globe_deadline

Management at the Boston Globe finally wore down union leadership last night and won tentative agreement on a revised contract that is substantially similar to the one the union rejected a little over two weeks ago.  The new contract slightly reduces the pay cut management had originally sought, although it includes additional benefit reductions.  More importantly, the Globe and its parent New York Times Co. emerged victorious on the biggest issue: the right to end lifetime job guarantees for 170 employees.

Union members still have to ratify the proposed contract in a vote set for July 20, but approval seems likely now that union leadership has endorsed the deal.  The end of the last bitter labor dispute between Globe management and employees also positions the paper for sale to one or more of several interested suitors, which include investor and Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca,; Partners HealthCare chairman Jack Connors and former Globe executive Stephen Taylor.

Schedule Cutbacks Have Unforeseen Effects

More than 100 daily newspapers in 32 states have cut at least one daily edition in an effort to reduce costs and avoid layoffs.  But if you think that changing frequency is a matter of just shuttling around the work schedule, read this excellent piece in Editor & Publisher on the ripple effects of becoming somewhat-less-than-daily. Joe Strupp talked to editors around the country and found that cutting as little as one day’s worth of print news can force significant changes in the way a newspaper approaches its mission. “We try to cover Saturday through Monday on Tuesday. But we don’t staff Sunday night so we can staff more the rest of the week. There is more breaking news that goes up on Monday,” says Dan Liggett of the Wilmington (Ohio) News Journal in a quote that typifies the kind of calendar soup that these editors must contend with.

Some papers have had to add pages on days following gaps in the production schedule because print diehards still want local news and won’t go online for it.  Big news stories tend to lose momentum when they occur just before a break in the production schedule.  This forces editors to alter subsequent coverage to keep reader interest from waning. The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, which are the most prominent dailies to cut back on print, have moved more enterprise reporting stories into the Thursday, Friday and Sunday editions that land on subscribers’ doorsteps.

In communities with active high school sports schedules, the loss of a Saturday edition has prompted website editors to boost the priority of local sports in Saturday online coverage and to add Sunday pages to handle the demand. Other publishers have found that weekly columns and features that appeared on certain days have had to be moved to other days because readers didn’t want to give them up.

The good news is that “editors are becoming more convinced that print-devoted readers will stick around even when fewer editions are available and stories get published days after a news event,”  Strupp concludes.

R.I.P. Ann Arbor News

Ann_Arbor_News_BuildingThe Ann Arbor News, which announced plans in March to scale back from daily to twice weekly frequency, is apparently going a little further than that.  Writing on Poynter.org, Rick Edmonds reports that the 174-year-old daily is effectively shutting down.  The “unspecified number of layoffs” the paper announced in March is in fact the entire staff, Edmonds says. The headquarters building (right) will be sold and an entirely new online operation launched with a twice-weekly print edition that looks pretty lightweight. Staffers will have the opportunity to apply for jobs at a much lower pay scale than what most of them are currently earning.  Edmonds suggests that Ann Arbor’s young, hip college-age crowd is more attuned to online media and extrapolates the same scenario playing out in cities like San Francisco, Boston, Minneapolis, Seattle and San Jose, where a young, upwardly mobile populace creates a hostile environment for a daily newspaper.

Miscellany

Editor & Publisher continues to try to find insight in the increasingly meaningless “time-spent-on-sight” statistics for major newspapers.  We pointed out some of the weaknesses of this metric in our analysis of last month’s figures, including the paradoxical fact that big spikes in traffic can actually drive down time-spent figures.  Did the Washington Post really do anything to deserve a one-third drop in reader time commitment from May 2008 (16:04) to May 2009 (10:58)? If you look at the snapshot for those two months, things look pretty negative for the Post, but the April 2008 time-spent number was 12:55, which hints that the figure from May of last year was a fluke.  We wish Nielsen would stop flouting these monthly snapshots and concentrate instead on six month moving averages, which would filter out the short-term spikes that make year-to-year comparisons practically useless.


Fans of Jim Hopkins’ hugely popular Gannett Blog can breathe a sigh of relief.  The crusade to be the world’s most reliable source about what’s going on inside the company will continue at Gannettoid after the blog shuts down on July 19. Gannettoid is “a Web site that serves as a collection of stories, links and other Web sites about Gannett Company.” While it isn’t formally affiliated with Gannett Blog, Gannettoid is welcoming devotees to continue their conversations in the forum section.  No word on whether Hopkins will pop in for a visit now and then.


The new owners of the San Diego Union-Tribune are already selling off property acquired in the purchase of the newspaper last month. Two properties have gone on the market at a combined sale price of $9.1 million, which is nearly 40% higher than what Platinum Equity paid for them. The move would tend to confirm Ken Doctor’s theory that Platinum Equity acquired the U-T primarily for its real estate value and got the newspaper thrown in for free. (via Gary Scott)


Sun Newspapers will eliminate 115 full- and part-time positions in mid-August as part of a sweeping reorganization plan that will reduce the company’s portfolio of weekly newspapers by half and outsource accounting, payroll and home delivery to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Both organizations are owned by New Jersey-based Advance Publications.


The Columbia Journalism Review profiles Alan Mutter, whose Reflections of a Newsosaur blog has stirred up the industry and created a launch pad for Mutter’s ideas about reinventing news organizations. It’s a good companion to our Feb. 18 audio interview with Mutter that includes details about his new ViewPass venture, which seeks to give publishers a viable subscription model.


Katharine_WeymouthWashington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth addressed graduates of the Medill School Of Journalism at Northwestern University over the weekend, urging them to continue to fight the good fight and declaring that “the need for great journalism is stronger than ever.” You can read the full text of her address here. Dan Gillmor tweeted that it was a “defensive commencement speech by WashPost publisher; she plainly has no strategy for future.”  However, Weymouth’s remarks indicate that she understands that the old model is collapsing and that publishers must adapt to a new world in which they are no longer “a toll booth over a bridge” to their readers.  Read the text and draw your own conclusions.


Last week we noted that MySpace is struggling against Facebook and other adult-oriented social networks, calling into question the effectiveness of Rupert Murdoch’s management strategy.  Now MySpace is laying off two-thirds of its international workforce, or 300 people, on top of the 400 laid off in the US last week.  Altogether, the company has cut its total workforce by nearly 40%.  Which only goes to show, we suppose, that media dislocation isn’t limited strictly to old media.

And Finally…

Oyster_ReportersThere is hope for veteran journalists.  Oyster Hotel Reviews is a fledgling online venture that employs 13 journalists to conduct extensive reviews of lodgings for business and leisure travelers.  The site, which is funded by Bain Capital Ventures, bucks the current trend toward wisdom-of-crowds reviews by employing professionals to visit hotels under cover and write about their experiences. “Oyster.com is a great opportunity for these journalists as they provide full benefits, competitive salary and a job that includes travel to various hotels around the world fully paid for—who wouldn’t want that as a job?” a publicist wrote us.  We’re wondering where to apply.

We’re back from filing an 80,000-word manuscript for a book about using billions of dollars worth of high-tech satellite equipment to find Tupperware in the woods. Really. And not much has changed in the last 10 days.

Murdoch Now Struggles Online

Rupert Murdoch was hailed as a visionary when he paid the then-bargain price of $580 million for MySpace in 2005, but now it appears that the newspaper mogul may not know that much about running an Internet community after all. MySpace just laid off 400 employees in the US and could cut another 100 internationally. That would amount to more than 15% of the company’s 3,000-employee workforce.

Crain’s New York quotes eMarketer forecasting a 15% drop in MySpace ad revenue this year, while Facebook is expected to gain 10%. MySpace is still bigger, but it’s headed in the wrong direction, with a 2% decline in visitors in April, compared to an 89% gain at Facebook. Murdoch has fired some executives and promised to rejuvenate MySpace, but the site has lost its utility to the older audience, which is flocking to Facebook. MySpace is still the preferred destination for rock bands and entertainment companies, but that doesn’t give it much cachet with the wealthier audience that Facebook is attracting.

Post Publisher Just an Ordinary Mom

katherine_weymouthVogue has a feature on Katharine Weymouth, publisher of the Washington Post and granddaughter of the revered Katharine Graham. Nancy Hass portrays Weymouth as an unpretentious, down to earth mother of three who just happens to run one of the world’s most prominent media properties.  “She’s a mother first,” says her friend Molly Elkin, a labor lawyer.

The Post‘s new managing editor, Marcus Brauchli, calls Weymouth “an amazing listener” who isn’t afraid of criticism and who seems more at home with her people that the glitterati. She moved her office off the Post‘s executive floor and down into the advertising department, where she easily banters with her employees. Her home is a modest four-bedroom affair in Chevy Chase, where she greets visitors amid the barely controlled chaos of a living room full of toys.

Although she faces a huge task in reinvigorating a paper whose circulation has dropped 20% since its heyday, she says she has no grand plan. In fact, the piece makes out Weymouth to be a smart (Harvard magna cum laud and Stanford Law) achiever who makes it up as she goes along. Her attitude toward the Huffington Post and The Daily Beast, which both use Post content without paying: “Good for them. All’s fair, you know.”

Miscellany

The Associated Press is struggling to change its business model in light of the collapsing fortunes of the newspaper industry. The cooperative is trying to negotiate more lucrative licensing deals from major Internet news sites while cutting prices to newspapers in an effort to prop them up. The AP will reduce fees by $45 million for newspapers and broadcasters next year, or about $10 million more than the rate cut it announced in April, CEO Tom Curley said earlier this week. But that won’t stop the decline in revenue, which is expected to continue through at least next year. Curley said the AP aims to reduce its 4,100-person workforce by 10% through attrition, but that layoffs may be necessary.


After 18 months on the market, the Portland (Me.) Press Herald finally has a new owner who has promised to reinvigorate the troubled paper and restore it to profitability by the end of the year. Bangor native Richard Connor officially took the helm this week and said readers will immediately notice a thicker paper and better integration with the website. But there will be pain, with layoffs of up to 100 employees likely.  Remaining employees will get a percentage of the operation and two seats on the board. A conciliatory Guild executive said the layoffs will prevent much bigger job losses that would have occurred if the Press Herald had gone under.


The Knight Foundation is funding nine new-media projects to the tune of $5.1 million. The biggest winner is DocumentCloud, a project conceived by journalists from The New York Times and ProPublica to create a set of open standards for sharing documents. Other projects receiving support include one to help citizens use cell phones to report and distribute news, an effort to develop a media toolkit for developing mobile applications and an online space where the people can report and track errors in the media.


Yahoo’s Newspaper Consortium continues to be a bright spot for the industry. Yahoo reported that five new members just joined the ad-sharing cooperative: the Orange County Register, Colorado Springs Gazette, North Jersey’s Record and Herald News and the San Diego Union-Tribune. The group’s 814 newspaper members account for 51 percent of all Sunday circulation in the US.


Newspaper Guild members at the Albany Times Union have rejected a management proposal that would have eliminated seniority considerations in layoffs and permitted outsourcing of Guild jobs. The vote was 125 to 35. No word on whether the parties will return to the bargaining table, where they have been deadlocked for nine months.


Dan Gillmor has a short, pointed piece on MediaShift pleading for an end to caterwauling over the future of journalism and praising the “messy” process that is going on.  ”I’ve grown more and more certain that we will not lack for a supply of quality news and information,” provided that risk-takers are permitted to experiment and that the supply of people who want to practice quality journalism doesn’t dry up, he writes. Like Clay Shirky, Gillmor believes experimentation will ultimately lead to many smaller news operations replacing a few big ones, and that that’s not a bad thing.

Gawker’s Ryan Tate takes issue with the conventional wisdom that bloggers can’t be depended upon to cover local government.  Keying off of David Simon’s testimony before Congress this week, Tate tells of his experience as a reporter in Oakland, Calif. pounding a local beat. “I often found that bloggers were the only other writers in the room at certain city council committee meetings and at certain community events. They tended to be the sort of persistently-involved residents newspapermen often refer to as ‘gadflies’ – deeply, obsessively concerned about issues large and infinitesimal in the communities where they lived,” he writes.

Tate makes an important point that’s been largely missing from the debate over the value of bloggers.  The conventional wisdom is that these newfangled Internet publishers like to lounge in their pajamas all day and spout off about the news reported by the hard-working journalists who get paid to sit in boring local government meetings and pore over boring documents.  No one in their right mind would do this kind of work without pay, the wisdom goes, so the decline of newspapers is the loss of an essential public service.

The flaw in this argument is that it assumes that no one cares about local government or will bother to waste time learning how it works.  But our experience is somewhat different.

Engaged Citizens

Drop by any meeting of your local town government and you’ll find concerned citizens sitting in the cheap seats, watching intently what’s going on.  What motivates these people?  Usually, it’s passion for the topics  being discussed.  Whether it’s an increase in property taxes, a school bond, a new sewer project or a prohibition against walking dogs on the town common, citizens do come out to learn about issues that matter to them.

All of these people are, broadly defined, potential bloggers.  Maybe their tools of choice don’t look like this one, but their desire to communicate is no less powerful than anybody else’s.  Some may choose to use a listserv or e-mail list.  They may tweet their opinions or share them on talk radio.  But they have opinions to share and facts to convey.

Check out a list of bloggers in the borough of Brooklyn as noted in the blog rolls on Brooklyn Heights Blog and A Brooklyn Life.  These people write about all sorts of things: local arts, events, politics, schools and community organizations. They’re not journalists, but they have a lot to contribute to a public discussion and they observe things at a level of granularity that few newspapers could ever match.

The twist is that every one of them has an opinion.  Their “coverage” is filtered through the lens of their biases, which is uncomfortable for people who are accustomed to just-the-facts reporting.  The flipside is that these people collectively gather far more information than news organizations ever could.  With dozens of bloggers covering the borough of Brooklyn, can you really make the argument that citizens have less news available about the their community today than they did five years ago?

The challenge for news organizations is to develop new ways to synthesize and make sense of this deluge of information.  Instead of assigning a reporter to cover city council meetings, it might be easier to set up a webcam and let citizens watch the proceedings themselves.  Local bloggers can be co-opted to contribute to a news aggregation site in exchange for traffic.  Journalists can be retrained to filter and interpret information and validate it against the video captured by the webcam. Coverage of events can be surrounded by opinion about what actually happened.

News organizations were created to serve a public that was starved for information.  Today, the equation has flipped.  We are drowning in information.  The new role of journalists will be to simplify and contextualize.  They’ll be serving a different need, but a need that’s no less pronounced than the one they served previously.

Kindle to the Rescue

nyt_kindleThe newest port in a storm for the embattled newspaper industry is Amazon’s Kindle, a $500 handheld device that can store thousands of books and periodicals while retaining some of the look and feel of traditional print.

The reason publishers are swarming the Kindle is because of evidence that consumers will do something with it that they don’t do with their desktop computers: pay subscription fees.  It’s not surprising that leading publishers like The New York Times and the Washington Post are syndicating their content through Amazon at fees of up to $14 per month. Both papers have announced programs to offer discounted Kindles to paying subscribers. The Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News are investigating ways to deliver devices from Plastic Logic of Mountain View, Calif. that offer a similar experience.

Is the Kindle the salvation for the industry?  Not at $500, it isn’t. As long as Amazon premium-prices the device, the market will be limited to no more than about 5 million US users, according to Forrester Research. Most people aren’t ready to pony up that kind of money for a device that can easily be left in the back pocket of an airline seat, as happened to Sara Nelson, editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly last year.

But don’t expect these prices to hold.  At this point, Kindle has the market mostly to itself, but a slew of competitors are on the horizon. As Moore’s Law kicks in, expect prices to drop to the sub-$100 range within two to three years.  Big publishers are doing the right thing to prepare themselves for mass-market digital reading devices, which could replace laptop computers over time.  By not making the mistake of giving away their content for free on the Kindle, they can avoid the mess that has devalued their current online content.

Miscellany

If anyone thought the purchase of the San Diego Union-Tribune by an equity investment firm would save the company from major layoffs, their hopes have been dashed by news that Platinum Equity plans to lay off 192 employees — or about 19% of the U-T‘s workforce — over the next couple of months. The announcement came just three days after Platinum Equity completed its purchase of the paper from the Copley Press.  Once the new owners, who are self-described turnaround specialists, dig into the property they just acquired, more layoffs will probably follow.


Rupert Murdoch wants to start charging for access to the newspapers owned News Corp., apparently in the belief that subscribers to the New York Post are just like subscribers to The Wall Street Journal. Good luck with all that.  The Boston Globe is also looking into micropayments as a way to extract revenue from readers of its popular Boston.com website, reveals Globe publisher P. Steven Ainsley in an interview that is otherwise unremarkable.


Murdoch, who has been pessimistic about the economy for months, now says things are getting better. This week he declared that “it is increasingly clear that the worst is over,” and that “revenues are beginning to look healthier.” You wouldn’t know that from quarterly earnings just reported by Gannett, McClatchy and Lee Enterprises, but in all fairness, those are backward-looking indicators.

The Columbia Journalism Review explores the changes at The Wall Street Journal that have made it an enigma among US newspapers. In an atmosphere of decline and panic, the Journal is growing both print and online subscriptions. While its advertising revenue has suffered along with the rest of the industry’s, there is a sense that this paper is doing something right. It’s “moving the needle,” as journalist Liz Featherstone notes at the outset of her 3,300-word analysis.

Moving the needle is apparently a sore spot at the Journal. Some people see the phrase as a euphemism for dumbing down the content, and their opinion has some merit. A 3,300-word analysis like Featherstone’s would have a tough time getting in the paper these days. Featherstone counted a dozen stories of over 2,000 words in the front section during a one-week period in 2007. In a more recent comparison, that total had dwindled to three. Instead, the Journal has got reporters chasing news in general and The New York Times in particular. Stories are shorter, reporters are running from press conference to press conference and the Journal no longer seems to regard its mission as being to explain capitalism. Instead, it’s becoming a hard news-driven international wire service with a specialty in business topics.

Reader Focus

robert_thomsonUnder new editor Robert Thomson (left, WSJ photo), the paper has become more focused on giving his readers what they want, even if that isn’t what the journalists like.  Featherstone snagged an interview with Thomson, who refers disdainfully to some newspapers as being written more for journalists than for their readers.  The reference is clearly to the Journal itself.

Thomson sees today’s constantly distracted, media-agnostic reader as needing quick information delivered in plain language.  Some see this approach as a heretical rejection of the principles of legendary editor Barney Kilgore, who guided the paper for 27 years and who oversaw its meteoric growth.  But others believe Thomson is simply staying true to Kilgore’s principles of giving readers what they want, rather than what journalists think they need.

The Journal story isn’t a simple one.  While Rupert Murdoch has clearly put his stamp on the organization he acquired for more than $5 billion nearly two years ago, fears that he would meddle with the paper’s editorial voice haven’t materialized.  Murdoch has also proven to be strikingly eager to support editorial quality, such as when he personally stepped in to prevent the government of China from denying a visa to a Journal Beijing reporter.

Many journalists have found themselves at odds with the new direction of the paper and have left with thinly disguised disgust.  But others are fully on board with management’s efforts to make the Journal more relevant to its audience in an effort to insure its long-term vitality.  This story is a balanced account of a journalistic institution in the midst of a transition that has torn at the fabric of its organizational values but that is clearly succeeding in the marketplace. For better or for worse.

Miscellany

There are limitations to how far one should go in giving readers what they want, of course.  The Chicago Tribune apparently stepped over that line recently with an experimental project initiated by the marketing department to seek feedback on stories that hadn’t yet been published or even fully reported. A group of reporters didn’t like this idea one bit, and 55 of them signed an angry e-mail in protest. Editor Gerould Kern quickly backtracked, issuing a statement calling the experiment “a brief market research project that tested reader reaction to working story ideas.”

The Trib went too far, says Newsosaur Alan Mutter, but the fundamental idea has merit.  Mutter sees nothing with using a little market research to shape content, even if it’s only keeping an eye on the most e-mailed stories. He relates the practice of one South American newspaper that posts stories to a website as soon after they clear editing but before they appear in print.  Editors then monitor online activity through the evening and take reader interest into account in laying out pages.


The rule of thumb with buyouts is to take them early because the terms get worse as time passes. Now we’re seeing news organizations do away with severance packages entirely. It happened at the Reading Eagle last week, where 52 staffers were shown the door with just two weeks of health insurance coverage to tide them over. One of the laid-off employees had been with the paper for 45 years.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal just laid off 19 newsroom people without any severance, according to one of the victims, who contacted us.  What they did get was instructions on how to tap into their Guild Retirement Income Plan at a penalty of 10% plus tax withholding at 20%.  Or laid-off employees could elect a lump sum payment from the plan, which would lead them with retirement annuities of less than $10 a month, in some cases. “Will that even pay for a prescription for ‘sugar diabetes’ medicine?” the former employee asks. “I’m in my 40s but everybody over 65 in my family has the ‘sugar diabetes,’ as we call it here in the South.”


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which has been hemorrhaging readership, has got a clever new campaign to promote coziness within the newspaper. Called “Unplug. It’s Sunday,” the promotion positions “the old-school Sunday newspaper as a refuge from the constant buzzing and beeping of smart phones, instant messages and e-mail that marks the modern workweek,” according to a short article in AdWeek. We think it’s a great idea.

And Finally…

Does Lindsay Lohan really look like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings trilogy? You decide. TotallyLooksLike.com will help you make the decision. The site has scores of photo pairs contrasting well-known celebrities with other figures who bear a striking resemblance to them, although we’re sure the likeness wasn’t intentional. Does Mary Kate Olson Totally Look Like Ozzy Osbourne? We didn’t think so till we saw the two in their separated-at-birth photo. See for yourself. You’ll be sharing the images with your friends within minutes. We guarantee it. Use Facebook.

arthur_sulzbergerVanity Fair uses a lot of words to describe Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. in its 11,000-word profile of the New York Times Co. chairman, but “complex” isn’t one of them. That isn’t to say that Sulzberger isn’t bright. It’s just that he appears to be ill-suited to cope with business problems that are swamping executives with far more business savvy and seasoning.

Mark Bowden’s profile is sympathetic, even moving in places, but it won’t put shareholders of the New York Times Co. at ease. Sulzberger, who is the fourth member of his family to run the company, is clearly a hard-working, well-meaning, engaging man. When he assumed stewardship of the company in the late 1990s, he saw his job as being to keep the ship on course. That worked well until tectonic shifts began reshaping the business began around 2001. Since then, we get the sense that Sulzberger has been way out of his league.

“The Sulzbergers embody one of the newsroom’s most cherished myths: Journalism sells,” Bowden writes. “But as a general principle, it simply isn’t true. Rather: Advertising sells, journalism costs.” The Sulzberger family has always operated on the principle that investing in a quality product will lead to business success, and Sulzberger has perpetuated that value in the face of recent overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Throughout his 20-year tenure at the Times, he has concentrated his investments in traditional media like the Boston Globe while demonstrating almost blithe ignorance of the changing publishing landscape.

Agnostic = Indifferent

Bowden homes in on Sulzberger’s famous quote that he is “platform agnostic.” Agnosticism implies lack of commitment, but it also reveals a basic misunderstanding of new media. “When the motion-picture camera was invented, many early filmmakers simply recorded stage plays, as if the camera’s value was just to preserve the theatrical performance and enlarge its audience,” Bowden writes. “The true pioneers realized that the camera was more revolutionary than that. It freed them from the confines of a theater.” So it is with newspapers today. The issue isn’t the platform, but rather the basic approach to news. The Times’ traditional top-down style is less and less meaningful to an audience that wants diversity and immediacy and online revenues simply won’t support a large, vertically integrated organization.

The Times Co. has made a few spot investments in Internet ventures like About.com and its website is arguably the best (and most well-trafficked) of any newspaper in the world. However, these times demand reinvention of the business and the Vanity Fair piece implies that Sulzberger is not the guy to do it. In contrast, it singles out Rupert Murdoch as the company’s most dangerous competitor and potential acquisitor.

Described as a “lightweight” and even “goofy” at one point, Sulzberger is clearly a nice and likable guy but not one given to tough decisions. He is a fan of pop psychology team-building exercises, even though they make his hard-bitten managers groan. And he is prone to risk avoidance. Bowden describes one management offsite exercise in which executives played a game that challenged them to decide between safe choices and higher risk but potentially more rewarding long shots. An employee who had witnessed many groups play the game observed, “This is the most conservative group I have ever seen.”

The Vanity Fair piece doesn’t attempt to cast any new light on the problems facing the newspaper industry; it’s a profile of the man who is perhaps under more pressure than anyone to come up with a solution. This is a complex profile of a man who doesn’t sound very complex. That can’t be good news for the Times.

Miscellany

The Associated Press, which has drawn much scorn from newspapers for its licensing terms, is cutting prices again. At its annual meeting in San Diego, the news cooperative announced $35 million in rate assessment reductions for 2010 on top of $30 million it made this year. The service also said members can now cancel their membership with one year’s notice instead of two. The AP also threatened to “pursue legal and legislative actions” against websites that don’t license news content and that it would track news distributed to members to see if it’s being misused. The AP may be in a better position than any of its member news outlets to actually enforce such a policy and it has the clout to put together a consortium of members to charge for news access if the law permits it.


The AP’s Canadian counterpart, called the Canadian Press, is laying off 25 people, or about 8% of its workforce. The service has been the victim of withdrawals by two of Canada’s largest publishers.


Newsosaur Alan Mutter is so fed up with people dancing on the graves of newspapers that he is banning newspaper-bashing comments from his blog. He can’t resist offering one last example, though.


The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel laid off 26 full-time and five part-time employees and proposed a third round of buyouts aimed at cutting newsroom staff.

And Finally…

Is this how you’d like your typical reader portrayed? It’s an ad created by the North Carolina Press Association to urge citizens to fight legislation which would allow local governments to post public notices on the Web instead in local newspapers. We don’t know about you, but the ad seems to imply that newspaper readers are old and technophobic (courtesy McClatchy Watch).

ncpa_senior_ad

By Paul Gillin | February 6, 2009 - 3:42 pm - Posted in Business News, Layoffs, Local news, Murdoch, NewMedia, Newspapers

cloudYesterday was black Thursday in newspaper land as four media companies reported dismal earnings, seven small newspapers shut down and publishers braced the public for more layoffs.

Yet there were some glimmers of hope in the bad news, including signs that deterioration in the advertising business may be slowing and online sales are picking up. We’ll start with the earnings news.

Rupert Murdoch’s $5.5 billion acquisition of Dow Jones & Co. in 2007 drew criticism on Wall Street because of the steep 65% premium the newspaper magnate paid for a flagship title in a declining market. It looks like the critics were right. Citing “the worst global economic crisis since News Corp was formed 50 years ago,” Murdoch’s company posted its largest quarterly loss ever and wrote down $8.4 billion in assets yesterday.

While News Corp. didn’t specify the size of the Dow Jones write-down, analysts speculated that it was responsible for much of the $3.6 billion goodwill charge. The company’s net loss was $6.41 billion, compared with a profit of $832 million a year earlier. Of course, write-downs make such comparisons meaningless. Revenues fell 8% to $7.88 billion. Adjusting for the write-downs, News Corp. still badly missed analyst estimates. Its quarterly operating profit was 12 cents per share, well below the consensus of 19 cents.

Murdoch has often been mentioned as a possible suitor for The New York Times, but in an analysts call yesterday, he dismissed speculation that he’s looking to make acquisitions. Ever the optimist, though, Murdoch found a silver lining in the dense clouds overhanging the media industry. “There has never been a greater appetite for news in the community,” he said. ” I have great faith in the newspapers, and if we continue the way we’re going, we may even get lucky and not have so much competition.”

Coincidentally, The shoe finally dropped at News Corp’s Wall Street Journal, which avoided layoffs in 2008. Twenty-five newsroom positions were eliminated, 11 by attrition and 14 by layoff. The Journal‘s New York-based fashion and retail group will be closed and the Los Angeles and Boston bureaus will each lose a job. The editorial staff numbers about 760 people.

Ugly Numbers, But With a Few Bright Spots

If you’re looking for silver linings, you can find a couple of them in otherwise dismal earnings news from McClatchy Co., Belo Corp. and Scripps Networks Interactive. The companies all reported predictably horrible earnings on Thursday, but there are signs that the revenue free-fall is abating. Belo, which has been slashing and burning payroll recently, actually beat Wall Street estimates by a couple of cents on revenues that fell 9%, in line with estimates. Scripps also beat the street on operating earnings of 55 cents a share, compared to forecasts of 51 cents.

Belo said first-quarter ad sales were about the same as the fourth quarter of 2008, indicating that some stability just possibly has taken hold. However, keep in mind that fourth-quarter sales were down 26% from a year earlier. McClatchy, which reported a $21.7 million quarterly loss, said overall sales continued to decline, but online revenues grew a reasonably healthy 10%. Both Belo and McClatchy made some progress toward paying down their debt, though they still owe over $1 billion and $2 billion, respectively. Scripps actually grew revenue in the quarter, although it slightly missed analyst estimates.

McClatchy is getting ready to swallow more bitter medicine. With classified revenues down 36%  and retail advertising off 10% in 2008, the company will cut at least another $100 million in expenses on top of staff reductions that have already trimmed its workforce by a third. Plans include continuing a freeze on executive salaries, eliminating executive bonuses, freezing pension plans and suspensing matching contributions to 401(k) plans. The company didn’t mention layoffs, but you can figure that one out. The Lexington (Ky.) Newspaper Guild doesn’t think McClatchy is going far enough in “declining undeserved bonuses or freezing bloated pay.” It appears to favor a public flogging, too.

Miscellany

The Daily Reporter of the Wichita, Kan. suburb of Derby is shutting down after 47 years. The last issue will be published Feb. 17. The closure puts six people out of work.


The Columbia county (N.Y.) Independent published its last issue today. The twice-weekly paper is owned by beleaguered Journal-Register Co.


The Provo Daily Herald of Utah will stop publishing five weekly newspapers it owns in American Fork, Pleasant Grove, Lehi, Lone Peak and Orem but won’t lay off any employees. Instead, coverage will be folded into a larger Daily Herald, a move intended to “strengthen the company’s core daily product.” The newspaper replaced the lost weeklies with a collection of localized websites that “will present news from all local schools, community groups, churches and local governments, and will feature a social marketplace.”


The Rexburg, Idaho Standard Journal will trim publication from five to three days a week. Starting March 3, the paper will be printed only on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday instead of Tuesday through Saturday. No layoffs are planned, since the publisher expects to beef up its online coverage. The move is interesting in light of the fact that most publishers that are cutting production schedules start with the low-margin Tuesday and Saturday editions. The 5,300-circulation Standard Journal is choosing to keep them.


The publisher of the Anchorage Daily News is preparing his staff for more layoffs. In a memo to employees, J. Patrick Doyle said the “unprecedented and deepening financial crisis” will necessitate staffing cuts, but “we will work quickly to notify employees who may be affected. As we have just begun work on these plans now, you may not hear more from us for at least a few weeks.” Which should make for great morale in the newsroom.


For want of $1 million, Hearst Corp. has given up the right of first refusal for the Seattle Times for the next 74 years. In a development that is more confusing than illuminating, Hearst missed a regular $1 million payment that it has made for nearly a decade to Times owner Blethen Corp. in order to ensure that Hearst will get the first chance to buy the paper if Blethen ever puts it up for sale. What’s confusing is that Hearst is already bailing out of the Seattle market by putting the Post-Intelligencer up for sale, so why would it want to buy the Times? The two papers work under a joint operating agreement that shares some expenses and profits (losses) between them. There’s now a debate under way over whether the P-I will continue as an online-only entity and whether the terms of the JOA even permit that. Hearst is reportedly trying to wriggle out of the JOA, which neither company likes very much, anyway. Ironically, the existence of a legal agreement that was intended to keep two newspapers in Seattle may now prevent the P-I from continuing to publish. If you really want to untangle this, read the story.


The Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune Media Group laid off 48 people and eliminated home delivery to Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda. The newspaper has cut its full-time staff to 350 people, which is 40% lower than its peak at the height of the Florida real estate boom. We were in central Florida last week and saw entire office parks with tumbleweeds rolling through them.


Ellen Mrja has a Nov. 17, 2008 memo from Minneapolis Star Tribune publisher Chris Harte outlining 10 steps the newspaper must take to make it through the industry downturn. The goals are laudable but some are contradictory, in particular  “1. We must maintain products that our readers and advertisers will find useful enough to buy” and “2. We must reduce every cost we can.” We’re not sure why this memo hadn’t turned up before before.


The National Labor Relations Board dismissed an appeal of a local board ruling that found that Bay Area News Group didn’t discriminate against employees because of their union organizing activities.  The union had claimed that three of 29 employees laid off last June were unfairly targeted because they were trying to unionize the workforce.

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Newspaper Project adNewspaper companies went on the offensive this week, launching a public relations campaign to rebut forecasts of their impending death and boasting that more people read a newspaper the day after the Super Bowl than watched The Big Game.

The group was conceived by executives from Parade magazine, which wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for its weekly insertion in Sunday newspapers, and people from three other companies: Community Newspaper Holdings, Philadelphia Media Holdings and Cox Newspapers. Philadelphia Media Holdings, which owns the Philadelphia Inquirer, is teetering on the brink of insolvency and Cox has put 29 of its newspapers up for sale. In other words, the group hardly represents the pinnacle of management excellence in a troubled industry.

Nevertheless, the Newspaper Project launched with a website and ads that appeared in 300 newspapers on Monday. Here’s a PDF, if you’re interested. So far, the website appears to be mainly a linklog of material that’s appeared elsewhere, but the slate of authors is impressive. “Future ads will highlight the civic value of news content and how well print advertising continues to work for many businesses,” says Poynter’s Rick Edmonds.

It’s good to see the industry standing up for itself, but it’s depressing to see this initiative so focused on print. We agree with Ken Doctor, who was quoted applauding the project by the AP but who pointed out correctly that a name like “Newspaper Project” demonstrates a backward-looking perspective at a time when the industry really needs to talk about the future. Running kickoff adds in 300 newspapers strikes us as a recursive exercise to promote the industry to its existing audience, although the decision was no doubt heavily influenced by the availability of free ad space. Perhaps the group will focus future messages on the essential role newspapers play as sources of online news. That message is more likely to resonate with the disconnected under-40 audience.

P.S. Speaking of Philadelphia Media Holdings, owner Brian Tierney has reportedly asked the governor of Pennsylvania for state aid to keep the Inquirer and Daily News afloat. State aid may be the only option, since the company already missed a debt payment last September and survives at the benevolence of its creditors.

P.P.S. Monday was “National Buy a Newspaper Day.” The grass-roots effort was conceived by reporter Chris Freiberg of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, who set up a Facebook group and recruited 20,000 people to pledge to do their part for at least one day. We did by picking up a copy of the Orlando Sentinel. Another Facebook group has now formed targeting Feb. 13 for a similar action.

Gillmor Weighs in On Nonprofit Debate

Last week’s New York Times op-ed promoting the idea of funding newspapers as non-profit ventures continues to draw the ire of new-media advocates. Dan Gillmor, who practically fathered the citizen journalism movement, bluntly dismisses the proposal by two Yale financial analysts as “shallow thinking” and says that plenty of innovative for-profit business models are emerging. Expanding on comments we reported earlier (see “Voice of Reason in Nonprofit Debate”) Gillmor argues that the flaw in current save-the-industry thinking is that the industry as we know it deserves to be saved. Newspapers “have been systematically looted over the years, to send money to far-off corporate headquarters to pay fat executive salaries and boost stock prices. Preserve them? Why would we want to do that?” he asks.

The role of non-profits is to preserve worthwhile markets that can’t support profitable ventures, notes Gillmor, a veteran newspaperman. There are certainly some unprofitable newspaper functions that deserve to be supported, such as covering city council meetings, but “a great deal of the community information we’ll get in a few years will come from for-profit sources… We’re seeing an explosion of innovation now.”

Gillmor is right on the money. Endowments, public trusts and government funding shouldn’t be dismissed as a means to fund journalism in the public interest, but to use charitable contributions to fund a badly broken business model is, you know, paving the cowpaths.

Blaming Google

Recovering Journalist Mark Potts takes a machete to a recent column by former Washington Post editor Peter Osnos in which Osnos blames Google for profiting from links to newspaper content. Google has replaced Craigslist as the industry bogeyman in recent months, despite the fact that it has tried harder than any other successful Internet company to find ways to shore up the print business. Complaints that Google is harvesting the hard work of newspapers through links from Google News ring hollow, Potts says, when you consider that Google News doesn’t carry any advertising. Newspapers fail to appreciate the fact that Google sends them 20% to 30% of their online volume, he notes, and they ignore the fact that many do a lousy job of optimizing their pages for Google Adsense, the result being that the search giant ends up serving generic ads with poor click-through performance to stories that deserve better.

In a comments exchange, Potts piles on further, noting that the newspaper industry is uncomfortable with the notion of real competition. “Google and Yahoo control more than half of local online advertising spending,” he notes. “That’s disgraceful–and the shame lies entirely at the feet of newspapers, for failing to adequately pursue local online ad opportunities.”

Murdoch has NYT Envy

Rupert Murdoch “sits around all day and thinks about buying The New York Times,” said Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff in a Tuesday session at the Harvard Business School Club of New York. Murdoch also thinks the Times‘ financial saga will play out soon and there’s a fair chance Murdoch will end up with his trophy, Wolff said. That won’t necessarily be a bad thing for the Old Gray Lady, since Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal has managed to avoid layoffs until now.

Wolff had few kind words for Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire who recently invested $250 million in the New York Times Co. at generous financial terms. “He’s our national embarrassment. He’s a crook,” the author said, quoting a source in the Mexican media. In contrast, Murdoch is a pure newspaperman, he said. And despite Murdoch’s reputation for exploiting sex and violence to sell newspapers, he hasn’t messed with the Journal’s editorial quality.

That argument isn’t satisfying Pali Research analyst Rich Greenfield, a vocal critical of newspapers who has neverthelss been a staunch supporter of Rupert Murdoch. Not any more. Greenfield has cut his guidance on News Corp. a rare two levels from “buy” to “sell,” citing lack of strategy. “While we have long viewed Rupert Murdoch as the most visionary CEO in the media sector…we are increasingly surprised/frustrated with his lack of strategic direction related to News Corp’s television station, newspaper and book publishing assets.”

Meanwhile, Portfolio magazine says two sources say there will be 50 layoffs at the Journal next wek.

Miscellany

Two Canadian newspapers – including the giant Globe and Mail of Toronto – announced layoffs. The deepest cuts come at the 110,000-circulation Halifax Chronicle Herald, which is idling 24 of its 103 staff members, or almost a quarter of the workforce. “The numbers just kept getting worse and worse and worse and we just don’t know where they’re going to end,” said Dan Leger, the Chronicle Herald‘s director of news content, in a dour summary. The Globe and Mail laid off 30 people on top of the 60 who had taken an earlier buyout offer. That’s about 11% of the total workforce.

More newspapers are trimming publishing schedules to cope with the advertising downturn. In Ohio, the Troy Daily News, Piqua Daily Call and Sidney Daily News all announced plans to cut out Tuesday editions. The publisher said the reduced frequency will help avoid layoffs, adding that about 10% of the combined staffs at the three dailies had been cut in recent months. Group Publisher Frank Beeson has details on how the transition will be handled on one of the more hideous-looking newspaper websites we’ve ever seen (via Martin Langeveld).

Google CEO Eric Schmidt has been one of the most vocal supporters of newspaper among the ranks of the digerati, so it must hurt him to pull the plug on Google Print Ads. When it launched the program two years ago, Google hoped Print Ads would not only be a revenue stream but also a sincere effort to bridge the print/online gap and inject new life into newspapers’ traditional business. Unfortunately, “It is clear that the current Print Ads product is not the right solution,” wrote Spencer Spinnell, Director of Google Print Ads, in a blog entry, “so we are freeing up those resources to try to come up with new and innovative online solutions that will have a meaningful impact for users, advertisers and publishers.”

Print Ads was a variation of Google’s ad brokering system that enabled advertisers to bid on space in member newspapers. Google eventually amassed over 800 newspaper partners. The program differed from a bigger initiative by Yahoo because Google targeted print advertising directly. Yahoo’s newspaper partnerships are strictly online. Spinnell’s announcement was tinged with regret. “We believe fair and accurate journalism and timely news are critical ingredients to a healthy democracy,” he wrote. “We remain dedicated to working with publishers to develop new ways for them to earn money.”

Will Slim Bid for Times Co.?

carlos_slimNow that Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim has loaned The New York Times Co. $250 million to meet its debt obligations, speculation is focusing on his motivations.  With a personal fortune estimated at more than $60 billion, Slim is one of the world’s richest men. Buying the Times Co. would add a new chapter in his storied career investing in telecommunications, retailing, construction, banking, insurance, railroads and mining. Unlike Sam Zell, Slim could finance the Times Co. with pocket change, meaning he could own one of the world’s greatest media brands without the overhead of having to meet onerous financial terms. Alan Mutter suggests that Slim could parlay his investment into an outright takeover, something no other investor has been able to attempt because of the Ochs Sulzberger family’s tight control of the company. He notes that the comparatively shallow-pocketed Rupert Murdoch bought Dow Jones for a much higher price. “If Murdoch could swing $5 billion for Dow Jones with only $8 billion in personal net worth, then imagine how much Slim could afford to pay for a trophy like NYT,” Mutter writes.

Journalism’s Distant Mirror

new_yorker_illustrationWriting in The New Yorker, Jill Lepore reminds us that newspapers have been declared dead before. Her historical account begins in 1765 and takes us through the crucial role that newspapers played in colonial America by fanning public outrage against British – and later American – rule. The Stamp Act, passed by Parliament that year, was widely thought to be the death of newspapers, since it affixed a tax to every page printers produced. But resourceful publishers persevered, even moving their presses by boat under the cloak of night to evade government enforcers.

Lepore notes that the concept of an impartial press is a relatively recent invention. “Because early newspapers tended to take aim at people in power, they were sometimes called ‘paper bullets,’” she writes. “Standards of journalistic objectivity date to the nineteenth century. Before then, the whole point was to have a point of view.” In fact, Benjamin Franklin, who could be considered the father of the American newspaper, didn’t see his role as being “to find out facts. It was to publish a sufficient range of opinion.” In that form, “Early American newspapers tend to look like one long and uninterrupted invective.”

This oppositional role didn’t just roil the British authorities. John Adams signed into law the Sedition Act in 1798, making it a crime to defame his administration. “Adams had come to consider printers a scourge,” Lepore writes. Adams’ successor, Thomas Jefferson, was an ardent supporter of a free press, but by the beginning of his second term, even Jefferson admitted to having thought about prosecuting some publishers.

While not framing the point explicitly, Lepore makes the case that partisan journalism of the kind practiced by bloggers isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Truth may be the casualty of unbridled opinion, but that was also the case in the 18th century, when even Sam Adams occasionally made up stories to dramatize British cruelty. The fact that some newspapers published untruths didn’t make them any less vital to the establishment of a fledgling democracy. “Without partisan and even scurrilous printers pushing the limits of a free press in the seventeen-nineties, [author] Marcus Daniel argues, the legitimacy of a loyal opposition never would have been established and the new nation, with its vigorous and democratizing political culture, might never have found its feet.”

We feel compelled to note again that Newspaper Death Watch is cited in the article’s opening paragraph, although we differ with the author’s characterization of our tone as gleeful. We prefer to think of it as bemused.

Miscellany

The LA Times is girding for more layoffs. Russ Newton, the Times‘ senior vice president of production, sent a letter to the Teamsters union, which shared it with its members. “The Los Angeles Times has decided to take steps to further reduce its cost including, but not limited to, layoffs,” Newton writes. “[T]he Company intends to implement the cutbacks no later than March 15th, 2009.”


Romenesko reports that Gannett newspaper boss Bob Dickey’s decision to fly from Virginia to Arizona to announce plans to sell the Tucson Citizen wasn’t entirely altruistic. In fact, Arizona appears to have been just a waypoint on a trip further west. Dickey is in Palm Beach, Calif. this week for the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic golf tournament.


tribune_to_goEditor & Publisher‘s Mark Fitzgerald reviews the redesigned Chicago Tribune and pronounces it a “home run.” With its clean look, lack of jumps and liberal use of info graphics, the “to-go” edition of the Trib, which will only be sold on newsstands, “eloquently makes the argument that it’s time America’s big-city dailies seriously consider converting to a compact format,” Fitzgerald writes. The question is when the Tribune will simplify things and make the tabloid edition available to home subscribers, too.


Lee Enterprises reported a 69.3% decline in first-quarter profits as revenues dropped 13%. The company said it is further cutting costs and will ask shareholders to authorize a reverse stock split to comply with the minimum bid price requirement of the New York Stock Exchange listing standards, if necessary. In an unrelated move, the publisher of the Lee-owned Wisconsin State Journal and Madison Capital Times said it will cut 12 positions, mostly in editorial.


The World Association of Newspapers will postpone its annual congress because of the global economic crisis. The meeting was set to take place in Hyderabad, India in March, but only 250 delegates have signed up so far. That’s well below the 1,500 who usually attend.


Last summer we told you about Neighborsgo.com, a spinoff of the Dallas Morning News that uses a social network to anchor a community journalism initiative. Apparently it’s working. Editor & Publisher reports that Neighborsgo is being expanded to cover 47 neighborhoods, with each section featuring headlines, local restaurants, gas prices, education resources and crime news.


Media malaise continues to spread beyond the newspaper industry. Warner Bros. Entertainment is cutting its global workforce by 10% by laying off 600 people and leaving 200 vacant positions unfilled. Clear Channel Communications, which is another diversified media company, announced plans to idle 1,850 workers last week.


Hearst Corp. has officially notified employees of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that they will all lose their jobs if no one buys the newspaper. This may have seemed obvious following last week’s announcement that the paper will be shuttered if a buyer isn’t found, but Hearst had to send a letter as a formality. A few people might be offered jobs at SeattlePI.com if the publisher elects to keep the website alive.


And Finally…

Here’s one to satisfy your inner voyeur. Nicholas White was trapped in an elevator in New York City’s McGraw-Hill building for 41 hours. It was a lonely ordeal, but White unknowingly had a security camera to keep him company. His plight is documented in a time-lapse video that condenses 41 hours to just a few minutes set to mournful music.

Michael SchroederIt looks like a chain of Connecticut newspapers that were just days from closure will continue publishing under the guidance of a New Englander. Longtime newspaper executive Michael E. Schroeder (left) has bought the group that includes the Bristol Press, the New Britain Herald and three nearby weeklies. Schroeder was most recently publisher of BostonNOW, a free daily with a promising future that abruptly closed under unusual circumstances last spring. Schroeder was previously with Newsday. There’s no word on what he plans to do with his new possessions, but the papers will continue to publish on their current schedule for now. “We look forward to building upon the rich history of these properties,” reads Schroeder’s quote from the press release.

Selling Local

Steve Outing has a dozen tips for how newspaper companies can make money. Some are amplifications of his earlier ideas and a few are brand new. Two themes run throughout: create lots of niche products and learn to sell them that way.

It’s the latter theme that doesn’t get as much press as it should. Newspaper industry pundits tend to focus a lot on what needs to be fixed on the editorial side of the house (still plenty) but we don’t read that much about ad sales. While admitting that he’s an editorial guy, Outing addresses that issue repeatedly.  Success in the emerging hybrid print/online world demands that ad sales staffs be able to sell targeted advertising aimed at niche interests. This is antithetical to many print sales veterans, who have grown up in a world that demands skill at selling 26-time print schedules to large department stores and cell phone companies.

This is a problem for newspaper companies.  In our own experience working at an Internet publisher a decade ago, we found that sales reps recruited out of the print world were often disasters at online sales.  They didn’t understand how to define the value of niche markets and they sometimes appeared to believe that signed contracts in the few hundreds or thousands of dollars was beneath them.  Yet this is the only way that advertising works online.  The most successful print refugees often came from the classified sales field, where success was all about closing lots of small deals.

Outing’s recommendations deserve careful consideration, as do most of his ideas.  What he doesn’t address in this column is the thorny issue of how to equip a generation of sales reps with a whole new set of skills.  In our experience, it’s difficult at best and often impossible.

Shooting Holes in “Hyper-Local”

Last month, we reported on new Gallup research that shows the Internet closing the gap with local newspapers as people’s preferred news source. Now David Sullivan of “That’s the Press, Baby” has taken Gallup’s own numbers and sketched out a counter-intuitive case that newspaper readership is actually stable or growing among the young people who are widely believed to be abandoning the medium. What’s more, he makes an argument that readers are gravitating to national news and not to the hyper-local content that’s frequently held out as the industry’s salvation.

A big factor could have been last year’s election, Sullivan posits. People just couldn’t get enough of news from the campaign trail, which is too bad because local newspapers were busily paring back national coverage in the name of being more local. There’s no question that national newspapers saw the least erosion in circulation during the last year. Could it be that hyper-local isn’t a obvious as solution as it seems? We weren’t able to give Sullivan’s number-crunching adequate scrutiny, but his logic looks sound. Please have a look and post your comments here.

gallup research chart

Here Comes Shirky

clay shirkyIf you haven’t read any Clay Shirky, you’re in for a treat. The NYU adjunct professor and author of Here Comes Everybody has a chat with the Guardian about the future of media that yields several fine quotes:

  • Newspapers were such a good idea for such a long time that people felt the newspaper business model was part of a deep truth about the world, rather than just the way things happened to be.”
  • “The 500-year-old accident of economics occasioned by the printing press – high upfront cost and filtering happening at the source of publication – is over. But will The New York Times still exist on paper? Of course, because people will hit the print button.”
  • “Imagine only having one browsing copy of every book in a bookstore. You could say ‘Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers looks good’, and out pops a brand new copy. Why does a bookstore or a publisher have to be in the shipping and warehousing business?”

Layoff Log

Miscellany

Expect many more papers to follow the lead of Detroit’s Free Press and News this year. Hernando Today, a daily produced by The Tampa Tribune, will cut back to five days later this month by eliminating its Monday and Tuesday editions. Founded as a weekly in 1981, Hernando Today went daily in 1996. It covers Florida’s Hernando County.


Detroit-area writer Dave Hornstein has an interesting history of the newspaper wars – or lack thereof – in Detroit. The miserable condition of the two dailies in that city is largely self-inflicted, as Hornstein tells it. The killer was a bitter battle between newspaper management and labor unions that led to a lockout, large circulation declines and $500 million in losses in the late 1990s. Add to that a couple of ownership changes and major modifications to the joint operating agreement and you have two organizations that were severely weakened when the recession hit. Under those circumstances, it’s not surprising that Detroit was the first city to swallow the bitter pill it did last month.


 rupert murdochRichard Pachter says the new book, The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch, is well worth a read. The inside scoop on what went on with Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal acquisition is worth the price of admission (a modest $19.77 on Amazon) and the reviewer praises author Michael Wolff for maintaining balance in a book about a man who inspires strong opinions from both fans and foes. Interesting tidbit: while Murdoch’s Fox News is often criticized for its right-wing slant, the media mogul’s Sky News network in the UK has a liberal tone. Murdoch is politically conservative, but his current wife has broadened his thinking.


Steve Yelvington has created The Shutdown List, an interactive timeline of newspaper closures. The site appears to be more of a programming exercise than an actual tracker, but it’s a lot slicker than our lousy RIP list to the left. You can submit your own candidates for inclusion.

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

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

2009 Forecasts Offer Little To Smile About

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

Scribes Sum Up Industry Woes In Painful Detail

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

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

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

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

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

Plain Dealer Kicks Laid Off Employees When Down

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

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

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

Miscellany

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


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

 


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

 


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

 


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

 


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

 

And Finally…

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

social_media_map

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