Q&A: First U.S. newspaper to go Berliner
President and Publisher
Lafayette Journal & Courier
Lafayette, Indiana, U.S.A.
The Berliner format is a new newspaper format within the U.S. market and the Journal & Courier in Lafayette, Indiana, was the first one to opt for it. newspaper techniques talked with Gary M. Suisman, president and publisher of the Journal & Courier, and with Austin Ryan, vice president of production for Gannett’s newspaper division, about the reason behind this step and the first experiences with the new format.
newspaper techniques:The Journal & Courier is the first newspaper in the United States to opt for the Berliner format. Other newspapers have instead reduced their web widths or, in some cases, converted to tabloid. Why did you choose the Berliner as the new format?
Gary M. Suisman: We needed a new press and Gannett wanted to test the format. Berliner was attractive because we wanted to keep the traditional broadsheet format with the sectioning that our smaller community wants. Once we conducted focus groups evaluating the size, we felt the Berliner format was the way to go. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
Austin Ryan: We had watched the Berliner format gain strength in the European markets and Lafayette offered a nice test market for the format. The Lafayette market (which is the home of Purdue University) has an interesting demographic mix of ages and income groups.
nt: What do you see as the main benefit of the Berliner format as opposed to tabloid (half broadsheet)?
A. Ryan: Primarily, the biggest benefit is the traditional broadsheet sectioning, attained in a single press pass.
nt: Was it not a risk to adopt a format that no other newspaper in the country had adopted at the time?
A. Ryan: Based on the feedback from our focus groups, transitioning to a Berliner format was a small gamble. It really wasn’t that much different (than other Gannett papers) going to a 48-
nt: What are your experiences so far with your new newspaper format? How did the readers react? Does the format matter to them?
G. Suisman: The experience has been positive. I have heard, “I love the paper” more in the last year than in my previous 28 years in the business. Some readers were less accepting – initially -
nt: Did the Courier & Journal change its journalistic approach, writing style and presentation to accommodate the new format?
G. Suisman: Yes, in some cases. We do more of what we call alternative story forms, with shorter, more-
nt: How did converting to the format affect advertising? Did you change ad rates to reflect the smaller page size?
G. Suisman: The response by advertisers was very positive. On the retail side, ad revenues swung from a decrease of 10 percent to increases — with some months those increases growing by double digits. Part of the gain can be attributed to converting from letterpress to offset (as a result of the new press). But there are other (Gannett) papers that made the same switch, from letterpress to offset, that didn’t see the same increase in their retail ad revenues.
As far as ad rates are concerned, we changed from (charging) a standard inch rate to a modular rate that’s based on the percentage of the page the ad occupies. We spent a good deal of time working with our corporate ad staff to formulate those rates. We did not decrease rates.
nt: Does the Berliner format post problems regarding how you accommodate standard ads? If you have to convert an ad (to fit into a Berliner format), then is that the responsibility of the Journal & Courier or the advertiser/ad agency?
G. Suisman: It hasn’t been a problem. We handle each case individually. In some cases we adapted the ad (to fit); in other cases the provider did.
nt: Do you now print other products apart from the Journal & Courier?
G. Suisman: We are beginning to produce other work than the core paper. In May we began printing weekly papers produced by Community Press (another unit of Gannett) in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio. These papers have a circulation of 280,000 and are part of the Cincinnati Enquirer organization. (Editor’s note: Cincinnati is about 250 kilometers from Lafayette). The papers changed their format to Berliner when we began printing them, and initial reader response is very positive.
We have not pursued much other commercial work in order to concentrate on our core product and because we knew we were going to print the Community Press papers. We have had inquiries about printing, but they coincided with the Cincinnati print window.
nt: Gannett owns a lot of other newspapers and some of the presses probably will need to be replaced in the next years. Are you considering extending the implementation of the Berliner format to other properties?
A. Ryan: Based on the market, and what’s now being produced, we certainly will consider the Berliner format where appropriate.
nt: Could you imagine the Berliner format becoming a standard format in the United States? What would the benefits of such a development be?
A. Ryan: Over a very great length of time, yes. But there are still some very young presses printing newspapers. I believe the Berliner format offers a very audience-
Conducted by Ifra correspondent Chuck Moozakis
Page first published: 29.05.2007