The Journal newspapers, a fast-growing chain of twice-weekly papers in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, will publish daily on weekdays beginning Sept. 14, publisher Geoffrey Edwards announced yesterday.
Partially filing the gap expected to develop if The Washington Star ceases publication, the Journals will offer the area a new kind of daily newspaper -- emphasizing suburban community news and local sports and ignoring the District of Columbia both in news coverage and in circulation, according to its publisher.
The Star, which has been losing about $20 million a year for the last three years and whose circulation has fallen off, is scheduled to go out of business on Friday after 128 years. Officials of its parent corporation, Time Inc., said yesterday that talks with potential buyers were still being held, but there appeared to be little indication yesterday that any salvage operation would be successful.
The appearance of the daily Journals a month after The Star's anticipated collapse will follow a pattern set in other large metropolitan areas, where city-based evening papers have gone out of business and have been replaced by suburban dailies built on local news and an appeal to suburban advertisers.
"It's always been our ambition to become a daily paper," said Edwards. "Now we think the time is right."
The Journal newspapers are owned by Army Times Publishing Co., a privately held corporation based in Southwest Washington.
They distribute separate editions for Montgomery, Prince George's, Fairfax, and Arlington counties and Alexandria, with some features running in all five editions and many photographs printed in full color.
Edwards said the daily paper would be much the same as the current publications, with some new features such as comics and a page of late national and foreign news.
The combined total circulation is 135,000, Edwards said, about 40 percent as large as that of The Star and about 20 percent of The Washington Post's.
How many Journal readers will continue to subscribe when it goes to five-day publication and the subscription price from $16.95 a year to $29.95 is not known. But Edwards said circulation rose when the papers went from weekly to twice-weekly in 1977.
The Journals have rocketed to their present position in less than 10 years. They started in 1972 with one weekly paper in Alexandria and 2,000 subscribers.
Edwards says they have never made money, but the five Journals do have extensive advertising from such prominent clients as Woodward and Lothrop, Scan furniture, Montgomery Ward, Western Airlines, Hecht's and major homebuilders.
Part of the papers' formula involves holding production and distribution costs to a minimum. The Journals are printed in a modern, nonunion plant in Springfield, and wages for editorial employes are as low as $200 a week, less than one-third of what many reporters make at The Post and The Star.
Edwards said the Journals are considering hiring 40 reporters and editors to join the current staff of about 80. Reporters and editors work in regional offices around the Beltway, transmitting copy to the Springfield plant by courier.
The key to the Journals' growth and to the success of the new under-taking is their unique distribution system. Where other papers require trucks and drivers, distributors and carriers, most of the Journals are delivered by mail.
According to Edwards, the papers are presorted at the plant by carrier route. In each carrier's bundle, the papers are placed in the order that the carrier reaches the addresses on his route.
"If we get it to the Post Office between 4 and 6 a.m., they distribute it that same day," Edwards said. "We have found it to be absolutely reliable."
That means the Journals will be neither a morning nor an evening paper in the traditional sense. They will not be on the doorstep before breakfast, and they also will not contain the late news of the morning that was a mainstay of evening papers.
Since much of their content is noncompetitive -- news of events that The Post and The Star currently do not cover, and features in which time is immaterial -- that might not be a handicap.
Edwards said that 96 percent of the Journals are delivered by mail. The rest are sold in a few coin boxes and at newsstands. The papers are not sold or delivered in the District of Columbia, and Edwards said that policy will continue.
In fact, it is hard to tell from the Journals' content what city they are subburban to, so studious is their avoidance of the District. In their promotional literature, they refer to their circulation area as "Journaland," and it surrounds the city without entering it, a journalistic Beltway.
Edwards said surveys have shown that 64 percent of the papers' readers who are employed work in the suburbs and almost never go into Washington -- a social pattern that was predicted by planning experts when the Beltway was built a generation ago.
The Journals now will be competing for advertising revenue directly with The Washington Post. Post Publisher Donald E. Graham said, "Everyone at the Post is glad to welcome another daily in the Washington area, but I still hope someone buys The Star."
Inside the District of Columbia, where the population is 70 percent black, a separate competition for readers and adverstisers may be developing in the wake of The Star's announced closing.
Ofield Dukes, a public relations executive, said he and a group of associates plan to publish a twice-weekly, black-oriented paper beginning in January. That paper would compete with The Washington Afro-American, The Washington Informer and The Capital Spotlight, three existing black-oriented papers.
In addition, Eugene Garner, proprietor of a paper called The Talk that appears erratically after a brief, unsuccessful life as a daily, said he would try again with a daily paper beginning next week. It is to be known as The Washington Call, he said.
At The Star, preparations continued for closing the paper after publication of this Friday's edition and for giving severance pay to those of the more than 1,400 workers whose contracts require it. That process was complicated when The Star unit of The Newspaper Guild asked Time, Inc., to withhold union dues from the severance pay of Guild members. Time executives notified the workers, many of whom objected. Officials of the union's national headquarters said the demand did not reflect union policy.
President Ronald Reagan lunched with editors and executives at The Star's plant, 225 Virginia Ave. SE. yestrday, and said he still hoped for a "one-in-a-thousand miracle" to save it.
None was in sight, however. R. Robert Linowes, former president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, who had been trying to save The Star through a partnership of employes and investors, formally abandoned the effort with an official statement yesterday.
"No purpose will be served by my continuing this course at this time," he said. "We are left only with the hope that some unforeseen development might render a salvation we could not construct."