By paulgillin | February 3, 2010 - 7:12 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Paywalls

Alan Mutter is stirring things up again with a spreadsheet that journalists can use to value their work. His thinking: Stop debasing yourself by working for peanuts. Figure out what your time is worth and charge accordingly.

With his characteristic eye for detail, Mutter figures such factors as the self-employment tax and capital expenses in his calculations. The sample shows a fictional reporter charging about 55 cents a word to cover his/her fully loaded costs figuring an average pay rate of about $30/hour, which is union scale in Pittsburgh. Your mileage may vary, of course.

If journalists “don’t put a value on what they do, then no one else will, either,” Mutter declares, noting that media organizations are using the explosion of blogs and citizen media operations to “pick off writers, photographers and videographers on the cheap.”

We have enormous respect for Alan Mutter, but we find ourselves in complete disagreement on this one. In our view, journalists who draw lines in the sand and start charging only what they think they’re worth will find themselves practicing a lot less journalism.

Are media organizations taking advantage of plummeting freelance rates? You betcha. Is what they’re doing wrong? We don’t think so. Supply and demand is the underpinning of a capitalist economy, and if the rules have changed in a way that devalues quality journalism, well, those are the cards we’re dealt. It sucks, but it’s how the system works.

Journalists can try to charge what they think they’re worth, but they’ll ultimately live or die by what the market is willing to pay. With the arrival of Web 2.0-style publishing, millions of people have started playing at journalism and it turns out some aren’t half bad at it. The trouble is that many of these casual journalists don’t make a living as reporters. Their journalism is a sidelight to their day jobs. They may be happy to work for a vague reward defined as “exposure” if it pays off in speaking jobs, consulting work or book contracts.

Mutter is outraged that people contact him asking “to commission an article or reprint a post in exchange for the ephemeral compensation known as ‘exposure,’” but the reality of the market is that a lot of people are willing to work for that (full disclosure: we recently approached Mutter about contributing to a for-profit website in exchange for a modest fee; he politely declined). For example, many book authors write extensively about their expertise for free in exchange for exposure in major publications.

We sympathize with journalists who have seen the market value of their work collapse over the last couple of years. We’ve experienced some of that pain personally and we have many friends and colleagues who are suffering because of it. However, the market has spoken, and the solution to collapsing fees isn’t to insist on getting a rate that employers will no longer pay.

Is there a solution? Well, journalists who specialize in everything from geography to gastroenterology can still command higher prices than general assignment reporters. Also, a lot of journalists work for commercial clients on the side so that they can afford to practice their craft. There’s money in speaking, consulting, writing books and corporate ghost-writing. Some of that work may be distasteful, but at least it pays the bills.

That doesn’t solve the problem of who is going to embed in Iraq for six months at 25 cents a word. That’s a much tougher issue and we wish we had better ideas how to solve it. But drawing lines in the sand is career suicide.


Indianapolis-based freelance journalist Christopher Lloyd sees things our way. He’s passionate about movies and has contributed free movie reviews to some area newspapers since being laid off by the Indianapolis Star. “I knew I wasn’t going to drop my passion for film criticism. If I was going to do it, I might as well have it published,” he writes. Plus, movie studios won’t pay attention to a journalist whose work isn’t being read by anyone. He’s still plugging away and some of his clients are now paying a modest fee. He’s also got a site for film buffs called The Film Yap, where contributors work for, you guessed it…


Speaking of careers, a university professor has analyzed six months worth of recent job postings and discovered that traditional and non-traditional news outlets differ in their criteria for hiring journalists. Dr. Serena Carpenter, an assistant professor in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, looked at 664 online media job postings and concluded that established media organizations such as newspapers tended to favor candidates with solid writing and reporting skills while new media operations looked favorably on what she calls “adaptive expertise.” That includes broad-based experience and creative thinking.


Seth Lewis, a former Miami Herald editor and Ph.D student at the University of Texas, has joined the Nieman Journalism Lab as a contributor (paid?) specializing in journalism education and he’d like to know your ideas for what J-schools should teach. Perhaps stealing a line from the research noted above, Lewis is inclined to recommend a focus on adaptability. He defines that as the skills “to work in unpredictable settings, to generate their own funding as needed, and otherwise learn as they go.” In the process of interviewing for a faculty position at various academic institutions, Lewis says he was often asked what journalism schools should teach, which indicates that the profs at those schools are perplexed as well. Maybe you can provide him with some guidance.

Miscellany

Opponents of government subsidies for media organizations overlook an important detail: US media has been subsidized for 200 years, reports The New York Times. Citing a report released last week by the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California, the Times notes that government support of newspapers has actually been declining in recent years as mailing discounts have diminished laws requiring businesses to buy newspaper ads for certain kinds of legal notices have been dropped. In fact, the study’s authors estimate that annual government support has declined from more than $4 billion in 1970 to less than $2 billion today.


News organizations are starting to figure out how to monetize social networks. The Austin American-Statesman is charging for tweets and actually booking revenue. Local businesses can buy two tweets per day of up to 124 characters (to allow for retweets). The messages are labeled as ads and must prompt the reader to take action. Huffington Post is experimenting with the same idea. The New York Times is also selling packages of ads against visitors to its Facebook site. Nobody’s making much money at this yet, though.


Gannett executives demonstrated a rarely-seen attitude during this week’s earnings call: Optimism. “”We are very excited by what we are seeing,” said CEO Craig Dubow. Circulation is beginning to recover and profitability is returning to the income statement, enabling Gannett to pay down some of its debt. Profitability was still driven more by cost-cutting than by revenue growth, however. Classified revenues were down nearly 22% in the quarter and digital revenues fell 7.2% due largely to the dismal picture state of employment advertising. More coverage.


Newspaper readership continues at record levels when you factor in online traffic, according to the latest results from Nielsen Online and the Newspaper Association of America (NAA). More than 72 million people — about one quarter of all Internet users, according to the NAA — visited a newspaper site in the fourth quarter, racking up 3.2 billion monthly page views. The NAA declined to provide year-to-year comparisons, citing a change in Nielsen’s measurement technique.

By paulgillin | January 28, 2010 - 11:29 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News

Publishers who cheered The New York Times decision last week to build up a wall in front of its content should be considerably less cheery about the news emanating from Newsday. The Long Island daily has admitted that it has signed up just 35 paying subscribers since it put most of its content behind a pay wall in October. At $260 per subscriber per year, that amounts to just $9,000 in annualized revenue for a relaunch that reportedly cost $4 million.

There’s more to the story, of course. The total audience of potential online subscribers to Newsday is pretty small, given that the service is free to subscribers to Optimum Cable, which is owned by Cablevision. Cablevision bought Newsday for $650 million in May, 2008 after a bidding war. Newsday said Optimum Cable cover 75% of Long Island, meaning that just about everyone who would want to read Newsday online can already read it. The company also said  its goal was never to amass a huge audience but rather to increase engagement and improve advertiser value by focusing on local residents.

Still, you have to wonder about the wisdom of the paywall strategy, given the sacrifices  made to implement it. Editors Weblog says traffic to the site is down by a third since October. However, PaidContent.org says the drop off is only on the order of 10%. Either way, Newsday has traded off a lot of eyeballs for a small number of credit card numbers and unless its advertising rates have increased proportionately, the paywall is probably a net loser at this point.

Newsday is sticking by its guns and saying that the slow ramp up is neither surprising nor a problem. “Given the number of households in our market that have access to Newsday‘s web site as a result of other subscriptions, it is no surprise that a relatively modest number have chosen the pay option,” the company said in a statement that called into question why such a strategy was desirable in the first place.

Give Newsday credit for being a pioneer, though. The industry has been buzzing about paywalls for the last year and the company at least had the cojones to do something.  You do have to wonder about the timing, though. Publisher Terry Jimenez reportedly told the staff last week that Newsday lost $7 million in the first three quarters of last year. It’s now embroiled in a labor dispute with unions that are refusing to accept a 10% pay cut. under the circumstances, this seems like an odd time to make a bet-the-business decision.

iPad is Here. You Can Breathe Again

Our reaction to Apple’s iPad announcement yesterday was summed up in our tweet: “It’s a big iPod Touch? Really? That’s it??”

For a product that was generating over 200 tweets per minute in the hours leading up to the launch event, the reality of the iPad underwhelmed us. Perhaps we’ve just learned to expect bigger things from Apple (although the iPad certainly is bigger than the iPhone – by several inches).

The commentators we read see more potential, however. Nicholas Carr, who’s been documenting the shift of data and applications from the desktop to the cloud, sees the iPad as a potential paradigm shift. In Carr’s view, this product completes the transformation of the end-user device from personal computer to window on the Internet. Unlike a laptop, the iPad relies upon software delivered over the Internet for most of its functionality. The large screen and persistent connection could change user behavior, he observes. People will get into the habit of expecting words, images and sound to be delivered whenever they need it in a slim device that fits in a briefcase, although not a purse.

Ken Doctor evaluates the pluses and minuses of yesterday’s announcement. The good news for publishers is that readers will finally carry around a device that delivers an experience similar to what they have traditionally received from a magazine or tabloid newspaper. That can’t be bad for publishers who are accustomed to working in that format. Doctor also sees the iPad as a “magnet for marketing dollars” from companies that can finally deliver a television-like experience to a handheld device. The tablet may also rejuvenate long-form reading, which has suffered as continually distracted readers have learned to consume information in sips rather than draughts.

Doctor worries, however, that media companies were not a bigger part of the launch. Apple seemed to play it safe, touting the iPad as a work machine but imbuing it with a clumsy virtual keyboard and incorporating features that will obviously be appealing to gamers. The company claims to have more than 140,000 applications in its iTunes store. Publishers who are accustomed to having the biggest brand in their markets are going to get lost in there unless Apple pulls them out of the muck and gives them some visibility. At least at this point, that isn’t happening.

David Coursey looks at the iPad from more of a technologist’s perspective with Six Reasons You Want an iPad, Six Reasons You Don’t. He notes, “Apple wants you to pay $829 for the 64GB device, plus monthly wireless fees for AT&T’s 3G. The first year total: $1,189.” Of course, the iPhone was also vastly overpriced when first announced.

Meanwhile, Amazon last week revised its royalty policy for self-published authors and small presses. Amazon could be ready to make a play for the loyalty of publishers who were shut out of the Apple party. Its licensing terms need to be friendlier, but it’s already showing a willingness to make those changes.


By the way, Ken Doctor’s new book, Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get, will be available next week. We just received our review copy in the mail and while we haven’t had a chance to pore through it yet, we’re confident will contribute important new insights on the transformation of news from print to digital format.

Miscellany

Publishers that seemed to be ready for the toe tag at this time last year are staging some remarkable comebacks. Following hot on the heels of MediaNews Group Inc.’s announcement last week that it will enter a controlled bankruptcy and quickly reemerge in better condition, McClatchy said it has reached a debt restructuring deal with its creditors that will give it more time to get its debts under control. The owner of the Miami Herald, Sacramento Bee,  Kansas City Star and 27 other dailies has shifted its obligations to extend its repayment deadlines for a couple of years and says that 90% of its creditors have agreed to the plan. Year-over-year revenue is still falling at an alarming rate of 20%, but McClatchy said the rate of decline has slowed and it is getting its expenses under control. Its stock closed at $5.60 yesterday, up 1,600% from its 2009 low of 35 cents. Don’t you wish you could turn back the clock?


The good news in McClatchy’s shrinking revenue is that the percentage coming from online sources has grown. CEO Gary Pruitt told an investor conference call yesterday that online advertising now makes up 16% of the company’s total revenues. Perhaps more importantly, Pruitt said that 44% of digital revenue is online-only, meaning that the company is having success seeking out new advertisers and not simply selling discounted Web packages to print customers. He also said the company is ready to experiment with a pay wall, but is looking to the New York Times example for guidance.


Young people are reading newspapers online less than they used to. That’s the finding of an
IBM survey of 3,327 people internationally (900 of them in the United States) as reported on Poynter last week. The good news is that people over 55 are increasing their consumption of online news, but that statistic disguises a more ominous trend. Overall consumption of online sources is up for the population as a whole, which presumably means fewer people are getting their news in print. Poynter’s Dorian Benkoil says the trend suggests that news organizations may have less time than they think to shift their strategies to a digital-first approach. separately, new research from Nielsen shows that consumers spent an average of five hours and 35 minutes on social networking sites in December, 2009, an increase of 82% from December 2008. Facebook is now second only to the telephone in the medium people use most often to reach out to friends and family, and it isn’t behind by much. The problem that creates for news organizations is that they can’t control what happens on Facebook but clearly must adopt strategies to deliver more information that way.

By paulgillin | January 22, 2010 - 9:48 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News

The New York Times is building a paywall despite the 2005-2007 disaster that was TimesSelect. On Wednesday, the Times announced the decision to start charging for access beyond a specified number of articles beginning in 2011. Details, including the fee and the access threshold, weren’t revealed. The Times is leaving itself plenty of leeway to modify or even call off the program, knowing that the eyes of a $35 billion industry are upon it. “We can’t get this halfway right or three-quarters of the way right. We have to get this really, really right,” said Times Co. publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.

The Times is stepping with characteristic caution into territory that its own coverage acknowledged has both “tempted and terrified” publishers. The most well-read newspaper in America is under pressure to set a precedent that others can follow while at the same time preserving its dominance and an online revenue stream that is a growing part of its business.

A Q&A on the Times‘ website sounds almost apologetic in tone. It points out that readers will continue to have full access to Times content from search engines but will not be able to click through to other stories on the website without paying a fee. Readers will be entitled to access a certain number of articles each month at no charge, but the limit was not specified. The decision to announce the paywall a year before implementation gives the Times some breathing room to assess reaction and set thresholds that readers can live with. The article in the Times notes that most readers still arrive at NYTimes.com via search engine, meaning that their experience will be undisturbed. The piece also notes that reader reaction on the Times’ website has been modestly favorable toward the move.

Even if the Times‘ paywall experience is successful, there’s no guarantee that other newspapers will be able to duplicate it. The newspaper enjoys a cachet that few other titles can duplicate and it’s likely that some readers will support the initiative in the name of keeping the hallowed title afloat. The same can probably not be said for the Chicago Tribune.

The New York Post reports that New York Times Co. minority owner Carlos Slim is a big fan of paid content and has been  pushing Times Co. executives behind the scenes to take the plunge. TimesSelect was an early stab at paid content that floundered when columnists complained that their visibility plummeted when a price was put on their work.

The problem with paywalls is that they cannibalize Web traffic that could otherwise be monetized with advertising. ClickZ reports that Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey predicts that ad revenues for NYTimes.com will drop by up to 50% after the paywall is erected. It also notes that Newsday saw website traffic drop 21% in the month after it built a limited paywall last fall. The trick is to find the right balance and The New York Times, with its history of online innovation, is the best candidate to reach a happy medium.


The Times is diversifying its revenue through a novel partnership with four institutions of higher learning that deliver Times expertise as online courses. This spring, the Times will start awarding certificates to paying students. For example, Ball State University just launched a six-week course on video storytelling that bestows certificates in “emerging media journalism” co-validated by the Times and Ball State. We love this idea. While tuition will never be a major revenue stream for the old Gray Lady, it is at least a diversification out of the declining advertising business. And with more citizens wanting to learn the craft of storytelling, perhaps a course with Times reporters and editors is something they’d be willing to pay for.

Internet Out of the Courtroom

Print journalists can take some heart – while new-media advocates roll their eyes – at two court decisions last week that limit the dissemination of trial coverage over the Internet. First, the U.S. Supreme Court overrode a trial judge’s decision and blocked video coverage of a federal trial about the constitutionality of California’s law banning gay marriage. Then a Florida judge ruled later in the week that a Florida Times-Union reporter couldn’t live blog a capital murder trial.

The California case is important because it involves a highly polarized issue that has implications in other states. A 5-4 conservative majority ruled that the judge in the case had erred by initially allowing video of the trial to be streamed to other courtrooms even though that practice is usually denied in federal cases. However, the justices did not address the bigger constitutional question of whether live video is permissible in legal proceedings.

In the Florida case, the judge banned a reporter from live blogging because he said the noise was distracting. A second reporter who was texting notes from the courtroom on a cell phone was also told to cut it out. However, a third reporter who was writing notes on paper was not disciplined. The tweeting journalist had drawn a more than 1,300 followers on Twitter for her coverage of the trial.

The cases illustrate the discomfort that new media is creating in the trial courts. The capability of anyone to relate the events of a trial would seem to comply with the founding fathers’ desire for legal transparency, but the fact that those narratives can now be communicated worldwide makes some jurists nervous. Both of these issues are likely to need a Supreme Court resolution.

Miscellany

When Nielsen orphaned Editor & Publisher in a sale of several of its titles to e5 Global Media last month, the staff at the venerable newspaper industry trade publication held out for a rescue. It came. Duncan McIntosh Co., an Irvine, Calif.-based publisher of trade magazines that ironically include FishRap News (which has nothing to do with newspapers), has picked up E&P and will continue more or less uninterrupted publication. “We’re all very excited around here about the news,” said staffer Mark Fitzgerald, who gains a promotion to editor in the process. Monthly print publication will resume next month and entries on the magazine’s two blogs – Fitz & Jen Give You the Business and the E&P Pub – have already resumed. Hooray.


The parent company of MediaNews Group, Inc. will file for bankruptcy, the 13th such filing by a U.S. newspaper publisher in the last 13 months. But it doesn’t look like MediaNews plans to stay in Chapter 11 for long. It has a debt restructuring plan in place that will cut its debt from about $930 million to $165 million and swap senior debtors’ paper for stock. The 116 creditors will have a majority of stock but not voting control. The Hearst Corp. and the family of MediaNews co-founder Richard Scudder are reportedly giving up interests in the company. Hearst took a $300 million stake in MediaNews in 2006 and that investment is now effectively worthless.  MediaNews said newspaper operations, employees and suppliers wouldn’t be affected and that the debt restructuring plan would enable the company to quickly emerge in better financial condition.


Dan Bloom has come up with a new word for newspapers. He calls them “snailpapers.” Only the longtime newspaperman insists this is a term of endearment, not derision. He thinks maybe if newspapers poked more fun at themselves instead of getting all righteously indignant about new media, they would generate more sympathy. More on his blog.


The Greenwood Lake (N.Y.) News is shutting down after 46 years, idling a small staff. The weekly had been honored for  editorial quality by the New York Press Association.

Dramatic Effect

We get some unusual requests at the Death Watch and always try to be helpful, but we were stumped by this inquiry from Amy Wimmer Schwarb, a 15-year journalism veteran:

“What’s more old-school than the print-on-paper newspaper we both love?” she writes. “The theater, of course. I’ve been working on and off for the past 18 months on a script that I’m about to start submitting to play competitions around the country. The title is ‘Dash Thirty Dash: An Allegory for the End Times.’ The piece celebrates the fun and beauty of the business and documents the suicide of newspapers.

“My concern about submitting this play through traditional channels is that I want it to be seen NOW, and sometimes, such channels have long lag times. Through your online travels and contacts, do you have any suggestions for how I might distribute this work? In my dreams, it will be performed in small independent theaters around the country.”

We couldn’t help, but perhaps you can. Post any ideas below as comments, or e-mail us using the contact box on the right and we’ll put you in touch with Amy directly.

By paulgillin | January 15, 2010 - 12:05 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News

It’s now generally accepted wisdom that, at some point, the population of people who are willing to pay for printed newspapers will decline to the point that print will no longer be a viable medium. Alan Mutter hauls out the spreadsheets and applies his trademark statistical eye to the data in a two-part entry that establishes a likely endpoint for daily print frequency.

Mutter points out that the core newspaper audience of people over 50 years of age today represents only 30% of the population. He projects that half of them will be gone by 2025 and the other half by 2040. Mutter enlists government lifespan projections in his estimates as well as survey data about the percentage of young people who read newspapers. He believes printed newspaper consumption will fall by at least 27% over the next 15 years and 50% in the 15 years after that.

“The projections clearly indicate the publishers pursuing a business-as-usual approach may find their current operations… to be unsustainably unprofitable within five years,” the Newsosaur concludes. Some variables in the calculations could change, though; advertising rates could suddenly start rising. If you believe that, we’d recommend a 12-step program.

Mutter presents three scenarios and only the most optimistic forecast has newspapers printing profitably on a daily schedule five years from now. The more likely outlook is that most papers have to cut back from daily frequency in order to remain viable, as has been done in Detroit. We believe that print newspapers will exist for many years, but we doubt that the major metro daily model has more than about 10 years left in it. Mutters calculations tend to support our opinion.
Miscellany

Charles Apple points out that surprisingly few newspapers featured the massive earthquake in Haiti on their front pages today. Perhaps that’s because deadlines have been moved up and design staffs cut in the name of cost savings? Apple points to one paper that featured a graphic headline that almost made light of the tragedy. Check out his blog and see what you think. We tend to agree with Apple.

Apple also notes that Jim Hopkins, the publisher of the popular Gannett Blog, has quietly returned to the field and is publishing as busily as ever. Hopkins shut down the blog last fall with considerable fanfare; in fact, some people thought his countdown to closure was overplayed. Just as we were becoming accustomed to a post-Hopkins existence, we learn that Hopkins is feeling more energetic and has a renewed commitment to keep the tone of Gannett Blog more civil. Here’s a brief interview on Jilted Journalists. In the months leading up to last summer shutdown, tensions between the blog and Gannett had reached a fever pitch.

What the blog gods giveth they also taketh away, and McClatchy Watch is the most recent casualty. This online watchdog, which was cast in the image of Gannett Blog, went dormant two days before Christmas. We can’t say we’re going to miss it. While McClatchy Watch was once a valuable source of intelligence about the company it follows, in the past year it’s taken on a conservative political agenda that has been distracting to the point of irritation. If the anonymous author who publishes it ever decides to come back, we hope he/she will focus on the topic at hand.


The Los Angeles Times, which maybe the most troubled title in the Tribune Company portfolio, is addressing its online competitors by moving its deadlines earlier. LA Observed says the Times‘s effort to save money by shuttering its Orange County presses and taking on production of The Wall Street Journal has forced the paper to move its news deadlines up by as much as five hours. This means that in a world in which competitors publish information in seconds over Twitter, the Times will now have a 6 PM deadline for a newspaper that hits readers’ doorsteps more than 12 hours later. Please don’t follow this example.


No matter what you may think of Google — and a lot of newspaper publishers think it’s the great Satan — you have to hand it to the search engine giant for announcing that it will pull out of the China market rather than continue to censor its search results. Google’s complicity with the Chinese government’s repressive policies has been a black eye for some time, but there are good financial reasons why it’s been reluctant to stand up for its principles: Its stock price would get hammered. In light of that fact, the decision to draw a line in the sand deserves praise. Jeff Jarvis, who recently published a book about Google, puts it in perspective. He expects Google to suffer Wall Street’s wrath but pays tribute to the company for putting its principles ahead of its stock price. Lots of discussion on that post.


Speaking of Google, did you know that it has severed its relationship with the Associated Press? That’s right: Google News doesn’t have any AP stories dated after December 23, 2009. Google isn’t saying very much, but publishers might want to keep an eye on this divorce to see if it has any lessons for their own deadly embrace with the search engine company. CNN Money points out that the AP doesn’t derive much revenue from advertising, so the loss of the Google business isn’t significant. Still, AP may be in a good position to provide its members with data on what the Google breakup has meant for its traffic.


The latest on Tribune Co.’s plans to exit bankruptcy are that the event is likely to happen in the first half of this year. Tribune chairman Sam Zell made that forecast in an interview with CNBC this week. Zell has been unspecific lately on when the troubled media company, which has been in bankruptcy for a year, would reemerge. The news of a pending reappearance should be a boost for Tribune employees, since the company has avoided massive asset sales in order to bring its books into line. Instead, it has relied on layoffs and surgical cost cutting.


A new Harris survey says that 77% of American adults would not be willing to pay to read a newspaper’s content online and the 23% who would pay won’t pay much. If you extrapolate the results, they indicate that less than 1.5% of online adults would pay more than $10 per month for a newspaper. This can’t be good news to the smattering of papers that had recently erected paywalls.


John McIntyre takes issue with a Washington Post headline that a lot of people apparently think is brilliant. We agree with McIntyre that it is more at cryptic than clever. We also agree that the example of a brilliant headline that he proposes — “Freedom’s Just Another Bird With Nothing Left To Lose” — is a thing of beauty. Reald the blog for background on how that one came about. Lots of people are weighing in on this discussion. If McIntyre isn’t in your RSS reader, he should be.

By paulgillin | January 4, 2010 - 11:04 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News

Apple tablet conceptThank goodness we have something to fill up the cold, light-deprived days of January: speculation about a new Apple tablet computer. Apple’s got a big press event scheduled for Jan. 26 and the blogosphere is overflowing with rumors that it will announce a flat-screen portable computer that’ll make the Amazon Kindle look like an Etch-a-Sketch.

Huffington Post relates rumors that Apple has registered the domain iSlate, presumably because that’s the name of the new device. However, iTablet has also been suggested. Pocketlint has a collection of 56 concept images that have been posted online, just like the one at right. Most depict the tablet as being an oversized iPhone, which we hope it isn’t. One of the most appealing factors about the iPhone is its light weight and hand-feel. There’s no more reason to believe the iPhone will scale larger  than there is to believe a Cooper Mini would make a good SUV.

The New York Times’ Alice Rawsthorn notes that while a lot of people like their e-readers, few people love them. “If a really great e-reader appeared, the market would explode,” she writes. And she adds, “If it comes through, demand for electronic books, newspapers and magazines should soar.”

That’s one reason publishing pundits are so hot on this rumored product. The iPod/iPhone has managed to crack the code of creating successful paid content models. The Kindle has legitimized that concept in the book and magazine publishing world, although Amazon’s onerous licensing terms irk publishers. If the iSlate or iTablet or whatever it’s called can create explosive demand for a universal media player, then content producers may have a chance to develop meaningful subscription models around it.

To get some ideas about where this whole trend could go, read Mark Potts’ essay. “Most of those speculating about Apple’s tablet aren’t thinking big enough….I believe the Apple tablet has the potential to strikingly transform large swaths of the media business, from newspapers to television to movies, pretty much all at once,” he writes. Potts goes on to suggest that a successful portable media device could unify the various platforms by which people now receive information into a single experience. For example, TV programs could be downloaded to the device for playback anywhere, with the video automatically switching to a high-definition TV in the home when the viewer enters the room.

And if you think about the possibilities of what some people are calling “augmented reality,” then portable TV is just a start. Information will be combined from multiple sources to create a constantly flowing river of data in different forms. Think the cacophony of a cable news channel screen, only clickable and aware of its location.

Yes, Apple has had failures in the past, but under Steve Jobs they’ve been few and far between. Our guess is that Jobs would never just spring a bigger iPhone on the market. He’s got his people thinking bigger and whatever results will certainly have the potential to be game-changing. It will certainly give us something to talk about between chattering teeth over the next few weeks.

A Giant’s Sudden Passing

We never met Deborah Howell, but anyone whose passing merits moving remembrances from the likes of Ken Doctor and Jeff Jarvis must have been someone special. Howell, 68, was the former assistant managing editor of the Minneapolis Star and executive editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Most recently, she was ombudsman at the Washington Post (we did note one of her Post columns almost two years ago to the day). She died last Friday after being hit by a car while crossing the street near Blenheim, New Zealand. The trip had been a lifelong dream.

Ken Doctor remembers her as an editor with “a hard edge and a soft heart.” She was prone to expletives and the occasional “because I said so,” but she also gave him advice that has served him for a lifetime: “Every once in a while, a voice will say, hold on, check it again, is that what you really want your newspaper to say?”

Jarvis remembers her as a veteran of traditional journalism who was caught up in the maelstrom over the shift to online. While a staunch defender of traditional values, he also remembers her as someone who embraced new ideas with fervor. When they recently worked together on a controversial project to take the Ann Arbor News online, “I was the one holding Deborah down as she grabbed new ideas with the fervor of a convert and fretted that we weren’t being radical enough.”

Tim McGuire has a moving tribute about his lifelong love-hate relationship with Howell. The New York Times’ David Carr shares a remembrance of how Howell once dressed him down at his own awards banquet and how he later came to love her.

Politico On a Tear

An eagle eyed editor at paidcontent.org spied an opportunity in Allbritton Communications’ recent earning announcement to get a glimpse at the financial picture of The Politico, a new-breed Capitol Hill publisher that many people think will serve as a model for future news organizations.

Reporter Rafat Ali says this is a one-time deal; Allbritton has distributed shares of The Politico to a family-owned holding company and won’t have to break out the financials again in the future. The 2009 numbers show dramatic growth over the last three years, with The Politico likely to easily top $20 million this year. Revenues are on a $6 million quarterly run rate and the operation broke into the black in 2009. Much of the revenue comes from the print issue distributed on weekdays, demonstrating that there is life for news on paper if it hits the right audience with information they can’t get elsewhere.

By paulgillin | December 24, 2009 - 10:22 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local

Animated_Christmas_TreeThe Guardian’s Dan Kennedy has an intelligent piece about why the great newspaper collapse of 2009 didn’t pan out as expected. If you remember, early this year there were dramatic closures in major markets like Denver and Seattle, along with threats of similar harsh medicine in San Francisco and Boston. But as 2009 comes to a close, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Boston Globe are still alive and kicking and there have been no major newspaper shutdowns in nine months. Kennedy points out that publishers took strong action to reverse the tide after that scary first quarter, cutting back sharply on expenses, boosting subscription prices and finding novel new ways to generate revenue. They also had considerable success whittling down the debt that has paralyzed many of their operations

Most daily newspapers, in fact, operate in the black but massive debt accumulated during multiple rounds of consolidation earlier this decade were threatening their existence. The threat is still there, but it looks like there was more fat in newspaper operating budgets than many observers had believed. Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth has pointed out that her paper employs twice as many journalists as it did during the Watergate years, even after multiple rounds of cutbacks.

Time to celebrate? Hardly. This industry is not a growth story and probably never will be, but it does appear that publishers are finding ways to gracefully manage their print operations down to sustainable levels. Early experience indicates that online news publishers can the profitable at about 20% of the expense level of their print counterparts. It’s likely that some publishers will figure out ways to get there without shutting down the brand entirely. Of course the price of advertising is also in decline, but that’s a different problem entirely.

It turns out that shares a Gannett Corp. were a heckuva buy in March when they plummeted to $1.85. The stock hit $15.49 on Wednesday as a leading analyst upgraded his outlook for the newspaper industry, saying December could be the industry’s best month in three years. Well Fargo Securities analyst John Janedis said the slide in advertising is slowing and that ad revenues could be down only 8% or 9% next year, compared to more than 30% this year. Janedis raised his rating on Gannett to “outperform” from “underperform” and on New York Times Co. to “market Perform” from “underperform.”

Not in Our Back Yard

We continue to be amazed at how newspapers bury the lead when announcing bad news about themselves. Check out this press release from the Washington Times as reprinted on Talking Points Memo:

The Washington Times today announced that it will begin producing a more focused Monday through Friday edition designed to feature its most distinctive news and opinion content.

Offered as a combination controlled market and paid general interest newspaper at a price of $1.00, the new print edition will be available at retail outlets and newspaper boxes throughout the D.C. metropolitan area. The current newspaper’s last Sunday edition will publish on December 27.

That’s right: the news is that the Times is killing its Sunday edition. This is on top of laying off 40% of its staff a few weeks ago. The paper is also reportedly considering eliminating its sports section entirely. Perhaps the Times reporters wouldn’t bury the lead on this particular story, but the PR department surely did.

Miscellany

Slate’s Jack Shafer throws cold water on publishers’ love affair with e-readers. Citing slick recent demos by magazines like Sports Illustrated, Esquire, GQ and Wired of their content running on handheld tablets, Shafer harkens back to the days of the Washington Post‘s Pathfinder.com experiment and Newsweek on CD-ROM. Publishers thought those delivery vehicles were going to reinvent their business but the efforts crashed and burned for reasons ranging from the public apathy to the relentless commoditization of information. E-readers are simply another delivery device, Shafer asserts and the tiny sales generated by iPhone apps aren’t going to replace revenue lost from print advertising. The devices also negate the tactile and visual appeal of a print publication, reducing the editorial product to just another stream of content.


The New Bedford Standard-Times becomes the latest paper to start charging readers for online access. Its rather convoluted plan announced this week gives readers three stories per month for free, seven more stories if they register and full access for $4.60 per week. That package also includes a print subscription, which usually costs $4.23. So online access for existing readers comes at an additional charge of $.37 per week.


If you’re looking for an inspiring message to give journalism school students, you can’t do much better than the one NewsLab’s Deborah Potter invented for graduates of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Today’s journalism professionals need to be inquisitive, resourceful and versatile, she says. Yes, news organizations are contracting and pay levels are shrinking but journalists have an unprecedented opportunity to reach a global audience. You’re on your own more than you’ve ever been, but that can be energizing as much as it’s terrifying. The future of journalism is “what you DO, irrespective of where you do it…your credibility depends on HOW you do what you do, not where you do it.” Believe, us it reads better in context. Potter’s also confident that revenue models will emerge that make journalism sustainable.


If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about augmented reality, Jeff Jarvis has a nice collection of video clips showing different ways in which the commendation of images, databases and mobile access can make the world around us more accessible. Here’s one:

By paulgillin | December 18, 2009 - 10:38 am - Posted in Facebook

It would be nice to believe, as many newspaper executives apparently do, that brighter days are ahead. Kubas Consultants polled 500 newspapers executives in November and found that, on the whole, they believe the worst is almost over and the 2011 could actually see a return to growth. Most expect next year to be flat, and few foresee the need to outsource printing or reduce frequency, as many newspapers did this year. In fact, one in four said they plan to start specialty, niche or lifestyle products.

Alan Mutter isn’t buying it, and apparently neither is the man who produced the survey. Mutter e-mailed Ed Strapagiel, the Kubas executive who led the research. His opinion is that publishers’ forecasts of a .2% decline in ad sales next year aren’t realistic and he offers a list of reasons for their optimism. Our favorite: “Optimism is better than slitting your wrists.”

In the category of blind optimism, you can also include the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It forecasts that the newspaper industry will lose 25% of its jobs over the next eight years, making it the seventh fastest shrinking job market in the US during that time. The bureau doesn’t explain its methodology, but we suspect that a dart board is involved. The newspaper industry has shed 45% of its jobs since the 2001 peak and nearly 31,000 and just the last two years, according to the amazing Erica Smith. There is nothing on the horizon from a demographic, economic or competitive standpoint that suggests a turnaround in the business so the BLS forecast of a roughly 3% annual decline over the next eight years strikes us as a bit optimistic. Perhaps the prospect of an end to the suffering of the last 18 months is sparking some irrational exuberance.

Incidentally, these last two stories were reported by the industry trade journal Editor & Publisher, whose closure was announced last week in a sale of magazines by its former owner, Nielsen Co. A short story on the E&P website says that staff members plan to go ahead with a January issue and that E&P‘s 125-year run may not yet be at an end. “A number of outside companies and individuals have expressed interest in possibly keeping E&P going, so stay tuned for updates,” the story notes, cryptically.


For a more realistic look at the industry’s short-and long-term prospects, read Martin Langeveld’s thoughtful list of predictions for 2010. Among them are continuing slides in revenue of about 10%, disappointing performance for paywalls, a couple of publisher bankruptcies and likely consolidation by some of the survivors. There’s other good stuff there, too.

Miscellany

The BBC’s worldwide chief executive, John Smith, has come out in support of Rupert Murdoch’s plans to charge for news. The endorsement is notable because the BBC has been something of a foil for news organization’s paywall ambitions, since it provides high quality information – including international coverage – under a government subsidy. While Smith praised Murdoch’s lone-wolf advocacy for the “importance of having quality content,” he notes that paywalls will be extremely difficult to maintain. Separately, the BBC’s director general last month said the broadcaster had no plans to erect paywalls around its public service broadcasting websites.


Whether you like Jeff Jarvis or you hate him — and few people in the publishing industry feel ambivalent about the outspoken blogger — you have to admit that he walks the walk. In the spirit of total transparency and living in public, Jarvis has posted an update on his battle with prostate cancer. The good news is that he appears to be winning. Treatment, however, has come with its fair share of pain, and Jarvis outlines in great detail his problems with incontinence and impotence.

“I plan to say that publicness has benefitted me and that I wish the doctors would, in turn, be more public,” he writes. “The response I got from my posts here was helpful not only in the support I received but especially in the information I got from fellow patients who proceeded me and told me in frank and brave detail what I would experience.” We wish him a speedy recovery, whether in public or private, as we would all be worse off for the loss of his often blunt but always intelligent criticisms.

By paulgillin | December 14, 2009 - 10:02 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local, Paywalls

Revenue20_logoIn one of the final feature stories in Editor & Publisher, which is closing after 125 years, Jennifer Sabba has an interesting dissection of the circulation experiment at the Dallas Morning News. That paper was one of the first to dig into the economics of circulation pricing in order to better understand elasticity. Newspapers have traditionally derived only about 20% of their revenue from circulation, but the wholesale collapse of categories like classified advertising has forced them to get creative. The Morning News is one of several newspapers have experimented with turning the screws on loyal customers to see how much more they would pay for a print product.

It turns out that pricing elasticity isn’t absolute. Research conducted by the Morning News found that readers were willing to pay more if they thought they were getting more in the bargain. Specifically, the most important topics they identified were national news, local news, business, state, sports and investigative journalism, in that order. “If the paper raised the subscription price but readers felt they were getting more content, the fall-off in volume would be around 10%. At the same price, if readers felt like they were getting less content, volume would fall by 40%.”

The Morning News responded by jacking up its home delivery prices an audacious 66% in one year. However, it also expanded its news hole and launched a free edition that’s distributed to about 200,000 homes four days a week. As a result, in the most recent six-month period, the paper reported one of the largest circulation declines of any major newspaper: 22.1%. But that may not be a bad thing for the bottom line. The paper is sticking with its pricing strategy in the belief that the overall business impact will be positive. That’s the philosophy executives at Hearst Corporation adopted with the San Francisco Chronicle last year. The Chron has hiked its subscription rate 63% in the last 18 months and seen circulation plummet. However, it has reportedly also stabilized a business that was losing $1 million a week in 2008.

Sabba’s story provides a new context for understanding the dizzying drop in newspaper circulation over the last few years. While the declines are troubling, they are at least in part voluntary as publishers shed unprofitable circulation and focus on loyal readers. This isn’t a long-term growth strategy, but print isn’t going to be a long-term growth proposition anyway. The thinking behind the strategy actually makes sense in light of the inevitable shift that news organizations must make from print to digital distribution. If there is a cash cow, then milk as much profitability out of it as possible while transitioning the rest of the business to a new economic model.

Debating Paid Models

rupert murdochRupert Murdoch is apparently getting sick of being portrayed as an old fuddy-duddy who wants people to pay for information that should be free. So he’s taken his case to the Wall Street Journal. In a December 8 opinion, the News Corp. CEO says journalism is the foundation of a free society and blogger “theft” of the hard work of reporters and editors is undermining the value of quality information. Murdoch rejects suggestions that news organizations should become nonprofits as well as the possibility of a government bailout. “The future of journalism belongs to the bold, and the companies that prosper will be those that find new and better ways to meet the needs of their viewers, listeners, and readers,” he writes. But he also states that the economic future of the industry can’t be sustained by online advertising. Instead, readers must be convinced to pay a “modest amount” for good information. “The critics say people won’t pay. I believe they will, but only if we give them something of good and useful value. Our customers are smart enough to know that you don’t get something for nothing,” Murdoch says. Unfortunately, he provides no research or factual evidence for his belief.


Karthika Muthukumaraswamy has a thoughtful post on Online Journalism Blog about how to make paywalls work. She summarizes conventional wisdom that paywalls only succeed when the publication has content that has a high perceived value, usually for a focused audience. The problem with most news organizations is that they’ve been trained to make their information appeal to the broadest possible readership. So how do you change the mindset? Muthukumaraswamy suggests that the best course may be a dual track: continue to deliver broadly appealing information for free while analyzing traffic to determine where the high-value readers are. Then ask them to pay for access to that information. In that vein, “Steven Brill’s Journalism Online plans to charge only the most frequent users who seek very specific content while allowing cursory surfers to avail of most topical news for free.” Don’t demonize Google – she quotes research estimating that search engines can deliver about 50 cents a day of revenue per unique visitor – but don’t make it an either/or proposition, either. The key is to get focused on the numbers and seek your area of highest value.


Speaking of pay walls, The New York Times is mulling the online subscription option but isn’t tipping its hand about its plans yet. Senior Vice President for Digital Operations Martin Nisenholtz told the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York City last week that there’s too much at stake to make this an all-or-nothing proposition. The company values its relationship with Google but is looking at the paid options employed by the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, as well as the possibility of just staying free. There is some evidence that the financial free-fall is turning around at the Times, and staff cuts that have trimmed 25% of the workforce could reestablish some stability.


Traffic figures are in for the first month of Newsday‘s bold experiment to charge a $5 monthly fee for access to most of the content on its website. Declines of 21% in page views and a little under 20% in unique visitors were within expectations, according to management. Year-over-year page views were down 35% and unique visitors off 43%, but that compares to unusually busy election year numbers from a year ago. Management isn’t saying how much of the advertising revenue decline was made up by subscription fees. Newsday‘s numbers also can’t be taken as a benchmark for the industry, since a provision of the plan enables the many Long Island subscribers to Cablevision’s Optimum Internet service to get access for free.

Miscellany

The Journalism Shop surveyed 75 former Los Angeles Times journalists and found that more than half believe the paper will not survive in the long term. Only one in six thought the Times would weather the storm that is buffeting the industry. The poll is hardly scientific, but it has some interesting findings about how the former staffers see their future jobs (more than a third expect to exit the profession entirely) as well as whether and how they believe journalism can survive. The generally dour findings show that the journalists believe the media is descending into a mud pit of top 10 lists and celebrity gossip.


Google continues to try to make nice with newspaper publishers while at the same time introducing new products that threaten their business. Editors Weblog points us to Living Stories, a Google Labs feature that aggregates news from around the Web and organizes it by content. The prototype uses content derived from a partnership with The News York Times and the Washington Post. The feature appears to be a modest evolution of Google News at this point, although there is certainly potential for more innovation. One neat feature is a timeline atop some of the news packages that tracks important milestones in the evolution of a story. According to a post on the Google blog, the content is being maintained by staffers at the two newspapers. Google continues to insist that it has no plans to get into the original content business. The blog entry also says the company will provide open source tools that news organizations can use to adapt the service to their own needs.


It appears the Associated Press has begun to turn the tide of customer defections that began last year when the service raised its rates. Some 180 newspapers canceled their AP contracts after the revised rate structure was announced, but now 50 have come back, although not necessarily under the full licensing plan. The Minneapolis Star Tribune is the latest to rescind its cancellation.

By paulgillin | December 10, 2009 - 3:32 pm - Posted in Facebook

As if to dramatize the crisis facing the newspaper industry, the owner of the 125-year-old Editor & Publisher magazine announced it is shutting down the title. The venerable trade magazine was the unwanted child in a deal between Nielsen Business Media and e5 Global Media Holdings, LLC involving the sale of eight brands in Nielsen’s Media and Entertainment Group. The closing was announced in a one-sentence mention in a memo from Nielsen Business Media President Greg Farrar. AFP has the facts and Huffington Post, considered by some to be the standard-bearer for the new breed of publishers that will succeed daily newspapers, adds detail.
That includes E&P’s string of 11 Neal Awards, a prestigious honor awarded to trade publications by American Business Media, as well as the magazine’s once-formidable position as the journal of record for the newspaper industry. E&P writes its own obituary and suggests that there’s still a possibility that the title could be carried on in some form. It also obligingly lists the e-mail address of all staff members for the benefit of recruiters.
We have often cited E&P‘s work in our posts on this website, and had just this morning written a commentary on an excellent dissection of the circulation experiment at the Dallas Morning News that appeared in E&P this week. While the publications articles could be annoyingly terse at times, its features are often very good and its coverage was always timely. We have particularly enjoyed the work of Mark Fitzgerald and Jennifer Sabba and hope that they quickly find a new place to showcase their talents.
It’s perhaps fitting that we learned of E&P’s demise the way an increasing number of readers consume their news these days: it was posted on Twitter.

By paulgillin | - 9:53 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News

Newspaper publishers are reporting some good news at last, although how good it is depends on your perspective. Speaking to the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in Chicago this week, executives from Gannett, Media General, McClatchy, the New York Times Company said revenue is showing signs of bouncing back.

Gannett’s Bob Dickey said the industry is emerging from a “cyclical downturn” and that Gannett is positioned to take advantage of new revenue opportunities and an improving climate. Executives said they were comfortable with the high end of Wall Street’s earnings estimates for the quarter. However, that doesn’t mean growth is back. Gannett is still planning to trim expenses by single-digit percentages during the next year and it started with the announcement last week of further cuts at USA Today.

Media General said it sees signs of ad spending “firming,” and that aggressive cost cuts of the past two years have stabilized the company. Media General has whittled $200 million off its debt load over the last three years, although the total debt still stands at a daunting $700 million.

The New York Times Company has also been cutting its debt — from $1.1 billion-$800 million — and sees the slope of decline in advertising revenues beginning to flatten. It expects print advertising revenue to be down 25% in the fourth quarter, but that’s compared to inflated election-year spending in 2008. CEO Janet Robinson said it looks like online advertising will actually increase 10% in 2010.

McClatchy says it’s lifting a pay freeze that’s been in effect for over a year but don’t break out the champagne just yet. Revenues were still down 23% in the third quarter although CEO Gary Pruitt said McClatchy is “successfully navigating through these difficult economic times.”

Newsosaur Alan Mutter isn’t buying any of it. He says newspaper executives are whistling past the graveyard when you look at the magnitude of the industry contraction over the last four years. According to his projections, “classified advertising in 2009 is likely to total no more than $6 billion, or fully 65% less than the $17.3 billion in sales booked in 2005.” He also points out that the recession took a particularly heavy toll on retail and automotive companies, which are the backbone of newspaper revenues. Most of that business will never come back, he says.

Meanwhile, new figures from TNS Media Intelligence show the media industry is far from out of the woods. Advertising expenditures slipped 14.7% in the first nine months of 2009, with traditional media leading the downward spiral. Newspapers and radio posted identical declines of 22.8% in the period. Business-to-business magazines fared the worst, with revenues down more than 27%.


That brightening at picture at the New York Times Co. won’t stop it from continuing to cut costs at its flagship. The newspaper will be forced to resort to layoffs after it failed to meet its target of cutting 100 positions through a voluntary buyout offer. The Times isn’t saying how many people stepped up to take the severance package, but speculation is that about 50 union and nonunion jobs will be cut to layoffs.

The news is better at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, which the Times Co. has pulled off the auction block. The T&G was offered for sale early this year almost as an afterthought when the Times Co. put the Boston Globe up for sale. The company later canceled the sale, reportedly because bids weren’t high enough. While the Globe has been in a downward cost-cutting cycle this year, its sister 30 miles to the west has apparently been focusing on remaking itself. The reason cited for the cancellation of the Worcester paper was a transformation of its “journalistic and business operations.”


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