On April 19, The Dispatch will do something it has never done in its 122-year history.
An afternoon newspaper since 1881, The Dispatch is moving to the morning. That means subscribers, with newspapers delivered by carrier or motor route, should receive The Dispatch by 6 a.m.
Delivery of the Sunday newspaper will not change.
Dispatch Publisher Terry McCollough said the conversion to a morning publication is not unlike the change hundreds of newspapers already have made.
Afternoon dailies once had a dominant reign among U.S. newspapers. In 1950, there were 322 morning newspapers and 1,450 afternoon newspapers. In 2002, there were 777 morning newspapers and 692 afternoon versions. There are 18 morning newspapers in Minnesota and 10 arrive in the afternoon, including The Dispatch.
Those days are numbered here.
The reasons behind the change stem largely from a growing lakes area regional hub and the logistics of delivering newspapers on busy roadways. McCollough said the goal is to deliver as many same-day newspapers to people as possible. An expanding population and more traffic has made that a difficult proposition.
Almost 40 years ago, The Dispatch was printed by 3 p.m. each day and delivered by 5 p.m. That two-hour window has been forced to expand steadily. Currently the newspaper is printed at 12:30 p.m. and even then it can be a struggle to get the last newspapers to subscribers by 5 or 5:30 p.m., McCollough said.
He said the only solution is to print the newspaper even earlier. But if reporters and editors arrive by 4:30 a.m., they still have to wait for interviews and follow-ups at a decent morning hour.
"It becomes very difficult to produce a meaningful newspaper," he said.
With the change, McCollough said the news actually will be fresher and more timely. For example, coverage of a Monday night Brainerd City Council meeting currently arrives Tuesday afternoon. For those on the edge of delivery areas -- where the newspaper arrives by mail -- details of the Monday council meeting arrive Wednesday. Baxter City Council meeting news suffers the same type of fate.
With the jump to mornings, coverage of that same Monday council meeting will arrive just in time for coffee and bagels Tuesday morning. Those getting The Dispatch by mail could read that news by mid-day Tuesday -- depending on their mail delivery times -- a full day earlier than before.
Mail subscribers will continue to receive their Sunday Dispatch on Monday.
McCollough said readers soon will have a choice when to read The Dispatch that fits their lives whether it is over morning coffee, a mid-morning break, lunch or later in the evening.
Not only will The Dispatch arrive earlier, but it also will have a different appearance. The switch to a morning publication is timed with a newspaper redesign.
Created with the input of focus groups, the redesign was accomplished with the help of Bill Dunn, former assistant manager of graphics for the Star Tribune. Dunn is currently editor of the Grand Island, Neb., Independent. Both the Grand Island newspaper and The Dispatch are owned by Morris Publishing Group, based in Augusta, Ga.
McCollough said the new design makes the newspaper cleaner and more modern, easier to read, navigate and use and has a big city look to it.
In preparation for the change, a common question has revolved around what will happen to youth carriers who deliver the newspaper after school. Whether youth carriers continue routes becomes a personal decision.
"We are delighted to have them continue if they want to," McCollough said. "... We do have a number staying on."
However, he said newspaper delivery routes can be a family enterprise and he understood youth carriers who decided they could not make the change. A number of routes are being consolidated into larger ones with adults delivering the newspapers.
In addition, the switch to mornings means changes in work shifts for Dispatch employees. As shifts are turned upside down with more employees now working at night, McCollough said he appreciates the difficulty it poses to staff and the effort by employees.
"I think we realize people are all creatures of habit, that goes for our readers and our employees of The Brainerd Dispatch," McCollough said. "... Six months or a year down the line, we'll wonder how we did it any other way."
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