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Changing tastes, challenging times

In a Starbucks world, it is the venerable Dunkin' Donuts that sells more hot cups of coffee than anybody in America.

Even as the Starbucks "experience" transformed the coffee-drinking marketplace, the 58-year-old Dunkin' chain found a way to soar, having grown its revenues roughly 50 percent in a recent three-year period. How? Rather than hunker down it adapted to changing tastes: more high-quality coffee, fewer fattening doughnuts.

This seems an apt lesson for newspapers, including the St. Petersburg Times, as we consider how best to deliver distinctive journalism and useful advertising in a time of profound technological change and extraordinary economic turbulence.

In that spirit, we're about to remodel the daily newspaper. We aim to sharpen its relevance and make it more respectful of your time. We will add new features, drop some less useful ones, and streamline the Monday-through-Saturday editions so that they fit more easily in the busy lives of our customers. The changes debut a week from Monday, May 19.

Oh, and we're bringing back the color weather map. More on that in a moment.

Why change the newspaper again? It was just 19 months ago that we unveiled a substantial makeover featuring a new design that has garnered worldwide acclaim and contributed to our continued growth in the Tampa Bay region.

But a lot has changed since then. The cost of a gallon of gas has jumped 63 percent ($2.26 to $3.68). Just this year, the cost of newsprint has already risen 21 percent. And in the last 18 months, the number of Americans who access the Internet from cell phones or other handheld gadgets has nearly tripled (to about 2.5-million). Housing prices and sales in Florida have tumbled and a national economic swoon has stressed many of the businesses that are our best advertising customers. Nineteen months ago, few companies touted their environmental credentials or talked of "going green."

What has not changed is that the St. Petersburg Times remains the largest local news reporting operation in Tampa Bay, is a leader in Florida and the nation in political coverage, sports writing, narrative storytelling, photojournalism and color printing. The Times' commitment to investigative journalism has never been stronger.

Meanwhile, our Sunday paper was one of only two major papers in the country to grow circulation, and still works superbly for advertisers. The paper you are now reading includes more than $300 in coupons yet costs you less than the price of a small Dunkin' Donuts coffee.

So in the midst of such challenging circumstances, how will we defend those qualities that are most distinctive about the St. Pete Times?

We must adapt to the changing tastes of our readers, who have told us they have less time to read on weekdays (and sometimes feel guilty about wasting paper), appreciate stories and graphics that get quickly to the point, and expect us to help them be smarter consumers.

We need to reimagine classified advertisements so that they are easier to use and work in tandem with online searches. We need to cut costs and eliminate work that holds diminishing value for readers. A newspaper that emphasizes the quality of our journalism over the number of pages we print will better serve readers, and save a few trees in the bargain.

Here's what we're creating:

A new section called BayLink. This section merges classified advertising with many features from the daily Floridian section in a new consumer-oriented report. The BayLink concept is similar to that of a shopping mall, a fun place to browse, shop and play. It will offer classified ads — in bigger print and with a fresh new look — surrounded by stories and graphics to make you a smarter shopper, help you do your job or find a better one and take care of your home, your car, your family. Throughout BayLink, you'll find the comics, crosswords and other puzzles, TV and movie listings and advice columns that help make the newspaper fun to read. As a bonus: We've made room for four new comics — and we will seek your vote on which ones we should add.

A redesigned metro section called Tampa Bay. We are bringing our daily business coverage into the metro "B" section along with local and state news. After all, the most important local story on many days is a business story. Page 2 of the Tampa Bay section will be known as "Etc." — a feature page with stories about entertainment, talk and culture.

A beefed up Taste section. With the seemingly insatiable interest in cooking, eating and entertaining, we will add new features to our popular Wednesday food section, including coverage of local chefs and their recipes, and restaurant reviews.

the color weather map returns! Good news for the many of you who objected when we moved the weather map into a black-and-white position inside the "A" section. We've enlarged the map, added forecasts for more cities and found a color home for it on the back of our Sports section.

To make such investments, some things have to go:

Most individual stock listings. With the business coverage folded into the metro "B" section we will stop publishing daily stock listings for most companies. Complete and current stock listings will continue to be available at our web site, tampabay.com. We will continue to publish a separate business section on Sundays, including extensive coverage of personal finance.

A separate daily Floridian. We will continue to publish a Sunday Floridian section as well as themed sections such as Taste, Weekend and Homes. The work of prize-winning feature writers such as Jeff Klinkenberg, Lane DeGregory and Thomas French will appear Sundays and throughout other sections of the paper during the week.

A separate "Working" section on Sundays. The news content and employment ads will appear in Sunday's BayLink section.

When the grocery store moves the peanut butter to a new aisle, it can take some getting used to. So every day between now and May 19, we'll publish examples of the coming changes and try to make sure you can find what you're looking for.

Once you've given the changes a try, please let us know what you think. You can write me at readerfeedback@tampabay.com.

We remain true believers in an independent, locally owned newspaper as a vital force in the lives of readers and advertisers all around Tampa Bay.

Besides, there's still nothing quite like sitting down with a great newspaper and a good cup of coffee.

Changing tastes, challenging times 05/10/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 16, 2008 10:36am]
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