What’s going on with paper’s new look?

By Ned Seaton

Note: This is a series of questions prompted by the new design of The Manhattan Mercury, which launches today. Most of these questions were posted on a bulletin board on, which, as you no doubt know if you’ve been there, is populated mostly by people arguing with each other using fake names. Nonetheless, it’s likely at least some of you are wondering similar things.

Q: Wait. People still read an actual newspaper? Let alone pay for the Mercury?

A: Why yes, Klondog, and thanks for asking. They also occasionally go to class, show up at work, eat their oatmeal, and take their kids to baseball practice. They don’t dink around on Twitter 24/7. (Klondog is the screen name of the person who asked this particular question, by the way, and I have no idea what he or she eats for breakfast.)

The Mercury’s paid circulation is somewhere in the neighborhood of 9,000. On Sundays, it ranges up toward 11,000. It varies. But for the sake of discussion, let’s use 9,000. That means 9,000 households invite The Mercury into their homes – paying to do so.

The population of Manhattan is roughly 52,000. About 27,000 of that is college-aged or below, and while there are certainly some Mercury readers in that age group, the reality is that most people who read the paper are grown-ups. That leaves about 25,000 – oh, heck, let’s say 30,000 – adults who are reasonably well-established here and have some money. Generally speaking, those are the people who businesses want as potential customers, by the way, which is why lots of successful businesses buy ads in the paper. But that’s another discussion.

Back to our math. National studies indicate that 2.5 to 3 people read each copy of a newspaper that a household buys.

See where we’re going? Take the Mercury’s audited circulation of about 9,000 and multiply it by, say, 2.75. That’s 24,750 readers. Every day. Out of about 30,000 people who make up the core community. Yes, the math is rough, and it sets aside population in outlying towns. But the upshot is this: There are lots and lots of people who read The Mercury. Nationally? More people BUY a newspaper the day after the Super Bowl than the number of people who watch the game.


Q: Will the new design keep it from getting soaking wet inside the plastic bag every time it rains?

A: Yes, it’s made of waterproof paper. It also leaps tall buildings in a single bound and can singlehandedly retire the bonds on downtown redevelopment.


Q: But the old size of the paper fit perfectly in the bird cage. How could you do this?

A: We consulted with your bird; he promises better aim.


Q: Why don’t you start sending out digital papers instead? You could break new ground!

A: Already broke it. If you subscribe to the print paper, you can get our e-edition — which is a digital replica of the paper that is searchable and is archived and viewable by you for a month —for free.

Or, if you don’t want the printed paper, we’ll be glad to get your digital subscription started. All these things cost you less than a cup of coffee per day.


Q: How do you know how much I pay for coffee?

A: Hey, we’re reporters.


Q: Why did you make the change?

A: Thanks for the adult question. We moved to a narrower print format for two basic reasons:

First, readers generally prefer it. They say it’s easier to handle.

Second, advertisers have come to expect it. Many papers around the country have gone to a narrower format – The Mercury is now the same size as the Wall Street Journal and the Kansas City Star. The USA Today is narrower still.

We will also obviously use marginally less newsprint.


Q: If you have less space, what are you going to cut out?

A: Not much that you’ll notice. The most obvious thing is probably the elimination of the vertical “Briefing” summary that ran on the left-hand side of the front page of the old design. We decided that readers probably didn’t need it in a paper of our size.

Beyond that, we’ll use fewer promotional ads for The Mercury itself, and we’ll edit a little tighter, particularly on news wire service stories. We still believe in providing state, national and international news in The Mercury, since our community is connected in many ways to the world around us. But we will be a bit more judicious in our selection of stories. Our commitment to local news, information and advertising is stronger than ever, since that’s what makes us unique.


Q: Are you going to switch to morning delivery?

A: No.


Q: Can you fix the really lame humor of the dude who answers the questions?

A: No. Are you kidding? That guy’s brilliant!


You can submit a question to this column by e-mail to, or by regular mail to Questions, P.O. Box 787, Manhattan, KS 66505.

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