned in the first year of the project that the use of the newspaper in the classroom increases the chances that the child will grow up to be a reader, especially in families where the newspaper is not part of the home scene," Shilha said.
Readership committees have been established at many newspapers across the country. At the Baltimore Sun, the committee includes top executives from advertising, circulation, news, marketing and research. The committee meets monthly and already has directed changes in circulation and news coverage. For example, the Sun is working on a computer system to allow subscribers to pay by mail. In one area with 1,600 apartments, the Sun gave subscribers seven different ways to pay in advance. The newspaper also introduced new sections zoned to appeal to various suburban markets.
Gannett Co. chief executive Allen Neuharth, elected chairman and president of ANPA at its 92d convention last week, emphatically applauded the new attention to newspaper readers.
Neuharth said his firm - whose 77 dailies published in 30 states and 2 territories have a circulation of more than 3 million a day - has been highly successful at steady profit growth over 10 years, but he assessed Gannett's circulation performance as "average or mediocre."
Under the leadership of Gannett Washington Bureau Chief John Curley, the newspaper company launched a two-year pilot readership and circulation project four months ago involved four dailies in various regions of the country. In those communities, comprehensive task forces involving all sectors of the newspaper, as well as Gannett central management, will conduct studies of readers and begin programs to alter their newspapers and appeal to new subscribers.
Curley said initial research has indicated six basic categories of readers, interested in: 1) home-family material, shopping, garden and consumer news; 2) lifestyles, personality profiles, outdoors, nature, science and sex; 3) business, politics, and government; 4) "National Enquirer" material - crime, entertainment, obituaries, show business and gossip; 5) "Ghoul" material - accidents, crime and tragedies; and 6) sports, including all the small type in sports sections.
As newspapers seek to tailor their products to mirror more closely the interests of readers, they do so with an apparently strong base of public confidence and support.
This conclusion was reported by Neuharth, who revealed details from anunreleased national survey by Louis Harris and Associates, the polling firm owned by Gannett Co.
According to Neuharth, the public's perceptions of the newspaper industry was compared with 19 other major industries such as oil, drugs, insurance, telephones, steel, liquor and banking.
A broad range of questions dealing with aspects of public confidence and values was asked, and the newspaper industry ran from 2 to 14 percentage points above the all-industry averages in all but one category. Neuharth cited one statistic as being "espicially important," a finding that the newspaper industry led all others in concern about communities where it conducts business - with a 70 percent positive score, 14 points above the all-industry average.
"That tells me that the public has seen through the devisive efforts of some howlers and growlers to create a them-versus-us attitude between our newspapers and our readers. We as individual newspapers and as an industry must live up to that vote of confidence not by pandering or pontificating, but by serving even more faithfully as an instrument of understanding for all in our communities," Neuharth said.
The newspaper industry was below average by one point on the matter of competition within its industry, scoring a positive 58 percent, which Neuharth said suggests "that the public is smarter on the economic and competitive factors of life in the new business today than are many of our self-serving critics."
Finally, Neuharth also revealed findings from another research report not yet made public, this one on the entire information industry. He said the study forecasts no basic threat to the newspaper or broadcasting industries from "electronic wizardry."
Despite cable television and other inhome communications products, newspapers and broadcast stations should thrive, the study concludes. Suburban and small-city newspapers will outperform metropolitan papers, and broadcast stations will continue to capture a large share of metropolitan market advertising dollars, Neuharth stated.
The new ANPA chairman said his assessment of these reports and other statistics "does not conclude that any of us in the newspaper industry can settle back into comfortable complacency and self-satisfaction. On the contraty, we are reminded again that we have a great responsibility to meet and maintain and we have still greater horizons to reach. But those statistics convince me . . . that we are moving into the future with very firm footing and with very solid support."