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The News leaves the evening behind Today's editions start regular morning papers

Today's edition of The Buffalo News may not fetch big bucks on eBay, but it still can be considered a collector's item, the start of a new chapter in the newspaper's 126-year history.

The News officially becomes a morning newspaper today -- for all readers.

Even though the paper changed its name from The Buffalo Evening News more than 20 years ago, many longtime readers still used the word "Evening" in referring to the paper.

That old name becomes obsolete today, the first nonholiday weekday that will see all home deliveries made in the morning.

The move to mornings-only has been made for two basic reasons:

* Readers here, and across the nation, demand their news in the morning, when it's fresher.

The several-hour lag time between writing a story and delivering a newspaper now comes in the middle of the night, when most people are sleeping.

* The publishing process can be streamlined, at a time when newspapers are laboring to cut costs and hold onto their circulation bases.

Rather than producing seven editions and updating the news throughout the late morning and early afternoon, The News will print and distribute all its editions late at night and early in the morning.

One example of that efficiency: The Copy Desk, where stories are edited and headlines written, no longer has to be staffed from 6 a.m. to past midnight. Instead, copy editors' shifts begin in the early evening.

"It certainly makes sense from a cost perspective," said Jennifer Saba, associate editor of Editor & Publisher.

The end of the "evening" newspaper here follows an overwhelming trend within the industry that has seen the almost total demise of the afternoon newspaper in America.

As recently as 1980, 32.8 million evening newspapers were circulated on the average weekday, according to statistics from Editor & Publisher. More readers got their papers in the evening than in the morning.

By last year, that evening number had tumbled to 7.2 million, less than one-sixth of the 46.1 million morning newspapers.

"A shift to mornings seems to be the formula for an afternoon newspaper's survival," former CBS newsman Marvin Kalb and a colleague wrote in a 2000 essay for a Harvard University publication.

That remains true today. Of the 100 largest daily newspapers in the country, the only evening paper is the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press, which ranks 80th in daily circulation, well below The Buffalo News' ranking at 54, according to Editor & Publisher's 2006 Year Book.

Three "all-day" newspapers larger than The News remain -- the San Francisco Chronicle, Portland Oregonian and Orlando Sentinel. But none of those has evening home delivery.

The afternoon-delivered newspaper in Buffalo was a perfect fit for a blue-collar town, when factory workers came home at 3 or 4 p.m. and wanted to read the latest news, several observers pointed out.

But that's no longer the case.

In recent years, The Buffalo News was mainly an afternoon-delivered newspaper, but News officials concede it was basically a morning paper with some updates during the day.

"Essentially, no news occurs overnight," Publisher Stanford Lipsey said. "Now you can get up in the morning and get the latest news with the breadth and detail only a newspaper can provide."

The newspaper's research shows a mixed reaction to moving completely to mornings.

Some readers say they don't have time to read the paper in the morning. News officials reply that the paper provides enough timeless analysis and features to remain viable all day.

Other readers bemoan the effect on paper boys and girls. News officials, though, say that the number of delivery boys and girls, once as high as 5,000, has steadily dwindled to about 500.

"Everybody has a romanticized notion of the freckle-faced boy, with his cap on, delivering your paper and hauling a wagon, with his beagle alongside him," Editor and Vice President Margaret M. Sullivan said. "But that has been less and less the reality, and we need to deal in reality."

Journalists applaud the move, because the news is more current.

"I can't tell you how thrilled I am to read the paper with a cup of coffee before I go to work," said Lee Coppola, dean of St. Bonaventure University's Jandoli School of Journalism and Mass Communication. "It's more relaxing, and the news is fresh."

When news breaks on a Thursday, Coppola would prefer reading about it on Friday morning, not Friday afternoon.

"The people who are asking why are entrenched in tradition," added Coppola, a former Buffalo News reporter. "That's well and good, but the community really demands a morning newspaper now."

Going to morning home delivery will allow the newspaper's resources to focus on one daily product, Coppola said. But with that comes a challenge.

"Now the focus will be on the newspaper's Web site, to keep its readers informed all day," he said.

The News plans to address that issue.

"It's obvious to me that we need to be an all-day news operation on our Web site," Sullivan said. "We're working very hard toward that, and I believe it will happen soon."

Sullivan cited great cooperation between the Buffalo Newspaper Guild and News management in trying to resolve the "long-standing thorny issue" over the involvement of unionized workers in the online product.

News officials have cited another advantage of moving to the mornings. Readers buying single copies at newsstands or stores often would purchase a Sunrise edition, which lacked the more detailed local coverage of the reader's town board or school board.

The News has moved to five different zoned editions, just as it formerly did with the evening paper, to highlight local news in each community. The five editions are Western New York, Niagara, South, North and Central (including the City of Buffalo).

"Now the paper you pick up [at a store] in Amherst will be different from the paper you pick up in Orchard Park," Lipsey said.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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