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Herald-Mail merger will enable us to serve our readers even better

July 29, 2007|By JOHN LEAGUE

In this space in October 2006, I alerted our readers that we would begin to study whether to continue to publish an afternoon paper in Hagerstown or merge The Daily Mail and The Morning Herald into one morning newspaper.

Since then, many of you offered your opinions to me via e-mail, letter or in person when you saw me out and about in the community.

In addition to that feedback, we've conducted an extensive readership study, asking scores of you if you would prefer an afternoon or morning paper, and what content you would like to see in a merged paper. We reviewed the survey results along with a lot of internal information, challenging ourselves on what was best for our readership and The Herald-Mail moving forward in the digital age.

Our goal was to unearth as much information as possible, and let it drive us to a reasoned decision.

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Our review found that while many readers enjoyed The Daily Mail, a majority didn't have a preference about whether the paper was published in the morning or the afternoon.

A wide majority supported the idea of one paper as long as it contained all of the features of the paper they currently were reading, regardless of whether it was The Morning Herald or The Daily Mail.

Internally, a merged paper would allow us to reallocate resources from the afternoon paper to our Web site at www.herald-mail.com and other digital initiatives.

The popularity of our Web site, as measured by page views and unique daily visitors, has been nothing short of astounding.

So, after months of study, we have decided to begin the process of merging The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail into one combined morning publication, The Herald-Mail.

We came to this conclusion for two reasons.

Afternoon readership has been elusive at nearly every afternoon paper in the United States because people no longer have the time in the evening to read. Folks are too busy. Many P.M. papers either went out of business or were folded into morning operations years ago in Baltimore and Washington, and within the past five years in Frederick, Md.

When I first returned home to this area after college, every daily along Interstate 81 from Winchester, Va., to Chambersburg, Pa., was an afternoon newspaper. Now, all are morning papers, Chambersburg being the most recent convert.

Second, we are publishing one of the most successful Web sites of any newspaper in the U.S., both in terms of readership and revenue growth.

A combination of digital enterprises, new print publications of all shapes and sizes, and the traditional newspaper will be the future of our company and most other erstwhile "newspaper" companies.

The Herald-Mail is not so much a newspaper company as we are local information providers. No one comes close to providing the breadth and depth of local information that The Herald-Mail provides on a daily basis. And now we have all of these new technologies and gadgets with which to deliver it.

The merger will occur on Monday, Oct. 1, when the new morning publication, The Herald-Mail, makes its weekday debut. The final editions of The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail will be Friday, Sept. 28.

When I first began my newspaper career, the printed newspaper was all we had. Now, we offer local information in magazines, books and other special print products. Our Web site attracts more than 34,000 unique visitors per day, and we now can send breaking news right to your desktop or BlackBerry, virtually around the clock.

You can hear a daily radio report of our news highlights on antpod.com, and we offer daily video news on herald-mail.com.

The audience for Herald-Mail print and digital products is larger today than it has ever been.

Moving forward, we need to continue to build our menu of digital media and continue to improve our daily newspaper. Merging our newspapers will allow us to do that.

For our customers, we have one simple goal for the merged Herald-Mail newspaper: We are pledging that every feature now found in either The Morning Herald or The Daily Mail will be continued in a merged edition. We will do what's necessary to achieve that goal.

We believe a new combined publication will be superior to the two papers we now publish, and will allow us to produce and deliver even more local information both in print and online, and perhaps one day, on television.

We will do our best to keep all of our readers abreast of our decisions moving forward.

If you have any comments, I'd certainly welcome and encourage you to share them with me. The best way to do so is by sending an e-mail to jleague@herald-mail.com, or you can call me at 301-733-5131.

John League is the editor and publisher of The Herald-Mail.

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