The Orange Coast Daily Pilot is considering a plan to cut its publishing schedule from seven days a week to three and could begin giving away copies free in an effort to increase advertising revenues, several employees said Thursday.
The employees, who asked that their names not be used, said Pilot publisher James Gressinger told them in an informal meeting of about 20 newsroom staff members about 6 p.m. Wednesday that he had decided to print the paper only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays beginning in early July.
"Some days are revenue-producing days and some aren't," one employee said was the explanation for the curtailment.
Gressinger, however, said in an interview Thursday that the three-day plan was just an option for the 86-year-old paper.
"It is one of a half-dozen scenarios we're looking at turn the paper around," Gressinger said. "I just got a new (chief financial officer) here Monday, and nothing's going to happen until we run a whole lot of numbers."
"Obviously a change of frequency is one consideration, but there are others. We're going to run some numbers, submit a business plan to the board of directors in New York and then go with its decision," he said. "I've talked to people in the sales office and in the newroom and asked: 'What if we did this?' and 'What if we did that?'...(but) the board of directors has not approved any changes."
Some employees said the Pilot was rearranging its publishing schedule in an effort to preempt a new weekly newspaper, the Newport News. News Executive Editor Roger Bloom said his paper is scheduled to begin publication around July 4.
Staff members also quoted Gressinger as saying that the Pilot would stop circulating in Huntington Beach. Page Group Publishing, which owns the Pilot, also owns the weekly Huntington Beach Independent, and some staff members believe that paper may be published two or more days a week to make up for the Pilot's ending its distribution there.
Presumably, the Pilot would change its full name--the Orange Coast Daily Pilot--but employees weren't sure what the new name might be.
"It's a reasonable question," said one high-ranking editor.
The paper was preparing a story about the imminent changes, but it was held at the last minute, employees said. Two of the Pilot's top editors refused to elaborate, referring inquiries to Gressinger's office.
The Pilot, with a circulation of about 16,000, has been losing money for some 12 years and is looking for a way to turn a profit. Should a decision be made to give away copies of the paper at no charge, the Pilot would be one of very few dailies in Orange County that started out with paid circulation before becoming what's known in the trade as a throwaway.
The Fullerton News Tribune, now a weekly throwaway, was the only paid-circulation daily in recent memory to have made such a radical shift. It switched in 1984.
The Pilot, with only about 110 employees, is involved in a nasty battle between its recent publisher and its parent corporation.
Robert E. Page, a former Chicago Sun-Times publisher, was ousted as president and publisher of Page Group Publishing last month. He had filed a lawsuit in early May accusing his partner, Page Group Chairman Elliot Stein Jr., of hiding details from him regarding the purchase of a Spanish-language weekly for nearly $2 million.
Stein, in turn, sued Page, saying he had mismanaged the Pilot and several related companies.
Earlier this week, Page returned the favor and filed a countersuit against Stein and Page Group Publishing for breach of contract, fraud and racketeering, among other things.
Times staff writer James S. Granelli and correspondent Len Hall contributed to this story.