More Iowa newspapers cut back on print editions

Four Iowa newspapers owned by Lee Enterprises announced on May 21 that beginning next month, they will produce print editions only three days a week.

The Sioux City Journal, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Mason City Globe-Gazette, and Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil previewed the changes in Sunday editorials. Journal editor Bruce Miller’s column was headlined, “Changes ahead in Journal content, distribution.” Doug Hines, who serves as editor for both the Courier and Globe-Gazette, and Rachel George of the Daily Nonpareil announced the move with none-too-convincing optimism about an “expanded” newspaper “coming soon.”

Starting on June 20, each paper will produce a print edition on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Subscribers to the Courier, Globe-Gazette, and Journal will receive the papers through the U.S. Postal Service, rather than delivered to their doorstep. Miller advised, “If you routinely read the print product early in the morning (and your mail doesn’t arrive until the afternoon), you may want to get in the habit of looking at the paper on your cellphone, your tablet or your computer. It’s news when you want it.”

The editorial in the Nonpareil didn’t mention a shift away from traditional delivery.

The three print editions will be larger than the current daily papers. Hines, Miller, and George promised “more content, more sections and more pages.”

Every print day, you’ll have a “Sunday” reading experience that’s bursting with local news and opinions, investigative and watchdog journalism, personalities and profiles, sports stories that take you beyond the results of a game played a day or two ago, and a deeper look at the businesses and market leaders in our community and the world around us. […] Our new print editions are going to engage you like never before.

Miller told readers, “By switching to this model, we’re able to do more in-depth and investigative stories, profiles and opinion pieces. You’ll find those extras online – and in those three supersized print papers.”

The papers will continue to publish online editions seven days a week, which will mirror the print editions on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Print subscriptions include access to the newspaper’s e-editions, website, and app. But not everyone who enjoys reading the paper has an internet connection or a smartphone.

Pat Kinney, a longtime Courier reporter and editor who now writes the View from the Cedar Valley Substack newsletter, noted in his post about the changes, “The Courier, for generations, has published a print edition daily except for Saturday; it experimented briefly with a Saturday edition in the early 2000s. The Globe-Gazette has printed Tuesday through Sunday since the late 2000s.”

The Nonpareil has also been printing newspapers on Tuesday through Sunday, while the Journal has produced five print editions a week (Wednesday through Sunday) since 2020.

The Quad-City Times—the largest of Lee’s six Iowa newspapers—still prints a paper every day, and does not appear to be planning any change to that schedule.

Lee publications have gone through several rounds of layoffs in recent years. In 2022, the company fended off a takeover attempt by Alden Global Capital. Employees at some Lee newspapers, including the Courier and Globe-Gazette, were forced to choose this year between a two-week, unpaid furlough or a salary cut.

Moving to three print days a week will save the affected papers money on newsprint, but it won’t insulate them from the broader trends affecting the profitability of journalism. Most newspapers have seen steep declines in circulation over the past decade, and online subscriptions haven’t produced nearly enough revenue to offset those losses. A smaller footprint in the community makes it harder to sell advertising. Whether locally owned or part of a big national chain, many businesses now prefer to spend their ad dollars on Google or Facebook.

The collapse in advertising revenue is also a huge problem for news organizations that publish exclusively online. Buzzfeed recently shut down its entire award-winning news division. Vox Media laid off 7 percent of its staff early this year, and Vice Media filed for bankruptcy last week. Margaret Sullivan wrote in The Guardian,

The problem in digital news? The audience, in many cases, was there. But the profits didn’t follow, or at least not in a sustainable way. Digital advertising revenue, once thought to be based on audience size, was going instead to social-media platforms, particularly Facebook.

Venture capitalists who had funded the news sites grew disenchanted and impatient.

As a lifelong newspaper reader, I’m always sad to see any cuts in print journalism. More than a year after the Des Moines Register stopped printing a Saturday edition, I still miss getting the newspaper on Saturdays.

But cuts to newsroom staff are more devastating to an organization than any change to a printing or delivery schedule. Here’s hoping the move to three print editions a week will keep Lee Enterprises from imposing more layoffs in Sioux City, Council Bluffs, Mason City, and the Cedar Valley.

UPDATE: Globe-Gazette news and photo editor Lisa Grouette raised an important point: this change is happening across many Lee newspapers, not just at the four Iowa properties discussed here. “While the shift to online is inevitable,” she tweeted, “it’s still a perfect example of why supporting local news is so important.”

Grouette also commented Sunday, “It’s my hope this will give our reporters a chance to spread their wings as writers and bring our readers more meaningful content. We’ll continue to bring you local + breaking news online, as it happens.”

Tags: analysis, Media, news

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin

  • Iowa Needs Its Print Publications

    The loss of print newspapers is a real problem for keeping people engaged. Iowa has an aging population, and not everyone is so plugged into online media. I see that in working with some rural communities when helping them to organize. I’ve come across some people who don’t even have emails.

    Others, like me, absorb information better when reading something printed rather than on the screen.

    I used to be the editor of a small, local weekly newspaper many years ago that covered a broad range of local, state, and national issues. We were well regarded and popular, but never profitable and didn’t last more than three years.

    The loss of newspapers and online digital media threatens our democracy as an informed electorate can make educated decisions. This is a bigger problem than most people realize. I don’t know what the practical answer is, and I do think about it.

    But I do have a fanciful vision: cutting back on our bloated-beyond-comprehension military budget and redirecting that money to fund print and digital news media (NOT controlled by the government), education, housing, hunger, public health care, etc. and publicly-funded elections. One can dream.

  • Unfortunately...

    …cutting down on print editions is not the only way in which some Iowa newspapers are becoming less than they used to be. I haven’t lived in Ames for many years, but have maintained a subscription to the AMES TRIBUNE because I liked the paper. It still puts out six editions a week, but is only a shadow of its former self. And much of that shadow consists of the same content that appears in the DM REGISTER.

    I somehow assumed that a sizable university town like Ames could and would successfully fight to maintain a high-quality local newspaper as one of the basic necessities of community life. Obviously I was wrong.

  • Gazette

    I subscribe to the e-edition of both Register and Gazette. Somehow the Gazette has continued to print an opinion page daily, which is my first read. Readership would improve if each of these four papers committed to 2 pages of local opinion, and stuck with local and regional . local sports, school news. National and world news should be dumped as other sources available in timely fashion

    We subscribe to NY Times and Wash Post, which I recommend. And these print papers should be in local library, senior centers, coffee shops etc where people congregate. Still remember when we subscribed to both Register and Tribune. .

  • going the way of the telegraph...

    Print newspapers are going the way of the telegraph. And to those who spout a far right(or far left) agenda I say “good riddance.”

  • Register bailed out

    Register subscriber over forty years. Last three, horrible delivery. Turned them in to the BBB. Reported every time no paper. Contacted everyone, including the Publisher. Told: We may stop delivery to your town, threat. Said they could not find delivery people. Checked with all papers and radio near me. They never advertised. Get my paper now in the mail. Sunday paper on Monday. The paper is a skeleton, and does not cover things outside the Golden Circle.