ROCKLAND, Maine — Village Soup will print the last Wednesday edition of the Herald Gazette newspaper this week. Starting Thursday, Dec. 1, the twice-weekly newspaper will change into the once-weekly Village Soup Gazette.
The cost-saving measure will give the Rockland-based newspaper a bit of a face-lift by putting human interest stories on the front page and keeping harder news toward the back, according to the newspaper’s publisher, Richard Anderson.
“I think in this era of less circulation and less interest in a printed product it makes more sense to have a weekly publication when we are doing so much online on a daily basis,” Anderson said.
Currently, the Herald Gazette breaks most of its news online and then reprints the content in its print product. This made readers feel the printed paper was redundant, Anderson said.
“They feel they’ve seen everything in the print publication online already. We know that isn’t the case, but there is a perception that that happens. We all know perceptions rule the day,” the publisher said.
The newspaper’s websites will continue to cover breaking news. That news will still land in the newspaper, but this time it might be presented in longer analysis form, Anderson said.
This sort of reinvention is typical of weekly newspapers in Maine these days, according to media columnist for Down East Magazine Al Diamon. Diamon sometimes does freelance work for Village Soup newspapers.
“[They’re] adjusting to the new reality of what weekly newspapers are going to be. They’re trying hard. It’s true of weekly papers in Maine — they’re doing dramatically different things online and in print to try to stay alive,” Diamon said. “Weekly papers will probably stay alive because they’re into local news and bigger papers are less and less able to do that.”
The Village Soup started as an online-only news source in 1998 and has been reinventing itself every few years since then. Village Soup acquired six weekly newspapers in 2008 and consolidated them to its current four publications — Herald Gazette, the Belfast-based Republican Journal, Bar Harbor Times and Augusta-based Capital Weekly. Since then, the papers have struggled with the economy. In 2009, all Village Soup employees took a 10 percent pay cut. The company laid off five workers in 2010 and 17 more this year, while also shutting down its printing press. The firm now has all four publications printed in Lewiston by the Sun Journal Media Group.
In addition to the changes at the Herald Gazette, the 182-year-old Republican Journal will get a name change soon. It will be called the Village Soup Journal, according to Anderson.
The other Village Soup newspapers and websites will not change, Anderson said.
Despite the online-first focus, there will always be a real, printed-on-paper weekly in the midcoast so long as his company exists, Anderson said.
“You can’t do it online-only. You can’t provide the level of service and reporting we do online only. There is not enough revenue,” Anderson said. “We generate more revenue online than any other paper online is generating for the size market we’re in and it’s still not enough to sustain 13 reporters [and editors].”