Deal or no deal?

By ADAM REILLY  |  May 15, 2009

Rising again
Amid all the attention that's been lavished on the Globe's possible death, the birth of another Boston publication has gone virtually unnoticed. I'm referring to the Christian Science Monitor's new weekly edition, which began rolling off the presses in early April, at a time when print's future doesn't exactly seem bright.

It's hard to say whether the reconfigured Monitor — which came into being when the paper's leadership decided last fall to cease weekday publication and refocus online — should be called a newspaper or a magazine. Either way, it's an aesthetic success: tabloid-size and enticingly hefty, printed on 48 pages of matte stock that make the photos inside jump into the reader's lap. The one-page reports from abroad that fill the front of the book have a distinctly Economist feel, in terms of both layout and prose; in contrast, the cover stories get more real estate and funkier presentation.

So what's the new Monitor's rationale? Design director John Kehe casts it as a sort of throwback, aimed at long-time Monitor subscribers who aren't comfortable getting their news online. "That's one of the reasons we created this," says Kehe. "And since we're taking away a lot of readers' daily paper, we felt like, in print, we needed to give them much of the familiar."

But this conservatism isn't absolute. While certain sections made the jump from the daily to the weekly (like Home Forum, a slightly dowdy compendium of lighter news), others are brand new (e.g., Dispatches, an assortment of idiosyncratic foreign-news briefs, and In Pictures, a lavish, two-page spread of Monitor photography from around the world).

Which brings us to the aspirations of Clayton Collins, the editor of the Monitor's weekly edition. Collins wants the publication to become essential reading for people with a passion for global news. He also describes it as a testament to the enduring appeal of print — whatever age its readers happen to be.

"It feels good to be minting something that's ink on paper," Collins tells the Phoenix. "The Monitor was founded 100 years ago as an alternative — an antidote, really — to what was going on in journalism at the time. I won't say the Monitor weekly is today's anti-Twitter, because blogging and micro-blogging, done right, have emerged as a legit platform for news. But I do think there's also a place for print."

Reader response, it seems, has been generally positive. Top Monitor editor John Yemma says via e-mail that he's received about 10 times more favorable than unfavorable letters and e-mails from long-time subscribers — and that 92 percent of daily print subscribers have re-upped for the weekly, well above the initial goal of 80 percent.

"On the strength of pre-launch marketing," Yemma adds, "we got more than 5000 new subscriptions. So we started our weekly with about 45,000 circulation, and the folks in circulation say we are getting several hundred new subscriptions per week."

Some of that growth may be attributable to the publicity surrounding the Monitor's path-breaking daily-to-weekly jump. Still, for a newspaper to actually add subscribers these days is no mean feat. If it continues, don't be surprised if the weekly Monitor becomes a case study for dailies that want to scale back their print presence, but aren't quite ready to jettison it entirely.

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