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CENTRAL TO SHUT INDY'S EVENING NEWS Indianapolis paper to close Oct. 1 after 130 years; 32 positions will be eliminated.

By Pete Wetmore

The Indianapolis News will end its free fall into the evening circulation abyss Oct. 1.

Ten years ago, paid circulation of the News topped 111,000. Eighteen months ago, it had fallen 65 percent, to 39,000. By the end of May, the self-described Great Hoosier Daily had slipped another 17 percent, to 32,346.

Time was up. "It's kind of like a funeral," Tom MacGillivray says on July 13, the day the death knell sounded for the 130-year-old daily. MacGillivray is vice president and chief financial officer of Phoenix-based Central Newspapers Inc., which owns the News and its stronger sibling, the 242,000-circulation morning Indianapolis Star.

Central waited until the evening paper's circulation was approaching only about 10 percent of the combined daily total, MacGillivray says, before moving to fold it. That equation also triggered the closing of Central's 39,287-circulation Phoenix Gazette in January 1997, leaving the Arizona Republic to carry on alone.

"It was a matter of how much was that afternoon paper contributing to the overall reach on a daily basis," MacGillivray says of both situations. A "successful conversion" of Indianapolis readers to mornings-only shouldn't cut total daily circulation appreciably, although duplicate subscriber households number only about 2400.

News subscribers will automatically become Star customers Oct. 1, says Dale Duncan, president and publisher of Indianapolis Newspapers, a division of Central's Indiana Newspapers Inc. "We will do everything in our power between today and the closing to encourage anybody who wants to sample the Star to do so."

Unlike the most recent shuttering of an evening paper, also in Indiana, the survivor will not undergo a name change. The Evansville Courier & Press was born Jan. 1 by the Evansville Courier Co. with a nod to the Evansville Press, which died Dec. 31. The Press name endured in large part because it once had been owned by the Courier Co.'s parent, E.W. Scripps Co. of Cincinnati.

Central gave itself two-plus months before closing the News, Duncan says, to "formulate marketing plans to capture as many News readers as possible." Time also is needed to "transition employees who won't be staying."

A dozen circulation jobs will be lost, as will about 20 newsroom positions (two News staffers in three are copy editors), but no layoffs are planned. The news staff of 300 is working with eight or nine vacancies already, and a buyout will be offered to "people who have substantial years of service," Duncan says.

The Star will gain features -- "the News has got a very strong lineup of comics," Duncan says -- but little else. The News has "not much unique local content," he says, one consequence of cost-cutting four years ago, when competing news staffs were combined and one newsroom began producing two papers.

One space the News could call its own, the editorial page, will not be picked up. "We devote a lot of space to the Star editorial page and op/ed page," Duncan says, "and we don't feel the need to do any more than we're currently doing."

On the business side, Central will save as much as $3.5 million a year, mostly in labor costs, MacGillivray says. The Gazette shutdown was about twice the size of the News in terms of revenues and workforce reduction, he says.

On the income end, advertising rates in Indianapolis will not change, even though ad sales are for both papers combined. "The response from major advertisers so far is, they're not surprised by the closing," Duncan says, "and they're hoping we'll continue to deliver the same reach to them."

The company may take on more commercial press work, once the News no longer consumes chunks of weekdays. The plant already produces circulars for Circuit City, Duncan says; "if other opportunities present themselves we would be willing to do that," although filling press time was "not a high priority."

Getting out two good papers until Oct. 1 is a high priority. "That'll be a challenge," Duncan says. "Most everybody will be focused, ultimately, on producing the best paper they can for the remaining time. I don't think we'll miss a beat."
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Comment:CENTRAL TO SHUT INDY'S EVENING NEWS Indianapolis paper to close Oct. 1 after 130 years; 32 positions will be eliminated.
Publication:NewsInc
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 19, 1999
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