Freedom Communications' Aaron Kushner (photo by Jebb Harris, Orange County Register).

Freedom Communications’ Aaron Kushner (photo by Jebb Harris, Orange County Register).

California newspaper defies industry wisdom to stay alive – and prospers” declares The Guardian in an analysis of the Orange County Register‘s death-defying experiment under the leadership of a former greeting card executive with no background in newspapers.

Aaron Kushner (right) and his partner, Eric Spitz, formed Freedom Communications and bought the Register a year ago. They then stunned the shell-shocked newspaper industry by declaring their intention to go completely against the prevailing practice of layoffs and cost cuts. They would invest in print, double their reporting staff,  increase subscription prices and  put up one of the industry’s most rigid barriers to online access.

They’ve kept their promise. Newsroom staff is up to 360 from a low of 180 when Freedom took over. The Register routinely publishes daily issues that are nearly twice the size of its nearby rival, the Los Angeles Times. Page counts have been increased by half, color expanded and even the quality of paper improved.

Daily circulation is holding steady and total circulation is up sharply if you include the 28 weekly papers the company has invested in over the last 12 months. The Register has hired investigative reporters and lured newspaper wunderkind Rob Curley out of exile to rejuvenate the editorial product with a focus on local news and practical advice.

Freedom is showing particular sensitivity to  local businesses. One promotion late last year gave each reader the opportunity to contribute $100 worth of advertising to his or her favorite charity. Some 1,300 nonprofits benefited from the program.

Kushner thinks the time is right to place a big bet on print. “Never before and never again will so many people be in the sweet spot of newspaper readership as the next 20 years,” he told the Guardian. “It’s called the baby boom.”

There’s no doubt the Register is growing, but is it prospering as the Guardian‘s headline proclaims? The jury is still out on that.

Ken Doctor ran the numbers back in January and concluded that the Register may be able to cover its estimated $9 million+ in additional annual costs through higher subscription fees, but that the advertising market is in long-term decline and there’s little that any newspaper can do about that. Doctor contrasted Kushner’s growth strategy with the slash-and-burn tactics being applied by Advance Communications and said we’ll know in about two years whether growth or contraction is the recipe for success. Clearly, we’re pulling for Kushner.

Writing on CJR.com in May, Ryan Chittum said the odds are against Kushner, but noted that if he fails, “he will have gone down investing in journalism.” Chittum also has some revealing stats about the profitability of newspapers, which remains quite strong. When newspapers shut down, it’s because they can’t afford the cost of their debt, he says. Most are still in the black on an operations basis, which makes Advance’s frequency cutback strategy all the more puzzling.  It also suggests that value investor Warren Buffett  isn’t a billionaire for nothing.

Kushner says he’s in it for the long haul and he now has his eyes on a bigger prize: the L.A. Times. Tribune Co. is going to be looking to unload some assets now that it has exited bankruptcy, and many observers believe the Times will be on the auction block. If Kushner buys it, he can all but own the southern California market. Regardless of the  current fortunes of daily newspapers, having a  near-monopoly on even a shrinking media business in the country’s largest media market has to be attractive.

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By Paul Gillin | June 27, 2013 - 5:00 pm - Posted in Business News, Layoffs, Newspapers

The ax is falling again at Advance Publications.

The company that cut back frequencies in rapid succession at its once-daily newspapers in New Orleans, Syracuse, Cleveland and, most recently, Portland,  is now threatening to shut down the Newark Star-Ledger unless it wins substantial concessions from the paper’s unions.

Publisher Rich Vezza  said the Star-Ledger, which is New Jersey’s largest daily, lost $19.8 million last year and will lose about the same amount this year this year. It’s threatening to outsource printing and production unless unions representing pressman, mailers, engravers and machinists  make significant concessions by a September 27 deadline.

A union executive said  union members are willing to negotiate but that the Star-Ledger has shown little interest in meaningful proposals. Ed Shown, president of the Council of Star-Ledger Unions, said the latest management proposal demanded a 55% cut in  wages and benefits.  The unions issued a joint statement  challenging management’s $19.8 million loss  estimate.

Vezza said the frequency cutbacks implemented at other Advance titles aren’t an option here. If an agreement isn’t reached, the paper will close at the end of the year, presumably idling its 771 employees. “This is not a threat. This is reality,” he told Philly.com.

This is the second time management has threatened to shut down the Star-Ledger. It used a similar tactic to bring significant concessions from unions in 2008, when it also laid off 40% of its newsroom staff.  Five years ago the paper employed 330 editors, but that number has since fallen by nearly half.

Other publishers have used closure threats of closure to pressure their unions. In 2009 The New York Times Co. forced major concessions at the Boston Globe and Hearst Corp. came within a few weeks of  shuttering the San Francisco Chronicle before unions gave in.

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Continuing a newspaper industry tradition of burying bad news about its business, The Oregonian announced that it will scale back home-delivery frequency from seven to four days a week.

The news is tucked into the fourth paragraph of an otherwise effusive press release on Oregon Live that crows about the launch of a new company that will “expand news and information products in Oregon and Southwest Washington” and “introduce new and improved digital products.”

In reality, the main purpose of the new company over the next few months will be to hire survivors from Oregonian Publishing Co. which produces the state’s largest and longest continuously published newspaper. That company will close on Oct. 1. Oregonian write Brent Hunsberger provides balanced coverage – and leads with the real news.

Like newspapers in Detroit, the The Oregonian will continue to publish in print seven days a week but will limit distribution of Monday, Tuesday and Thursday editions to city newsstands. Its 170,000 home subscribers will see deliveries cut to Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. In a baffling bit of doublespeak, the company also said home-delivery subscribers would get a Saturday edition “as a bonus.” It also stressed that the “Wednesday, Friday and Sunday editions will be enhanced with more content than current editions while the Saturday newspaper will have news and a strong emphasis on sports content, along with classified advertising.” In other words, a cut of 50% is an improvement.

The bigger story is that there will be unspecific but “significant” layoffs at The Oregonian, which currently employs 650 people. The paper, which has won seven Pulitzer Prizes and five since 1999, employs more than 90 journalists according to Hunsberger’s account. However, Ryan Chittum thinks the editorial cuts have been more severe. Writing on CJR.com, Chittum estimates that the newsroom staff has declined from about 315 in 2007 to 175 today. His assessment is blunt:

[Advance Publications'] new template for its newspapers is now depressingly familiar: End daily delivery; fire a third to a half of the veteran journalists, particularly the editors, particularly in news; replace some of them with young, inexperienced (and most important: cheap) labor; put them on the hamster wheel; toss around insipid buzzwords; spend a bunch of money on new offices; piss off readers; embolden competition.

Seems about right. Chittum also notes that Advance Publications’ cutbacks at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans backfired when a competitor from Baton Rouge moved in to take advantage of subscriber unrest. Advance has had to respond with a tabloid edition on days the Times-Picayune doesn’t publish, thereby negating many of its cost savings. Advance has said that it will make similar frequency cutbacks across its portfolio.

Oregon journalists are already rushing in to show their support. Former Oregonian reporter Ryan Frank has taken to social media to raise funds for a bar tab for laid-off staffers. He’s already raised more than $3,000. Follow the fund’s progress at #OregonianBarTab on Twitter. And give generously.

Thanks to Brian Parks for tipping us off to this news.

 

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By Paul Gillin | April 23, 2013 - 7:49 am - Posted in Best/Worst, Journalism, Layoffs

Citing newspaper closures, high stress and low pay, CareerCast has rated newspaper reporter as the worst job in the nation, behind lumberjack, oil rig worker and meter reader.

The ratings, which the jobs portal has published annually since 1988, factor in criteria like income, growth opportunity, environmental factors, stress and physical demands in ranking 200 jobs annually. Newspaper reporter was ranked #126 in the first published report 25 years ago. However, the last decade has seen ad revenues shrink 60% and reporting staffs dwindle by 30%. At the same time, deadlines have become shorter while demands for output have increased.

The job of newspaper reporter “has attracted many aspiring writers, been romanticized in movies and helped bring down corrupt presidents,” the company said in a press release. However, Publisher Tony Lee said people who like to write are better off seeking careers in advertising, public relations or online publishing these days.

The three top-ranked jobs in the nation are actuary, biomedical engineer and software engineer, the survey said. The rankings aren’t necessarily intuitive. For example, “senior corporate executive” is rated #155, attorney #117 and air traffic controller #170. Mining, a job that many people would say is the worst in the nation, isn’t ranked at all. You can find a list of all 200 rated jobs here.

The the 10 biggest losers, with approximate pay levels, are below.
200. Newspaper Reporter – $36,000
199. Lumberjack - $32,870
198. Enlisted Military Personnel - $41,998
197. Actor - $17.44/hour
196. Oil Rig Worker - $37,640
195. Dairy Farmer - $60,750
194. Meter Reader - $36,400
193. Mail Carrier - $53,090
192. Roofer - $34,220
191. Flight Attendant - $37,74

 

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By Paul Gillin | October 20, 2012 - 3:33 pm - Posted in Business News, Layoffs, R.I.P.

A year that has already seen the demise of one print institution – Encyclopedia Britannica – has now marked the end of another. Newsweek magazine will publish its last print edition in December and relaunch in an all-digital format in 2013.

The 79-year-old newsweekly’s exit from print  leaves only Time magazine standing in a market that once supported three robust competitors. US News & World Report, which was launched the same year as Newsweek, published its last print issue two years ago.

No one is particularly surprised at this development. Newsweek has bounced around between different owners for two years. The Washington Post Co. sold it for $1 in 2010 to 92-year-old  stereo equipment magnate Sidney Harman, who promptly died. Before doing so, however, he placed the magazine into a joint venture with Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp, where it became a sibling to The Daily Beast in an awkwardly titled business unit called The Newsweek Daily Beast Co. By that time, the magazine’s circulation had plummeted from a peak of over 3 million to 1.4 million.

Newsweek cover: Princess Diana at 50Editor Tina Brown tried to enliven the print magazine with provocative tactics like a July 2011 cover depicting what Princess Diana would have looked like at age 50, but some media observers thought the racier fare was out-of-step with the magazine’s buttoned-down tradition. The U.S. magazine industry has actually seen a resurgence over the last three years, with revenues growing modestly and print startups exceeding closures by a three-to-one margin in 2012, according to the Associated Press.

That rising tide should have lifted Newsweek‘s boat, but Brown’s tactics took it in the wrong direction, said Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi School of Journalism. “Newsweek did not die,” he told the AP. “Newsweek committed suicide.”

To be fair, Newsweek was already on life support when Brown inherited it. She  reportedly wept when she delivered the news to the Newsweek staff on Thursday. The closure will involve an unspecified number of layoffs.

Diller told The New York Times‘ Media Decoder blog that the Newsweek acquisition “was a mistake.” With only 500 pages of print advertising this year,  “It became completely self-evident that we couldn’t print the magazine anymore.”  Newsweek will actually continue to live in print through a handful of overseas licenses, but U.S. subscribers will next year find it replaced by the all-digital Newsweek Global, with a single, worldwide edition that requires a paid subscription.

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Here’s a news item we didn’t expect to see. Borrell Associates now predicts that U.S. newspaper revenue will rise in 2013, although only by a scant .5%. If the prediction holds true, it would be the industry’s first revenue increase since 2006.

Magazine Print Editions, Websites & Tablets # of Unique Brands Advertising
Time Period Print + Web + Tablet
(unduplicated)
H1 2010 9,536
H1 2011 10,768
H1 2012 14,949
Source: Kantar Media
Base: 60 Publishing Brands with monitored print editions, websites and tablet editions

Borrell’s optimistic newspaper forecast defies conventional wisdom. The research and consulting firm has no particular incentive to bolster the print newspaper business, but it has been forecasting a turnaround for a couple of years. CEO Gordon Borrell said he expects most of the revenue growth to accrue to small newspapers, which have been the most resilient segment of the business during its historic decline. Large dailies will continue to see the annual 4% to 6% declines that have been the norm for the last few years.

The turnaround is shaky, though. Pre-print ads, which typically bring in about 20% of all advertising revenue, could decline as the result of a sweetheart deal between the U.S. Postal Service and a large direct-mail company. The Newspaper Association of America’s howls of protest about the contract have so far fallen on deaf ears.

Borrell is also putting a lot of faith in local online advertising, which it predicts will grow 30% next year. Given that online ad growth at newspapers has been in the single digits annually for the last four years, that seems a stretch. You can hear all of Gordon Borrell’s comments in this recorded webcast.

There’s also good news in magazine land. The Magazine Publishers Association surveyed its members and found a 57% jump  in the number of brands advertising on all magazine media platforms since 2010. That includes tablet, online and print advertising.  The MPA also said magazine apps are some of the highest-grossing titles in the areas of lifestyle, health & fitness and news in the iTunes store.

Publishers apparently are a pretty upbeat bunch. A new study by Michael Jenner of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism finds that two-thirds of newspaper publishers are optimistic about the future, and only 4% are pessimistic. Jenner said the research is based on 450 in-depth interviews with senior publishing executives. They’re moving ahead aggressively on digital platforms, but 60% “do not envision a time in the future when their individual publications will no longer issue print versions of the news.” We admire their optimism, but that’s just nuts.

The Numbers from Nola

Ken Doctor has no illusions about the future. “We all realize that, at some point, daily print will go away,” he writes at the top of this financial analysis of the New Orleans Times-Picayune‘s frequency cuts. Doctor understands the economics of the news publishing business as few people do (his Newsonomics site is a must-read), and this analysis is a useful insight into the revenue and expense models of metro dailies.

Doctor estimates, for example, that circulation brings in about 30% of total revenue at the Times-Picayune and that the four daily editions that are being eliminated contribute between 25% and 30% of print ad revenues. The net result of the paper’s cutback from seven to three issues per week is about an 11% advantage in profitability, he estimates. That’s good, but there are big risks. One is that the T-P is bucking the trend of deriving more revenue from readers and actually doubling down on advertising as a strategy. In effect, it’s doing more of what got newspapers into trouble in the first place.

Meanwhile, the competitive news environment in the Big Easy has made the paper a tempting target for everything from a startup called The Lens to the Baton Rouge Advocate. “Simply, the T-P’s slimming has opened up a floodgate of competition,” Doctor writes. “That makes the distinctive value proposition of the T-P harder and harder to get paying readers to accept.”

That isn’t stopping owner Advance Publications from methodically duplicating the frequency-reduction strategy across its portfolio. The limited success of that strategy in Detroit, where the Free Press and Detroit News made similar frequency cuts nearly four years ago, isn’t necessarily a reliable guide. The Detroit media market is a lot less competitive than New Orleans’, and the strategy hasn’t stopped the steady drumbeat of circulation declines and layoffs.

Incidentally, Nola residents haven’t taken the T-P cutbacks lying down. Grassroots efforts to reverse Advance’s decision testify to the unsinkable spirit of that unique region.

Update, 10/17/12: A survey by Cribb, Greene reports that newspaper publishers are increasingly confident about the future. More than 40% said their local markets are improving, up from 14% in 2011. The percentage who expect profitability to improve this year rose to 52% from 39%, and those who expect advertising revenue to be higher in 2013 grew by a similar margin. Asked if they would buy a newspaper business in the current economic climate, about half said “no.” However, 69% responded “yes” or “maybe” when asked if they would recommend the newspaper business as a career for their children.

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By Paul Gillin | August 30, 2012 - 8:57 am - Posted in Future of Journalism, Journalism, Layoffs, Newspapers

Jeff Jarvis nails it with this headline:  “Reporters: Why are you in Tampa?” And he goes it one better by running some numbers that estimate that media organizations will spend $30 million this week covering a Republican convention of which the outcome is already known. Then they’ll do the same thing next week for the Democrats.

Here’s what we’ll get for this investment:

  • On-the-spot analysis of speeches that could be covered just as easily by watching them on television;
  • Interviews with political junkie delegates who in no way typify the American voter;
  • Journalists talking to each other;
  • TV reports that are supposed to look more urgent because the reporter is standing in front of  a sign labeled “Wisconsin.”

All this is happening in an industry that’s in free fall.

Yet what we’ll get over these two weeks is the same political pabulum we’ve gotten for decades, served up to an American public that’s sick of it all.

1952 Republican National Convention via Wikimedia CommonsPolitical convention coverage epitomizes what’s wrong with mainstream media today. Conventions long ago ceased to have any news value. The last brokered convention was in 1952. Since then, the only purpose of the quadrennial party has been to deliver what Jarvis calls an infomercial. Everything is scripted for the greatest possible momentum going into the fall campaign, and the media plays right along.

Why? Well, as Tevye said: “Tradition!”  It’s always been done this way. Conventions aren’t about news. They’re a junket for senior reporters. They’re easy to cover because everyone who attends them is media-trained and has a scripted message. There’s what media needs today: stuff that’s easy.

How can you cover the reaction of voters back at home when all your best reporters are down in Tampa snarfing down shrimp and free booze? Why are the TV networks  interviewing a small number of delegates and ignoring  millions of online conversations between real voters? How can the media, which prides itself on independence, cooperate so willingly with the PR manipulators who script this stuff? How can it possibly spending so much money on something that produces no news?

Let’s ask different questions: What if The New York Times, Washington Post or NBC made a statement in 2016 and announced that it would skip the conventions and invest that money instead in an investigative unit or database journalist? What if the media stopped coming to the conventions entirely and left the coverage to Journatic? Do you think we would be any worse off? Do you think the economy would suffer? Do you think anyone outside of the media would even notice?

Won’t happen. That would be rocking the boat. And for heaven’s sake, why would anyone want to do that?

Update: Andrew Cohen writes about the unholy camaraderie between media and political parties in the Atlantic. Noting that Huffington Post, The Politico, CNN and Bloomberg spend lavishly on receptions for  delegates, he notes, “People are angry about politics and politicians. They are angry about the way the media cover politics and politicians. Can you blame them, in the face of [media-sponsored] spas and sports bars, in the face of the self-promotion, for perceiving some sort of unholy alliance between reporters and the people upon which they are supposed to be reporting?”


Apparently a Pulitzer Prize is no protection against the ravages of the marketplace. The Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News, and the Syracuse Post-Standard will reduce print frequency to thrice weekly beginning in January. They follow the lead of their Advance Publications brethren in New Orleans and Alabama, which scaled back this spring. The news is particularly disappointing because the Patriot-News  won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting for its coverage of the Penn State scandal. These are not small marketers. The two papers have a combined Sunday circulation of nearly a quarter million. They’ll keep publishing on Sunday. The other two days of the week haven’t been decided. Expect more members of the Advance family to follow.

Update: A tipster says he’s been told there will be a 50% staff reduction at the Post-Standard starting next week. “That’s 200 lost jobs in an already hard-hit community.”

Maybe it’s the summer slowdown kicking in, but the news has been mostly bad this month.

New York Times Building

Why must all media coverage of newspapers have a photo like this?

David Carr writes about a little-discussed liability that’s nearly as damaging to the newspaper industry as its mountain of debt: Pension obligations. Gannett pension fund is under-capitalized by $942 million, McClatchy’s by $383 million and The New York Times Co.’s by $522 million. Carr says the hedge funds that bought up newspapers at bargain prices over the last few years are running for the exits, but they can’t find anyone to take the properties off their hands. Pensions are one reason why. The only investor who’s shown confidence in the industry lately is Warren Buffett, but Carr notes that even he stuck Media General with the retirees when he bought a bunch of its titles.

Pension funds became an albatross around the necks of the steel and auto industries back in the 1980s. Faced with retiree obligations that were, in some cases, significantly larger than annual revenues, companies like U.S. Steel had not choice but to shaft the recipients. A lot of newspapers set up generous pension funds when times were good in the 70s and 80s, and now those workers are retiring. It’s a frightening replay of history, particularly if you’re nearing retirement age.

Carr’s piece is kind of a mid-year health check on the state of the industry, and there’s very little cheer about. He opens with accounts of some recent printed blunders that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. The situation in the print world is so bad that when the New Orleans Times-Picayune offered jobs to some of its editorial staff on the new three-day-a-week print edition, many said no, thanks. They included a Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the editors who anchored the paper’s Hurricane Katrina coverage.

The Thin Line Between Journalism and Typing

Carr reserves some of his most acerbic comments for Journatic, an editorial outsourcing firm part-owned by Tribune Co. that is suddenly getting a lot of scrutiny for practices that would make a professional journalist’s stomach turn.

Read Ryan Smith’s insider account on The Guardian for a look at how far the newspaper industry has fallen. Journatic lives under the radar (its sparse website is actually designed not to attract search engines), providing copy to client publishers that is mostly produced by a loose network of freelancers who work for pocket change. Many of its writers are in the Philippines, which means they speak decent English and work for less and a dollar an hour.

Most of them can’t write very well, though, and Smith recounts stories of barely rewritten press releases that crossed his editor’s desk ready to go into some of America’s finest newspapers. Press releases are Journatic’s bread and butter, along with obituaries from Legacy.com and real estate transaction listings. These are rewritten by its far-flung editorial staff and turned in to U.S. copy editors who make $10/hour. The practice that’s drawn the most criticism is Journatic’s practice of putting fake bylines on articles. The company says it adopted the tactic to protect employees, but that doesn’t sit well with its clients, who are now abandoning ship in the wake of negative media coverage. Hundreds of bogus bylines have already shown up in the Houston Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and San Francisco Chronicle, writes Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman.

Oops.

Journatic produces original content, too. It farms out local stories to U.S. freelancers who report by phone from 1,000 miles away while pretending to be at a desk in the newsroom across town. Reporters need to work quickly. Smith says he was offered $24 for an 800-1,000-word story, $12 for 500 words and $10 for a Q&A. Most of the work went unedited into major newspapers as if reported by a staff journalist.

I’ve copyedited or written news stories for a handful of major US newspapers over the past 18 months – the Houston Chronicle in Texas, San Francisco Chronicle in California and Newsday in Long Island, New York and others – yet it’s doubtful that any of the editors or senior executives for those news organizations could pick me out of a police line-up. In fact, it’s unlikely they could tell you a single personal detail about me or the other journalists behind the bylines of countless stories that appear in their print editions or on their websites, as provided by my employer.

A number of big dailies have quit using Journatic in the wake of recent unflattering coverage, but you can bet this model is far from dead. “Journatic’s approach — and the change it represents — is not going away,” writes Craig Silverman on Poynter.org. That’s because the economics of the news industry are in such dire straits. Whatever work can go offshore will go offshore as newspapers struggle to keep their print properties viable. With revenues spiraling down at 8% to 10% per year, quality will only get worse.

But it’s not just print. As the Times’ Carr points out, no one has yet cracked the code of making online local news profitable. In fact, Journatic’s stronghold is local media, which simply can’t afford to hire full-time reporters any more. So they lay off staff and farm out coverage of the local football team to a stringer. In Manila. (Hat tip to David Strom)

Tablet Salvation

The good news is that tablets will save the day, right? Possibly, but don’t count your winnings just yet. A new study by the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the University of Missouri finds that lots of people use their tablets to keep up with the news. In fact, news-reading is the fourth most popular activity by tablet users, behind communication, entertainment and Web search.  Users’ preferred source of information is news organization websites by a nearly 8:1 margin over social media. Interestingly, 53% of the 1,015 survey respondents said news-on-tablet was a better reading experience than ink-on-dead-trees, compared to just 18% who favor printed media.

The Public Relations Society of America suggests that tablets could revitalize the evening paper, since so much iPadding takes place after 5. But they’ll have to convince Rupert Murdoch of that. The media mogul has reportedly put The Daily on watch. The iPad-only zine is losing $30 million a year, The Politico reports, and its viability will be reassessed after the Nov. 6 election. This despite the fact that The Daily broke the story of Pink Slime, the ground beef additive that triggered a hysterical reaction in the U.S. earlier this year before the USDA stepped in and said that not only is the ingredient safe, but we’ve been eating it for a decade without knowing.

BTW, the most interesting item in the Politico story may be the comment by Martha Jo Peters, whose Facebook profile simply says, “Intend to live alone the rest of my life.” Evidently Murdoch is at least partly responsible. Sad.

Twitter’s News Ambitions

Mathew Ingram thinks Twitter wants to be a media company, and that means its role in the media ecosystem will get more complex. Twitter faces the same challenges that Google has been struggling with for several years: Its basic value is as a filter and organizer that quickly sends people elsewhere on the Web, but it’s hard to make money when your visitors are always leaving so quickly. In essence, the  publishing model that is failing so badly in the traditional media is the model that the biggest new-media startups are seeking.

Twitter appears to see its future as being some kind of newswire. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, CEO Dick Costelo said, “Twitter is heading in a direction where its 140-character messages are not so much the main attraction but rather the caption to other forms of content.” Remember that quote, because it’s really important. It means that in the future Twitter wants to host more content instead of sending people away. But where’s the content going to come from? A lot of it will be from media companies, which have come to value Twitter as a traffic-driver but who may now have to re-evaluate that relationship. Like Google, Twitter is both their best friend and their worst enemy.

If you’ve noticed there are a lot more dead third-party Twitter sites lately, there’s a reason: Twitter is locking down its famously open set of application interfaces and trying to control more of the user experience. Ingram notes that Twitter has had great success with its mobile ads and promoted tweets, and it would like users to stay a little longer on its site. The acquisition of Tweetdeck, as well as several recent improvements to the Twitter.com user experience, are part of that campaign to capture more of the visitor’s time.

Miscellany

Another daily newspaper has joined the ranks of newspapers that are not-so-daily. The Anniston (Ala.) Star will cut its Monday edition beginning in the fourth quarter. Poynter’s Julie Moos has more than you probably want to know here.

Has your local newspaper trimmed frequency from seven days to something else? We’ve had a few inquiries recently from people looking for a list of such journals, but we’ve  never seen one. If you have, please provide a link in the comments, or simply tell us if your local paper has been affected. This will start a list of some kind.


A little good news: The New York Times is more than making up for declining advertising with growth in paid subscriptions. Ad revenue was down 8.1% in the most recent quarter, but circulation revenue was up 9.7%, thanks largely to the success of a new paywall program. Forbes reports that the International Herald Tribune and Boston Globe are also seeing promising results from their early paid digital subscription initiatives.

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New Orleans Times-Picayune May 24, 2012The New Orleans Times-Picayune, a fixture in the Big Easy since 1837, will slash its staff and production schedule, going from 7 to 3 days a week beginning this fall. The body count isn’t known yet, but estimates are that at least a third of the staff will be fired. Those who stay are expected to take pay cuts.

The Times-Picayune, which is owned by Newhouse Newspapers, is apparently taking a page from the Ann Arbor News, another Newhouse paper that cut its frequency to twice-weekly more than three years ago. The Detroit Media Partnership was the first to eliminate daily frequency in late 2008. Many smaller papers have since quietly cut money-losing Monday, Tuesday and Saturday editions.

The strategy is aimed at preserving the newspaper brand – and a viable business – by eliminating unprofitable editions. The newspaper will continue to be published on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, which are typically the three most profitable days of the week.

The New York Times‘ David Carr was the first to break the story in an item published just before midnight last night. Ricky Mathews, who will become president of the newly created NOLA Media Group, confirmed the news in a statement this morning that contained the usual sugar-coating. “NOLA Media Group will significantly increase its online news-gathering efforts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while offering enhanced printed newspapers on a schedule of three days a week,” he said. The only enhancements specified were to food and dining coverage.

All the spin-doctoring in the world doesn’t change the fact that New Orleans will soon become the second major U.S. city without a daily newspaper.

Publishers are struggling with strategies to preserve their brands while transitioning to a digital-mostly strategy, which typically requires between one-third and one-quarter the staff of a printed newspaper. U.S. newspaper revenues have plummeted to levels not seen since the Truman administration on an inflation-adjusted basis, and there’s no indication the trend is likely to turn around. The thinking in New Orleans is that frequency cutbacks can keep the brand in front of readers while enabling the cost reductions to take place and still preserving enough margin to invest in new digital products.

The Times-Picayune won two Pulitzer prizes in 1997 and two more in 2006 for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Former staff members include William Faulkner and O. Henry.


Update: As noted in the comments, The Birmingham News, Mobile Press-Register and Huntsville Times will also reduce frequency to three days a week. They’ll become part of a “new digitally focused media company” called the Alabama Media Group. Read more on Al.com.


Marketplace Radio’s Kai Ryssdal interviews Chris Rose, who worked at the paper for 25 years and helped it win two Pulitzers for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina.


We were interviewed on Marketplace as part of its coverage of this story.

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By Paul Gillin | April 14, 2012 - 9:53 am - Posted in Best/Worst, Layoffs, Newspapers

Newspapers Are Fastest-Shrinking U.S. Industry

 

LinkedIn and the Council of Economic Advisors crunched data from LinkedIn’s nearly 150 million members about industry trends from 2007-2011. The bad news: Newspapers are the fastest-shrinking U.S. industry. The good news: Online publishing is among the fastest-growing. More on the LinkedIn blog.