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ZONED EDITIONS ROLLED OUT -- AND RETIRED Boston Globe finds success while Los Angeles Times cuts back on its efforts.

When Boston Globe readers in Framingham, Mass., opened their papers earlier this month, they found something they might not have expected from a large regional newspaper.

There, on either Page Two of the local news section or in a stand-alone insert, was daily local coverage including news of their small community and neighboring towns.

While daily zoning of local news has been around for decades, the introduction of Globe West Extra in early September marked the paper's first attempt at the practice. The introduction of the Extra sections was just one of several major steps recently taken by the Globe in the zoning arena. In many ways, it is evidence of a shift at the Globe that is proving financially successful, even at a time when the industry is reeling from downturns in advertising trends and spikes in costs.

"We have been substantially adding to our suburban coverage," says Globe Publisher Richard Gilman, adding that increasing local coverage is now a key element of the newspaper's strategy.

Local zoning is on the rise in Boston, but it has taken a hit at the Los Angeles Times, which this month pulled the plug on three weekly community news sections serving San Gabriel Valley, South Bay and Westside. The terminations signaled another blow to an ambitious effort by the Times to take on what Publisher John Puerner and Editor John Carroll described as block-by-block community news coverage. In a memo to the staff, Puerner and Carroll said, "The combination of a loss of advertising and a shift in editorial focus led to the decision to close the weekly sections."

This month's decision comes one year after the Times announced it would discontinue publication of 14 Our Times community news sections. Now the Times is focused more on providing region-wide local news coverage in its new California section and leaving the community news coverage up to six newspapers published by Times Community News.

On the face of it, events in Boston and Los Angeles seem to be the antithesis of one another, but some believe they simply signify the march toward the middle -- from different ends of the spectrum -- by two major regional newspapers. One may have recognized it had been trying to do too much zoning of local news in relation to its overall mission, while the other may not have been doing enough.

Because zoning of local news can be costly, newspapers need to be sure zoning decisions are pinned to the underlying philosophy of the publication, says John Murray, the Newspaper Association of America's vice president for circulation and marketing.

"There's no doubt that zoning works as far as building readership and it has been proven by smaller community newspapers," Murray says. "The question is, what is your brand?"

Murray says the answer to that question varies, depending on the newspaper and a variety of market factors. "A metropolitan newspaper has to be relevant on a local level because local news is a strategic advantage," he says. "But the definition of local is going to vary from market to market."


In Boston, the Globe's Anne Eisenmenger says the paper is increasing its zones in an effort to strengthen local news coverage and respond to readers' criticism.

"Over the years, people have told us that we're weak in local news," says Eisenmenger, the director of local market development. "We're just making an effort to be all the newspaper our readers need and want."

But make no mistake about it: The Globe is not planning to start micro-zoning and providing zoned coverage for each of the many towns surrounding Boston. For one thing, that's very expensive. For another, it just isn't what the Globe does.

"Local news is increasingly important to the Globe," Eisenmenger says. "But to say it's what we're all about would be wrong."

More importantly, Eisenmenger says, the Globe, like many other regional newspapers, does not believe micro-zoning is the best use of its resources. "Some papers had the impression that if some zoning is good, which it obviously is, more is better," she says. "But there is a point of diminishing returns."

One key to the mix is the exorbitant cost of zoning.

"It's very expensive to focus on local news," says John Kimball, a senior vice president with the NAA. "Larger newspapers have found that carving their geography differently without a large commitment of resources from the news side just doesn't do it."

In addition to having to build up reporting and desk staffs, newspapers that increase zoning also face the challenge of more complex distribution. Still, Kimball believes zoning can provide newspapers with a great opportunity to increase readership and market share, if publishers are willing to commit the resources.

At the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights, Ill., local coverage and intense zoning are a key part of the newspaper's persona. For years, the suburban Chicago paper has been providing communities outside the city with zoned sections that provide readers with very local news. The sections also have strong appeal to advertisers who want to reach segments of the newspaper's market.

These days, the Daily Herald has 16 zoned sections, each covering three to five towns. "They're the heart of the Daily Herald and the strength upon which we're built," says Debbie Gentry, an assistant advertising manager who deals with the zones. "They are a strong fabric of the paper."

Over the years, the number of zones at the Daily Herald has increased to keep up with the area's growth. From an advertising perspective, Gentry says, the zones have been very successful. "Our goal is to deliver what the advertiser needs."

For some smaller advertisers, that may mean focusing on just one zone. Other advertisers, she says, may choose to take on more than one zone. With small zones, Gentry says, comes the obvious price advantage and the opportunity for advertisers to zero in on a specific target market.


In Boston, the Globe's section serving the western suburbs is also striking a high note with advertisers.

It was about a year ago that the Globe launched Globe West, a Thursday and Sunday insert that reaches 37 communities in the suburbs. The section, which has a circulation of about 83,000 daily and 116,000 on Sunday, is divided into four editorial zones and two advertising zones.

For years prior to the launch of Globe West, the newspaper had published a zoned Sunday section which was more feature oriented. With the introduction of Globe West, the paper increased its local reporting staff and took a gamble, plunking down a significant amount of money in hopes that readers and advertisers would welcome the addition.

So far, the gamble has paid off.

"The advertising revenue we've gotten has surpassed our expectations," Eisenmenger says.

What's even better, says Cindy Boyd, a senior division sales manager for the Globe, is that most of the advertisers in the Globe West section have never advertised in the Globe before. "In the past year, we've brought in 150 new advertisers, mostly small accounts," she says. Among those accounts are hospitals, community banks and a wide variety of retail accounts.

In the last year, Globe West has generated an additional 11,000 inches of advertising, and almost all of it is new or incremental revenue from advertisers whose main trading area is in the western suburbs.

Buoyed by its success with Globe West, the paper earlier this month launched two additional local news initiatives that involved local zoning. "Happy with what we did in West, we went south," Eisenmenger says.

On Sept. 6, the Globe published its first issue of Globe South, a Thursday and Sunday zoned section aimed at 48 cities and towns. With three editorial zones and two advertising zones, Globe South has a circulation of about 100,000 daily and 132,000 Sunday.

As it did with the creation of Globe West, the newspaper has devoted a lot of resources, including extra staff, to the new Globe South section. But Eisenmenger points out that market conditions changed dramatically in the year between the launch of the two zones, and that meant a bit of an adjustment.

"We're about to take a substantial amount of cost out," she says, by not delivering the zones to homes that do not receive the Globe -- they'll be available free in newsracks and at selected retailers. Also, she says, there have been some changes in the copy desk structure to make it possible to implement some of the adjustments without having to bring in additional help.

A few days after it unveiled Globe South, the Boston paper expanded its western coverage with the Globe West Extra. In its first move into the arena of daily zoning, the Globe on Sept. 10 began zoning Page Two of the local sections in the western communities and adding a page of local news.

The move, Eisenmenger says, helps the Globe cover local news on a more timely basis. With the expansion, the Globe added two more reporters to its Framingham bureau, bringing the total number in that region to 11.

That zoned page carries zoned advertising as well. During the first week, according to Eisenmenger and Boyd, there was an ad on the page every day.

In addition to starting its own zones, the Globe is also leveraging its relationship with a nearby sibling New York Times Co. paper, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, to give subscribers better coverage. Globe subscribers in three communities east of Worcester now get the Telegram & Gazette's local news section, labeled "A Local News Section to the Boston Globe."

The arrangement is designed to provide the 3500 Globe subscribers in the area with more local news, while advertisers in the Telegram & Gazette are now reaching a larger group of potential customers.

Eisenmenger says that with its commitment to local news, the Globe is continuing to look at additional zoning options, and more changes are likely: "That's where the opportunity is for us."

-- Rich Pollack, e-mail:
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Comment:ZONED EDITIONS ROLLED OUT -- AND RETIRED Boston Globe finds success while Los Angeles Times cuts back on its efforts.
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Sep 24, 2001
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