Detroit Dailies Drop Home Delivery on Most Days

Detroit Media Partnership CEO David Hunke told production and editorial union leaders Tuesday that there will be no newsroom layoffs when the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News drop four home delivery days completely.

The Free Press will be delivered Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays starting in March, while The News will be delivered Thursdays and Fridays.

Hunke confirmed to union leaders what local and industry journalists had been reporting for days: Most home delivery will be stopped, the paper will print a one-section street edition on the days of no home delivery, and digital subscriptions will be encouraged.

Hunke told the seven or eight union officials at the meeting that the new “business plan” will not launch until some time near the end of the first quarter of 2009.

Paul Anger, vice president and editor of the Free Press, said the financial move was necessary to keep the newspaper afloat, according to the Free Press report. Anger addressed his staff this morning and then joined a news conference at 11 a.m. at the Detroit Athletic Club.

“If we don’t do this, we face a slow death,” Anger told staffers this morning. “We are not making money right now.”

Detroit will become the largest media market without daily home delivery of a newspaper. “We know there will be many people unhappy with us,” Anger said.

With less home delivery and far smaller newspapers produced four days a week there is a clear potential for job cuts. But Hunke specifically said there will be no layoffs in the newsrooms of the Free Press, owned by Gannett Co. Inc., and the News, owned by MediaNews Group Inc., according to one participant, Lou Mleczko, president of the Detroit Newspaper Guild Local 22.

“So that is good news for Guild members, at least or now,” said Mleczko, who is also president of the Joint Metropolitan Council of Newspaper Unions, including the Guild, Teamsters Local 372, Pressmen’s Local 13-N of the Graphic Communications International Union, and Detroit Typographical Union Local 18.

“Beyond that,” he added, “(Hunke) said there would be job cuts in the range of 9 percent to 10 percent.” Hunke did not specify departments or numbers of employees Detroit Media Partnership — which runs business, production and distribution operations for the two dailies — may seek in bargaining that is to begin in mid-January.

Mleczko said the unions are “still deeply skeptical” the business model.

“It’s radical, it’s revolutionary — and whether it will work is anyone’s guess,” he said.

Among the questions the union leaders asked Hunke: Will loyal subscribers adopt the digital subscription model — or be turned off by it? How will the papers retain subscribers?

“The company’s at least general response was that they share those concerns,” Mleczko said. “They feel they can address them with this business model. And Hunke said, if we don’t do this, the current model is unsustainable. So he’s rather take the calculated risk of going to a new format — rather than sit back and do incremental cutbacks.”

AP now reports: “Renaud says the Free Press will be delivered Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays starting in March, while The News will be delivered Thursdays and Fridays. He says the papers still will be printed and sold at newsstands.”