The Christian Science Monitor to Become a Weekly


The newspaper, which will cease daily publication next April and emphasize the Web, becomes the most prominent paper to scale back print

The Christian Science Monitor, which turns 100 years old this year, is announcing on Tuesday, Oct. 28, that it will cease daily publication next April. The newspaper will shift to a weekly print format while increasing its emphasis on its Web site, says its editor, John Yemma.

In doing so, the Monitor will become by far the most prominent newspaper to scale back its print edition substantially.

The Monitor, an independent publication funded by the Christian Science Church, is currently posting net losses of $18.9 million a year on $12.5 million in revenue, say Monitor executives. Cutting print frequency from its current five times a week to once a week is expected to slice those losses to $10.5 million within five years, said a spokesman. The Monitor's current circulation is 56,000. The high-water mark for Monitor circulation was 223,000, a figure the paper hit in 1970.

Layoffs Loom

The Boston-based Monitor employs 130 staffers, about 100 of whom work on the editorial side. Yemma conceded that the change would result in layoffs, but he said the paper has yet to determine exactly how many positions the revamped Monitor will require. Yemma stated a desire to protect the Monitor's international coverage—the daily has staffers in nine bureaus outside the U.S. and freelancers covering other major regions—which he described as the paper's "crown jewels."

"The calculation has been that subscriptions [to the Monitor], which cost about $210 a year," explains Yemma, "pay for half of the cost of the newspaper, the rest of which is subsidized by the Christian Science Church. That is an untenable situation" and one "that doesn't foster editorial independence," he continued. "We want to move to a sustainable model."

The Monitor is an odd duck among the flock of American newspapers. It's protected from the rigors of the market, thanks to its Christian Science benefactor. Its strong suit is sober analysis, not breaking news. Its circulation revenues of around $11 million a year far outstrip its ad revenue, which is under $1 million. Typically, other major American papers invert that ratio, taking in much more revenue from advertising. (Syndicated sales of the Monitor's articles bring in another nearly $1 million a year, a spokesman said.)

The Monitor's national circulation is concentrated mostly on the two coasts and in other major urban centers, said Yemma. This makes it a chore to get far-flung readers their weekday papers, as well as to produce them. The Monitor's newsroom deadline is noon, which naturally puts the print product at a severe disadvantage when it comes to reporting on the prior day's events, albeit one that will vanish when the Monitor's daily work is exclusively directed toward its Web site. And the national scope of the Monitor, at least, insulates it from the brutality of local city markets, which were hard hit by real estate and automobile advertising slowdowns even before the scope of the current economic crisis became apparent.

A Heftier Read

All those factors make the Monitor uniquely well-positioned among newspapers to tread the path it has chosen. The precise debut date of the weekly Monitor is not yet set, but when it is, its readers will see a 44-page newsprint product, instead of the current 20-page daily paper. Yemma said the Monitor tested a magazine-like weekly publication, on glossy paper. But, he said, "our readers wanted something that felt a little more newspaper-y."

Yemma pins many hopes for future success on the Monitor's Web site. "If we can quintuple page views" and end up around 25 million a month, "even on a low [advertising rate] model, we can cover our costs." It's unclear, though, how the Monitor would go about doing that. But another key Web indicator indicates that the Monitor has much work to do online. According to comScore (SCOR), in September the Monitor's Web site attracted 703,000 unique U.S. visitors.

This puts it far behind the U.S.-only totals of two British news organizations that target a similar audience, the BBC and The Guardian daily, which netted 6.6 million and 2.5 million unique U.S. readers, respectively.

The Monitor's announcement comes on the heels of other grim indicators for major U.S. papers. For instance, The Star-Ledger, the largest newspaper in New Jersey, owned by Advance Publications, announced on Oct. 24 it would reduce its newsroom staff by about 40%.

Fine is BusinessWeek's MediaCentric columnist and Fine On Media blogger .

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