(This is the first of two media notebooks, with the second to run Friday.)
A little less than a year after launching the North State Journal, North Carolina’s first statewide newspaper, market realities have led publisher Neal Robbins to scale back his original goal of publishing five days a week.
When the first edition rolled off the presses Feb. 28, 2016, as a Sunday-only publication, he expected that the NSJ would go to five days a week by June or July. That shift kept getting pushed later. It’s finally expanding from Sunday-only publication next week, but only adding weekly Wednesday editions for now.
“I’ve moved from making this publication the publication that I want it to be to the publication that it is,” Robbins said. “When you have something that you’re selling commercially, the market’s going to have its say at one point. I’m still working through what the market’s telling us. I don’t think the market wants a seven-day newspaper, and I’m not convinced the market wants a five-day newspaper. I think it wants more than two.”
The first four-section NSJ, with the addition of a business section, published last Sunday, and the first Wednesday print edition is set for Wednesday, Feb. 8. The page count went from
25 pages for a three-section newspaper two Sundays ago to 33 pages last Sunday.
The story deadline for Sunday print-edition stories will remain Friday, but the story deadline for Wednesday’s editions will be early Tuesday evening.
“I don’t like having such a long time between deadline and print and that’s one of the things that I’m excited about: that Wednesday is going to be very timely,” Robbins said. “That’s going to change the makeup of the Sunday paper because they don’t have to be a week-long paper.”
The story deadlines mean that game stories from its sports writers will remain web-only and that the sports stories in the print edition will be features or analysis.
“The web is really for gamers, and that type of thing, and print is for more a deeper dive and behind the box score type thing,” he said.
Robbins says that he’ll evaluate how well the two-day publication schedule goes this month and in March, and then evaluate whether a third day makes sense. If it does, he’ll determine which day would be most logical. If there is further expansion, it would likely happen in the second quarter.
The subscriptions rates won’t change with the shift to two days a week. Robbins says there would be an adjustment if the newspaper goes to three-days-a-week publication.
“Every county has been reported on and every county gets the paper,” said Robbins, who says that NSJ’s current circulation is 3,000. “In an ideal world, we’ll be at 10,000 by the end of the year. I know how much marketing I need to do to generate the number of subscriptions that I want, and 10,000 is where my comfort zone is for subscribers.”
He also sees revenue going up. Despite there being few ads in the print edition (there were nine in Sunday’s edition), he expects the newspaper to be in the black by the end of the year.
“Absolutely. I think subscribers are going to drive it,” he said. “That’s my focus, and I have
100 percent confidence that we will be, on a margin basis, the most profitable newspaper in North Carolina.”
While the North State Journal is available at a couple of businesses in Raleigh, the only way to pick up a copy in Chapel Hill or Durham remains to subscribe.
Last month, Robbins joined the law firm Nexsen Pruet as a lawyer. John Skvarla, who was Gov. Pat McCrory’s commerce secretary, also joined the firm last month as senior government relations adviser.
Robbins served as director of legislative affairs for the Department of Environmental Quality before starting NSJ, and says Skvarla is his mentor. He said that he won’t have anything to do with government interests with his firm work and that he doesn’t think Skvarla will register as a lobbyist.
“I would only be advocating for somebody in a courtroom,” says Robbins, adding that NSJ will remain his primary focus.
More North Carolina desk work headed to Austin, Texas
GateHouse owns several state newspapers that have their design and copy editing work done at its mammoth hub in Austin, Texas — the GateHouse Media Center for News and Design — and it is expected to add three more newspapers in March.
A hub in Jacksonville, N.C., that has done design and copy editing work for The Daily News of Jacksonville, The Free Press of Kinston and The Sun-Journal of New Bern will close and the work for those three newspapers also will go to Austin.
The change will affect at least a half-dozen desk people in Jacksonville.
Last month, The Dallas Morning News, which GateHouse does not own, announced that it will outsource its copy editing and design work to that hub by mid-year, eliminating 25 jobs.
‘The Ticket’ adds FM signal
If you live in Raleigh, the reception for the Capitol Broadcasting Company’s third all-sports station, WCLY, known as 1550 The Ticket, just got better. In addition to receiving the station at AM 1550 and 99.9 HD3, you can tune to 95.7 FM.
This frequency will only work in the Raleigh area.
The station airs the CBS Sports Radio show “Gio and Jones” in morning drive beginning at
6 a.m., followed by “The Dan Patrick Show” at 9 a.m., “The Jim Rome Show” at noon and ESPN Radio’s “Rusillo & Kannell” at 3 p.m. The station airs Appalachian State football and, beginning with the Feb. 26 Daytona 500, will air all NASCAR races through Motor Racing Network and The Racing Network.
Raleigh & Company and 1550 The Ticket are business units of Capitol Broadcasting Company.