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Herald amends USA Today commitment

OK, so not everybody likes our USA Today pages. That has come as a surprise to the Herald, after so many readers responded favorably when we first unveiled our relationship with USA Today last spring.

As subscribers know, we have been regularly publishing at least two pages of USA Today content each day. Some days, we've had as many as three or four pages. But in the past couple of months, we've had numerous complaints that those pages have either A) crowded out local content, or B) been put together with a liberal point of view.

Starting today, we're amending our commitment to national pages. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we'll stop publishing USA Today pages in the Herald and use alternate wire services for whatever national news arises. Those days, we won't have national pages per se, but will simply intersperse national news where it fits and based upon its importance to each day's news cycle.

As for crowding out local content, that wasn't necessarily the case in the early months of the arrangement. But what we have found is that during the school year — when sports resume in full force and require more attention and space — we are sometimes cramped because of our commitment to national news.

The first three days of the week, the Herald has been 16 pages. Without USA Today those days, we will reduce to 14 pages as our base target, with more pages when advertising inches warrant it. We also will reduce to two sections instead of three on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This should give us a bit more wiggle room later in the week.

Be advised, however, that it may mean our daily comics will not be published in color. This is not unique; in fact, the Herald is the only newspaper in the entire Forum Communications Co. organization that publishes color comics each day.

Regarding the perceived liberal slant: At times, those national pages seem pieced together for readers on the East Coast, which makes sense, because that's where USA Today is headquartered. But here in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, political realities — and especially perceptions — are different. The Herald rarely runs analysis on its front pages, but USA Today often does, and many of our readers feel it skews consistently toward the left. At least that is an overriding complaint.

Whichever direction it leans, analysis on pages other than the Opinion Page should be at the discretion of the publisher. In this case, it hasn't been at the publisher's discretion, and that's just not the best way to run a newspaper.

Meanwhile, our company still has a contract to fulfill with USA Today. And we still have people who like reading the national pages each day. For those readers, we will continue to include up to six USA Today pages every day with our digital subscription, which is free to all print subscribers.

Yes, there have been numerous changes to the Herald in recent months. The same can be said about nearly every other newspaper in the nation as the industry adjusts to changing reader and advertiser habits. And inevitably, each decision a newspaper makes is met with a combination of hearty cheers and fervent complaints, since each reader's tastes and preferences are different.

But after struggling with space late in the week and after hearing so many comments on our national packages, reducing national pages three days per week seems like the best step forward.

Korrie Wenzel is publisher of the Herald. His email is kwenzel@gfherald.com.

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