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 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.


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 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 user experience, are part of that campaign to capture more of the visitor’s time.


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.

Comments Off on Pension Funds, Journatic and Other Travesties

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

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 paulgillin | 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.

By paulgillin | March 29, 2012 - 12:41 pm - Posted in Business News, Layoffs, R.I.P.


Laurel Leader-Call final front pageThe Laurel Leader-Call, a mainstay in the small city of Laurel, MS for more than 100 years, published its final edition today. Residents and the paper’s 18 staffers weren’t given much notice; the announcement was made only on Monday by Publisher Mitchell D. Lynch.

The Leader-Call, which was purchased by a subsidiary of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. in 1999, reduced its publication from daily to four days a week six months ago. Stunned staffers said the news was a surprise, and a farewell retrospective in the final edition reflects similar comments from members of the community.

The Leader-Call was founded in 1911 as the Laurel Daily Argus and the later changed its name to the Laurel Daily Leader  before assuming its current name in 1930.


By paulgillin | December 20, 2011 - 2:11 pm - Posted in BusinessModel, Circulation, Demographics, Layoffs, Newspapers, OnlineMedia

Building ImplosionThe Annenberg School at the University of Southern California created a stir last week with its prediction that only four US daily newspapers will still be in print in five years. “We believe that the only print newspapers that will survive will be at the extremes of the medium – the largest and the smallest,” said Jeffery I. Cole, the school’s director of the Center for the Digital Future. “It’s likely that only four major daily newspapers will continue in print form: The New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.  At the other extreme, local weekly newspapers may still survive.”

How could this be? There are still more than 1,400 metro daily newspapers publishing in print in the US. As one tweeter pointed out, dailies would have to perish at the rate of five per week in order to meet USC Annenberg’s forecast.

We think the five-year timeframe is pessimistic, but we certainly believe USC Annenberg’s prediction will come true within a decade. We made precisely the same prediction five years ago – including identifying the same four titles Annenberg did – only we gave the print industry until 2025 to implode. It now appears that we were optimistic.

Here’s why the Annenberg prediction isn’t so far-fetched. American newspapers had a near-death experience three years ago when two venerable dailies – the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News – closed their doors, each after more than a century of continuous publication. Two other major titles – the San Francisco Chronicle and the Boston Globe – had their own brush with the reaper at the same time. Both were pulled back from the brink only after their unions made massive concessions and hundreds of highly-paid journalists lost their jobs.

Busting the Union

Early 2009 was when publishers broke the back of the Newspaper Guild. At the Globe, the union bargaining position was so weak that the contract that members finally accepted was actually worse than management’s original offer three months earlier. The showdown at the Globe was a turning point for the US newspaper industry. The management victory in the labor negotiations was so complete that publishers across the country were effectively given carte blanche to fire people by the thousands. Which they did. The amazing Erica Smith counted nearly 15,000 newspaper layoffs in 2009 and another 6,700 in the two years since. And her count doesn’t include the many jobs that were eliminated or scaled back without public announcement.

Newspaper publishers basically bought themselves time, and they used it to bring costs in line with revenues. Most newspapers have drastically scaled back the size of their print editions and many have cut back regional distribution. Publishers have raised subscription prices to milk more dollars out of the dwindling cadre of loyalists who are willing to pay for print. Unfortunately, they don’t have much time. The average ago of a daily newspaper reader in the US today is between 56 and 60, depending on whose estimates you believe. That population will shrink more rapidly than any other demographic group over the next 10 or 15 years. Seniors are also the least attractive audience to the advertisers who support print advertising. It’s a bad combination.

For the time being, printed newspapers can survive simply by cutting costs and raising subscription fees, but that strategy invariably turns into a death spiral. At some point publishers will no longer be able to afford to deliver a product that people want to pay to read in print.

Tipping Point

Circulation declines, which have been running about 8% to 10% annually, will accelerate. A tipping point will be reached and the whole print model will fall apart. We don’t know when that threshold will be reached, but demographic trends that indicate it will certainly happen within the next 10 years and will probably hit a lot of titles simultaneously.

The death of the printed daily doesn’t mean the death of print. Many publishers have cut back out unprofitable Saturday and Monday editions as a way to save costs, and more will certainly follow suit. Sunday editions may be around 20 years from now because of the revenue from flyers and coupons. But many newspapers will no longer be able to support a daily publishing schedule within a few years.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that many publishers are beginning to figure out the economics of digital revenues. A milestone was reached just a couple of months ago when the New York Times Co. released its first earnings report since it instituted a paywall early this year. As we reported at the time, Ryan Chitturn of the Columbia Journalism Review estimated that the Times’ digital revenue in the quarter actually exceeded its editorial costs, meaning that the paper could conceivably publish profitably without a print edition. We don’t expect the Times will shut down its presses anytime soon, but publishers across the country should cheer its success at crossing that threshold.

The Times is making the move to digital faster and more effectively than any other daily newspaper. Assuming other publishers follow its lead, we can expect that many major metro dailies will figure out a sustainable digital formula over the next five years. At that point they can begin to wind down their print operations without fear of giving up the farm. This won’t be pretty. Lots of jobs will go away when the presses shut down. However, the brands may survive and even begin to grow again.

Speaking of The New York Times, the parent Times Company is in “advanced talks” to sell off 16 regional newspapers, including titles in Florida, California, North Carolina, and Alabama. The Times Co. will continue to own the Globe and International Herald Tribune. Analysts are saying the move simply removes a headache for the Times, since the regional media were collectively losing money, and the company can now focus on its core business, which is a good thing these days.


We know the U.S. Postal Service is hemorrhaging money and facing criticism that it’s slow, antiquated and inflexible. So in a bold move to remedy its situation, the USPS is responding by becoming slower and less flexible. Read what the recently announced changes in service mean to publishers. We actually don’t want to be too hard on the Post Office, since many of its problems stem from a congressional requirement that it fund retiree health benefits 75 years into the future. That’s not a typo: 75 years.

And Finally…

Craig SilvermanThe holidays bring family, friends, eggnog, and, best of all, the Crunks. Only they’re not called the Crunks any more since our friend Craig Silverman (left) gained the legitimacy of a Poynter affiliation and began publishing his collection of the year’s best media gaffes as “The year in media errors and corrections” on Poynter Online. Thankfully, the content is still the same.

This year’s roundup of the funniest and most outrageous mistakes and corrections is headlined by several major news organizations that confused the President of the United States with the world’s most notorious terrorist and announced the death of “Obama Bin Laden.” One anchorwoman on Canadian television made the mistake three times in just 17 seconds and apparently didn’t even notice.

We like the newspaper headline that reminded readers to “turn your cocks back one hour at 2 a.m. Sunday,” but our favorite is a lengthy correction from The Guardian about this year’s Royal wedding. It includes the passage:

“The piece referred to “damaging stories of royal profligacy past: Charles with his staff of 150, and an aide to squeeze his toothpaste for him”. [The couple’s press secretary] writes, “The Prince of Wales does not employ and has never employed an aide to squeeze his toothpaste for him. This is a myth without any basis in factual accuracy.”

This stuff is too good to be made up. Thank you, Craig.

By paulgillin | October 12, 2011 - 10:29 am - Posted in Best/Worst, Business News, Journalism, Layoffs, Newspapers, OnlineMedia, Paywalls

Craig DubowGannett CEO Craig Dubow (right)  resigned last week for health reasons, saying that back and hip problems prevent him for fulfilling his duties. He leaves a job that could pay him as much as $9.4 million this year, but don’t feel too bad for Dubow: He’s eligible for severance pay of up to $37 million.

The irony of this kind of executive compensation for a company that has laid off nearly 40% of its workforce over the last six years isn’t lost on former New York Times columnist Peter Lewis, who posts a savage send-up of Gannett’s extravagance on his blog. Lewis is particularly brutal in contrasting Dubow’s performance to that of Steve Jobs, who died last week:

Annual base pay: Steve Jobs $1. Craig Dubow $1.2 million.

Stock price during CEO tenure: Apple, up 4,000+ percent. Gannett, down 85 percent.

Job creation during CEO tenure: Apple, plus 28,000. Gannett: minus 20,000.

Notable new products as CEO of Apple: Macintosh, iMac, MacBook, iPod, iTunes, Apple Stores, iPhone, iPad, etc., etc.

Notable new products as CEO of Gannett: ?

Executive pay has been out of control at US companies for decades now, but the practice is particularly offensive at companies in dying industries that are downsizing their way out of existence. Is it conceivable that a talented and motivated executive could be found to lead Gannett at a salary of less than $9 million? How does a company look its employees in the eye and ask them to accept yet another layoff or salary freeze when it nearly doubled the salary of the head of its US newspaper division?

We might just go occupy Wall Street over this.

Open Source Journalism

Make MagazineNikki Usher and Seth C. Lewis dig into the application of open source software principles to journalism and find some parallels. “The news industry is one of the last great industrial hold-overs, akin to the car industry,” they write. “Newsrooms are top-heavy, and built on a factory-based model of production.” In contrast open source software and the so-called “maker” culture exemplified by Make magazine encourage collaboration, sharing and continuous experimentation.

Rethinking journalism requires time and open-mindedness that a lot of journalists might not have, but the power of the open source model can’t be denied. Usher and Lewis imagine a new role for journalists as creators of “the building blocks for the story. And while they write this code, it can be commented on, shared, fact-checked, or augmented with additional information such as photos, tweets, and the like.” Seems to work OK for Wikipedia. The Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership is working on ways to make this model viable. We hope they succeed.

Quality at 5¢ a Word

Demand Media, whose mission is to erase the distinction between journalism and typing, says it doesn’t need freelancers so much any more.  That’s because Google changed its search algorithm, and that means Demand’s editorial mission has shifted.

In case you’re not familiar, Demand Media employs freelance writers to churn out search-optimized content for posting on enormously popular websites like, and The company assigns stories based upon search popularity, meaning that it favors how-to and top-10 formats. A perfect Demand story would be “10 Ways to Remove Coffee Stains.”

Demand is noted for paying freelancers next to nothing while touting the benefits of brand-building and flexibility. “No matter where you end up, you have the potential to influence millions of people with your articles,” says its Writing Jobs page. Writers can make up to $25 an article, or even more! With so many journalists out of work, Demand has succeeded in a recruiting a large pool of contributors, despite its starvation wages.

But apparently not so much now. Google is on a campaign to remove the stuff that these content farms churn out, so the company is shifting to slide shows and videos. Demand says it has eliminated 300,000 low-quality articles from eHow and is focusing on going upscale. “It’s all about quality for us,” said Chief Revenue Officer Joanne Bradford. At a nickel a word.

It’s Not a Paywall, It’s…

Paywalls continue to sprout like crabgrass, but publishers are beginning to show some creative thinking. The Day of New London, Conn. will now charge between $9.99 and $22.99 per month for access to its online content, archives and mobile versions, but subscribers will also become part of a brand loyalty program called The Day Passport, “which features rewards, events and giveaways to local businesses, entertainment venues and cultural institutions.” We were pushing this idea two years ago. Publishers need to expand their revenue base beyond advertising and subscription fees. Affinity programs for local businesses are a natural extension.

We also like what the Richmond Times-Dispatch is doing: Instead of firewalling its content, it’s creating premium content packages such as this one on the Civil War sesquicentennial. The Civil War feature combines historic pages from the newspaper archive with original new material. Pricing begins at $1.99/month, though it’s not clear what other premium packages are planned. We like the concept the concept of charging for added value, and we’re particularly glad to have the chance to use the word “sesquicentennial” in a sentence.

By paulgillin | July 7, 2011 - 1:02 pm - Posted in Best/Worst, Business News, Journalism, Layoffs, Murdoch, Newspapers, R.I.P.

News of the World Front PageIn a stunning example of corporate overreaction, News Corp. today announced that it will shut down Britain’s largest Sunday newspaper amid a growing scandal over voicemail hacking.

The 168-year-old News of the World, which boasts a Sunday circulation of 2.5 million, will publish its last edition on July 10. The move comes as outrage in Britain reached a fever pitch over allegations that the tabloid had illegally accessed and even deleted voice mail messages on the phone of a 13-year-old girl who was kidnapped and later found murdered.

Allegations of phone hacking are nothing new for the tabloid. Reports of reportorial excess have swirled around News of the World for two years. However, public anger and advertiser boycotts grew this week amid allegations that as many as 4,000 people have been victimized by such tactics, including relatives of terrorist attack victims and soldiers killed in combat.

Milly DowlerThe tipping point came with reports this week that hired investigators had not only hacked into the phone of 13-year-old Milly Dowler (left) but also deleted some of the voicemails, giving her parents false hope that the girl was still alive. James Murdoch, the heir apparent to the Rupert Murdoch empire, issued a statement saying such a practice – if it occurred –  “was inhuman and has no place in our company.”

Analysts speculated that the decision to shutter the News of the World and lay off 200 employees was made by the younger Murdoch and supported by his dad, although such drama has not been typical of the elder statesman. Skeptics saw more nefarious motives.

Specifically, they questioned why News Corp. didn’t demand the resignation of Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International and editor of News of the World at the time the allegations first surfaced. Brooks is a Murdoch confidante, and critics suggested that the jobs of 200 people had been sacrificed to preserve hers.

The scandal also broke as News Corp. neared the final stages of its bid for BSkyB,  the largest pay-TV broadcaster in the United Kingdom, with over 10 million subscribers, according to Wikipedia. Critics suggested that the cloud created by the News of the World allegations could have jeopardized Murdoch’s bid.

Writing in the Telegraph¸ Harry Wallop quotes politicians and media commentators speculating that an even more cynical business objective was involved. News Corp. had already announced plans to move to a seven-day-a-week publishing schedule across its four UK titles: the Sun, News of the World, the Times and the Sunday Times. The expansion could  potentially create internal competition across the News Corp. properties. Eliminating one title may have little impact on revenues as advertisers simply migrate their business to other holdings within the portfolio.

Whatever the motives, the decision strikes us as a massive overreaction. Scandals like this are usually addressed by a few high-level resignations and some corporate self-flagellation. It could be that the timing was simply bad for News Corp., but depriving 200 people of their livelihoods – and a couple of million Brits of their weekly celebrity scandals – strikes us as a bit over the top.

ESPN Magazine cover

How bad is it in the magazine world? Two years ago we bought a subscription to ESPN magazine after finding a promotional offer of 26 issues for just $2. We subscribed simply for the experience of getting a fortnightly magazine for less than the cost of postage.

But it turns out we were getting a lot more than just ESPN. Around the time our subscription expired, we started getting Golf magazine every month in the mail. Golf’s promotional price is $10 a year, but we never paid for or requested a subscription. Then, about three months ago, Sports Illustrated began showing up in our mailbox each week. We like that because we’ve actually paid for Sports Illustrated in the past. However, we aren’t paying for this one. It appears to be another side=benefit of our  $2 ESPN deal.

We’re not sure if this embarrassment of riches is at an end, but we do know that altogether we’re receiving about $70 worth of magazine subscriptions for $2. Why? Because the publishers are desperate. New Audit Bureau of Circulations rules have significantly relaxed the criteria for paid circulation. That means the publisher statements for Golf and Sports Illustrated now count us as subscribers despite the fact that we never requested or paid for either subscription. Any advertiser that thinks it’s getting an engaged audience through this accounting sleight-of-hand is fooling itself. Don’t get us wrong: We hope the SI subscription never runs out, but we are never, ever going to pay for it. Are we as valuable to an advertiser as a paying subscriber? Not so much. Is the print magazine industry in a crisis? We think so. BTW, we did not get the attractive tote bag that comes with  a paid subscription..

Gannett Pounds 700 Nails in Print’s Coffin

If you need any further evidence that print has no future, look no further than Gannett’s announcement of 700 layoffs this week, says Poynter’s Rick Edmonds. Revenues at Gannett’s 81 community newspapers were down 7% overall and nearly 10% in print, even as most mainstream media are experiencing a modest recovery right now. Not so in print. Publishing operating margins fells four times as fast as revenues, and it’s been a decade since Gannett bought any print properties at all. Meanwhile, the company has  reduced its stable of newspapers from 99 to 81. Its broadcast and online operations are actually doing just fine, but they’re not growing fast enough to make up for declines in print advertising.  That’s the problem across the industry. Online revenues are growing, but the volume and margins are a tiny fraction of print revenue.

Gannett, which traditionally dances to the tune of Wall Street, is sending a message in aggressively cutting back on its already lean print businesses. In that respect, it’s ahead of the market. Edmonds points out that, ironically, “Metro papers like the Boston Globe and Dallas Morning News that have adopted a high price/high quality circulation strategy know readers will not be satisfied with skinny papers that have little worth reading. So those newsrooms are protected and, in a few cases, growing.” For a while, that is. Those papers are milking an aging but still profitable population that will dwindle sharply over the next decade. When the tipping point is reached and paid subscribers no longer justify a printed product, the closures will happen en masse.

Nonprofits Figuring It Out

We wrote recently about California Watch, a nonprofit investigative news operation that is breaking even by syndicating its content at low cost to dozens of news outlets to customize as they wish. California Watch and others like it understand the economics of multiple revenue streams. Few newspapers can afford to support large investigative reporting staffs, but a bunch of smaller publishers can collectively contribute enough to make an independent investigative team viable.

Joe BergantinoCalifornia Watch isn’t the only outlet breaking new ground in this area. Writing on Nieman Journalism Lab, Justin Ellis tells the story of New England Center for Investigative Reporting, another nonprofit operation that is surviving on a combination of grants and revenue from paid training workshops for aspiring journalists. The group has only two full-time staff and a corps of freelancers. It delivers its investigative work via a subscription service and republishes them on its website. The Center recently reached a milestone by matching its grant funds with revenue generated from subscriptions and training, meaning it’s on the road to self-sufficiency.

Co-director and veteran New England TV reporter Joe Bergantino (left) says, “To be successful you have to walk through the door and immediately think about how to make money.” And what’s wrong with that? For the last 50 years or so, journalists have had the luxury of having the bills paid by people they don’t even know. Very few businesses operate that way, so Bergantino and his tiny team are simply functioning by the same rules that small businesses have lived with for years. Does that make the quality of their work less reputable?

Got HTML5?

Financial Times' Mobile AppThe Financial Times’ new mobile app racked up 100,000 users in its first week. The twist is that the FT decided to develop the app in the new HTML5 format instead of coding it for the iPad or Android platform. If you don’t know what HTML5 is, here’s a tutorial. It’s an important new technology that could make Flash animation and other plug-in-based multimedia obsolete.

HTML5 works entirely within the browser and gives the publisher considerably more control over display, organization and animation than earlier HTML versions did. Information can be stored and read offline, as well as updated automatically without user intervention (No more Adobe updates; how cool is that?) The trick is that most browsers don’t fully support it yet, but that’s just a matter of time. Apple’s Safari is one of the best browsers for HTML5 apps. That’s not surprising, given that Steve Jobs has engaged in a bitter public dispute with Adobe over Flash. The downside for Apple is that HTML5 enables publishers to deliver apps themselves without using the iTunes store as an intermediary. That’s why the FT is updating its content directly, without going through the iTunes store. HTML5 will also make it easier for publishers like Playboy, whose content wouldn’t make it past the Apple censors, has also gone the HTML5 route.


If you’ve ever wondered whether the image you’re about to publish has been Photoshopped, try out this new service from Google. Upload or type the URL of an image and Google will now scan its database for images just like it – including the exact same image. We’re not sure what it will find if given a photo of one of Lady Gaga’s dresses, but for those beautiful sunset landscapes that come in from “citizen journalists,” it might be worth a try, just to be safe.

Meredith is closing the hip, do-it-yourself magazine ReadyMade and eliminating 75 positions. Apparently an audited circulation of 335,000 wasn’t enough to attract advertisers.

John Locke has become the first self-published author to sell over 1 million books on Kindle. The 60-year-old Louisville, KY resident has written nine novels, mostly thrillers, and charges only 99 cents for the Kindle versions. He says he has no intention of raising his prices. Having brought in about a million dollars this way, Locke is making a decent income for a novelist, especially since he doesn’t have to pay publisher and distributor costs that typically leave the author with only about 10% of a book’s cover price.

In deference to Huffington Post, The New York Times plans to intermingle news and opinion in its “Week in Review” section, saying, “We thought readers would find it more useful to have the stories, photographs and charts offered in an integrated way.” Back in the day, op-ed sections themselves were controversial. Now they will be indistinguishable, although the Times says it will clearly label opinionated content.

And Finally…

Tom MacMasterThis one is almost too bizarre to be believed. A couple weeks ago, it was revealed that a popular Syrian lesbian blogger who went by the name of “A Gay Girl in Damascus” is actually a 40-year-old married dude from Scotland. Despite the fact that gay activists in Syria believe this guy put their safety at risk, he continues to blog under the pseudonym, although he did post a profuse apology for the ruse.

The very same week, a guy in Ohio named Bill Graber admitted that he is Paula Brooks, an executive editor for lesbian site Graber used his wife’s name in the hoax and even posed as the father of the fictitious blogger for media interviews, claiming Paula is deaf. Graber got away with hoax for three years because he was so believable, according to LezGetReal’s managing editor.

It gets even weirder. Quoting the account in

Months ago, Graber, posing as “Paula Brooks,” reportedly encouraged “Amina Arraf” to start a blog, but neither Graber nor MacMaster knew the other was really a man posing as a lesbian woman online. According to the Washington Post, Arraf and Brooks “often flirted” with each other online as well.

This week, after both hoax identities unraveled, Graber described his interactions to the Washington Post with Arraf/MacMaster as a “major sock-puppet hoax crash into a major sock-puppet hoax.”

We can only hope neither sock puppet survived the collision.


A group of bloggers is suing Huffington Post, founder Arianna Huffington, and AOL for $105 million, saying they deserve to be paid more – or ever paid at all – for the content they’ve contributed to the site. The bloggers are miffed by the fact that Arianna Huffington sold the site for $315 million to AOL and didn’t offer to share any of the windfall with the 9,000 or so bloggers who have contributed free content for the last four years. On the other hand, Huffington never promised to pay those bloggers anything, so no contract has been violated.

Jonathan Tasini via WikipediaThe plaintiffs actually aren’t challenging HuffPo on contract terms. In a press conference, they said they’re suing under common law based on a claim of “unjust enrichment.” In other words, what Huffington did is just wrong, despite the fact that there was no legal prohibition against her doing it.

Spokesman Jonathan Tasini (above left), who is described as both a union organizer and journalist, had some eyebrow-singeing words for Ms. Huffington. “We are going to make Arianna Huffington a pariah in the progressive community,” he said. “No one will blog for her. She’ll never [be invited to] speak. We will picket her home. We’re going to make it clear that, until you do justice here, your life is going to be a living hell.” Restraining order, anyone?

Journalists Deserting Bay Area

The San Francisco Peninsula Press Club surveyed its membership and found that there wasn’t much membership left to survey. A non-scientific census found that 45% of the 700 journalists “accepted a buyout or voluntarily left their job during a period of downsizing during the past 10 years,” according to a news item posted in the San Francisco Business Times. The wording is vague about whether that means those laid-off journos are still out of work – and only 3% of respondents said they’re currently unemployed – but the research is being interpreted as a sign that nearly half the journalists in the San Francisco area have fled during the last decade.

The findings are unsurprising in light of the massive hits Bay Area newspapers have taken in the face of electronic competition. The San Jose Mercury News has cut well over half its staff in recent years, and the San Francisco Chronicle was only weeks away from being shuttered by Hearst before heavy cost cuts spared its life two years ago. Neither is at all well.


Fortunately, those laid-off journalists won’t have to pay as much for their Amazon Kindles as they used to. Amazon just introduced an ad-supported version of its e-reader that’s priced $25 lower than the version without the commercials. That means the Kindle, which was introduced in 2007 at a price of $399, is now only $114, and we can’t imagine why Amazon doesn’t just drop the price to $99 and make the device an impulse purchase. It continues to make strange decisions in the face of heavy new competition from tablets.

Speaking of which, a survey of 1,431 tablet owners by Google’s Admob mobile ad network found that tablet-toters spend more time with their devices than with magazines, newspapers, radio, laptops or TV (although not combined). We’re not sure if the total includes time spent cuddling the tablets while sleeping, but it was an excuse for Search Engine Watch to put together this nifty infographic (click to super-size).

Search Engine Watch on tablet usage


...but apparently not TBD's future.

Wow, that was fast.

Just six months after it was launched as the most ambitious hyperlocal news operation in the US, Washington’s TBD has cut expenses deeply and narrowed  its mission to arts and entertainment. One third of the staff – or 12 employees – were let go this week. The apparent chaos at TBD is evidenced by the fact that general manager Bill Lord, who came on board just two weeks ago, said layoffs were only one of several options being contemplated at that time. Owner Allbritton Communications cited low traffic figures as the cause of the cutbacks. Considering that TBD racked up 6 million page views in January, it must have needed a lot of traffic to cover expenses.

The breathtaking speed with which Allbritton reined in the TBD venture shouldn’t be lost on other hyperlocal publishers. Alan Mutter sums up the difficulties that all such organizations face:

  • Small audiences are difficult to monetize in the first place;
  • Finding and converting advertisers to reach small audiences is expensive;
  • Advertisers are reluctant to spend a lot of money on online ads in general, particularly when the audiences are small.

Mutter calls AOL’s, which now encompasses more than 800 hyperlocal sites, the next litmus test for the concept. AOL is reportedly spending $50 million on the venture, but the tone of Mutter’s analysis is that that money is probably wasted.

Keep reading, though,  if you want a different perspective. Nearly every one of the 20 or so people who weigh in on Mutter’s post disagree with him, some vehemently. They argue that hyperlocal news does work if publishers don’t get too greedy. Comment writers include several people who are successfully running the kind of small operations for which Mutter see so little hope.

“Hyperlocal is just a way of expressing the need for news that is more local, closer to the neighborhood or town level, than the metro daily ever could be,” notes  Jay Rosen. “And of course it corresponds to a class of advertiser that was priced out of and ill served by the metro daily and TV stations.”

Oscar MartinezAdds Oscar Martinez (left) of NeighborsGo, a successful hyperlocal venture by the Dallas Morning News, “If nothing else, [the] effort should be applauded because the competition will remind newspapers that there IS money on the table and, more important, there’s still time to go after it.”  We interviewed Martinez more than 2 1/2 years ago, and his hyperlocal operation is still alive and kicking.

Our take: Mutter’s analysis is accurate, but publishers continue to debate the wrong thing. The issue isn’t whether there’s enough advertising out to fund a lot of successful hyperlocal ventures; there probably isn’t. The solution is in finding other ways to monetize small businesses in the area. We laid out our proposal two years ago, but with the exception of Sacramento Press, a hyperlocal venture that is truly flourishing, we haven’t seen a whole lot of interest.

Promoting Newsroom Innovation

Lauren Rabaino picks up on a Twitter chat with Jay Rosen in which the professor said newsrooms need to radically revamp their culture. Rabaino points to a few examples of how tech startups break the mold in interacting with the customers and investors. While her use of the word “awesome” is a bit excessive, her examples aren’t.  Why are biographies on news sites so boring? Probably because newspaper cultures have traditionally buried the identities of all but their most prominent columnists. In contrast, tech startups use bio pages to point out that there are real people behind the products. Why not humanize the staff that brings you the news? Chances are they’re members of the community, anyway.

There’s also an interesting idea about bringing webcams into the workplace, something that text-messaging startup Tatango has reportedly done for its investors (although we can find no evidence of it on Tatango’s website). We’re not sure if webcams in the newsroom would be very interesting to look at, but the idea of opening up news meetings to the public has always intrigued us. Yes, competitors would be free to watch the action, too, but might the involvement of the community in the news gathering process also give the open newsroom a competitive edge? We’ve always thought that when it comes to reporting the news, more participation is better than less. Some traditionalists still resist that idea.

In a similar vein, Editor & Publisher has an essay by Neil Greer, CEO and co-founder of, about how to motivate people to innovate. We think the recommendations are mostly management common sense, but they’re valid anyway.. T


The Selma (AL) Times-Journal will put up a paywall next Tuesday, becoming the latest in a trickle of small papers to charge for access. It’ll cost you $48/year or $4.95/month to get the news, and PayPal is accepted. Print subscribers will get in for free, but only after paying the online fee and then asking for a rebate. The story about the paywall is bylined by Times-Journal news editor Rick Couch, who temporarily abandons journalistic impartiality in failing to explore the controversy around paywalls or the possibility that this could actually be a bad idea.

The University of Colorado should eliminate its standalone journalism major in favor of an integrated information science or digital communications program, according to the chancellor of the Boulder campus. If approved, the shutdown of the current journalism school could happen as early as  next year. Chancellor Phil DiStefano isn’t calling for journalism education to fade from this earth. Rather, he thinks it should be incorporated more holistically into a liberal arts education and perhaps become a minor concentration. Boulder’s Daily Camera presents both sides of the debate, including anxious statements from the current journalism faculty who will be moved, like displaced persons, to other corners of the campus.

The Detroit Media Partnership is borrowing an idea from the fast-food industry and offering a $5,000 prize to the person or group who can come up with the best idea “for helping The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press increase their audiences or better serve the community.” Management is taking suggestions now and will hold a public vote in early April. Finalists will pitch their ideas to a panel of judges that includes Domino’s Pizza Inc. CEO Patrick Doyle, whose policy of responding to customer complaints about his company’s crappy product is credited with turning Domino’s around.

Detroit eighth-grader Annie Reed levitates over Eminem interview Detroit’s second most famous business – rapper Eminem – shook up the local journalism world a bit by snubbing hundreds of media supplicants and granting a rare interview to East Hills Middle School eighth-grader Annie Reed. Reed, who had pursued the interview at the urging of her newspaper instructor,  talked to the 38-year-old rapper for about 10 minutes. The word “cool” was apparently used several times. The Detroit Free Press story is more about how Reed got the audience with Eminem than about what was said on the phone. It’s an uplifting tale and the photo is great. Lose Yourself.

“Launch glitches” will keep Rupert Murdoch’s tablet-only Daily free for at least several more weeks, according to Publisher Greg Clayman. Users have been reporting frequent crashes and freezes, which Clayman said is not surprising for a digital news publication that sometimes exceeds 100 pages per day. While people we know who have tried the Daily mainly dismiss it as gossipy fluff, Clayman says subscriptions are running ahead of plan, although he wouldn’t be more specific

The quarterly earnings season is upon us, and newspaper publishers are reporting better results, but not on the print side. The Washington Post Co. earned $11.59 a share in the quarter, which is nearly $3 dollars better than analyst consensus estimates.  However, print advertising revenue dropped 12%, continuing the ugly trend of the last five years. The good news: online revenues were up substantially.

A.H. Belo Corp., which publishes the Dallas Morning News and Providence Journal, among others, lost $119.5 million, or $5.65 per share, during the final quarter of 2010. That’s way down from earnings of $5.6 million, or 27 cents per share, in the same period the previous year. However, a large charge to cover pension expenses responsible for much of the drop. Revenue was down about 4%.

Gannett reported a fourth-quarter profit increase of 30%, largely due to cost-cutting and strength in its broadcast division. However, advertising revenue on the publishing side dropped nearly 6% and circulation revenue was down 4%.

And Finally…

Thanks to Legends and Rumors for calling out this correction from The New York Times, which we publish in its entirety:

An article on Jan. 16 about drilling for oil off the coast of Angola erroneously reported a story about cows falling from planes, as an example of risks in any engineering endeavor. No cows, smuggled or otherwise, ever fell from a plane into a Japanese fishing rig. The story is an urban legend, and versions of it have been reported in Scotland, Germany, Russia and other locations.