by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
June 30, 2001
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- My newspaper, the Eagle Times, ended nearly 87 years as an afternoon publication on June 29.
The Eagle Times had been among the last afternoon newspapers in New England, and had stayed an afternoon newspaper (except for our Sundaymorning edition) long after most of our competitors had switched tomornings.
Thirty years ago, about 80 percent of the papers in New England came out in the afternoon. In New Haven and Hartford, Conn., Providence, R.I., and Worcester and Springfield, Mass., the afternoon paper in each of these cities outsold the morning paper by a substantial margin. In Vermont and New Hampshire, there were only three morning newspapers - theBurlington Free Press, the Rutland Herald and the Manchester Union Leader.
There was a strong tradition of afternoon newspapering in NewEngland. It was not uncommon for people to buy a Boston or New York paper in the morning and the local paper in the afternoon. Before radio and television became pervasive, people came home from work and read the paperin the evening. It fit the lifestyle of the region.
But that world is gone. People watch television in the evening andread newspapers in the morning before they leave for work. Or they stop at the store to buy a paper on their way to work in the morning and read it at lunch time. Or they don't bother to buy a paper at all and read the news online on their computer at work.
It's also become tougher to get an afternoon newspaper delivered. As people moved to the suburbs and traffic got worse, it became harder and harder to get the paper into the customer's hands. That forced papers tomove up their deadlines earlier and earlier to the point that most afternoon papers today actually publish in the late morning hours. That time shift has made a difference in the freshness of the newsin afternoon papers. Back when newspapers had late afternoon editions thatwent to press at 4 p.m. or so, you could get today's news into the paper.Now in most cases, an event has to happen before 11 a.m. in order to makethe paper. And with few exceptions, most news happens after 12 noon so itcan make the evening tv newscasts. The combination of demographics and production pressures has all but doomed the afternoon paper. The dominance of the PM paper began to fade in New England by the 1960s. The Boston American (1961) and the BostonTraveler (1967) were the first to go, as they were folded i= nto theirmorning siblings to become the Record-American and the Herald-Traveler(they eventually merged in 1972 and a few years later morphed into today's tabloid Boston Herald).
The Hartford Times went out of business in themid-1970s and The Boston Globe ended its evening edition in 1978. TheEvening Gazette in Worcester (when I once worked), The Evening Express inPortland, Maine, the New Haven Register and the Springfield (Mass.) DailyNews all survived into the mid-1980s before they too were absorbed by their morning siblings. The Evening Bulletin in Providence made it into the 1990s before it was merged into The Providence Journal.
Most of the smaller dailies in New England started switching tomornings by the 1980s. Today in Vermont, only the Barre-MontpelierTimes-Argus, the Caledonian-Record in St. Johnsbury, the St. Albans Messenger and the Newport Daily Express are afternoon papers. In New Hampshire, just The Keene Sentinel, The Laconia Citizen and Foster's Daily Democrat in Dover remain as the only papers on the PM cycle.
The Eagle Times had hung on longer than most afternoon papers, but the trend is undeniably clear that our future depends upon switching to morning publication.
And that's why we finally made the switch. Our circulation declined by about 20 percent over the past decade, a trend that is not unusual for evening papers. Being a morning paper allows us to be in the stores 12 hours earlier, which will increase our chances that someonewill pick up a copy.
The conversion process has been difficult. People who've been used to working days aren't happy about now having to work nights. Many of our older readers aren't happy about the change either. These are the folks that still cling to the afternoon paper habit.
For me, switching to the AM cycle means I no longer have to wake up at 3 a.m. to go to work. I prefer working nights, and I can't wait to be back on the night side. I hope the folks who have been reading us in the afternoon will read us in the morning, and maybe we can pick up a few new readers along the way.
Change can be hard, but it's sometimes is needed. After years of doing things the same way, we needed to change. I just hope my readers agree.
Randolph T. Holhut is managing editor of the Eagle Times inClaremont, N.H. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).