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Originally published March 31, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 31, 2009 at 9:36 AM

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Detroit's 2 daily newspapers go not-so-daily on newsy day

Home delivery is cut to three days a week at a time when big news is coming out of Detroit, and the paper's revamped Web sites saw an enormous surge in readership. The move is among a number of changes occurring at newspapers across the nation.

The New York Times

Maybe once a year, a city has a news day as heavy as the one that just hit Detroit: The White House forced out the chairman of General Motors, word leaked that the administration wants Chrysler to hitch its fortunes to Fiat, and Michigan State University's men's basketball team reached the Final Four, which will be in Detroit.

All of this news would have landed on hundreds of thousands of Motor City doorsteps and driveways Monday morning, in the form of The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News.

Would have, that is, except that Monday — of all days — was the long-planned first day of the newspapers' new strategy for surviving the economic crisis by ending home delivery on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Instead, on those days they are directing readers to their revamped Web sites, and offering a truncated print version at stores, newsstands and street boxes.

"This morning, I felt like something was missing," said Nancy Nester, 51, a program coordinator at a medical facility in suburban West Bloomfield Hills who has subscribed to both papers for four years. "There was this feeling of emptiness."

She did not even bother to pick up the free copies. "I don't have time to stop at the store," she said. "That's why I have home delivery."

On Monday, The News and The Free Press, which share business functions under a joint-operating agreement (JOA), distributed more than a half-million free copies of their condensed print editions, but they will begin charging (50 cents, as always) today.

The Free Press, the larger of the papers, will still make home deliveries Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, and The News, which does not have a Sunday edition, will deliver on Thursdays and Fridays. The two newspapers were promoting electronic versions that are laid out like the printed editions.

With profits shrinking fast, newspapers are grasping for the formula that will ensure survival, and a few have decided to save on printing and distribution by publishing only on the most profitable days of the week — potentially a step toward an all-digital future.

Executives have called it a calculated gamble, but they say that Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays account for more than 80 percent of their advertising revenue.

"We had an overwhelming — literally overwhelming — number of people trying to get onto the e-edition site this morning, and it's gratifying on one hand, but it slowed things down," said Jonathan Wolman, editor and publisher of The News, owned by MediaNews Group.

The Detroit papers were among four major daily newspapers sporting makeovers Monday as they grapple with life in a world of digital news.

The Washington Post put out its first newspaper with business news folded into the front section. And The International Herald Tribune had a redesigned print edition and took on a new form online, merging with The New York Times' Web site, which is published by the same company.


A link from the Times' Web site offers readers its "global" online edition, which features the IHT masthead over a Web site that looks almost identical to, but features international news more prominently.

Times officials hope that by combining the two sites, IHT's content will reach millions more readers, and the company could boost online traffic overall.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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