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Sunday, May 13, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mike Fancher / Times executive editor

Good news: You can read Sunday paper on Saturday again

Seattle Times executive editor

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The Bulldog is back. For the first time since November, The Seattle Times this weekend produced an advance edition of the Sunday newspaper.

Called a "bulldog," the early edition was printed Friday night and available in stores and news stands Saturday. Its publication restores a tradition that goes back farther than anyone around here can recall.

For most Sunday readers, that's not a big deal. For Bulldog fans, it's a blessing. For them, it just isn't Sunday without getting the Sunday newspaper on Saturday.

Confused? Let's start with some terminology.

Webster's New World Dictionary of Media and Communications says a bulldog edition is the earliest edition of a morning newspaper, published the preceding night. A bullpup is the first edition of a Sunday newspaper, generally published at an earlier hour during the week and sometimes printed in full or part before Sunday.

The dictionary says the words probably originated in the 1890s, when the New York World and other morning newspapers published early editions to catch the mail trains and newspapers fought like bulldogs to make their deadlines. Another alleged origin: In 1905, William Randolph Hearst urged the editors of his New York American to write headlines that would bite the public like a bulldog.

I've never heard our early Sunday edition called a bullpup, just the Bulldog or "the B."

Few newspapers have such an edition anymore, and the economics of starting one don't seem to pencil out these days. We stopped home delivery of the early edition about a decade ago.

We dropped the edition entirely when the newspaper strike started last November. Bringing it back required careful analysis.

In the short run, producing and distributing an early edition costs more than it generates in circulation and advertising revenue. Taking on any discretionary cost is tough as we rebuild from the strike and the sluggish economy. We're bringing back the Bulldog because it has long-term strategic importance, serving the needs of readers and advertisers.

We know there is a small but loyal core of readers who love it. For them, buying the Bulldog is convenient, it contains advertising that is important to them, it allows more time to read over the weekend and it fits their lifestyle.

As one devotee wrote to me several months ago, "I love reading the Sunday paper Saturday evening (have done so for 42 years), so I'm hoping the paper will eventually re-appear on Saturday afternoon. Old habits die hard."

A West Seattle resident wrote, "My husband and I, both professional career people, want very much to again be able to pick up this early edition. Both professionally and vocationally, we have a busy schedule in which we are often on the road on the weekend, and have been used to picking up a copy on Saturday.

"We have for years been subscribers of the Times (since 1990), but only take the Monday-Saturday delivery because of this fact. We have sorely missed this `Bulldog' edition since the strike."

We also know that the Bulldog and its audience are important to advertisers. Research tells us that the ad content of the Sunday newspaper is of special interest to people who buy the Bulldog. The early edition gives them a head start on classifieds, such as real estate and employment listings.

Bulldog readers are more likely than other Sunday readers to be job seekers. They prefer to spend Saturday night reading rather than watching television.

They are more likely to read Pacific Northwest, although that's hard to imagine because just about everyone reads the magazine. And, they are more likely to read the Job Market page in classifieds, Travel and the Health page in Scene.

Because the edition carries no breaking news, the front page is designed as a visual guide to content inside the newspaper. There's no mistaking it for the newspaper that is distributed on Sunday, but, just in case, the front page has a prominent label that says "Advance Edition."

Look for that label, if you can't wait until Sunday for the Sunday newspaper.

Thanks for your support

The Seattle Times daily circulation showed one of the largest gains for any metropolitan newspaper in the United States in the most recent 6-month report. The average daily circulation for the period ending March 31 was 225,222, up 3.2 percent year-over-year.

Building circulation is always a challenge. The newspaper industry as a whole reported daily circulation down 0.9 percent and Sunday off 1.7 percent.

The Times increase reflects the strong momentum the newspaper gained when it began morning publication a year ago. The number reflects the period from Oct. 1, 2000, through Nov. 21, 2000, and Feb. 1, 2001, through March 31, 2001. The period during and immediately following the strike (Nov. 22 until Jan. 31) is not included because of the direct short-term strike impacts, including free distribution of the newspaper.

Sunday circulation declined 3.6 percent to 482,978. In part, that's because of the elimination of the Sunday Bulldog edition, so let's hope for better news this time next year.

If you have a comment on news coverage, write to Michael R. Fancher, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111; call 206-464-3310; or e-mail mfancher@seattletimes.com.

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