Asserting that the collapse of mainstream media demands the same urgency as “the threat of terrorism, pandemic, financial collapse or climate change,” two authors of a forthcoming book called Saving Journalism propose massive government intervention in the journalism crisis. Writing in the liberal journal The Nation, John Nichols and Robert McChesney say the recent debates over micro-payments and nonprofit funding is all well-intentioned, but these rescue scenarios don’t address the serious structural problems the US media faces. In essence, the public watchdog function is vanishing with nothing to replace it.

newspaper_revenue_trends

Media Post chart

This trend isn’t new; cost-cutting in the newsroom began in the 1970s when media tycoons began to form quasi-monopolies under the umbrella of government protection. Today, the media is a pathetic shadow of its former self, doing “almost no investigation into where the trillions of public dollars being spent by the Federal Reserve and Treasury are going but spar[ing] not a moment to update us on the ‘Octomom,’” the authors write.

Government already subsidizes media to the tune of tens of billions of dollars annually through mailing discounts, government advertising, monopoly broadcast, cable and satellite licenses and copyright protection. However, private interests have taken advantage of those subsidies to create wealth, and in the process are destroying the services they provide the public, Nichols and McChesney assert.

And they get specific about what needs to be done:

  • Eliminate postage for periodicals that get less than 20% of their revenues from advertising;
  • Give all Americans an annual tax credit for the first $200 they spend on daily newspapers or online sources that meet certain quality criteria;
  • Allocate funds to enable every middle school, high school and college to have a well-funded student newspaper, a low-power FM radio station and accompanying substantial websites.

Face it: The old system is collapsing and won’t be resurrected, they say. We are entering a world in which government abuse and corporate greed will run rampant because no one is watching over the abusers. The business media completely misled the public about what was happening in Iraq and completely missed signs of financial disaster. And that was before 20,000 more journalists lost their jobs.

Although you need to take the left-wing source into account, this article is a pretty compelling argument for government intervention.  It is particularly chilling in its description of the impact that media cutbacks have already had on the public’s ability to understand the financial crisis and its own legislators’ actions.  The authors maintain that the estimated $20 billion cost of their proposal is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount being spent on the financial bailout.  The stretch may be in equating the urgency of the two problems.

Uphill Climb

Stewart: Millennials' Cronkite?

Stewart: Millennials' Cronkite?

The Nation will have a battle convincing a skeptical American public that government support is the answer. Recent data from Rasmussen Reports paints a picture of a public that is largely disengaged from traditional media institutions while increasingly deriving its news from entertainment. A telephone survey of 1,000 Americans early this month found that 30% overall read a daily newspaper, but among respondents under 40, that percentage was only half as large. The survey also showed that newspaper websites have less “stickiness” than a product that arrives at the front door each day. Only 8% of US adults say they read their local paper’s website every day.

Meanwhile, one-third of Americans under 40 say Comedy Central’s Daily Show and Colbert Report are replacing traditional news outlets, which is slightly more than the 24% of Americans overall who think this is true. And there’s a popular opinion that this is a  good thing. “Thirty-nine percent of adults say programs of this nature are making Americans more informed about news events, while 21% believe they make people less informed,” the report says. Interestingly, Democrats are much more inclined to share this positive view than Republicans, by a margin of 48% to 28%.

Miscellany

The New York Times Co. imposed temporary 5% pay cuts for most employees in hopes of avoiding cuts to the newsroom staff.  Nevertheless, the Times also laid off 100 people in its business operations and said it would reduce freelancer spending and possibly consolidate some sections.  The pay cuts are subject to union agreement. Times management threatened to lay off 60 to 70 people out of its 1,300-person news staff if the union doesn’t concur.  The Times Co. cited an overall drop in advertising revenue of 13.1% in 2008 and 17.6% in the fourth quarter.  The pay reductions were described as temporary.  Salaries will revert to their previous level next year unless economic conditions improve fail to improve.  The company has already laid off more than 500 people this year.


The recession has clearly taken hold in the advertising business and the result is likely to be “the closing of more big regional daily newspapers and bankruptcy declarations from even more big publishers,” according to Media Post. Fourth-quarter 2008 results were a disaster, and that’s coming on top of two years of declines that seemed to get worse with each quarter. Newspaper classified advertising fell 39.2% overall in the quarter, with job-recruitment advertising plunging nearly 52%. Perhaps more ominous is that online revenue at newspaper sites was off  8% in the quarter, although online advertising is weak across the board right now.


The Rockingham News of southern New Hampshire has just published its final edition, and the weekly that has served the region for more than 40 years offers quite a lesson in its own history. Aubrey Bracco must have interviewed a couple of dozen local residents to get their recollections of what the paper meant to them, and he pens a loving and informative farewell.


Mike Hughes, president and creative director at the Martin Agency, pens an impassioned plea to his colleagues to support newspapers with their advertising dollars. “Our industry needs newspapers — but just as important, so does humankind,” he writes.  So stop following the latest trend and putting your advertising in the trendiest places.  ”How many agencies aren’t selling newspaper advertising to their clients as hard as they should? It’s time for a wake-up call.” It’s an invigorating argument until you read the bio and see that Hughes’ employer is the “agency of record for the Newspaper Association of America.”


Writing on Mashable, Woody Lewis lists five ways newspapers can embrace social media more effectively. He notes that The New York Times now has an application programming interface that third parties can use to access its content from their programs. This is a cool idea. He also says partnerships with strong technology partners are a good idea.


Jay Rosen lists a dozen articles about journalism that he really thinks you should read, although we can’t fathom his top pick: Paul Starr’s laborious New Republic epic. Many of the others are excellent, though, and a few we hadn’t seen before.

And Finally…

We were thrilled to be included among the “Death of Newspapers” bloggers cited by Paul Dailing in Huffington Post. We agree with him that our self-absorbed, righteously indignant, told-you-so attitude is crap and that we have no answers to the problems facing the industry. We encourage you to boycott our book (available in fine bookstores everywhere) in support of his position. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

clay shirkyClay Shirky takes us back 500 years to reflect on the revolution that’s going on right now. Everyone who wonders “What will become of journalism when newspapers are gone?” should read this superbly voiced essay by the author of Here Comes Everybody. The piece has racked up 225 comments and trackbacks just over the weekend, and there will be many more.

To sum up Shirky’s case:  The game is over for newspapers. Nothing can save the business, so it’s pointless to try. We’re in the middle of a revolution and revolutions are uncomfortable things because “The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place.”

His distant mirror is 16th century Europe, when the printing press was beginning to lift the world out of the Dark Ages. As translations of the Bible into languages other than English began to threaten the church-dominated world order, everyone frantically searched for assurance that the old institutions would be preserved. This applied even to disrupters like Martin Luther,  who insisted he wasn’t creating a schism in the church even as he was inventing Protestantism.

“And so it is today,” says Shirky, fast-forwarding. “When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution…They are demanding to be lied to.”

Revolutions are messy things because old institutions have to be destroyed before new ones are put in place. We’re witnessing the destruction now but we have no idea what will grow out of the rubble. And that’s scary.  “The list of models that are obviously working today, like Consumer Reports and NPR, like ProPublica and WikiLeaks, can’t be expanded to cover any general case, but then nothing is going to cover the general case,” Shirky writes. The only certainty is that the newcomers will be more specialized, distributed and democratized than the old, vertically integrated institutions.

We won’t say Clay Shirky puts our minds at ease, but he at least points out that we have come this way before and that everything turned out pretty well in the long run. All we have at this point is faith and optimism.  The sooner we can turn our attention from salvaging the unsalvageable to inventing the future, the sooner we can get on with the rebuilding.

Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard columnist Bob Welch should read Shirky’s essay. So should Mark Willes, former publisher of the Los Angeles Times and now head of Deseret Management Corp., who’s quoted in this Salt Lake Tribune story remarking “[I]f we’re going  to have all the things I think are central to having a civilized society and a successful society, [newspapers] must grow.”

Union Grants Broad Concessions to San Francisco Chronicle Management

Their collective backs against the wall, members of the Northern California Media Workers Guild voted 10-1 to give the San Francisco Chronicle broad authority to lay off employees without regards to seniority as well as to cut vacation time and extend working hours. The union, which represents 483 employees at the Chron, had little choice. Owner Hearst Corp. has threatened to close the entire operation without major concessions. Even so, Hearst is still likely to lay off 150 Guild workers.

Union members took consolation in the fact that that figure is one-third less than the 225 jobs Hearst originally threatened to eliminate. The Guild was also able to secure a decent severance package for laid-off employees. However, members will pay more for health benefits, lose 25% of their vacation and work longer hours. The Mercury News story notes that Hearst had threatened to make “most” of the 225 threatened job cuts in the Chron‘s 260-person newsroom. This seems incredible, since a cutback of that magnitude would leave less than 200 reporters covering the entire Bay Area. That may still be the case after the anticipated layoffs happen. Hearst is also eliminating 100 unionized pressroom jobs after it outsources printing to a Canadian contractor in June.

How to Save the Classified Advertising Business

bullhornChristopher Ryan and Steve Outing propose some head-slappingly simple ideas in their “Classifieds Manifesto.” So why aren’t more newspaper companies following them?

Newspapers can still have important and profitable classified advertising businesses, the authors say, but first they have to stop thinking about classifieds as agate type on a page. Craigslist has won that battle, so newspapers have to change the rules of the game.

Why not open a used-car lot for your auto clients? Or create a division that helps realtors sell homes? And while you’re at it, reinvent the way you present information. Craigslist is butt-ugly, man. Use tables and icons and easily navigable ways to get readers to the stuff they want to buy. And while you’re at it, get a video camera out to those properties that realtors are trying to sell and give them a hand.

There are a bunch of other smart and simple ideas in this essay. Send the URL to the head of your classified advertising group.

Miscellany

Mark Potts totes up the market capitalizations of the publicly held newspaper companies in the US and comes to a striking conclusion: Their combined value is just $1.3 billion, or a little more than what The New York Times Co. paid for the Boston Globe alone ($1.1 billion ) in 1993. This same group of companies was worth over $7 billion just six months ago. And speaking of the Globe, Potts says Barclays recently valued the paper at just $20 million.


McClatchy Watch is reporting that the Kansas City Star could announce a layoff early this week that’s larger than the newspaper’s last three layoffs combined. This rumor is a little confusing, however, since the Star announced plans to cut 15% of its workforce just last week.

 


Owners of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and its pressmen’s union have reached agreement on a set of union concessions involving layoffs, wage cuts, health care premium increases and staffing reductions. No details were released pending a vote by members on the agreement this week.

 


McClatchy Watch is reporting that the Kansas City Star could announce a layoff early this week that’s larger than the newspaper’s last three layoffs combined. This rumor is a little confusing, however, since the Star announced plans to cut 15% of its workforce just last week.

Several outlets are reporting that Hearst has contacted a handful of journalists at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to make “provisional offers” of jobs at a much smaller, online-only version of the newspaper. It’s not known what the provisions are, but it looks like Hearst still hasn’t made up its mind whether to go through with the project. The P-I is hanging by a thread. Tomorrow will be the 60th day since Hearst’s January 9 announcement that the paper would either shutter its print operations or close entirely if a buyer isn’t found.

If the P-I continues online, it looks to be as a dramatically leaner operation. Metro reporter Hector Castro, who says he rejected the Hearst offer, told the P-I‘s Dan Richman that the offer “increased his health insurance cost, cut his salary by an unspecified amount, offered to match his 401(k) contributions, required him to forgo his P-I severance pay, reduced his vacation accrual to zero and required him to give up overtime.” Welcome to the Internet, Hector.

Because Hearst has apparently clamped a gag order on employees it has approached about the new venture, Richman resorted to asking everyone in the office if they had been contacted by the company. He found about 20 people who responded “no comment.” This roughly matches anonymous estimates that the online P-I would have a staff of about 20. None of the copy editors, editorial writers, designers or sports or features writers declined to comment, indicating that those functions are considered extraneous by Hearst, at least for the moment. We’ll no doubt hear something more substantive this week as the deadline arrives.

The P-I is already acting like it’s over as evidenced by this memorial section on its website.

Boston Globe on Horns of Layoff Dilemma

The Boston Globe, which actually gave some employees lifetime job guarantees back in the early 90s, is struggling to figure out how to implement a layoff of 50 newsroom employees without letting go of some of its best people. The problem is that the Newspaper Guild contract specifies that layoffs need to be conducted on the basis of seniority. This visionary concept now leaves the Globe on the horns of a dilemma: some of its most productive and promising young reporters may have to be laid off so that overpaid veterans in cushy jobs can be kept on board. The Boston Phoenix names names. There’s a buyout offer on the table but it’s apparently getting only lukewarm interest because no one wants to be unemployed in this crummy economy. So the Globe will probably have to make involuntary cuts. Management is allowed to circumvent the seniority rule under special circumstances, but it must justify each and every exception and could be subject to grievances in each case.

What Went Wrong at Journal Register

The Albany Times Union has few kind words for the basket case that is Journal Register Co. Formed from the wreckage of Ingersoll Publications in 1990, JRC remained a relatively small Michigan-based chain under five years ago, when it went on a buying spree that created a 300-title empire. However, it took on way too much debt in the process, particularly in light of its concentration in the recession-prone state of Michigan. JRC has crashed and burned in spectacular fashion over the last couple of years. Its model is pretty roundly hated by the journalists who have worked there: cut costs to the bone and maximize profits. Yet did you know that even as it languishes in bankruptcy, Journal Register still makes a profit? It’s just not enough of a profit to service its huge debt load.

Layoff Log

  • Editor & Publisher wraps together two layoff notices in one: Guild members at the Fresno Bee will vote tomorrow on a new management proposal to cut wages by up to 6%. If the union doesn’t agree, management is threatening to reduce newsroom staff by up to 29%. And the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is reducing its workforce by 12% and cutting wages in line with parent McClatchy Corp.’s cost-reduction targets. The Associated Press has more on the Star-Telegram cutbacks. The company is also offering a buyout to most of its 1,000 employees. It already cut 18% of it staff last year.
  • We’ve frequently chided newspaper publishers for championing the public’s right to know while burying their own bad news in layers of vagueness and doublespeak. But we certainly can’t say that about the Tri-City Herald of Washington state. Its recent announcement of a wage reduction and other cost cuts offers bountiful detail about everything from ad:edit ratios to the size of its biggest advertiser contracts. There’s even a reference to mileage reimbursement expenses.
  • Blogger Gary Scott reports on layoffs at the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise. He’s got names, too: 20 of them.
  • The Winnipeg Free Press laid off five people, eight if you count early retirements.
  • The Columbus Dispatch reportedly used e-mail to notify 45 employees that they were being laid off.

Miscellany

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has proposed that state public transportation projects should be advertised on the Internet instead of newspapers. The proposal is buried in a big transportation bill now before the legislature. The governor’s office says it’s just trying to save money. Government contract notices have long been an annuity revenue stream for newspapers, which benefit from laws in many states that require them to be published in local dailies.


buffalo news layoff ghostsThe image at left accompanies a short story about layoffs at the Buffalo News that appears on the website of a local television station in Rochester, N.Y. The uncaptioned image has no “alt” text and is named “jobcuts2009-03-02.” We wonder if these are escaping employees of the Buffalo News captured on infrared camera, the ghosts of former journalists or perhaps managers striding decisively toward the future. Your interpretations are appreciated.


Los Angeles Times Columnist David Lazarus says the solution is for big newspapers to band together and deliver services as a package for $10 a month, just like HBO. “I read a half-dozen or so newspapers online every day. Right now I pay nothing for their output. Would I be willing to pay the equivalent of several lattes at Starbucks monthly for the same privilege? Absolutely,” he says. “Like I say: fixable.” At least it’s fixable if your entire audience is people like David Lazarus.


The University of Arkansas Traveler has a short profile of Erica Smith, whose Paper Cuts layoff tracker has become the unofficial statistician for industry cutbacks.


There appears to be a run on journalistic self-indulgence today as newsroom veterans tell their readers about what a great job they’re doing in the apparent self-deception that readers give a hoot: Here and here.

And Finally…

someecards

One of our favorite new Internet companies is someecards.com, a distributor of online greeting cards that bear delightfully cynical, snarky and even obscene messages.  Someecards is to greetings what Despair is to motivational posters: an irreverent stick in the eye of an industry that suffers from unbearable cuteness. Now someecards has launched a user-generated companion site, yourecards.com, where visitors can work from a collection of templated illustrations to create their own bizarre messages.  A sampling:

Who says user-generated content doesn’t have a future?

Don’t forget to take our poll: Will the Detroit Experiment Succeed?

Writing in Fortune, Richard Siklos has the most perceptive analysis of the Tribune Co. ownership picture we’ve seen. Siklos scores Sam Zell for his hubris and for characterizing his company as employee-owned when the only votes that counted were his and those of the former shareholders who approved the transfer of Tribune shares to a toothless employee stock option plan. What happens to those employee-owners now, Siklos asks? Barring an unlikely market turn, they’ll lost most or all of their investment, leaving them just with their 401(k) holdings. In all fairness, Sam Zell also stands to lose his investment, Siklos points out, although we doubt they’re stocking up on the macaroni & cheese at the Zell mansion. This brief, insight-packed piece ends by speculating that Tribune Co. will emerge from bankruptcy with about a $4 billion valuation. At that price, Zell may actually be tempted to put in some more money. Eeek!

2009 Forecasts Offer Little To Smile About

Researchers quit using euphemisms to describe the industry’s troubles some time ago. Now they vie to see who can come up with the strongest adjectives. “Terrible” is how Kubas Consultants describes the newspaper ad revenue outlook for 2009 after surveying 400 newspaper executives. The report offers a “very negative outlook” because a “disaster area” is looming in employment classifieds. Seemingly at a loss for more superlatives, the report summarizes: “the severity of expected declines is remarkable.” All this for a forecast of a 9.1% decline in revenues in 2009, which would actually be less than the 2008 wreckage to date. It’s the cumulative effect that invokes shock and awe, though. “If Kubas’ predictions for 2009 come to pass, by the end of next year, newspapers will have lost about 30% of their total revenues in four years,” says MediaPost. This story has no hope in it. If you’re hoping for a nice weekend, read something else.

Scribes Sum Up Industry Woes In Painful Detail

“Across the U.S., more than 30 papers are up for sale, but there are no buyers,” sums up a long piece from Britain’s Independent that’s kind of a Wikipedia entry for newspaper industry turmoil. Regular readers of this blog and others like it won’t find a lot of new information in Stephen Foley’s 1,900-word opus, but the piece is a nice digest of the events of 2008.

Particularly notable is its description of the travesty that was Sam Zell’s purchase of Tribune Co. just 19 months ago. Foley dug up some choice Zell boasts about how his deal didn’t require the stars to line up perfectly in order to succeed, while Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal acquisition did. Fast forward to today and look who’s laughing. The Journal‘s circ is holding steady and Murdoch is actually investing in the paper while Tribune Co. is in court receivership. “Sam Zell is a demonstration of the proposition that a group of people that knows nothing about the newspaper business going in, is unlikely to be successful,” says Poynter’s Rick Edmonds in the story’s best quote.

Solutions? Sadly, the piece turns up nothing new, other than the idea of putting some papers into a not-for-profit trust, as the St. Petersburg Times has done. The nonprofit ideas may have some merit, since profits won’t be an issue before long, anyway. Why not call a spade a spade?

Maybe it’s because the new year’s drawing close, but this is certainly the week for epic analyses of the state of the industry. The Toledo Free Press kicks in a rambling 1,700-word essay with lots of facts but little new perspective. And the headline, “Changing media landscape causing problems, new opportunities in Toledo and nationwide,” appears to have been written by a search engine.

The story has one great quote, though, from FOX Toledo’s President/General Manager Ray Maselli in response to a question about recent layoffs: “We are adjusting to the needs of our environment and re-engineering the way we do business. WUPW’s ongoing investments in operational efficiency as well as our commitment to serving viewers and advertisers with optimal products and services are effectively positioning us as a more diversified, multi-media news organization.” We think “investments in operational efficiency” is the best euphemism for “layoff” we’ve seen all year.

Plain Dealer Kicks Laid Off Employees When Down

The 2008 Conflict Avoidance Trophy goes to the Cleveland Plain Dealer for the surreal way in which it handled the layoffs of a dozen people. Management turned an already unpleasant task into a humiliating water torture for the entire staff and then kicked the sacked employees when they were down.

Cleveland Scene has the details. As we noted earlier, the Plain Dealer staff was told not to come in to work until after 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 2. Laid-off employees were notified by phone. So if someone didn’t call to say you were out of a job, you were expected to come in to the office. And smile, dammit! As if that wasn’t bad enough, management arranged for laid-off employees to clean out their desks on a Saturday morning and to enter the building from the back where they would attract the least attention. “For some, decades of service ended like a protected, shameful secret,” writer D.X. Ferris sums up.

Ferris showed up in the P D parking to try to interview the sacked employees but they told him to bug off. That’s not surprising under the circumstances: People with some of the most well-recognized names in Cleveland being hustled out the back door so no one would have to witness their shame. It doesn’t get much more humiliating than that.

Miscellany

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has laid off 39 employees at the newspaper and affiliated community publishing group as part of an ongoing plan to cut staff by 10% before the end of the year.


The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is offering a buyout package to all 200 of its Guild employees. Management said the offer is being made to avoid layoffs, which is management shorthand for saying there are probably going to be more layoffs.

 


We were interviewed by freelancer Michelle Rafter for her blog WordCount – Freelancing in the Digital Age (freelancers need all the support they can get these days). The focus was on community news, which is a mixed bag of an industry these days. While it seems that big publishers like Gannett and Journal Register can’t be bothered with community newspapers at the moment, some of the most innovative work is actually going on there.

 


Faced with devastating cuts to their arts coverage, the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram have teamed up to share reporting resources, according to a local blog called Art&Seek. The deal means that some local music and theatre will continue to get newspaper coverage that would have otherwise been lost, but some members of the arts community also fear that the loss of competing perspectives will put too much influence in the hands of too few critics.

 


An expected write-down at Lee Enterprises could force the troubled owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other newspapers into default on $306 million in debt, the St. Louis Business Journal reports.

 


Last month we told you about Helium, a citizen journalism site that’s seeking to partner with newspapers to provide what is essentially high-quality blog content. Now the Lawrence (Mass.) Eagle-Tribune has become Helium’s second customer. The paper will use Helium’s writer’s marketplace to find and contract with local stringers “who are compensated for contributing articles on a variety of topics ranging from wedding planning tips to great day trips with your kids, to seasonal gardening advice and concert reviews.” While this isn’t exactly hard-hitting journalism, it is going to cost the Eagle-Tribune a lot less than paying professional writers.

 

And Finally…

If the rapidly developing world of social media has you feeling dazed and confused, you’re not alone. There are so many new websites and so little time to drink them all in. Boston interactive agency Overdrive Interactive is trying to help with Social Media Map, a visual guide to the most essential social media resources that resembles a really dense version of the New York City subway system. You can download the clickable PDF here.

social_media_map

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Gallup has issued its bi-annual report on news consumption trends, and all mainstream media are down with the exception of cable news and the Internet. The most striking finding is the percentage of people who say they consult the Internet for news every day: up 9% in two years to 31% today. The percentage has more than doubled in the last five years. Meanwhile, the percentage of people who consult a local newspaper every day has dropped from 54% in 1999 to 40% today.

gallup1

For newspapers, the demographics are a horror show:

% of respondents who get their news every day from each source, by age group:

Age

Local Newspapers

Internet

18-29 years

22%

36%

30-49

34%

42%

50-64

42%

27%

65+

68%

14%

The statistics point to a continuing trend that has been hammering the newspaper industry: Young people don’t read newspapers.  Meanwhile, Internet consumption is up across the board as people increasingly demand that news be delivered whenever they want it and wherever they happen to be.

Glimmer of Hope at the Rocky

E.W. Scripps says “a handful” of people have asked to look at the books of the Rocky Mountain News, a Denver institution that the company recently put up for sale. A spokesman said no one has yet offered to buy the troubled newspaper and that there’s no guarantee that the people who have asked to see the financials will be granted that access. However, the tire-kicking does indicate that not all hope is lost.  Employees at the Rocky are trying to rally readers to their cause.  A few of them have launched a site called I Want My Rocky to highlight the paper’s importance to the community and statements of support that have come in from readers. Thank God for WordPress.

Meanwhile, MediaNews CEO and Denver Post publisher Dean Singleton is wasting no time in taking advantage of his possible monopoly position. He’s told unions to reopen negotiations with an eye toward cutting $20 million in costs. The request came a day after Moody’s downgraded almost $1 billion of MediaNews debt out of fear of default. The Newspaper Guild represents 730 employees at The Post and the agency that administers the Post’s joint operating agreement with the Rocky.

Miscellany

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is making its third round of job cuts in two years, eliminating 56 full-time and 100 part-time jobs in the circulation unit. The paper’s circulation has dropped 13.6 percent in the last year, according to the Audit Bureau of Control.


McClatchy’s November ad revenues were down 22% on an eye-popping 41% decline in classified advertising. E&P has the ugly breakdown: automotive advertising down 42.9%; real estate down 45.8%; and employment down 58.6%. We can’t remember any publisher reporting this kind of catastrophe over the last two years.  Other trauma: retail ad revenue off 17.6%, national advertising down 33.2% and direct marketing off 16.8%. CEO Pat Talamantes said the declines were “in line with recent ad trends,” which has us wondering what other publishers are going to report.


The Tampa Tribune is blaming a rival newspaper for spreading rumors that it plans to exit the print business.  In a co-bylined Sunday editorial, executive editor Janet Coats and publisher Denise Palmer said the rumors originated in the subscription sales department of competitor St. Petersburg Times. Coats and Palmer said the Times was taking advantage of its status as a privately owned company to position recent layoff reports at the Tribune as evidence that the paper would soon cease print operations.  The rumor was also reported in the Tallahassee Democrat. Going on the offensive, Coats and Palmer claimed that the Tribune actually published more editorial pages than its rival in the first 10 days of December and that its willingness to report news of its own layoffs was in the best journalistic tradition that its rival has so far skirted.  The publisher of the St. Petersburg Times countered, “Our circulation is growing nicely, and we’re very happy to have many readers in the Tampa Bay region.”


The New York Times‘s David Carr says newspapers have found an unlikely ally in besieged Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. According to a criminal complaint filed by the United States attorney, Blagojevich was obsessed with negative coverage by the Chicago Tribune, which has been campaigning for his impeachment.  The governor allegedly threatened to withhold financial support for the Tribune unless the newspaper fired certain editorial writers. There is no evidence that the newspaper complied.  Carr says the revelations about the Blagojevich’s criminal activities come at an odd time, given that the Tribune Company declared bankruptcy just one day before the scandal broke. “In a city and state where corruption is knit into the political fabric, a solvent daily paper would seem to be a civic necessity,” Carr writes. “But if another governor goes bad, what if the local paper were too diminished to do the job?”


The Financial Times profiles, New York Times Co. Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr., questioning whether he has the will and stamina to persevere through the industry downturn. “If the future of America’s newspaper business rests on one individual, it is on the 57-year-old former reporter,” the FT says. “Yet the fourth-generation family proprietor, who became publisher in 1992, is looking increasingly besieged.” You can say that again.  The Times Company has over $1 billion in debt. It has been forced to consider asset sales and taking on even more debt to meet its obligations. The company was forced to cut its dividend by 74% last month, which the FT notes is “equivalent to [Sulzberger] asking his relatives to take an $18 million-a-year pay cut.” Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch has made no bones about his intentions to take on the Times directly. All this is a heavy burden to bear, the story says, noting that Sulzberger’s legendary father, Arthur Ochs “Punch” Sulzberger, displayed  backbone that has so far not been evident in his offspring.


More bad news for the Associated Press.  The UK’s Guardian newspaper is reporting that Reuters and the Capitol Hill journalism boutique The Politico are teaming up. “The initiative will mean that more than 120 Washington-based journalists will be reporting full-time for Reuters and Politico by the time president-elect Barack Obama takes office in January,” says the Guardian, which has telegraphed its own intentions to enter in the US market. The Politico has been one of the few bright spots in American journalism this year, having signed up more than 100 newspapers for its Washington news service.  Meanwhile, the AP has been under siege for its controversial fee structure and has recently lost some prominent subscribers.

By Paul Gillin | October 8, 2008 - 11:09 am - Posted in Advertising, Business News, BusinessModel, Classifieds, Layoffs, Local news, NewMedia, Newspapers

Into the perfect storm of Internet competition, spiraling newsprint costs and the decline of classified advertising has come a fourth factor: probable worldwide recession. It couldn’t happen at a worse time for the beleaguered newspaper industry.

Newspaper advertising revenue is expected to decline a record 11.5% to $40.1 billion this year, the Newspaper Association of America says. The organization does see light at the end of the tunnel; it’s predicting that the nosedive will level off a bit in 2009. But such forecasts should probably be taken with a grain of salt, considering that no one knows the full extent of the current financial crisis or the likelihood that worldwide government interventions will succeed. Also consider, at Tim Windsor points out in a comment on the E&P blog, that the NAA initially forecast just a 1.2% decline in business this year.

The 11.5% revenue drop would be the largest the association has seen since it started tracking results 58 years ago, and it reflects the continuing collapse of the classified advertising market at the hands of Craigslist et. al. In fact, the NAA expects classified revenues to fall from $14.1 billion in 2007 to just $9.4 billion in 2009, a 33% crash in a business that is already off by 50% from its peak. Retail advertising is expected to decline about 10% and national advertising should drop 13% in the same time period. Online revenue won’t pick up much of the slack: the NAA forecasts meager growth of 1.8% this year.


Media Life magazine catches up with David T. Clark, senior research analyst for publishing and advertising at Deutsche Bank Securities, to get his take on the wreckage. Here are a few quotes:

“This is a pivotal time for the newspaper-retailer relationship…Share losses now will be amplified when we emerge from this downturn.”

“Newspapers must be perceived as a marketplace in which the advertising is considered content, not clutter.”

“I think we’ve got at least several more quarters of very steep industry ad revenue declines to go before we see much improvement.”

“Newspapers do digital pretty well, but…it doesn’t look like a viable business model will emerge in time to save some metro dailies…They are at the bleeding edge of the structural issues the industry faces…Metro papers over-index to classified advertising, which is disappearing fast….They need to variabilize as much of their costs as possible, get all of that old media hardware off of the balance sheet…Tough to sell a printing press these days, though.”

Desert Storm

The East Valley Tribune of Mesa, Ariz. will make massive cutbacks, laying off 142 people, or about 40% of its staff. The daily will also withdraw coverage from nearby Scottsdale and Tempe and scale back to four days a week, most likely Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The print format will also be scaled back to two  sections ‑ one for local news and one for sports, entertainment and late-breaking news.The Tribune has a paid and free distribution of around 100,000. It’s owned by Freedom Communications, a publisher of more than 100 mostly small newspapers and a few big ones, including the Orange County Register. Ray Stern analyzes the impact on the valley, including the huge loss the cutbacks represent to the city of Scottsdale, which may become the US’ largest major metro area without a daily newspaper.He also lists some of the prominent journalists who will be exiting the scene.

Spokane Spokesman-Review Girds for More Cuts

The Spokane Spokesman-Review, whose editor quit last week over cutbacks in his staff, named Gary Graham to the post. Publisher W. Stacey Cowles took some questions from staffers and offered little optimism about the immediate future. His responses are noted on a staff blog. Highlights:

  • The S-R “is planning for the possibility of not having” the Associates Press in the future.
  • Potential cost-cutting measures include a reduction in trim size reduction (next June), dropping some circulation routes in outlying areas, reconfiguring press runs and office space consolidation. The paper is likely to close its Spokane Valley bureau.
  • “The company would like more flexibility in compensation of newsroom employees, more flexibility to change compensation to reflect market rates.” In other words, pay cuts are likely.

Tumbleweeds in Albany

The New York Times writes of the impact of staff cuts on the press corps covering goings-on in Albany. With the closure of the New York Sun last week, five newspapers have exited the state capitol in less than two years. The organization of statehouse journalists in Albany has seen its ranks dwindle from 59 members in 1981 to 42 journalists last year. “With the exception of Buffalo, Watertown and Albany itself, no city outside the New York metropolitan area has a newspaper with a dedicated, full-time correspondent in the Capitol,” writes Jeremy Peters. Wire-service bureau reporters don’t offer the local angle that correspondents used to provide. Reporters who once jostled for desk space now have their pick. “It’s like tumbleweed should be blowing around here,” says one reporter. Observers fret that the cutbacks are leaving legislators to play in their own private sandbox withoutthe limits of citizen oversight.

Layoff Log

  • More cutbacks at the Los Angeles Times. LA Observed is reporting that the paper will cut 75 positions, which would bring total newsroom staffing to about 650. That’s down from a high of nearly 1,200 in 2001. The reductions will be achieved through buyouts, if possible, but staffers will be told that this round of cutbaks will be their last chance to get a package of two weeks’ pay for each year of service. Media Bisto says the Washington bureau will be cut back right after the election.  American Thinker comments“More and more unemployed left wing journalists are joining the sans culottes. History teaches us that unemployed intellectuals are fodder for revolutionary movements.” (via Edward Padgett)
  • The Cleveland Plain Dealer plans to cut 38 unionized newsroom jobs, or about 13 percent of the newsroom’s staff. Most of the jobs being eliminated are held by Guild members. Employees have until Nov. 20 to accept a buyout offer, with layoffs expected to make up the difference. The Plain Dealer, which has 299 newsroom employees, cut 64 journalist jobs in 2006. The actual reductions are somewhat below the rumors of 20% cutbacks that circulated in June.
  • Boulder’s Daily Camera is moving all of its remaining printing and packaging operations from Boulder to Denver and laying off 29 more workers by the end of October.The paper will now be printed at the Denver Newspaper Agency facilities, where the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News have recently taken up residence.

And Finally…

The industry downturn has claimed one of the world’s most famous journalists – and he isn’t even a real person. Rick Redfern, the resident ink-stained wretch of the Doonesbury comic strip for more than 30 years, has decided to accept a buyout. “Redfern leaves with utter resignation, apparently having reasoned that he has no real newsroom options,” writes The Washington Post‘s Michael Cavna. “Thanks for the 30-plus years, Rick. By the fourth panel — in the style of a true newspaperman — you always had the perfect line.”

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Philip Meyer

Philip Meyer

Philip Meyer, whose 2004 book The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age, is often credited as being the first to predict the newspaper industry’s demise, writes in American Journalism Review of the dwindling options available to newspaper owners. In a superbly readable essay, Meyer frames the industry’s plight in historical contexts ranging from Gutenberg’s displacement of town criers to the opportunities modern agriculture created for packaged food makers. At the heart of the problem is one statistic we hadn’t seen before: “Classified ads moved from 18 percent of newspaper advertising revenue in 1950 to 40 percent in 2000.” Craig Newmark came along and poof! There are plenty of other Craig Newmarks out there waiting their turns, Meyer writes, ominously.

 

The good news is that there’s precedent for these problems. Meyer suggests that the saving grace for newspapers – and probably the only one they have left – is community influence. That’s where local news organizations enjoy a level of trust that online wannabes can’t approach. But by community, “I don’t mean stenographic coverage of public meetings, channeling press releases or listing unanalyzed collections of facts,” Meyer writes. It means contextual reporting that delivers useful and actionable advice. Medium is unimportant, as is frequency. Meyer infers that the seven-day-a-week mandate is a liability in a time of fluid and inexpensive information. Discerning readers will pay for information that speaks to their specific interests, he proposes, but newspapers have got to start by rejecting their all-things-to-all-people philosophy.

Tribune Co.: One Big Litigious Family

A group of current and former Tribune Co. employees has filed a class action suit against CEO Sam Zell, questioning the tactics Zell used to acquired Tribune Co. in a highly leveraged deal, his administration of the employee stock option plan, his decisions regarding layoffs and other operational issues. The plaintiffs include one current Tribune employee – Los Angeles Times auto critic Dan Neil – and five former employees, all journalists. They’re represented by noted class-action lawyers Joseph Cotchett and Philip Gregory.  In a statement, Zell called the suit “frivolous and unfounded.” In an e-mail to employees, he lamented the plaintiffs’ decision to air dirty laundry in public and concluded, “We are partners. We need to act like it.” Tell Zell characteristically minces no words in attacking the boss: “We have no power. We have no say. We have never been consulted in a single action that you or any of your cronies have taken in dismantling the Tribune Co. So stop f*****g call me your partner.” Guess who won’t be sharing a table at the company picnic.

Layoff Log

  • The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has laid off between 17 and 20 people, depending on which account you read. The situation is particularly unpleasant in the Gateway City because the cuts come during talks with the Newspaper Guild about an extension to the current union contract. In fact, the Guild walked away from the bargaining table, charging that newspaper management and consistently pushed ahead the timeframe for the layoffs as a bargaining tactic. Among the victims is Patrick M. O’Connell, the newspaper’s primary crime reporter.
  • The bloodletting may not be over at The McClatchy Co. CEO Gary Pruitt was quoted last week saying, ”It may get worse before it gets better.” McClatchy is still reeling from the $2 billion in debt it took on to finance the 2006 acquisition of Knight-Ridder, a deal that still has questionable long-term value. ”It’s hard to claim it’s a good deal when you see the stock performance,” Pruitt said. McClatchy has already cut its workforce by 20% and halved its shareholder dividend. McClatchy Watch has the details.
  • Tulsa World posts a note to readers about consolidating Sunday sections that presages staff cuts. It notes that the staff has been working “to conserve news space and reduce the overall page count of the newspaper by writing shorter stories,” and that, “We are proud of the fact that we have the largest news staff of any media in our area.” Prior experience would indicate that a large staff and a shrinking news hole don’t coexist nicely. Check out the comments on the story, which mostly rip the paper for cutting back on space.

Miscellany

Valleywag observes that the combined wealth of Google’s co-founders now exceeds the value of the entire US newspaper industry. Larry Page and Sergey Brin are now worth $16 billion each, compared to the $20 billion valuation Wall Street assigns to newspapers and their subsidiaries, including test prep and broadcasting businesses. 

And Finally…

McIntyre [cq]

Our Google Alert filter caught John McIntyre in its webbing this week, and we quickly added him to our RSS reader. McIntyre is director of the copy desk at the Baltimore Sun and a former president of the American Copy Editors Society {note: “Editors” is not possessive). His meticulously edited blog features such gems as a recent entry on the mechanics of courtesy titles such as “Mr.” and “Professor” – did you know that incarcerated criminals aren’t entitled to be called “Mr.” but may regain the title once probation has expired? -and a clever paragraph on last week’s National Punctuation Day that consists of a single sentence in which McIntyre uses all 13 forms of punctuation. Newspaper editors know that nothing elicits more reader comment than issues of spelling, punctuation and usage; ergo, McIntyre has his fingers on the pulse of the readers.

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By Paul Gillin | September 26, 2008 - 7:53 am - Posted in Business News, BusinessModel, Classifieds, Future of Journalism, Layoffs, NewMedia, Newspapers

Not to harp on The Politico, but we continue to be impressed by the stunning success of this for-profit venture whose value is built on delivering – gasp! – quality journalism. To those who mourn the newspaper industry’s implosion as foreshadowing the end of public service reporting, we point to this news boutique as an example of What Might Be. MediaBistro’s Fishbowl NY has a brief but interesting interview with Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei, who comments on the appeal of his unique business model. The focused mission is to “provide the fastest, smartest, most essential coverage of Congress, the White House, politics and those who try to influence all three.” And not to rely on classified advertising, which is one reason things are going so well.


A vandal disrupted distribution of the Boston Herald Wednesday morning, just two weeks before the paper plans to shut down its printing plant and outsource the operations to the west. Someone who apparently knew what he or she was doing cut several belts and wires on collating machines. Workers scrambled to compensate, but not all subscribers got their Heralds that day. The unions denounced the vandal’s actions. Members stand to get severance benefits – but only if the transition to the new printer goes smoothly.


Steve Outing comments on NYU journalism professor and Pressthink blogger Jay Rosen’s initiative to get his Twitter followers to submit accounts of reporters who document untruths by the McCain presidential campaign. You can see some of the results here. Outing things social networks are a great way for people who share common interests to quickly self-organize around a common goal, such as the one defined by Rosen. Unfortunately, the tools can also be misused. In an update, Outing notes that some troublemakers are now trying to subvert the effort.


Somebody help this guy, if you know him. He needs a hug.


Appropriately named columnist Joe Grimm has useful advice for a newspaper veteran who fears he’s about to lose his job. 


Mildred Heath, 100

Does it surprise you that the oldest worker in America works in newspapers? We didn’t think so. That ink kinda gets in your blood. It got into 100-year-old Mildred Heath’s blood 85 years ago, and she’s been pounding a beat ever since. Well, maybe not pounding it as much as keeping an eye out for news. The eyes aren’t what they used to be. She brought a notebook to her 100th birthday party, though. Mildred still has scars from handling hot type, but she’s wise enough to have learned to use the Web. She started her first newspaper in 1933 – which was not a good year to start anything -  and her granddaughter and son-in-law still run the Beacon-Observer out of Elm Creek, Neb., where Mildred is listed on the masthead as “Overton Correspondent.” God bless Mildred Heath.

Layoff Log

News has been trickling out about planned cuts at the Raleigh News & Observer, but some numbers are finally available: 53 people, including 20 newsroom staffers. Among the notables leaving the N&O: TV columnist Danny Hooley, illustrator Grey Blackwell, consumer-affairs columnist Vicki Lee Parker and book editor Marcy Smith. Cartoonist Dwane Powell, who earlier said he would scale back to part-time but keep his job, has also decided to leave. Most of the cuts were achieved through buyouts, but some layoffs were necessary. The N&O already cut 40 positions earlier this year.


Pittsburgh’s largest newspaper, the Post-Gazette, told its staff to expect layoffs soon. Meetings between management and union leaders to discuss the specifics begin next week. The closure of a major department store (and advertiser) downtown hasn’t helped. Stay tuned.


The Kenosha (Wisc.) News plans to lay off three full-time and three part-time employees, all from editorial.


The Tacoma News Tribune will lay off one employee and buy out 17 others in continuing reductions that have reduced its workforce by 100 people this year.

And Finally… 

                                                                              

How appropriate. Now you can generate your own tombstone messages for free. Tombstone Generator creator J. J. Chandler has left plenty of space for you to wax eloquent about the dearly departed – or those whom you wish would depart. 

 

 

 

 

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Technorati has come out with its annual State of the Blogosphere report and some numbers are truly eye-popping. The site found blogs in 81 languages and daily posts are closing in on one million. Nearly 185 million people have started a blog (although most don’t tend them regularly). Newspapers have the bug: 95% of the top 100 US newspapers have reporter blogs. Four in five bloggers post brand or product reviews and 90% of bloggers say they post about the brands they love or hate. Most bloggers who accept advertising make a profit. Technorati did a big survey and got comments from various media influencers. We haven’t had a chance to read it all yet, but if you’re interested in publishing, you should check it out.

Meanwhile, The Politico, which is one of the more promising Web-only journalism ventures, is expanding. It will add employees, grow circulation of its Washington-area newspaper and and print more often. The staff will be expanded to at least 105 from its current 85. Circulation of its Capitol Hill newspaper will be increased 20% to 32,000 and a Monday issue will be added. All this will happen after the election, which is The Politico’s busiest season, but officials said there’s going to be plenty of news to keep people busy. Also, they expect to reach profitability next year, far ahead of schedule.

And perhaps there’s gold in them thar websites. BIA Financial Network and Borrell Associates have a new study that estimates that newspaper websites are the most lucrative local media around, with valuations of the largest properties reaching $450 million. That makes local alternatives like TV and radio small potatoes in comparison. “Given their growth potential, the value multiples of media Web sites may be 2 to 4 times that of the core business,” the BIA president is quoted as saying. The study also praises the strong cash flow at media websites. The problem is that growth is slowing. BTW, the $450 million number is only for the largest properties, so don’t get too excited. We estimate the market value of Newspaper Death Watch is about $1.23.

Miscellany

In the department of publishers that still don’t get it, we’d like to include The American Scholar, which publishes a provocative list of “12 Questions about the future of journalism” by Bill Kovach without offering visitors a way to respond. Um, guys, that’s part of the problem.


In chaos, there is opportunity, or at least that’s what Michelle Rafter says. She points to new launches at Slate, The Wall Street Journal, Silicon Valley Insider and Forbes as evidence that there’s opportunity in business journalism right now. Just make sure you get cash up front.


Death is good business, it seems. Tributes.com, which runs obituaries and related memorial messages, is teaming up with The Wall Street Journal to create a print counterpart to the website. For $80, you can buy a listing on Tributes.com where you can post photos and memories of a departed loved one. Now, for an additional $250, you can run your message in a dying medium, too. Tributes is a startup that was spun out of Eons, a social network for the over-50 crowd. Both are the brainchildren of Monster.com founder Jeff Taylor.


In the 80s, New York City brought us the Village People. Now it brings us TimesPeople. That’s The New York Times‘ new social network. “TimesPeople provides NYTimes.com readers with a way to share their thoughts and recommendations about The Times‘s content with other readers, making their public activities on the site more open,” says a company press release. Apparently you can only share your thoughts about Times content, not anybody else’s, which we suppose makes sense. You can also see the most recommended articles. The Times is a latecomer to the social networking world, trailing The Wall Street Journal by a whole eight days.


Scott Karp analyzes Matt Drudge’s influence and concludes “It’s the Links, Stupid.” The action in online publishing is in filtering and linking, not corralling your audience, he says. Drudge is successful because he tells cable TV and radio reporters what’s important and that shapes their daily broadcasts. Newspapers, in contrast, tend to tell people only what’s important in their pages on any one day, and that’s far less interesting to readers than a guide to that vast Worldwide Web. “In the web media era, when all news content is accessible by anyone, anywhere in the world, and no news brands no longer have a monopoly over news distribution, the power of influence lies in the ability to FILTER the vast sea of news,” he writes.

Layoff Log

  • The Anchorage Daily News is reducing its staff by about 10%, laying off 13 employees and holding another dozen positions vacant.
  • The Raleigh News & Observer has started making cuts after only 16 newsroom employees accepted a buyout offer. Its editorial cartoonist, a 33-year veteran, and ombudsmen will be cut back to part-time but their jobs won’t be eliminated.
  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is going to buy out or lay off workers unless it gets concessions from its unions. Between 10 and 20 Teamsters will lose their jobs, according to a union spokesman, but that’s just the beginning. The paper’s Ohio parent has been losing money for years and is threatening to sell its Pittsburgh property.
  • As if the Seattle Times Co. didn’t need more headaches, now the truck drivers are threatening to strike. About 70 truckers could walk off the job on Oct. 21 in protest over the company’s bid to outsource its trucking to Penske Logistics.
  • Threats by the publisher of the Newark Star-Ledger to close the paper if cost-cutting goals can’t be met have apparently put a bee in the Jockey shorts of the local union. The union representing 400 mailers at the paper agreed by a 10-1 margin to a three-year wage freeze and buyouts of a quarter of its members. The Star-Ledger is still looking to buy out another 200 of its 750 full-time nonunion employees.
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By Paul Gillin | September 17, 2008 - 9:55 am - Posted in Business News, Classifieds, Layoffs, NewMedia, Newspapers, OnlineMedia

About the only positive note in McClatchy Co.’s announcement that it will cut another 1,150 jobs is that the year-over-year decline in August revenues was a little better than in July. Other than that, what can you say? The stock, which closed at 60 as recently as early 2006, spiked briefly below $3 a share yesterday before recovering to close at $3.40. This is the third round of cost reductions this year by McClatchy, which operates 30 daily papers in the US. In June, it announced plans to cut its workforce by 1,400 people and on Sept. 1, it froze wages for a year. When the new cuts are completed, McClatchy will have reduced its workforce by about 16% this year. The company also cut its dividend for the first time in 20 years, saying that money would be better used to pay down its $2 billion debt.

There was a bit of good news. August revenue fell 15.7 percent from a year earlier to $142.8 million, and ad  sales were down 17.8 percent. This was a bit of an improvement over July, when revenue fell 16.4 percent. Online ad revenue was also up 7.4%, bucking an alarming recent trend toward declines in that critical area for many newspaper companies.

Troubles at a newspaper parent are felt most strongly at the local level. The Sacramento Bee expects to avoid being hit by this latest round of layoffs, but it is eliminating nine regional sections and scaling back newsstand sales. The Bee has already cut 219 employees, or nearly 10% of its workforce, this year.

Another company that’s struggling to survive, Cox Newspapers, said it will sell 29 newspapers, including the Austin American-Statesman. The Austin paper is one of the jewels in the Cox crown, showing consistent profitability and strong online growth. The paper has pared headcount judiciously and has expanded into contract printing and direct mail. Hearst Corp. and private equity firm Austin Ventures.

The piece in the American-Statesman has some interesting tidbits. According to media analyst John Morton, publicly traded newspapers made a pre-tax average of 22 cents for every dollar of sales in 2003. In comparison, Dell Computer  made about 5 cents on the dollar in its most recent quarter. Morton also said a rule of thumb for valuing a newspaper is $2,000 multiplied by the average daily circulation over a week. However, that ratio is probably much lower in the current economic climate. He added that five years ago, a newspaper typically sold at 12 or 13 times its pre-tax earnings, but that ratio is in the 5- to 7-times-earnings range today. 

The news was not as good at Gannett Co., which reported that ad revenues in  its publishing division were down  16.8% in August compared to last year. Repeating a familiar refrain, Gannett blamed the declines on a sharp drop in classified advertising revenue, which was down 28%. Real-estate advertising was off a mind-bending 40%, a figure that isn’t likely to improve amid the ongoing meltdown in the mortgage industry.

WSJ Evolves its Design

With online subscribership up 26% over the past two years and a growing base of visitors from social networks, The Wall Street Journal overhauled its website design this week. The most notable change is a departure from the print-like look of previous versions. The new site is horizontal, rather than vertical, and adopts the three-column structure used by USA Today and The Washington Post. One notable change is that all stories are now open to reader comments, a feature that was previously available only on blog entries. Each story now includes tabs for comments and multimedia elements, such as slide shows and video. There’s also a social network called Journal Community that mimics similar efforts by BusinessWeek and Fast Company.

Wired  likes the new look, but notes that the Journal still hasn’t bitten the bullet on giving away content for free. It quotes an exec saying that the newspaper is gradually ratcheting open its paid content wall to new readers. It adds that subscriber-only articles have always been readable through a back door for free by searching on Google News. Firewalled articles are also accessible through a new BlackBerry application and links from social networks.

The New York Times notes that the redesigned site has more advertising units and sponsored sections. It’s more colorfull, features photography more prominently and has a moving newsreel with headlines and photos linking to related content.

We like it. In ditching its old design, the Journal has fallen into step with the look and feel of other news sites, which makes for easier navigation. The comments feature is a lso a nice touch. With all national newspapers now acceptin g user feedback, it’s wonder all newspapers don’t adopt this openness.

Layoff Log