The metamorphosis of American City Business Journals

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The 40 business newspapers operated by American City Business Journals across the country will be undergoing some changes in the next few months that will place more emphasis on delivering news digitally.

The changes are beginning to roll out in the newsrooms now and include new job descriptions, redesigned print newspapers and newsroom structure changes.

Unlike its parent company, Advance Publications, which has been shutting daily newspaper operations in New Orleans, Birmingham and other markets to emphasis online delivery, Charlotte-based American City says it has no plans to de-emphasize its printed newspapers. And the moves will not result in any elimination of jobs, executives stressed.

“Print is still a huge component of our business,” said Whit Shaw, CEO of American City, in a phone interview with Talking Biz News on Friday. “Our approach to print will change over time. But I don’t think our commitment to it will change in this process.”

Shaw said a half to two-thirds of the company’s newspapers will report flat to positive circulation growth in 2012, while a quarter of them will report a slight decline. Local advertising revenue is expected to rise in 2012.

The new job descriptions and newsroom structures are currently being implemented across the company, which operates weekly business newspapers from Boston to Honolulu. For example, a newsroom employee will now be responsible for social media at each of its papers. Although most of the ACBJ papers post breaking news on their websites daily, there will be more online news each day.

The redesigns are expected to launch in the first quarter or 2012. ACBJ is working with noted newspaper designer Mario Garcia on a prototype that will use larger photos and different story formats.

The changes are designed to recognize that the company needs to provide quality content both online and in its print publications, said Emory Thomas, the chief content officer at ACBJ and the former editor and publisher of its Seattle paper.

“We need a stronger and fresher look at digital and moving to a place where great digital feeds great print,” said Thomas in the phone interview. “This is really about upgrading the quality of all our platforms.”

Shaw emphasized that the changes would not be identical for every newspaper. “We have the rough blueprint, but the construction drawings are going to change from market to market,” said Shaw.

ACBJ journalists will now also be expected to use more social media such as Twitter and Facebook as part of their jobs.

“The core of what we see is our reporters owning their audiences on more platforms than ever before,” said Thomas. “If you’re a commercial real estate reporter in Minneapolis, you need to be on social media and having a conversation about the news that you’re breaking, and you need to be providing perspective about that news in the weekly newspaper. The way we structure our newsrooms and the way we configure our products needs to acknowledge that.”

The company is privately held and is part of the Newhouse media conglomerate that includes Conde Nast and newspapers across the country.