By Paul Gillin | September 6, 2008 - 7:51 am - Posted in Business News, BusinessModel, Classifieds, NewMedia, Newspapers

The chart (from Alan Mutter) says it all. The U.S. newspaper industry experienced its ninth consecutive quarter of falling print revenue, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Worse is that the rate of decline is accelerating and online revenue is now dropping, too. Although the second quarter decline was only 2.4%, it’s a stark contrast to the 20%+ growth rates the rest of the industry is experiencing.

Classified advertising is a disaster. Look at these numbers: Real estate ad revenue down 36% to $619 million; recruitment advertising down 40% to $600 million; automotive classifieds down 23% to $580 million. The lifeblood of newspaper profitability has historically been classified advertising and the blood is gushing away.

This has a ripple effect on online ads, which had previously been the industry’s sole bright spot. MediaPost puts its finger on the problem: “Unfortunately, most of the growth in [newspaper] online revenues was due to ‘up-sells’ from print classified listings. As the volume of print listings declines at an ever-faster pace, that means there are fewer opportunities for online ‘up-sells.’”

TechCrunch chips in: “Advertisers trained to buy bundled ads are more likely to drop the entire bundle when making budget cuts.”

Inflation-adjusted newspaper revenues

Inflation-adjusted newspaper revenues

These trends continue to have all the makings of a classic death spiral: accelerating revenue declines create alarm among traditional customers who start fleeing in droves out of fear of being associated with a dying business. Print revenue declines have accelerated each quarter for the last two years, with the most profitable parts of the business taking the biggest hits. For example, automotive advertising, which totaled $5.2 billion in 2003, is now on track to do less than $2.5 billion in business this year. That’s more than a 50% fall without accounting for inflation.

If you do account for inflation, it gets worse. As the above chart by Tim Windsor shows, inflation-adjusted newspaper revenues are now below 1982 levels (click here for a readable version). The right side of that chart looks like a cliff, which is what the newspaper industry is hurtling toward.

There are simply no bright spots left. Between a recession, Internet competition and dramatically increased newsprint costs, this is a perfect storm. Quoting TechCrunch: “At this rate, there won’t be an industry left by the end of next year.”

Or, as one comment on Mutter’s blog put it, “The best news recently at our paper: the cleaning staff determined that the mold growing under the Coke machine is not hazardous.”

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Chicago Tribune Editor Gerry Kern sent a memo to staffers last week that challenges some shibboleths of journalism and appears to advocate for giving readers more entertainment at the expense of traditional community affairs.

The message reads like a mission statement. “We clearly are moving toward a 24/7 online business that also publishes in print once a day,” Kern says. While acknowledging the value of traditional fare like public service and investigative reporting, he also stresses the need to delight and entertain.

The nut graph is about halfway down, where Kerns relates that “One of the most revealing insights from recent research is how little excitement some people feel about their daily encounter with us. Many of our regular readers regard us like the electric company or water utility. Yes, everyone wants electricity and water and it’s a pain to do without them. But your soul just isn’t stirred by the sight of working faucet or wall socket.

“Without an engaged audience that finds value in what we offer, we cannot succeed. Journalism is not an abstraction that exists apart from the audience. It must deliver what the audience needs and wants.”

This sounds like a not-too-subtle message that Tribune staff need to take themselves a little less seriously and listen to their readers a little more closely.  If that means giving them record reviews and Sudoku puzzles, so be it.  The Tribune is about to debut a new design along the lines of its Tribune Co. brethren.  If their lead is any indication, you’ll see a lot more color and a little less gravity.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has apparently got the same religion.  The paper is upgrading its features sections with more emphasis on local entertainment and leisure destinations while merging its news sections and cutting back on commentary.

Also, the Tribune has a new managing editor with a track record of success addressing young audiences. Jane Hirt was the founding co-editor of Redeye a free tabloid aimed at Chicago commuters that is considered one of the Tribune’s more successful recent ventures.

All this may be too little too late. Fitch Ratings on Friday cut the debt rating of Tribune Co. to “CCC” and said default is a “real possibility.”  The assessment comes just a week after Tribune CEO Sam Zell said the company had paid down $807 million of borrowing to meet its obligations for the rest of the year.  Fitch isn’t very positive, though.  The firm believes lenders can expect to get between 31 and 50 cents per dollar of investment.

Too Much Time Spent on “Time Spent”

Editor & Publisher has its regular exclusive report on the amount of time people spend reading newspaper sites. At first blush, the numbers look bad. “Nearly half of the top 30 newspaper sites, ranked by total number of unique users, fell year-over-year,” E&P says. “Fourteen dropped slightly or significantly.”

E&P has been reporting the Nielsen numbers dutifully since Nielsen said it would rely on “time spent” as the most important attribute of newspaper website stickiness a year ago, but a review of some historical numbers shows that this metric has its limitations. Look at the examples below, taken from previous E&P accounts.

May ‘07

July ‘07

May ‘08

July ‘08

New York Times

29:36

27:21

28:52

32:03

Wall Street Journal

14:46

12:17

8:27

18:28

USA Today

12:39

11:48

13:00

16:17

Philly.com

10:11

6:59

8:03

5:07

Houston Chronicle

25:44

14:20

21:43

25:21

Star-Tribune

36:36

22:36

27:18

36:39

AVERAGE

21:35

15:54

17:54

22:19

While these numbers aren’t necessarily indicative of the overall health of the industry, they demonstrate how unreliable the “time spent” figure can be. Look at The Wall Street Journal, which presumably has enough readers to make its figures consistent.  What on earth happened this past May to cause such a drop-off in reader interest?  And what happened over the next three months to cause a revival?

Similarly, the Houston Chronicle tanked in July, 2007 but recovered spectacularly in the year since.  And are readers in Minnesota staying home this summer cruising the Internet instead of driving?  How else to explain such a dramatic recovery?  We’re sure the people Philly.com would like to know the answer.

Here’s some interesting perspective on the subject.

Miscellany

Media General’s publishing revenue fell nearly 19% in July compared to a year ago as the sour Florida economy continue to eat away at its business.  Classified advertising revenue plunged 32.5% with real estate falling an incredible 47%.  Online revenue was up a scant 5.7%,


The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel laid off 22 employees to reach its goal of 130 total job cuts after a voluntary buyout program failed to achieve the magic number.


Valleywag digs up some old screenshots in a trip down memory lane as it tells of “5 ways the newspapers botched the Web.”  Reading the account, you get the sense that there were some smart people who saw the opportunities in online publishing as early as 1983 but cluelessness about how people would use the Web combined with a compulsion to protect their print franchises scuttled the early innovations.  It’s a depressing account of opportunities lost.


Your obedient editor will be on vacation for a few days and posting less frequently, to the relief of newspaper executives everywhere.

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Editor & Publisher has a 3,000-word special report on the newspaper industry’s prospects that doesn’t turn up much new ground but documents the panic that has set in across the business. Everything is on the table, industry execs now say. In the coming year, expect a lot of papers to eliminate money-losing Monday, Tuesday and Saturday editions, dump their classified advertising sections and combine forces with rivals or outsource overseas. Recent redesigns like those at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel are intended to be produced by smaller staffs. Some papers consider giving up on courting the youth audience and decide to just focus on giving their older readers something they’ll want to consume for the next 25 years.

The problem is that newspaper are tinkerers, not re-inventers, the piece concludes. Their core skills are mis-matched to the enormity of the task that faces them, and the unrelenting declines in business have left them with no option to think through bigger changes. Noting the waning interest in the the “Newspaper Next” program, the American Press Institute’s Drew Davis quotes one board member as saying, “We are like drowning people, who are treading water as fast as we can. And you people are throwing life preservers and we can’t even get our hands out of the water to reach them.”

In its first year, Newspaper Next reached some 6,000 people, but since API rolled out its 2.0 version last February, the response has not been anywhere near that, says Davis. The biggest newspaper companies, he adds, are most conspicuous in their absence.
Not everyone is as dour as the people quoted by E&P. Kevin Slimp reports on a recent meeting by a group of consultants, speakers and trainers who call themselves the Media Specialists Group. They discussed the future of newspapers and, while they agree that big dailies are mostly toast, they’re generally optimistic about circulation trends among regional and focused titles. Expect to see a lot more free distribution and segmentation, they say. Newspaper publishers will also do more contract printing and use their delivery channels to distribute advertising.

Decline is Worse Than Numbers Indicate

Vin Crosbie submits the most lucid, dispassionate and coherent explanation for the decline of the US newspaper business that we’ve seen since Eric Alterman’s groundbreaking piece in The New Yorker this spring. The industry’s problem isn’t the Internet, he argues, it’s the steady loss of respect for and contact with its readers, a trend that began more than 30 years ago. While absolute circulation has declined only 14.5% since 1970, the real decline is more like 45% when adjusted for population growth. Only a third of Americans say they read a newspaper yesterday and only 46% read one regularly, down from 71% in 1992.

Crosbie skillfully skewers the online readership data that newspaper execs use to obscure their problems, pointing out that readers who visit four or five times a month can’t be compared to subscribers. He also dismisses the so-called “passalong rate,” which dying publications like to use to inflate circulation numbers

In the end, he predicts that half of all American dailies will be gone – both online and in print – by the end of the next decade. He promises more analysis of what went wrong in essays today and next week.


In his analysis, Crosbie also ticks off the precipitous decline in newspaper share values over the least few years, ranging from 65% at Gannett to 99% at Journal Register, yet Morningstar believes the companies are still overvalued. In a report subtitled “The newspaper business is in terminal decline,” Matthew Coffina analyzes the outlook for Gannett, The New York Times Co., Lee Enterprises, McClatchy and GateHouse Media and sees, at best, relatively fast ongoing deterioration of their businesses. “[We] consider the newspaper industry unattractive as a whole,” he writes.

Is Yahoo Friend or Foe?

First, Yahoo created an ad consortium and invited newspapers in so they could sip from the cup of online spending. Now it’s competing with its partners. In an Agence France Presse story (carried, ironically, on Yahoo News), Glenn Chapman reports that Yahoo is here to stay as a primary news source. It’s got feet on the street in Beijing for the Olympics (following the herd there) and has scored coups with recent interviews with South Korean president Lee Myung-bak and George W. Bush, who gave his first Internet-only interview to Yahoo. One of its tactics is apparently to ask readers to submit questions during interviews with dignitaries, which is kind of cool, when you think about it. (via Josh Catone).

For some reason, the industry’s troubles are hitting particularly hard in New Jersey. Newsday gathers up the bad news: Gannett just 120 jobs in six Jersey papers. The owner of the Newark Star-Ledger says the paper is on track to lose $30 million to $40 million this year. And the Hackensack Record just sold its building and will turn most of its staff reporters into “mobile journalists,” which is a new euphemism for “stringer.”

Novel Concept

Jason Mandell writes about a writer’s novel approach to sustaining investigative journalism using a community support model. David Cohn, a former tech and science reporter for Wired, has created Spot.Us, a place where journalists can float ideas for investigative reporting pieces and get funded by visitors, who vote with their wallets for the stories they like. The results are then syndicated to partner outlets. “If you get 100 people to give just $15, that’s enough to pay a journalist to do a story on something that will benefit the community,” Cohn told Mandell. Spot.US is partially funded, ironically, by Knight Foundation. Knight-Ridder was forced to sell out to McClatchy two years ago and has suffered along with its acquirer. Maybe Spot.Us is a way to begin to build at least a shell of a new vision for investigative journalism.

Layoff Log

How bad is morale at USA Today? The Gannett Blog floats the possibility that the national daily, which has so far escaped outright layoffs, may finally be on the chopping block. What’s most interesting, though, is the 50+ comments, most of them from people purporting to be USA Today employees, describing the dour mood in the halls and speculating about a big meeting next week with the publisher. There’s also an interesting account of a recent internal meeting at which tensions flared between print and online staff. Apparently, online is now the favored child at McPaper and some of the print veterans resent it.

Also,

And Finally…

Slate’s Jack Shafer Ron Rosenbaum hates pencil puzzles, and his rant against a practice that he sees growing in popularity is worth reading just for gems like his characterization of Sudoku as the “mind-numbing hillbilly heroin of the white-collar class.” Shafer Rosenbaum picks up copies of Will Shortz’s Funniest Crossword Puzzles and let’s the first “down” clues speak for themselves:

4. Highly ornamented style

5. Tell ___ glance

Whoa, dude, you’re killin’ me!

Puzzle addicts could cure cancer if they’d apply their brains more appropriately, like by reading a book, he says. “For you puzzle people: Reading is a seven-letter word for what you’re depriving yourself of every sad minute you’re spending on your empty boxes.” In the end, “there are two kinds of brains. Those hardwired to obtain deep pleasure from arranging letters in boxes and those hardwired to get the creeps from the process.”

It’s very funny. Now, back to our puzzle…

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Tribune Co. posted a $4.5 billion loss on a massive writeoff of goodwill to reflect the lower value of its newspaper assets. There was no good news in the results. Print revenue was down 15%, classified revenue off 26%, circulation sales down 2%, even online revenue was down 4%. The company’s next move will be to sell the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field and possibly its famous headquarters building in Chicago to meet a debt payment. After that, it’s a matter of crossing fingers and hoping that the economy improves enough to make more asset sales possible.

Alan Mutter thinks the Tribune writeoff may be the largest ever by a new owner. He pulls out the calculator and estimates that the value of the company has declined $20 million a day under Sam Zell’s leadership. Of course, Tribune is owned by its employees, so everyone shares Sam’s pain. Only Sam’s not feeling much pain because his highly leveraged position is funded almost entirely by other people’s money. Mutter’s Default-o-Matic ranking now rates Tribune as the company most likely to default on its debt. “At its new Caa2 [junk bond] rating, Tribune’s issues are considered to have a 48.3% chance of not being repaid,” he writes.

Needless to say, the not-so-loyal opposition at Tell Zell finds more to hate in the numbers. Pointing out that Tribune’s investment in its television assets actually increased in the quarter along with revenues, the anonymous blogger comments, “They realize that investing in the product can produce increases in revenue.” True ’nuff, but when a 7% increase in investment yields a 2% increase in sales, that’s the equivalent of selling dollar bills for 95 cents. You’ll sell lots of product and still lose your shirt.

For Zell and crew, this is simply race against time. Ken Doctor sums up the company’s dilemma: It’s bailing water in a rising storm tide and desperately hoping that the storm will stop. The more assets it sells (and there are rumors that the LA Times may be the next big property to go), the fewer resources it has to generate revenue to meet its debt payments. At some point, this model simply collapses.

The only scenarios that can rescue Tribune Co. from ultimate default are either a reinvigoration of the newspaper industry (unlikely) or a turnaround in the real estate market (more likely, but not soon). But with many economists now predicting that the hoped-for 2009 economic turnaround probably won’t happen, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which this company survives intact much beyond the end of next year. What does that mean for all the employee retirement funds being held in the form of Tribune stock?


The heavy debt load borne by many newspaper owners continues to take its toll. Cox Enterprises is looking to sell the Austin (Tx.) Statesman and 28 other regional newspapers in hopes of raising enough money to meet its debt obligations. Cox also owns the better-known Atlanta Journal Constitution but is selling the Statesman because the paper is profitable and may fetch a better price. Don’t count on it, says analyst John Morton. “The sales value of newspapers has probably dropped in half in the last five years,” he’s quoted as saying. “There are a lot of newspapers that are up for sale and there are no takers.” (via Romenesko)

Media Organizations Pull Back on Convention Coverage

Now this is progress. Newspapers are reducing their reporting staffs at the political conventions by up to 20% this summer, apparently in response to the fact that these vacuous, over-scripted media circuses are becoming less and less relevant to an American public that finally has alternatives. The fact that American Idol is the most popular alternative is beside the point.

As we’ve pointed out many times, the practice of sending 15-20 reporters to transcribe the same speeches that the TV cameras are already capturing makes no sense. With both parties’ nominations sewn up months ago, there is nothing happening at these conventions that’s going to make a difference to the democratic process. The most interesting insight to come out of the conventions is the speeches by the up-and-coming party insiders, and those are broadcast anyway.

Interesting tidbit in this story: some 320 bloggers are credentialed for the two conventions this summer, compared to just 42 in 2004. These people are mostly traveling on their own dime and they will work tirelessly because each and every one is competing with all the others. Instead of sending staff reporters to cover the convention, couldn’t newspapers contract with some of these bloggers for exclusive interviews and color pieces? Wouldn’t that be a lot cheaper than paying full-time staff and travel expenses? Is anyone actually doing this? Share your comments.

Miscellany

Wirting in Editor & Publisher, former editor and ad sales rep Maegan Carberry says the unspeakable: journalists have to learn how to help their employers make money. “I was aghast when I asked the (UCLA) Bruin staffers how many of them knew what a CPM (cost per thousand) was and my question was met with resounding silence,” she writes. “Same for an Alexa ranking or Google Analytics. Viewing the news through a myopic editorial lens is prohibitive to success.” Journalism schools still appear to be teaching their students to think of themselves as siloed and separated from the business side, a luxury no one can afford any more. Quoting a colleague, Carberry relates, “The person who figures out the revenue model for 21st century journalism will be a hero in the industry along the lines of Gutenberg with his printing press.”


CNN is actually hiring. It plans to expand its number of bureaus to 20 from 10. Some of these new staff will be what the news network calls “all-platform journalists.” They each get laptops, cameras and online editing tools as well as the capacity to upload video reports from their remote locations. Some may get canteens and K-rations, too. CNN’s SVP of newsgathering insightfully observes, “Everyone’s a reporter now. Even our viewers.”


Tell Zell analyzes a curious list of laid-off staff that was distributed to departing LA Times employees and calculates that older workers were more likely to lose their jobs. Twenty-one percent of workers over 50 were terminated, compared to 10% of workers under 40. Naturally, the entire internal memo is on the site for all to e-mail to their friends.


Blethen Maine Newspapers continues to exemplify the concept of bleeding staff.It’s cutting 20 full- and part-time positions at the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. That’s about 10 percent of the payroll. A lot of the laid-off employees are from the pressroom. Blethen unsuccessfully tried to shore up its business by doing commercial printing work, but that market collapsed as the economy worsened.


The Newspaper Guild is going to become more active in trying to reinvent the industry, says its incoming president. Bernie Lunzer says the union will actively investigate new ownership models, since the old ownership models have failed so badly. “There are non-profits, co-op ownership along the lines of what was used in agriculture for many years,” he tells E&P. And he won’t rule out the possibility that the Guild could take an ownership stake in some concerns. Lunzer says the Guild is also going to take a strong stand in defending newspaper ad salespeople, who are increasingly threatened with a move to 100% incentive-based competition. Fear is not a good motivator for sales people, he says.


In other union news, Philadelphia’s two biggest unions have agreed to forego a $25/week raise they had negotiated for Sept. 1. Members apparently want to help company ownership avoid total financial collapse. They might give a call to their colleagues in Honolulu and share this perspective.


Sun-Times Media Group (STMG) is outsourcing its inbound classified advertising sales to Buffalo-based Classified Plus. It didn’t say how much the move would save. Classified Plus handles calls for more than 200 newspapers in the U.S. The way things are going, it may soon be able to do that with a single employee.


David Esrati’s “How Newspapers can become relevant in a Web 2.0 world” reads like an extended blog comment, but has some sound advice for how newspapers can learn a few things from Google and other  Web properties.

And Finally

Christian the LionThis 2 1/2 minute video has scored over 11 million views on YouTube, and if you watch it, you’ll understand why. It’s an incredible love story that could only be told in this medium. What a heartwarming story of love across the boundaries of time and species.

In the new world of journalism, anyone is potentially a journalist, even if only for a few minutes. This idea doesn’t sit well with a lot of media veterans, so it’s no surprise there is debate over the tactics of the Huffington Post and its employee, Mayhill Fowler, that led to two big campaign scoops.

The most recent one, which every political junkie heard by now, concerns a three-minute rant by Bill Clinton over a Vanity Fair report questioning the propriety of his post-presidential decorum. Clinton’s remarks were captured on video by Fowler, who didn’t identify herself as a reporter but who claims to have had the video camera in plain view while Clinton was talking. The LA Times account describes the recorder as “candy bar-sized” and Clinton claims to have not known he was being recorded.

Fowler also recently caught Barack Obama criticizing small-minded Americans in comments that were not meant for reporters.

Fowler claims no professional journalism experience, which means she isn’t a “true” journalist, to use a phrase favored by veteran editors. Yet no one can dispute the veracity of her reports. After all, they’re on tape.

The hot potato for professional journalists is that ordinary people with a $100 video camera can now capture major news events that the media miss. The problem for public figures is that these folks don’t necessarily identify themselves as journalists or operate by the rules. And since public figures have practically no coverage under libel laws, their every utterance is potentially fair game for the media. Which is actually a problem for the media.

Layoff Log

  • Continuing the trend toward newspapers burying their own bad news, The Day of New London, CT cut about 12% of its jobs and relegated the news of the cuts to an inside business page on a Saturday. The comments are as interesting as the story on The Day‘s website. Readers question whether senior executives are taking pay cuts and cite a director’s profile from dating site Match.com, of all places, as a source of information about the director’s compensation for his services.
  • Layoffs are spreading into the magazine industry, which until now has been far less affected by the ad sales slowdown than the newspaper business. Folio magazine reports that three publishers are announcing layoffs. Meredith Corp. will cut 60 positions and leave 60 other open jobs unfilled. B-to-b publisher Reed Business Information is eliminating 41 jobs in advance of its divestiture by parent Reed Elsevier. And another b-to-b stalwart, Penton Media, will cut 42 jobs. There’s no word on what percentage of the workforce these layoffs constitute.
  • The Cleveland Plain Dealer is one of a ring of innovative Ohio newspapers that came up with the idea of putting aside rivalries to share resources. That isn’t going to save it from the storms that are battering the industry, though. Cleveland Leader reports that management plans to cut 35 pages of news a week along with 20% of the workforce. That’s on top of a 17% cut in positions after a recent buyout.

Miscellany

Craig Stoltz reviews the redesigned websites of the ultra-conservative Unification Church-backed Washington Times and the Bay Area-bred San Francisco Chronicle and concludes that, surprisingly, the Times is the one doing the innovating. Whereas the Chron‘s new design is more of the same, he says, Times has apparently started with a blank slate and rethought its approach to news presentation without bias toward print or anything else. The most innovative new feature is the Dig Deeper button, a hyperlink that literally flips a story on its head to show more background and detail. Try it; it’s neat. (via Jeff Jarvis).


Editors Weblog rounds up some data and opinion from around the industry and shows why the economics of online advertising don’t comfortably replace the print model. There’s a study that shows that readers of nytimes.com spend an average of 68 seconds per day with the paper, compared to 16 minutes for the print edition. And the bounty of alternatives means that ad rates are under constant competitive pressure. Quoting Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0, “Print circulation is about 10% of total audience reach, while online advertising revenue is 10% of total ad revenue — the economics are nearly the perfect inverse of what they should be.” This is not an optimistic piece.


Gannett Co. will write down the value of its assets by up to $3 billion, blaming troubles at its UK operation. Gannett is widely to considered to be one of the most financially sound US newspaper publishers.


Google CEO Eric Schmidt says his company has a “moral imperative” to help the newspaper industry and that the company’s recently acquired DoubleClick ad service could help. He didn’t offer any more details. Newspaper publishers must be breathing a huge sigh of relief.


Dan Schultz of MediaShift Idea Lab proposes a five-step process for vetting news that originates from citizen journalists. It involves link analysis, commenting, geotagging and moderation, among other things. Content Ninja has an analysis.


It’s depressing to see newspapers shutting down ventures in new markets. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel will close a free weekly aimed at young readers. A memo posted by Romenesko cites two years of ad declines and increasing newsprint costs as the double whammy.


The new venture by former Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul Steiger has debuted. Pro Publica will produce investigative reports in partnership with other media outlets and publish those stories first on the partner’s print and Web properties. The initial site is nothing more than a roundup of news from other sources, but the site is almost fully staffed and original material will begin appearing shortly, according to the “about” page. Pro Publica is a nonprofit funded by some big charitable organizations. It will initially employ 27 journalists.


Paul Bradshaw wants to know if blogging has changed the way journalists work. You can take his short, anonymous survey here.

And Finally…

Jolly JournalistThe Online Journalism Blog is piercing the gloom with a new website where journalists can tell why it’s a great time to be in the business. It looks like Jolly Journalist just debuted, so hurry on over to be one of the first to comment.

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Moody’s Investors Service has joined the Greek chorus of financial watchdogs predicting more bad news for the newspaper industry. Analysts expect newspaper advertising revenue to drop 7% to 9% in 2008 and maybe slightly less in 2009, but only if the economy recovers next year. If it doesn’t, look out.

Most troubling is the decline in cash flow, defined as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA). Over the past 10 years, EBITDA has fallen from 28% to 19% as a percentage of revenue, Moody’s said. Cost cuts aren’t keeping up with revenue declines, which is eroding EBITDA by more than 10% a year. That erosion comes at a terrible time because so many publishers are heavily leveraged with debt. Less cash means less money to pay creditors. Moody’s thinks deeper cuts will be needed in editorial operations, but “It will prove challenging to continually reduce editorial costs without impairing the core news product or employee morale.”

As if to accent the Moody’s forecast, E.W. Scripps Co. said newspaper revenues will fall 8% to 10% in the second half of 2008. The company is in the process of splitting itself in two.

Optimists See Growth, But Much of it is Free

The head of the World Association of Newspapers says reports of the industry’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Speaking to the World Editors Forum meeting in Göteborg, Sweden, CEO Timothy Balding cites statistics showing growth in Asia and South America that is outstripping declines in the US and Europe. Overall newspaper circulation is up over 3% internationally. A lot of that growth is coming from the expanding free-daily industry, however. Free papers now make up 23% of circulation in the EU and 8% in the US.

Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson comments on this trend, noting that it is another indication that information is becoming free. While any growth is good, the loss of paid subscribers presents big challenges to the economics of the newspaper industry, which are predicated on circulation lists.

Free isn’t necessarily good business in the US, though. The CEO of Metro International SA tells Bloomberg that it’s examining its options in the North American and European markets while looking to expand into 30 new markets. The world’s leading publisher of free dailies has struggled to reach profitability, although its market penetration has grown rapidly. Per Mikael Jensen says emerging economies look to have more promise at the moment.


A study conducted by advocacy group Newspaper Works shows that Australian readers hold newspapers in high esteem. The survey of 1,010 people found that 90% of readers do nothing else when reading a newspaper as compared to the half who busy themselves with other things while the TV is on. Most perceive newspapers as “absorbing, dynamic and reputable,” and the online extensions only add to that credibility. (Via Editors Weblog).


Finally, the editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Times tells Media Bistro that print isn’t going away in his lifetime. That said, Russ Stanton is honest about the challenges, noting that the substantial infrastructure cost of print is a liability. “Someone, somewhere is going to grow the revenue from online enough that it can support a newsroom of our size and talent. And when that happens, that’s when you can start, if you so choose, to pull the plug on the paper,” he says. He adds that citizen journalism is pretty intriguing.

Turnover Continues At the Top

Rupert Murdoch continues to put his own team into place at The Wall Street Journal. Deputy Managing Editor Bill Grueskin is the latest to go, leaving the paper for a post in the ivy-covered halls of academia. Grueskin’s departure comes just two months after Managing Editor Marcus Brauchli was unceremoniously shown the door.

Los Angeles Times Editorial Pages Editor James Newton will leave the paper to finish writing a book about Dwight Eisenhower. He had been in the job only 14 months. Newton’s memo to staffers made it clear that he wasn’t motivated by some pressing inner urge to tell the Eisenhower story. “[T]he paper still has challenges ahead. The publisher and I have discussed those difficulties, and he is entitled to an editorial page editor who shares his vision on how best to confront them,” he wrote. LA Observed has Newton’s farewell memo, as well as the obligatory bouquets of gratitude from Publisher David Hiller.

Thoughts on the New Journalism

Jeff Jarvis eloquently expresses an important point about the future of journalism in this essay on the ethics and culture of linking. The link is the currency of the blogosphere, of course, and the emerging culture of journalism is embedding links into news reporting process. In the old days, Jarvis notes, reporters would rather repeat all the legwork done by a competitor than acknowledge being beaten on a story. This led to tremendous duplication of effort. In the new model, though, journalists are learning to link to useful information and build upon it, creating a new and richer style of journalism.

Jarvis cites the experiment being conducted by a group of Ohio papers that are sharing stories between each other rather than processing them through the Associated Press. This means less rewriting, faster delivery and more genuine content. Says Jarvis: “[T]hey’re doing what they do best and linking to the rest and they are linking to original journalism: the new architecture at work.”

Meanwhile, the CEO of acquisitive MediaNews Group urges newspaper executives to “discard our arrogance.” Speaking to the World Newspaper Congress in Sweden William Dean Singleton says, “We’re going to have to quit writing and editing for each other and write and edit for that consumer out there.” He says half the chain’s profits will come from online sources by 2012. Singleton continues recent criticism by industry CEOs of the way newspaper journalism is done. News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch recently said The Wall Street Journal has too much management overhead and Tribune Co. CEO Sam Zell has also insulted his editors.

Layoff Log

 

  • The Portland Press-Herald and MaineToday.com will cut up to 35 positions on top of the 27 jobs that were eliminated in March.
  • Newsday has reportedly laid off 32 employees — half in operations management and half from Star Community Publishing. This follows a 120-person reduction in March. Publisher Timothy Knight said the move would “reduce management layers in operations, clarify roles and responsibilities, and speed decision-making.” The paper is awaiting transfer of ownership from Tribune Co. to Cablevision Systems Corp.

And Finally…

Simon Owns interviews journalist and Editor & Publisher columnist Steve Outing about a new venture he’s working on called Reinventing Classifieds. It’s a blog in which prominent publishing professionals contribute their insights on classified advertising and how the newspaper industry can recapture that business. At first glance, the content looks a little like Newspaper Death Watch – lots of bad news. But there hasn’t been much good news to report in the classified industry of late. There’s lots of up-to-date news and even a piece by design guru Roger Black. The site is tied to a project led by Future of News developer Christopher Ryan that’s attempting to build a distribute ad placement platform that newspapers could use to get a leg up on Craigslist.

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Last night I had the pleasure of moderating a panel on “The Future of Journalism,” featuring a group of reporters and former reports from the broadcast, print and online media. This panel was perhaps not representative of the media world these days, since all of the members are involved in digital initiatives of some sort at their organizations. But all come from conventional media backgrounds, and I found their optimism to be refreshing.

Panelists included Ted McEnroe, Director of Digital Media at New England Cable Network; Robin Lubbock, Director of New Media at WBUR radio; Howard Sholkin, Director of Communications & Marketing Programs at IDG Communications; and David Wallace, Managing Partner of Gamechange LLC and a professor at Emerson College.

All the panelists noted that newsrooms in their organizations were having some difficulty bridgingt the divide between the specialty journalist, who does one thing well, and the new journalist, who’s expected to work in multiple media with almost equal facility. Some veteran reporters simply haven’t been able to make the change, they noted, and their organizations are tolerating that fact. When journalists can’t make the transition to a new style of reporting, management is ultimately to blame, they said. Retraining is critical right now.

It was clear that the old walls that separated different kinds of media from each other are fallng. Robin Lubbock cited some recent stories by his radio station that demanded a visual component. In the past, the reporters would have had to do the best they could within the limitation of audio, but today they can post images on the website and send interested listeners there. This has added a wonderful new dimension to the craft of audio journalism and has energized the reporters, he said.

IDG’s Sholkin commented that the company has successfully transitioned from a print to a mostly online model in the US and that the new breed of journalist that’s entering the company is more flexible and adaptable than the print-only generation that preceded them. Today’s twentysomething reporters are only too willing to grab a camera or a video recorder if it’ll enhance the story.

The panel was also upbeat on the prospect for citizen contributions to the news reporting process. While acknowledging that mistakes were more likely in the still-undefined community journalism world, they applauded the trend toward involving readers in the newsgathering process. They were unanimous in the opinion that readers’ voices can only improve the quality of the final product.

Backpack Journalism

Several panelist also remarked on the emergence of the “backpack” journalist, who takes an assortment of devices into the field with which to capture a story. Notepads and tape recorders are no longer enough. Reporters must today be facile with any media. They also must be comfortable with communicating in short bursts. An example is the Wichita Eagle‘s current coverage of a grisly murder trial via Twitter.

Editor & Publisher has a detailed special report on these mobile journalists or “mojos.” Using lots of examples, the magazine tells how some editors are dismantling the traditional newsroom and seding reporters out into the field to file from wherever they happen to be. A fully stocked backpack of gadgetry (which can run nearly $15,000) is essential, but when journalists have the tools, they become one-person news machines. “I have had days with five or six stories,” says Brian Howard of the Journal News in White Plains, N.Y.

These journos aren’t all kids, either. Most people quoted in the story are in their 30s and the man identified as the grandfather of mobile journalism is 63. Reading this story, you get the sense that change is happening.Good change.

Murdoch as Antidote

Rupert Murdoch is putting the finishing touches on his takeover of The Wall Street Journal with his the designation of Robert Thomson as managing editor. There wasn’t a word of opposition from the newspaper’s editorial independence committee, whose reason for existence becomes more questionable with every non-decision.

Simon Constable writes on TheStreet.com that Murdoch is injecting a healthy shot of competition into the fat and lazy US newspaper business. He contrasts the frantic competitiveness of the newspaper market in the UK, with its more than a dozen dailies, to the languid complacency of a US market defined by one-paper towns and government-sanctioned monopolies. No matter what you think of Murdoch, Constable says, the man is shaking things up and that can’t possibly be bad for an industry in crisis.

Not everyone agrees. Writing in Canada’s Financial Post, Editor Terence Corcoran rips into the Journal’s creeping left-wing bias, focusing in particular on new columnist Thomas Frank. Far from being a counterbalance to the Journal‘s traditionally conservative editorial views, Frank is just a liberal ideologue spouting the tired old mantra of publications like The Nation, from whence he came, according to Corcoran. And Cameron blames Murdoch, whose left-wing leanings Cameron says are routinely injected into the editorial voice of the newspapers he acquires.

And Finally…

Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman gives his readers a forthright account of why his newspaper is laying off when circulation is actually growing. The problem isn’t that the paper is losing relevance, he explains. It’s that the business model doesn’t work any more. “Thanks in part to a Bay Area entrepreneur named Newmark and his free, online ‘craigslist,’ the bottom dropped out. In the past eight years, revenue from classifieds has fallen by two-thirds, and they now account for only 20 percent of total ad income.”

Boardman’s piece is refreshing. It’s direct and free of the “our combined print/online readership is bigger than ever” denial. He says newspapers need to find a new way to make money. So that’s what they’re going to do.

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LAmag.com rounds up a group of former LA Times editors for one-on-ones about the past and future of the newspaper. The conversation is pleasant until you hit the jump page, when former EICs Dean Baquet and James O’Shea unload on owner Sam Zell.

Quoting from Baquet:

“Tribune was not a good steward, but Zell seems to be worse. Tribune didn’t like the L.A. Times, but Zell seems to be flailing and making it up as he goes along. At least with Tribune, you could have a rational fight—they never shouted obscenities at me. I wish somebody could tell this guy that he’s presiding over important newspapers and that sounding like a knucklehead won’t work in the newspaper business. Doesn’t he understand that the best people at the Times are floating résumés across the country because of his bullying?”

And from O’Shea:

“I think Mr. Zell looks at newspapers as he looks at any business, but a newspaper isn’t any other business. It’s a public service. If you do a good job serving the public, then business will be good. Public service is not a dividend you decrease or increase when profits fall or grow. What the L.A. Times becomes will depend on Mr. Zell’s understanding of that.”

Survey says Newspaper Websites Attract Smart, Rich People

A Nielsen survey commissioned by the Newspaper Association of America reports that newspaper websites attracted more than 66.4 million unique visitors in the first quarter, up 12.3% from last year. Page views were up a more modest five percent. In addition, the survey found that regular online newspaper readers are richer, better educated, more likely to travel and more likely to use iTunes. They have all kinds of other desirable characteristics, which you can read about in the press release.

Murdoch Still Favored to Win Newsday

Newsday continues to provide the best coverage of its own impending sale. You’d think that with Cablevision outbidding two other suitors by $70 million, the deal would be a no-brainer.  Not so, says this report. For one thing, Sam Zell may be reluctant to snub his new buddy, Rupert Murdoch. Cablevision may also face the same kind of cross-ownership regulatory hurdles as News Corp. And the whole deal needs to be rubber-stamped by a watchdog group of Tribune Co. employees, who may or may not agree with their boss. The whole thing could drag on for months. (via Romenesko)

Envisioning the Future of News

Susan EdgerleySusan Edgerley, assistant managing editor of The New York Times, is answering questions from readers. She’s focused on reinventing the newsroom. Some notable quotes:

“Two years ago, we might have been hesitant to break a scoop on the Web — we would have worried about the competition catching up to us before our print deadline. No more. Now we put the story out there and figure out how to advance it for the next day’s paper.”

 ”The Web staff used to be in a different building a couple of blocks from our old Times Square office. When we moved into our new building about a year ago, we had the space to sit together for the first time.”

 ”I don’t think you’re wasting your time getting a print journalism degree. Telling stories fairly and compellingly will always be at the center of what we do.”

 ”We’re hiring people, some of them straight out of school, for their Web skills.”

 ”Finally, NYTimes.com is more than the stories, pictures and graphics you see everyday in The New York Times. It is more than a newspaper on the Web. We want to use its blogs and reader comments and Topics pages and interactivity to talk more directly to our readers and find ways for them to share information with us.”


ReinventingClassifieds.com has a prescription for resuscitating the dying business. Newspapers should put all their classifieds into one distributed, constantly updated database and then distribute them freely to bloggers, who can sell display ads against them. Bloggers can offer free classifieds to their readers, which become part of the master database. It’s an interesting idea, although we question how much interest bloggers – or display advertisers – will have in running ads next to ads. (via Romenesko)


For the true TV news junkie, check out LiveNewsCameras.com. The site aggregates video feeds from more than 100 stations around the U.S. The project is the brainchild of a former Bay Area TV producer, says the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club.

Sunlight News MashupEditors Weblog reports on Sunlight Foundation’s new tools for online journalists. They include a Google Maps mash-up of earmarks from last year’s Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill.

There’s also an item on the innovative uses of Twitter by the Evening Leader in the UK. The group text-messaging service recently enabled the paper to cover local election results, scooping its competition and setting up the print edition for more thoughtful next-day coverage. Will Twitter become an essential tool for journalists in the future? Let’s hear your comments.

Layoff Log

  • The Lexington Herald-Leader is offering a voluntary buyout program, looking to reduce its staff of 385 employees by about four percent. Layoffs are possible if the offer doesn’t generate enough interest.
  • The Camera of Boulder, Colo. laid off nine employees — 6 percent of its staff — in response to declining advertising revenues. The president of the company described the newspaper’s business as “healthy.” You figure it out.
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By Paul Gillin | April 24, 2008 - 10:21 am - Posted in Business News, BusinessModel, Classifieds, Journalism, NewMedia, Newspapers

The New Communications Forum conference brings together some of the leading thinkers in social media for three days of discussion about where media and marketing are heading. Increasingly, journalists are in the audience and on the agenda. This year, the Forum devoted one of its five tracks to the changing face of journalism.

There are some young, smart and visionary young journalists in the crowd. They understand that the world is changing and they’re not only prepared but eager to lead the charge. Talking to them gives you confidence in the future of journalism.

But they all cite the same problem: editors don’t see the need for change. “We’re still explaining to editors why reporters need to blog,” said one San Jose Mercury News journalist. “They’re very focused on the print publication which, after all, generates most of the revenue.”

Print is, indeed, the cash engine at newspapers, but it’s generating less and less green while the future of the business is clearly online. While many newspapers have made efforts to integrate their print and Web operations, the commitment is half-hearted, journalists said. “The print staff still sees the online reporters as second-class citizens,” said one online editor.

As positive as these young journalists are about the future of their profession, one gets the sense that they’re frustrated and restless. They’re trying to effect change from within but running up against too many roadblocks. It seems unlikely that many of them will stay with their current employers for long. “I’m here trying to drink up as much as I can to improve my own skills,” said an editor at an east coast daily. “If I need to go out on my own at some point, I want to be ready.”

McClatchy Earnings are Worst of a Bad Lot

McClatchy reported some of the worst results of any newspaper publisher for the first quarter, with revenues sagging 13.8%. The company was particularly hard-hit in California and Florida, which accounted for 56% of the chain’s revenue decline. Among the eye-popping numbers: classified revenue was down 25.7%, led by real estate advertising (down 35.8%), help-wanted ads (off 33.4%), and automotive business (down 16.1%). As reported earlier, McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt sees no bottom to the downturn.

Wall Street is hammering newspaper stocks. On an up day for the Dow, three newspaper issues hit all-time lows.

Even Free Papers Feel the Pinch

Metro International SA, which publishes more than 100 free daily newspapers in 23 countries, saw revenue decline 6.1% in the first quarter. The publisher is feeling the same ad pinch as its subscription-driven peers. “The U.S. market is probably the worst it has been since the 1930s for media companies,” Metro Chief Executive Per Mikael Jensen told The Wall Street Journal. Metro plans to cut about 20% of its U.S. staff and is reviewing its New York, Boston and Philadelphia properties for possible sale.

WSJ Airs Dirty Laundry of ME Ouster

Outgoing Wall Street Journal managing editor Marcus Brauchli was under careful scrutiny from the beginning by News Corp. management, which wanted to see rapid change at the paper and which was frustrated from the beginning at Brauchli’s reticence to expand the Journal’s scope, shorten stories and write punchier headlines, according to a piece in Wednesday’s Journal. The paper airs its dirty laundry in a nearly 2,000-word article that details how Brauchli was kept out of the loop on changes in production and design and yet was seemingly unaware of long-brewing plans to replace him.

Brauchli was given his walking papers in a meeting about two weeks ago, although the story says Brauchli offered little resistance. He’ll stay on as a consultant. The Journal’s committee on editorial independence is supposed to approve the choice of a successor, but the rapid pace of turnover at the paper would indicate that Rupert Murdoch won’t look favorably upon too much opposition.

Members of the Bancroft family, who opposed the Journal’s sale to Murdoch, say they’re not surprised by the turn of events. “This is why I was not in favor of selling the paper to that man,” said Jane Cox MacElree, who controlled 15 percent of the family’s Dow Jones shares. “Words mean nothing to him, unless they’re his.”

And Finally…

  • Philip Stone thinks the unthinkable: editorial and advertising departments should work more closely together. It’s been done before, he says. The two operations team up on an idea with sales appeal and then go their separate ways to fulfill the mission. Purists will had this idea, Stone writes, but “editorial must now surely understand its very jobs depend on how well advertising does its job. And any help editorial can give to advertising to bring the bucks in should be par for the course.”
  • Two environmentalists disrupted a speech by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. One ran on stage and heaved a pie at the writer. Friedman tried to duck the flying confection, but it caught him in the face and torso. No one was injured and the woman and her accomplice were arrested.
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We wish we could end the week on a happy note, but as we noted on Monday, it’s earnings season. Unfortunately, the news couldn’t be much worse. If troubles at the New York Times and Media General are any indication, the rest of the year could be ugly.

New York Times Co. Troubles Deepen

The New York Times Co. swung to a small loss in the first quarter from a $24 million profit a year ago. In a conference call, the CEO didn’t indicate that things were going to get better any time soon. The more worrisome trend may be that online growth is now slowing.

As a result, it looks like the Times newspaper will have to resort to some layoffs to achieve its goal of a 100-position reduction in workforce. Not enough people have taken the buyout offer. The deadline is next Tuesday and the layoffs, if they happen, will be the first in the paper’s 167-year history.
The media’s focus on the 100 job cuts at the Old Gray Lady may obscure the bigger view of the NYT Co. crisis. Media Post points out that the company has cut over 2,000 jobs – about 18% of the total staff – since 2003. The reason for the low response to the recent buyout offer is that the job market is so bleak for ex-journalists, the article suggests.

It offers this cheery quote from analyst Ken Doctor: “Clearly, the decline in revenues is deepening. At this point, there really is no bottom.” As layoffs continue, in future he predicts “a lot of newspapers hiring part-timers, stringers and bloggers–but no more full-time, $50,000-a-year jobs.”

Media General Hammered by Florida Exposure

The news was even worse at Media General, which is heavily dependent to the recession-laden Florida market. The quarterly loss of $20.3 million is more than three times last year’s loss. But check out the declines in these ad categories:

  • Newspaper ad revenue off 19.1%
  • Interactive media revenue down 3.3% (this is the future, remember)
  • Classified ad revenue off 28%
  • National ad revenue down 21%

It’s not surprising that Media General just offered buyouts to half the employees in its Florida Communications Group. The terms are generous, ranging up to 39 weeks of pay. Media General didn’t say how many jobs it hopes to eliminate with the offer, but it did say that layoffs are possible.

And the Bad News Spreads

More talk of layoffs, closings and cost reductions. Here’s the rundown:

  • The Los Angeles Times Pressmens 20-Year Club has the scoop on Advance Publications’ plan to shut down one of its two production facilities. Advance Publications publishes the Newark Star-Ledger. The two plants employ more than 600 people, though it’s not clear how many jobs would be cut. A decision is expected within the next few weeks.
  • Times are hard, indeed, in the New York-Philadelphia corridor. The AP reports that the owner of Philadelphia’s two largest daily newspapers told a judge last week that unraveling its pension mess could lead to more layoffs. One of the two pensions the company merged is underfunded and the costs of bringing it up to snuff were unanticipated. In January, Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC said it had to cut costs by 10% or its viability would be in doubt.
  • The Toronto Star will cut 160 jobs, or a little less than 3% of its total workforce. The Canadian Journalism Project points out that this is disconcerting in light of the recent reports that the Canadian newspaper industry is faring much better than its U.S. counterpart.
  • The Raleigh News & Observer just told its staff that layoffs may be needed to cope with the business downturn. The paper employs 206 editorial staff.
  • The suburban Chicago Daily Herald laid off an unspecified number of employees throughout the company. Classified ad revenues are off as much as 45% year-over-year.
  • And finally, further evidence that Sam Zell’s Tribune Co. empire may be unraveling. Revenues continue to fall faster than expected, and now Zell is talking about selling off “newspapers and other properties.” Could that mean that titles other than Newsday may go on the block? One recent report said the LA Times may be in play.

But wait, there’s even more: The source of many of the industry’s problems is doing just fine. Blogger Roy Greenslade notes that Craigslist.org has quietly expanded its global footprint by 120 cities, bringing the total to 570. Craigslist may be the single biggest financial competitor the newspaper industry has. Here is the devastatingly brief, haiku-like announcement from Craig Newmark.

Finally, Philip Stone comments on the empty halls at the once-great Nexpo newspaper equipment trade show. It used to be that Nexpo was so big that only a few convention centers in the country could accommodate it, he says. But at this year’s event, you could have rolled a bowling ball down the expo floor and not disturbed anyone.

Go bowling this weekend. We can use a break.

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