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While engineering links north and south Hampton Roads, the area's two major papers keep to their own sides

The largest market between Atlanta and Washington covers the southeastern corner of Virginia. Hampton Roads is a sprawling metropolis built beside the Atlantic Ocean, Chesapeake Bay, and the great natural harbor formed where bay meets sea.

Home to more than 1.5 million people, the market features flocks of tourists drawn to ocean beaches, a massive Navy presence, and a rich shipbuilding and maritime tradition.

The same water that defines that area defines its newspaper competition.

Hampton Roads is cleaved by the James River and the Chesapeake Bay. The south side of the nautical divide is dominated by The Virginian-Pilot, the flagship publication of Landmark Communications Inc. On the north side of the region's two bridge-tunnels, the Tribune Co.'s smaller Daily Press reigns. "There's always been this barrier," said Becky Naujoks, a media planner and buyer with the Meridian Group, an advertising agency based in Virginia Beach. With more than 425,000 people, Virginia Beach is the most populous of the five cities that make up South Hampton Roads, which overall constitutes a larger and richer market than the Press-served localities north of the James.

Ferries were the sole link between northern and southern Hampton Roads until the 1950s, Naujoks said, when the first bridge-tunnel combination was built. A second land link opened in 1992. But, still, residents tend not to cross over for shopping, dining, and other casual pursuits.

"It's going to take a lot for people to get in the car and drive a half-hour or an hour" across one of the links, Naujoks said. "Mentally, it's the other side of the world."

The perception holds for newspaper publishers, too. The Virginian- Pilot, for example, has six editorial staffers in northern North Carolina and a four-person bureau in Virginia's capital, Richmond -- but assigns only one writer to cover the Newport News area just across the James River.

If The Virginian-Pilot looks south for growth, the Daily Press looks north and west. The Press is based in Newport News, where Newport News Shipbuilding employs 17,000 workers in a $2-billion annual business manufacturing and refurbishing ships. The mainly blue-collar town anchors what is known as the Peninsula, a land mass that includes Hampton, Williamsburg, and York counties.

The Press has some incidental single-copy circulation in South Hampton Roads (just as The Virginian-Pilot has minor circulation on the Peninsula). But mindful of the historic and habitual barriers to southward movement, the Press concentrates its growth to the west, toward the shopping and tourist enclave centered around historical Williamsburg, and to the north, where its territory stretches into the next peninsula of Virginia's river-riddled Tidewater region.

"We've had significant circulation growth in the suburban areas of our market," said Press Marketing Services Manager Melissa Hespenhide. "The population of those areas is growing rapidly, and the demographic makeup of those residents is highly desirable. So we're thrilled," Hespenhide said.

Even with those gains, the Press is left serving an area of about 500,000 people. It's been mining them hard, running subscription- retention campaigns, pushing classified ads despite a sour economy, and building brand recognition by featuring well-known writers on billboards.

In South Hampton Roads, where the population is roughly double, at 1 million, The Virginian-Pilot for decades has been working on how to be a local paper to five cities at once. Its longstanding answer: tabloid zoned editions.

"We try to saturate the market with lots of products that are both niche products and broad-based," said Virginian-Pilot Editor Kay Tucker Addis. Those include publications that stand alone from The Virginian- Pilot and cater to military bases and groups, parents, and apartment renters.

In the main newspaper, The Virginian-Pilot runs zoned tabloid news editions that are inserted and distributed with the paper. The Virginia Beach tabloid, the semiweekly "Beacon," was begun in the early 1960s. Today it has 10 staffers and five zones, Addis said. Two of the other city tabloids are semiweeklies, and the balance are weeklies.

Executives at both newspapers said ad sales are off this year amid weakness in the economy. Even so, the area benefits from one special factor, said Virginian-Pilot Classified Advertising Manager Barbara Elliott: the huge presence of the Navy and the thousands of jobs tied to the military. Locals say Norfolk's Navy base and other complexes make the area the nation's most military-intensive metropolis, with the probable exception of San Diego.

"It does help with the stability of the market," Elliott said. She said The Virginian-Pilot makes sure retail advertisers know when a carrier fleet is due back from sea. The paper sends vendors out to the docks to greet the resulting thousands of sailors, who are laden with cash after a long voyage and likely to covet cars, electronics, and entertainment.

Circulation for the Press daily (93,477) and Sunday (115,461) was flat in the six months ended March 31 compared with a year earlier, while The Virginian-Pilot suffered a circ decline of 2.3% weekdays (192,924) and 2.8% Sunday (231,824) over the same period, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Last October, The Virginian-Pilot launched a major redesign as it converted to a narrower web width. Irate readers complained the new typefaces were too light and difficult to read, so the paper quickly restored its old fonts.

TV: Youth must be served

A bidding war for Newport News Shipbuilding is commanding the attention of many local media outlets. General Dynamics Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. are battling to acquire the shipbuilder, and residents and the local media are watching the proceedings carefully because a new owner may elect to trim jobs, potentially creating a ripple effect on the market.

This fall, Virginia will elect a new governor, lieutenant governor, and representatives for all of the state House of Delegates seats. The races are expected to generate considerable incremental ad revenue for local media in the Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News-Virginia Beach designated market area (DMA), which ranks 41st in the country with 638,190 TV households, according to Nielsen Media Research.

WAVY-TV, which is the overall news leader, has a long-standing news partnership with the Daily Press. In addition to WAVY, LIN Television Corp. also operates the market's Fox affiliate, WVBT-TV, via a local marketing agreement.

In recent Nielsen books, ABC affiliate WVEC-TV, owned by Belo, has managed to narrow WAVY's lead in the news ratings. This fall, WVEC plans to launch a half-hour newscast at 5:30 p.m., challenging news programs on WAVY and on the New York Times Co.'s CBS affiliate, WTKR- TV, throughout the day.

Viacom Inc.-owned WGNT-TV is one of the top-performing UPN outlets in the country. UPN's young-skewing programming has won a considerable audience in this market. According to Scarborough Research, 36% of residents in the Norfolk DMA are between the ages of 18 and 34, well above the average of 31% for the top 50 U.S. markets. WB affiliate WTVZ-TV, owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., is still struggling in the ratings following its 1998 affiliation switch from Fox to The WB.

In local cable, Cox Communications Inc. is the dominant operator in the market. Cox covers 65% of the DMA's TV households and serves 84% of the market's cable homes.

Radio: Truly urban

Arbitron lists this radio market as the 38th largest in the country. Saga Communications Inc., Entercom Communications Corp., Clear Channel Communications, and Barnstable Broadcasting Inc. are among primary owners in the market.

One major local issue in radio is the abundance of urban-formatted stations, all targeting some segment of the DMA's sizable African- American population. According to Scarborough Research, 30% of Norfolk- area residents are African American, more than double the national average of 13% for the top 50 markets.

Clear Channel has positioned itself as the leader in the urban format in the market. Its WOWI-FM is the market's top biller and top outlet in listener share.

In out-of-home advertising, Atlanta-based Adams Outdoor Advertising dominates the market. Lamar Outdoor Advertising is the only other outdoor player in the market with a significant presence.
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Title Annotation:Two newspapers dividethe market in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area
Comment:BRIDGE-TUNNEL OVER UNTROUBLED WATER.(Two newspapers dividethe market in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area)
Author:Hudson, Eileen Davis; Shields, Todd
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Geographic Code:1U5VA
Date:Jul 30, 2001
Next Article:ABC lays down electronic laws.

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