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SYNERGY HELPS TO LAUNCH WEEKEND EDITIONS Mid-Valley Sunday in Oregon joins a trend to serve readers, generate new revenues.

Clustering is alive and well -- and helping to spawn new weekend editions from coast to coast.

On the East Coast last spring, Journal Register Co. of Trenton, N.J., launched its fourth Sunday paper in the '90s at the Taunton (Mass.) Daily Gazette. On Sept. 13, two Oregon newspapers owned by Lee Enterprises Inc. of Davenport, Iowa, joined forces to create Mid-Valley Sunday.

For Journal Register, the key issue is having "a little bit of size or mass," says Robert Jelenic, chairman, president and CEO. "To start a Sunday with a 4000-daily is a tough proposition." But if the retail advertising base is there, and the paper is large enough -- or can be linked to other papers in a cluster -- then launching a Sunday paper makes sense.

(So does launching a Saturday paper, something Journal Register also has done at three newspapers in recent years.)

In two adjacent Oregon cities, expanding the Sunday reach of the 14,000-circulation morning Corvallis Gazette-Times into the territory served by the 22,000-circulation evening Albany Democrat-Herald made economic sense, says Gazette-Times Publisher Gary Sawyer.

A year's worth of research and development yielded Mid-Valley Sunday, geared to readers in the Willamette Valley who said they wanted "serious journalism" about local affairs, Sawyer says.

Working with the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, consulting firm HRB, the Lee papers set about to create a paper for two cities whose residents "live in one and work in the other, and vice versa," Sawyer says. An editor was hired to "devote his attention" to the joint Sunday edition, which is zoned for preprint inserts but not news.

"Our thinking is to make the news interesting for readers in both communities," Sawyer says.

The biggest start-up costs have been for readership surveys and a marketing effort that began three weeks before the paper came out. The "fairly intensive" campaign used radio, television and print to get out the message; in addition, subscribers in Albany, which had been without a Sunday paper for 70 years, will be given Mid-Valley Sunday free for six weeks.

Mid-Valley Sunday is printed in Albany, and both papers are served by a single call center for taking classified ads. Differences in the circulation computer systems at the two papers have prevented consolidation of distribution tasks, while some pressroom positions have been eliminated.

"We reworked our entire rate structure" for advertisers, Sawyer says, offering discounts for frequency and for buying into both markets on Sunday as well as daily. "Although the Sunday rates have taken a pretty big increase, if an advertiser commits to more dollars, they can actually -- for about the same amount of money -- get significantly more penetration in Albany and Corvallis."

Sawyer expects "middle-tier" advertisers to like the new vehicle, which instantly became the fourth-largest Sunday paper in Oregon the day it was launched. In Albany, single-copy sales topped 2500, at $1.25 a copy (a cut of 25 cents from before). "We think that will continue to grow," Sawyer says, noting it about matches the percentage of Sunday street sales of the predecessor Corvallis Sunday paper.

While Sawyer acknowledges that the Sunday circulation of the Gazette-Times had been stable for several years, the lack of growth did not directly lead to Mid-Valley Sunday. "We listened to readers," he says, who desired a Sunday paper for the whole area.

The Journal Register experience in central Connecticut mirrors the Oregon story. Bristol, Middletown and New Britain had papers, but each town alone "basically didn't have enough mass to support a Sunday paper," Jelenic says.

Journal Register addressed that problem in August 1996, drawing on the resources of the Bristol Press, which it acquired in July 1994; The Herald in New Britain, bought in May 1995, and the Middletown Press, which joined the expansion-minded, cluster-driven Journal Register in August 1995. (On Sept. 21, Journal Register completed its 13th acquisition, of Taconic Media of Dutchess County, N.Y.)

The Sunday paper is printed on a double-wide press in New Bristol. Similarly, the Taunton Sunday paper is printed on the Urbanite press at the Herald News in nearby Fall River, Mass. (When Journal Register decided to launch a Sunday paper in Norristown, Pa., it moved a press there from another of its sites in Ohio, Jelenic notes.)

Getting a new Sunday product off the ground requires "quite a bit of promotion," Jelenic says, relying on billboards, print and broadcast messages. It's been worth it: "Our Sunday launches have all been extremely successful financially."

That success comes even though Journal Register papers in Taunton and Fall River vie for readers, as do the central Connecticut papers with the company's flagship New Haven Register. But that's just synergy at work, Jelenic says.

"In those two cases, we're sort of competing with ourselves -- which is all right, because we don't have a demarcation line you can't cross."

-- P.W.
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Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Sep 28, 1998
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