01-01-04 | Printable Version

Some Still Like It in the Afternoon

P.M. Dailies Hold Values, Continue to be Strong Despite Changing Times

When Dean Singleton's MediaNews Group in May acquired substantially all of the economic interest in the York, Pennsylvania joint operating agreement, it was no surprise that he also took ownership of the morning newspaper.

Although it took longer in York than in most other markets, the circulation of the morning York Daily Record finally outstripped that of the afternoon York Dispatch in the mid-1990s.

The number of afternoon daily newspapers in the U.S. has been shrinking for several decades. And in places such as York, where two daily newspapers continue to be published under joint operating agreements, afternoon dailies tend to lose circulation to their morning counterparts because of changing readership habits.

However, p.m. newspapers remain strong in many parts of the country – particularly places in which the local economy historically has been dependent on manufacturing and/or farming.

Moreover, in single-newspaper markets, publishing in the afternoon cycle does not diminish the value of a newspaper. Dirks, Van Essen & Murray reviewed more than 1,000 daily newspaper transactions in our database and found no distinguishable difference in the multiples paid for morning and evening newspapers.

Additionally, afternoon dailies fared no worse in the most recent circulation audits than morning newspapers, losing slightly less than 1% of their circulation in the past year.

None of the publishers of afternoon dailies we spoke with anticipates converting to the morning cycle this year. This might suggest that the trend of converting to the a.m. cycle has run its course.

Most p.m. publishers indicated that recent market research suggested there was no edict from the market to make the move, and a number cited the apparent benefit of their youth delivery force, which would be disrupted if they converted to a morning cycle.

The number of afternoon dailies peaked after World War II. At that time, they matched the lifestyle of the factory worker and the stay-at-home moms.

Since then, the employment base evolved away from traditional manufacturing jobs, the nuclear family became less of the norm, and city dwellers moved to the suburbs. The shift to morning reading habits was on. Today almost six morning dailies are sold for every afternoon paper.

 Swapping in York

The transaction in York involved MediaNews Group taking ownership in the morning York Daily Record, while Phil Buckner, who previously was the principal owner of the Daily Record, took over responsibility to publish the afternoon York Dispatch. MediaNews Group also retained ownership of the Sunday paper.

Owning the morning daily was not necessarily the publishing cycle of choice in York, until perhaps recently. York has been one of those markets slow to embrace morning readership trends pervasive in most parts of the country.

York traditionally was a blue-collar town, with residents going to work early and coming home early. Conventional wisdom suggests this plays into the hands of an afternoon daily.

However, the historical strength of the afternoon Dispatch also may have been influenced by the political preference of the readers. The two dailies in York have had a long tradition of being quite different newspapers, with the afternoon Dispatch having a distinctly opposing political stance from its morning rival.

At the time the York JOA was formed in 1989, it was the morning Record which filed as the failing paper, not the afternoon daily, which has been the case in most other JOA markets.

The 20 largest newspapers published on the afternoon cycle (outside of a JOA) are located almost exclusively in the Midwest and Northeast. Most of these markets historically have had a substantial percentage of the workforce in manufacturing or farming jobs, which start early in the day and end in the afternoon.

Some of these newspapers also operate in the shadow of large morning metropolitan newspapers. The owners have chosen to remain in the afternoon cycle to differentiate their product. In none of these communities does a measurable percentage of the workforce commute to work using mass transit.

On a state-by-state basis, similar trends are evident. More afternoon dailies are located in states associated historically with manufacturing and farming.

Kansas has 79% of its dailies published in the afternoon – the highest in the nation. Interestingly, the three largest dailies in the state – Wichita, Topeka and Lawrence – all publish on a morning cycle. However, these are the three cities in the state with the lowest percentage of manufacturing and farming jobs.

Ohio has the second highest percentage of p.m. dailies at 70%. Like Kansas, its largest dailies all publish in the mornings.

The largest circulation afternoon daily in the country (not forced to publish in the afternoon as a result of a JOA agreement) is the Grand Rapids (MI) Press, with 139,216 daily circulation.

The Press, however, is only the 80th largest circulation daily in the country. It is followed by another Michigan daily in Flint, with 84,313 circulation.

Michigan is the home of six of the 20 largest afternoon dailies in the country. Youngstown and Canton, Ohio, both traditionally heavy industrial cities, follow as the third and fourth largest. The fifth largest afternoon daily is the Staten Island (NY) Advance, owned by Newhouse, which also owns the six large Michigan p.m. dailies and Huntsville, Alabama.