NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Christian Science Monitor will abandon its weekday print edition next year, choosing instead to put daily news on its free website and print a paper just once a week.
It is the first nationally distributed U.S. newspaper to make such a move, and could prove a harbinger for an industry battered by a falling advertising sales and circulation, and a steep rise in the cost of newsprint.
“It’s a tough road, but we basically feel that the Web is where the growth is,” said Editor John Yemma, who added that the paper might cut some staff.
The Monitor was founded in 1908 by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Church of Christ Scientist in Massachusetts. The paper has 95 full-time editorial staff, plus freelancers, and nine U.S. and nine overseas bureaus.
Eddy wanted a paper that would distinguish itself by providing even-handed news when the trend of the day was to pick up readers through sensational, so-called “yellow journalism” whose art was perfected by warring newspaper barons like Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.
Its motto is “to injure no man, but to bless all mankind.”
It offers an assortment of world news that tends to rely more on analytical stories than breaking news. The sole theological contribution in the paper is a daily article subtitled “A Christian Science perspective on daily life.”
Forty years ago, the paper boasted more than 223,000 subscribers. Time has not been kind, however. About 52,200 mostly U.S. subscribers pay for the Monitor today. By comparison, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal each have more than 1 million subscribers.
The website gets 1.5 million monthly unique visitors and 5 million monthly page views. Yemma wants to raise that to 25 million by 2013. Boston.com, the website of The Boston Globe, where Yemma was a longtime editor, boasted 170 million when he was last there, he said. Yemma left the Globe in June to join the Monitor.
The Monitor previously attempted to expand beyond the paper, making investments in television, radio and a magazine, but the effort nearly bankrupted it.
The paper shot back into prominence in 2006 when Jill Carroll, a freelance reporter for the paper, was kidnapped in Baghdad and held for 82 days by Sunni Muslim insurgents. Its account of her ordeal and release received wide attention.
Ending print could be easier at the Monitor because it does not depend on ad revenue for most of its income. Instead, it gets a $10 million to $12 million annual subsidy from The Church of Christ Scientist that keeps it breaking even.
Many other papers would have a harder time doing this because they still depend on print editions for 90 percent of their revenue. Going online only would make it impossible for most newsrooms to operate, and would destroy the profits that investors demand from publicly traded publishers.
“There aren’t investors who are clamoring for returns,” Louis Ureneck, chairman of Boston University’s journalism department, said of the Monitor. “It’s an interesting experiment, and we need lots of experiments now.”
The Monitor eventually wants to end the subsidy by supporting itself with advertising on its website. It also is exploring becoming a national and international news provider to local U.S. news outlets.
“It’s difficult for editorial to plan and to expand if every year they go hat in hand to the church and say ... ‘Can you give us another $5 million? Another $10 million?” the Monitor’s Yemma said.
The Monitor also will seek younger readers, but not by changing its even-handed tone. “Christian” will stay in the name, Yemma added. “We don’t have an axe to grind,” he said.
Editing by Richard Chang