Update: Ron Wallace was, in fact, named publisher of the News-Journal Friday, the News-Journal reported on Saturday. Michael Redding, the former publisher, is now CEO for Halifax Media, the company that owns the News-Journal and 16 other papers. “Redding will continue to be a member of The News-Journal’s editorial board,” the paper reports, suggesting that Redding’s involvement in other papers’ editorial decisions will not be silent.
Just as the Daytona Beach News-Journal acquired the 16 newspapers formerly known as the New York Times Regional Group this month, mostly in markets where the papers enjoy a print monopoly, the News-Journal’s twice-a-week Flagler edition known as the News-Tribune is about to get stiffer competition: the weekly Palm Coast Observer may go to twice a week as early as April.
The move would be a frontal assault on the News-Tribune’s weakened hold on the Flagler market, where the News-Journal’s daily paper has also been losing readership, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation.
[News-Journal Publisher Michael Redding has called a company-wide meeting for 2 p.m. today, possibly to announce the appointment of Ron Wallace publisher. Wallace was the publisher at the Daily Commercial in Leesburg, a position he resigned in late December. He’s been ambling about News-Journal offices for the past few weeks. Redding will presumably move on to other duties over the larger newspaper chain.]
“We know the readership demand is there,” Palm Coast Observer Publisher John Walsh said. “We think having a second publication date would provide more timely story reporting, and based on readership demand, we think advertising support will follow, and we hope to launch a second publication day before the end of the first quarter of this year.”
The Palm Coast Observer is one of the five weekly papers of the Observer Group, based in Sarasota and owned by John Walsh’s brother Matt. The Palm Coast Observer would be the first in the group to go to two days a week. “It’s been a desire all along as part of our growth strategy,” Walsh said, though the head-to-head competition for the News-Tribune’s advertisers appears to be informing that strategy: Flagler-based advertising in the News-Tribune, Walsh said, has been slight, though advertisers are not quite lacking locally, nor is business activity.
“We’ve heard from various advertisers as recently as the month of December of record sales,” Walsh said. “Real estate is above all over town and that’s one of the opportunities we haven’t capitalized on yet. The support just wasn’t there from the market. That changed, and the rest will follow.”
The Observer, which has a print run of 25,000, launched in early 2010 with 16 pages. It has since grown to an average of 44, with a high of 60. Should it go to twice a week, the paper would essentially be splitting content over the two issues, Walsh said, making it more timely without necessarily having to add to the writing staff—at least not at first. The physical size of the paper “may contract at first, but build from there,” Walsh said.
But don’t expect the Palm Coast Observer to go to five or seven days a week in the future. “Not our place,” Walsh said. “Not sure I’d ever see it going there.”
The News-Journal has seen nothing but increasing competition from the Flagler market, with the addition of WNZF’s three radio stations in the last three years (WNZF, Beach 92 and, late last year, Easy Oldies 100.7-FM), the Observer in early 2010, and FlaglerLive in mid-2010, all of which have eroded the daily’s once-monopolistic hold on the county.
Last week the News-Journal finalized its acquisition of the 16 newspapers that belonged to the New York Times, including five papers in Florida, for the desultory sum of $143 million. The News-Journal is not the largest paper in the group. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, which has a weekday circulation of 64,000, is (the News-Journal’s weekday circulation is 61,000, and below 10,000 in Flagler County). It’s of course not clear how the acquisition of the chain will affect management of the News-Journal or the company as a whole, though immediately after the papers’ acquisition the 1,755 employees in the new company were required to reapply for their jobs, and a number of them already found themselves jobless.
Halifax Media, the company headed by three investors, including Redding, that controls the chains, initially required all employees to sign a broad, two-year non-compete agreement. Redding retracted the requirement, at least as far as current employees were concerned, after an outcry from the ranks–and strong resistance from some of the properties’ publishers, including Sarasota’s. The non-compete (see below) would still apply to new hires.
Halifax Media’s non-compete agreement: