An old friend with a new look at a new time.
That's what Brainerd Daily Dispatch readers can expect in 2004.
The Dispatch is announcing that it plans to switch from being an afternoon newspaper to a morning newspaper. The Dispatch has been an afternoon publication since 1881.
The first morning publication will be April 19. Subscribers who receive their copy by carrier or motor route delivery should have The Dispatch at their front steps by 6 a.m. Monday through Friday. Sunday's publication time frame will remain the same.
Dispatch Publisher Terry McCollough said newspaper executives have been considering switching to a morning newspaper for several years and made the decision a few months ago.
"We were an afternoon paper for as long as we could have been and probably longer than it should have been," said McCollough. "It came down to we were faced with two choices -- either moving our deadline to 11-11:30 a.m. (currently it is 12:30 p.m.) or to just bite the bullet."
In 1950, there were 322 morning and 1,450 afternoon newspapers in the United States. In 2002, there were 777 morning and 692 afternoon newspapers, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Of the 28 daily newspapers in Minnesota, 18 are morning and 10 are afternoon newspapers, including The Dispatch.
McCollough said there were several reasons for the push to a morning newspaper. One reason was The Dispatch's obligation to get newspapers delivered to homes no later than 5 p.m. With an increase in traffic in The Dispatch's circulation area, delivering the newspapers by 5 p.m. is becoming harder to achieve, especially during the summer tourist season.
Another reason is to give readers the freshest news. McCollough said instead of reading about a Monday night Brainerd City Council meeting Tuesday night, residents will have the opportunity to read stories Tuesday morning. If a Dispatch subscriber has the newspaper mailed to them, they would be able to read the stories on the city council on Tuesday instead of Wednesday.
"This will be a huge boost for our mail subscribers," said McCollough. "By the time they get the newspaper now (a day late) the news is history, not news."
Converting to a morning publication also is beneficial because readers will be able to read the newspaper any time during their day to meet their busy schedule.
"With an afternoon newspaper the window of opportunity was limited," said McCollough. "Morning newspapers you can read the paper when it suits you. It also is more appealing to the advertisers because they get more bang for their buck."
Becoming a morning newspaper will bring changes in staffing. Staffs' working hours in the newsroom, pressroom and in circulation will be spread out throughout the day with a 12:30 a.m. press deadline. McCollough said the newspaper plans to hire one more copy editor and may add one more person in circulation and distribution. An additional pressman has already joined the staff.
"There will be lots of challenges," said McCollough. "The people we contract with for our motor routes are used to working at 12:30 p.m. and they will have to change their shifts to 12:30 a.m."
The Dispatch office hours will remain 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. After hours, the newspaper is working on ways for residents to contact staff at night, such as if a person wants to leave a news tip.
Another big change for readers will be the look of The Dispatch. McCollough said The Dispatch is working on a front to back redesign of the newspaper.
McCollough said newspaper staffers know that people don't like change, but he said The Dispatch needs to adapt to the changes in the business. He said the redesign will modernize the newspaper and make it more reader friendly.
Roy Miller, Brainerd Dispatch editor, is in charge of the redesign. He said it was the perfect time to change the look of the newspaper with the switch to morning publication.
Miller said they are in the early stages of planning a new look. Bill Dunn, former assistant manager of the Star Tribune for graphics and the current editor of Grand Island, Neb., Independent, is working with The Dispatch on the redesign. Several focus groups have met to discuss design changes. The focus groups were conducted by representatives from Central Lakes College Business and Industry Center. The Grand Island paper is part of the Morris Publishing Group.
Part of the redesign may include a slight name change. McCollough said when he started with The Dispatch in 1959 it only served Brainerd. Since then the circulation area has grown into the surrounding area and has become a regional newspaper.
Not only will there be a redesign of the newspaper, The Dispatch's Web site also will have a new look that will be presented April 19. Denny Newman, new media director at The Dispatch, said the Web site, www.brainerddispatch.com, has not been updated for four years.
The new, modernized look will make it easier for people to navigate, said Newman. The Web site will offer more stories in video and audio format and it already has a new archive search engine in place. The new design also will accommodate growth for advertisers.
The Dispatch Web site has about 650,000 page views a month, Newman said. In 2002, there were more than 8 million page views.
The Dispatch, which is owned by Morris Communications Corp., a media company based in Augusta, Ga., is being helped by Morris Digital Works with the Web site redesign.
Newman said this group has received several large national awards for its work for many years. He said the group will be visiting Brainerd to work on the redesign.
Another Internet change is The Dispatch plans to launch a separate Web site. McCollough said he plans to keep this Web site a secret, but said it will be dynamite. This Web site may not be ready by April.
The Dispatch also plans to start publishing on a few selected holidays. Currently, The Dispatch does not publish on New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. McCollough said at this time it has not been determined which holidays The Dispatch will publish.
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