| Home | Q&A With Newspaper Editors Jane Hirt and Dan Caccavaro -- July/August 2006
September 23, 2014

Facing a steady decline in readership and increased competition from the Internet, more paid newspapers are launching free dailies in an effort to grab a segment of the population that doesn't regularly read papers -- professionals in their 20s and 30s. spoke with editors of two of the most popular free dailies: Jane Hirt of RedEye, a Monday-Friday tabloid edition of The Chicago Tribune started in October 2002, and Dan Caccavaro of Express, a commuter daily in D.C. launched in August 2003 by The Washington Post.

Jane Hirt, editor, RedEye

Jane Hirt As the overall newspaper industry continues to lose readers every year, why are more large newspaper companies launching free daily papers?

Jane Hirt: I don't know about other newspaper companies, but the Tribune is interested in diversifying its portfolio of news offerings. We live in a multi-channel world with endless choices, so it makes sense to offer different options to different people who have different needs. We also live now in a highly-customizable, on-demand world: As a consumer you can watch your favorite TV show whenever you want, program your iPod to play your favorite music in the order you wish to hear it, order a Mini Cooper with only the features you want ... that kind of choice changes the media game as well. Niche papers like RedEye can focus on super-serving a specific group of readers without trying to please everyone. Since its launch in 2002, has RedEye run the risk of stealing potential readers from the Chicago Tribune?

Jane Hirt: We haven't detected a problem with cannibalization of Tribune readers. That's probably because the Tribune and RedEye are very different newspapers, with different missions and different target audiences. Each is a distinctive read; RedEye complements but doesn't aim to supplant the Tribune. One of our goals is to get people in the habit of reading a daily newspaper. Whether they feel like reading RedEye or the Tribune on a particular day, the point is that the Tribune has captured that reader. RedEye was started in a free/paid model. Why did you switch last October to an entirely free model? Was it because no one was buying the paper?

Jane Hirt: We switched to better serve our audience and to boost our growth. During the years of the free/paid hybrid model, we were about 80% free- 20% paid. Circulation revenue was never a large part of the picture, and we found that we could support our paper AND be profitable with ad revenue alone. Going 100% free also allowed RedEye to grow faster (which we did) and allowed us to cut the infrastructure costs associated with collecting money. Free is also more convenient for our readers, many of whom are rushing to work in the morning and don't have time to dig for a quarter. We were basically free all-along, now we're just more free. The circulation numbers are not looking good for subscription-based daily newspapers. Will free papers eventually replace paid ones?

Jane Hirt: I wish I had a crystal ball to answer this, but I don't. A free newspaper is one way to diversify a flagship paper's offerings, but I don't know if subscription-based papers will go away totally. We do, however, find ourselves in a world where news is available to everybody online for free. The newspaper industry's challenge is to find a way in this environment to keep making the money that supports our journalism. News online might be free, but news-gathering is far from free. To avoid overlap, how much coordination goes on between editors at the Chicago Tribune and RedEye? Do you attend the Tribune's morning and afternoon story conferences?

Jane Hirt: RedEye editors have a great relationship with Tribune editors--we work on the same floor and communicate regularly, though not by attending each other's meetings. We find one-on-one conversations to be more efficient and we share story schedules. We try to help out each other in our respective areas of expertise and RedEye stories occasionally appear in the Chicago Tribune. At RedEye, we're not too concerned with overlap because RedEye is circulated separately from the Tribune. It's a free-standing newspaper.

Hirt joined the Chicago Tribune in 1990 after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has held several positions in the newsroom, including national/foreign copy desk chief and national/foreign news editor. In 2002 she joined the team that created RedEye. During her career, she has won various awards, including the Tribune Co. Readership Innovation Award in 2004. RedEye connects each week with more than 700,000 Chicagoans.

Copyright © 2006 LLC. All rights reserved.


Dan Caccavaro, editor, Express

Dan Caccavaro Why did your parent company, The Washington Post, agree to fund a free daily paper in an already crowded newspaper market?

Dan Caccavaro: D.C. is an ideal market for a commuter daily like Express. It has a great subway system (even if riders like to complain about it) and it has a high concentration of well-educated, young, active people. They’re precisely the kind of readers who respond well to a paper like Express – and a very desirable demographic for advertisers. It was pretty clear that if the Post didn’t start its own commuter daily here, someone else eventually would swoop in and capture this prime audience. But Express wasn’t just a defensive move. Our goal from the start was to produce a top-quality free paper that would not just fend of competition but would grow into a successful and profitable addition to the Post brand. It was also seen as an opportunity to reach non-Post readers and potentially turn some of them on to reading the Post daily. Shortly after the Express was started, another free tabloid called the Examiner was launched. Is there enough room for both of you? How are you different?

Dan Caccavaro: Other than being free, the Examiner is nothing like Express, and its entry into the market has had no effect at all on our operations. The Examiner distributes most of its papers through free home delivery, while most of ours are distributed in boxes and through hawkers along the Metro system, so we’re not really competing for the same kind of readers. The Examiner isn’t striving to be a quick-read paper for young-ish, active commuters. It’s trying to be a comprehensive paper of record, more in competition with the Post and Washington Times than with Express. Also, everything about the paper -- its editorial focus, its design and its general tone -- seems to aim for an older, more suburban audience, while Express’ sensibility, especially in our entertainment and features writing, resonates with a younger, more pop-culturally attuned audience. Has Express reduced readership of The Post?

Dan Caccavaro: There was some concern about cannibalization when we launched the paper, and the Post’s circulation has indeed dropped somewhat since we launched. But it’s unclear how much, if any, of that drop is attributable to Express. Newspapers everywhere are losing circulation for a variety of reasons, and the Post certainly hasn’t been immune to those forces. But we’ve been operating for three years now (our anniversary is Aug. 4). I think at this point readers’ habits are pretty well established. Anyone who was going to stop reading the Post because of Express probably did so a long time ago. So at this point, I think Express actually stands a greater chance of boosting or preserving Post readership than hurting it. Is Express really a marketing tool to get more people to read The Post?

Dan Caccavaro: Express is not used as an advertising vehicle for the Post. From the start our mandate at Express was to make Express the best paper it could be in its own right. We felt very strongly that our readers are far too savvy to accept a paper that could be seen as a thinly disguised ploy to get them to read the Post. That said, Express does offer natural, editorially valid opportunities to steer readers to the Post for a kind and quality of journalism that we can’t provide ourselves.

For example, if we’re running a breaking news story on the day’s developments in Iraq and the Post has a related enterprise story that could not be boiled down to fit in our format, we’ll embed a key to the Post within our story, giving readers a taste of the Post’s piece and directing them to the Post for the full version. Similarly, in our Friday editions we’re now running an abbreviated version of a story that will appear in the upcoming Sunday paper along with a series of keys to additional stories we think will be of interest to our readers. It’s a natural … I hate this word … synergy, and because we do it only when there is a good editorial reason to do it, I think readers have come to see these keys as a valuable service and not simply as a ploy to boost Post readership — though we do hope it has that effect. There's been some criticism that free papers are thin on sources and context. Is there any truth to this? How many staffers are used to put out the Express?

Dan Caccavaro: I think this criticism comes from people who don’t quite understand the purpose of a free commuter daily. They measure us by the same standards they’d use to judge a paper of record, and by that measure, of course we don’t stack up. It’s a bit like criticizing a convenience store for not carrying 12 types of brie.

Our goal is to present a concise encapsulation of the day’s top news developments in a package that can be digested in about 20 minutes. We don’t intend – or pretend – to offer the kind of context or comprehensive analysis that readers expect from a paper of record like the Post. That said, we strive to pack as much information as possible into each news story we run, so we do manage to provide a surprising amount of news in a very small space. And we regularly direct readers from our pages to the Post for analysis or additional reporting on important news stories.

This is what makes our partnership with The Washington Post so powerful. We provide one service (getting our readers up to speed very quickly) and the Post provides another (providing context, commentary and enterprise reporting). I think readers in our market have come to understand and appreciate how the two papers complement each other. We have an editorial staff of 21. You're no stranger to the free daily newspaper market, having successfully edited Boston Metro before you joined Express. Will free papers eventually replace paid ones?

Dan Caccavaro: No, I don’t think it’s going to be that simple. But I do think papers will learn from the success of free dailies like Express and find ways to make themselves more appealing to the kinds of readers they’re losing – whether by changing their formats or their content choices or by changing the way they distribute their content.

In markets where it makes sense, I think some papers will roll out free sister publications like Express to complement the broadsheet and capture infrequent or non-readers. Others are likely to convert from broadsheets to a more reader-friendly tabloid format with no story jumps. And, yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if, eventually, some papers stop charging altogether.

But overall, what I think we’re going to see is the traditional daily gradually becoming just one of many options readers have for getting their news as newspaper companies develop more and more new methods – including some electronic formats that probably haven’t even been dreamed up yet – to deliver the news to readers in ways that suit their lifestyles.

Dan Caccavaro got his start in newspapers in 1989 as a local beat reporter and then news editor for a chain of weekly community newspapers in the Boston area. In 1995 he became editor in chief of The Valley Advocate, an alternative weekly covering Western Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley. In 2001 he was hired by Metro International as founding editor of Boston Metro, the country’s second free commuter daily, behind Philadelphia Metro. Caccavaro was hired by the Post in 2003 to lead the launch of Express, which debuted on Aug. 4, 2003, with a Mon.-Fri. circulation of 125,000. The paper has since more than doubled in daily page count and now has a circulation of about 195,000.

Copyright © 2006 LLC. All rights reserved.

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