Changes will preserve Ashland's daily paper

Today's Daily Tidings front page carries some attention-grabbing news — not about local, state or national issues, but about the Tidings itself.

The news that the Daily Tidings will be delivered exclusively in the morning beginning Dec. 13 and that the Tidings offices will be closed effective that day is no doubt upsetting to some readers, perhaps you among them. But I ask you to read on in order to understand why these moves will help us continue to publish a newspaper whose primary mission is the coverage of Ashland.

The two moves are separate in some ways and connected in one significant way. Let me first address the switch to morning delivery:

The shift from afternoon to morning newspapers has been going on seemingly since there were newspapers (at least for my generation of journalists). A check of data from the National Newspaper Association shows that in 1980 there were 387 morning newspapers and 1,388 afternoon papers in the United States. In 2009, the number of morning papers had grown to 862 and the number of those publishing in the afternoon had declined by almost two-thirds, to 525.

Why? Many papers began as afternoon publications because they were in rural, farm-oriented communities in which there was no time to read in the morning. That's obviously changed in many areas. Some larger communities found it increasingly difficult to deliver papers when traffic was heavier at midday. But for most it's been a response to readers and advertisers, who want access to the news and ads earlier in the day.

So the move to morning delivery is a trend — more like a wave — that shows no sign of reversing. The Tidings sister newspaper, the Mail Tribune, made a similar switch in 1995.

In Ashland, reasons for the change go a step further and are, in fact, connected to the Mail Tribune. Many people in the community may not be aware of this, but the Tidings is the smallest daily newspaper in the state. Its previous owner was prepared to convert it to a twice-a-week publication nearly a decade ago, but the advantages of teaming up with a nearby paper made it economically feasible to continue as a daily after the Mail Tribune's parent company purchased it in 2002.

That sort of synergy is connected with both the move to morning delivery and the closure of the office. Because the Mail Tribune is delivered in Ashland each morning, it's more efficient — and cost-effective — to deliver the Tidings at the same time, for both the newspaper and for its carriers.

And that leads to the closing of the Tidings building. As with the delivery time, it simply makes economic sense to handle the production functions at the Mail Tribune's facilities, rather than running the same operations in two sites 15 miles apart from each other.

We are faced with the same difficult economic situation currently confronting virtually every business — and every media business in particular. That means we must be focused on our core mission and must do everything we can to protect that mission.

For us in the newsroom, the core mission is news and this move allows us to keep our current news staff intact. We will have the same reporters and editors working on the Tidings, but some of the work — primarily editing and page production — will be done at the Mail Tribune, which means there will be more people, not fewer, producing the Daily Tidings. Little will change for reporters and photographers, who will continue to work in Ashland covering the community.

It is difficult to close the doors on the Tidings office, but our focus is on delivering the news — in the paper and online — rather than on the building.

With the two news staffs working more closely together, we are looking for new ways to increase the local coverage in the Tidings, to have more local voices and faces on our print and Web pages and to tell more of the story about Ashland, its people and its issues. We hope to have more to tell you on that front in the near future.

We want to keep the "Daily" in the nameplate of the Daily Tidings and the moves we're announcing today will help us to do that. We ask that you give us a chance to show that this will work and to support the Daily Tidings as we go through these changes. It's a privilege to be your community newspaper, a privilege that comes with a responsibility that we intend to do everything in our power to meet.

Bob Hunter is the editor of the Mail Tribune and the Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-776-4460, or by e-mail at

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