Newspaper print editions are on death row, with the date that the presses finally shut down undetermined.

How long your favorite print edition survives seems to depend on who owns the newspaper and how that chain is doing financially. Also crucial is how the company weighs its commitment to the print edition against the need/urge to trim budgets and slide toward all digital.

In 2009, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was one of the first major publications to end the print edition and continue as a news organization. It still produces content on seattlepi.com. The Seattle Times still publishes a print edition.

Some newspapers still are committed to later deadlines to give print readers the sort of product in their driveway each morning that they have come to expect for years. For others, the print edition is more of an afterthought in a digital-first world. The McClatchy Company, which owns The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, is struggling financially and that seems to drive many of its decisions. McClatchy on Monday reported a net loss of $238.9 million in this year’s third quarter (an adjusted net loss of $5.9 million). 

Last week, one poster on a popular sports journalism message board described McClatchy as being in “hospice care.” It may not be that dire, but there have been rumors that a large debt payment will be due in the next few of months.

Elaine Lintecum, McClatchy’s vice president, finance and chief financial officer, said Monday, according to a transcript from Seeking Alpha, that the company “ended the quarter with cash of $84 million and debt of $805 million. We remain confident in our ability to manage debt and expect to reduce our debt and our leverage ratio even further in the coming quarters, while continuing to invest in the business.”

The Triangle Business Journal reported Tuesday that the sale of The N&O‘s building on South McDowell Street in Raleigh will close in the fourth quarter. The facility, paired with the sale of a building in Merced, Calif., is expected to bring in $22 million in gross proceeds, according to TBJ.

The print editions of The N&O and The Herald-Sun have become a casualty of the deep dive into digital. McClatchy said Monday that there was an 8.2% increase in digital-only advertising revenue in the third quarter. That is where the future of newspaper journalism lies, so that emphasis is logically placed.

As digital increasingly trumps print, more long headlines that would be perfectly fine on a website are ending up in print. Headlines between 12- and 18-words long have been appearing in print editions. In most cases when you see a double-digit-word headline in the print edition, it turns out that the website headline was used verbatim.

This is despite copy editors at McClatchy News Desk East in Charlotte being told not to use web headlines. Print headlines never should be that long and should be catchy, accurate and succinct. At least that used to be the goal.

There was a column with a 15-word headline on the web (above) that wasn’t quite long enough to fill the massive four-column, three-line hole. Three words were added at the end to make it an 18-word headline. Copy editors who, in past years, labored to fit a good headline into very difficult headline specifications probably cringe at the sight.

The day after Election Day last week, The Herald-Sun put bunting at the top of the page hailing its Election Day coverage. Which, of course, was online since deadlines made getting results into the print edition the next day impossible.

Not every newspaper is de-emphasizing the print edition.

There are cities and towns with good school systems and others you try to avoid if you have school-aged kids. You might move for a better school system but you would never move for a better newspaper. Some readers who love print editions are more fortunate than others. Folks in the Triangle aren’t in the fortunate group.

Some other markets are far luckier. A good case in point is the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va., which Landmark Media Enterprises owns.

A look at the Pilot’s Sunday sports section would make any print-edition lover from this area jealous. There are roundups, scores and summaries from night games. When Virginia played a late football game at Boise State earlier this season, it was in the final print edition.

Last Sunday’s Pilot sports section gave readers the sort of complete section that Triangle readers used to get from The N&O and The Herald-Sun on a regular basis. It’s the kind of section that made it worth shelling out money for a print subscription or dropping a lot of quarters into the newspaper rack to buy. Compare the sports section print readers pulled off their driveways Sunday in the Triangle to what some in Hampton Roads received. The Pilot’s sports section included:

  • 13½ pages (Raleigh’s section was 9½ pages and Durham was 4⅓ pages)
  • A full-page preview of the NBA season (N&O had a half-page and H-S had nothing)
  • A full-page preview of the day’s NASCAR race (N&O and H-S each had one story)
  • Two full pages previewing the day’s NFL action (N&O had 1¾ pages and H-S had ¾-of-a-page)
  • Five inside pages on college football (longer than the entire Herald-Sun sports section), including scores, summaries and roundups (N&O had 1½ inside pages with two local summaries and H-S had no inside content other than jumps, and only UNC’s summary. UNC’s game with Virginia started at 3:30, so there was a no story in The Herald-Sun. With The N&O’s deadline a bit later, a story made the final edition of The N&O.)

The latest Top 25 games didn’t make it into the Pilot. But Hampton Roads readers had the joy of opening a print edition knowing that nearly everything they’ve always expected for years would be there.

Saturday’s edition of the Pilot had three game stories on high school football, one as the main story on the sports front, in addition to a full inside page on high school football.

Never mind that it’s been decided that the consolidated N&O/Herald-Sun sports staff will no longer write high school game stories (except possibly the playoffs). Even if it wrote those stories, the print deadlines are so early that they wouldn’t make the newspaper.

The last Herald-Sun page has to be done by 7:45 p.m. (6:55 on Saturday night for Sunday’s paper) and the last N&O page for the first edition has to be done by 8 p.m. (7:40 for Sunday’s paper). The N&O has the flexibility to replate (or update) pages until 9 p.m. (8:30 for Sunday’s paper) for later editions.

The Pilot shows that you still can have a complete sports section in print if you commit to budget the proper number of pages and set a reasonable deadline.

McClatchy and/or N&O management haven’t made the commitment on either count, preferring to save money by having deadlines earlier, printing fewer pages and emphasizing digital. Executive Editor John Drescher explained why deadlines are so early in this story.

McClatchy’s emphasis on game analysis or features rather than game stories is smart. But why would you buy a print edition if you’re not going to be able to read it there for two days?

Make no mistake: The Pilot is also committed to digital while also maintaining a top-notch print product. Somebody once said that a newspaper should be like a grocery store with something there for everybody. That person had no idea that clicks would later rule the newspaper world.

With their print editions and its digital offerings, McClatchy’s two Triangle newspapers are becoming more like specialty stores when it comes to sports and some news beats.

Do you want game coverage of the Durham Bulls, high school sports, N.C. Central basketball or women’s college basketball? One or both newspapers used to provide that coverage. For years, The Herald-Sun covered every UNC and Duke women’s basketball home game and every NCCU home basketball game. But don’t expect any of that anymore or much non-game coverage of the above, except for possibly high school sports, because they don’t get enough clicks.

Majority rules and if the sport or sports you’re passionate about don’t fit into the metrics, they don’t fit into the coverage plans.

You’ll have to find other places for coverage. For non-revenue college sports, there is coverage from Peter Koutroumpis on his Triangle Sports Network site, Turner Walston’s Argyle Report for UNC sports, student newspaper sites and official college athletics sites. For Bulls coverage, there’s Chris Wise’s Watching Durham Bulls Baseball blog, Bob Sutton’s articles in the Times-News of Burlington or content on the Bulls’ website.

The days of being able to get all of that sort of coverage in the print edition you pick up from your driveway — unless you’re planning to move — are over.

Likewise, you won’t be getting all of that on the websites of the Raleigh and Durham newspapers. It seems that print editions outside of the area are likely to be around a lot longer than McClatchy’s Triangle newspapers. The company certainly is giving readers fewer reasons to buy one.