‘When my students come back to visit, they carry the exhaustion of a person who’s been working for a decade, not a couple of years,’ says Duy Linh Tu of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. ‘I worry about burnout.’”

He’s talking about the pressure of the new online newsroom. It used to be that daily deadlines were considered intense, but in today’s hyper-competitive environment, many reporters are expected to file several times a day. “Young journalists who once dreamed of trotting the globe in pursuit of a story are instead shackled to their computers,” writes The New York Times.

Some staffers at The Politico start their work days before dawn. Editors walk the aisles asking who’s broken a scoop that day, and reporters may wake up to find an e-mail sent at 5 a.m. asking why they were beaten on a story. The pressure is on to file something – anything – that a reader hasn’t seen before.

The Politico knows that the new competitive environment doesn’t tolerate delay.  “Everybody in the audience is his or her own editor based on where they want to move their mouse or their finger on the iPad,” says Politico’s editor in chief, John F. Harris. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the Politico has lost about 20% of its news staff this year. But where are they gonna go? The website’s results-fueled journalism is becoming the norm.

The Christian Science Monitor sends a daily e-mail telling its reporters which stories had the highest view count the previous day. Gawker Media displays the top 10 most viewed stories, along with reporters’ bylines, on a monitor in its offices. Some news outlets even compensate their staff based on traffic. And then there are search-driven word factories like Associated Content and Demand Media that assign stories based upon search popularity and pay by the page view.  Search marketing expert Mike Moran calls these outfits “content chop shops” that cheapen quality by elevating search visibility. But you can’t argue with success. Yahoo bought Associated Content for $90 million and Demand Media is reportedly hoping to be the first $1 billion IPO in nearly a decade.

The good news is that some media properties are hot again. The bad news is that they’re places where few people can apparently stand to work (See also Search-Driven News).

Miscellany

A.H. Belo reported a narrower second-quarter loss, but what stole the headlines on the earnings call was the rising importance of circulation revenue, which now accounts for nearly 30% of the company’s sales. In fact, circulation revenue was up 66% in the quarter, largely due to price increases at the Dallas Morning News. Executives crowed that the Dallas paper is now the third most-expensive in the country, behind only The New York Times and the Boston Globe. The prices are a function of “the quantity and quality of what we put in the newspaper,” said Belo CEO Robert Decherd. They’re also a function of what the dwindling ranks of elderly print readers are willing to pay. Belo also reported that it has $60 million in the bank and is increasing is earnings before interest, depreciation, taxes and amortization (EBITDA), even though revenues continue to decline. The company’s strategy appears to reflect that of many of its competitors: milk the print cow while you can, cut costs and hope to get traction in new markets. That’ll work for a little while longer.


The Democrat-controlled Federal Communications Commission surprised everyone this week by choosing to defend rules adopted under the George W. Bush administration that loosed restrictions on media cross-ownership. In a filing with the US Appeals Court, the FCC supported the 2007 ruling by a Republican-dominated FCC that made it easier for media companies to own multiple media outlets in the same marketing. The agency had been widely expected to take the first chance it had to reverse that decision in the name of restoring more competition to the market. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski issued a statement that we read three or four times and still couldn’t understand. Perhaps the FCC has decided that owning multiple local media properties doesn’t matter for much when all are tanking at about the same speed. Fellow commissioner Michael Copps attacked the FCC’s decision and vowed to move the strengthening of cross-ownership rules “to the commission’s front burner where it deserves to be.”

And Finally

Steve Breen's cartoons drawn with spilled Gulf oilPulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist Steve Breen decided to satirize the Gulf oil spill by drawing some of his cartoons using oil instead of ink. The process turned out to be a lot more involved than you might think. Breen flew from San Diego to New Orleans on his own dime and then drove to Pensacola, FL to find tar balls of sufficient viscosity to work with. He then diluted the tar with various solvents until he hit upon gasoline as the perfect element to soften the tar enough to work with. The result is a striking sepia tone, with which Breen has skewered not only BP but also America’s obsession with oil. Here’s Breen’s page on the San Diego Union-Tribune site. Click on the image at right to see a gallery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

Miscellany

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


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


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


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

Carolyn MaloneyLawmakers are holding hearings on Capitol Hill to try to figure out solutions to the newspaper industry’s troubles. U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y., at right), who chairs Congress’s Joint Economic Committee, has proposed a bill that would allow community and metropolitan papers to become nonprofit organizations. Similar legislation has also been introduced in the Senate.

John SturmAt hearing last week, Newspaper Association of America President John Sturm said handouts aren’t the solution but that the government should allow publishers to charge current losses against past profits in order to claim retroactive tax refunds. “Newspapers need cash now to preserve jobs next year,” he said. “It’s really that simple.” Sturm also dismissed an outright government bailout as inappropriate, given newspapers’ governmental watchdog role.

In a statement to the committee (PDF), Princeton University professor Paul Starr noted that government support of the media is nothing new. Starr pointed to pre-First Amendment legislation adopted in 1792 that gave newspaper publishers “cheap, below-cost rates for sending copies to subscribers and a franking privilege that allowed newspaper editors to exchange copies with one another through the mails at no postal charge.” To this day, federal and state governments mostly exempt newspapers from sales taxes, he added.

While scrupulously avoiding the term “newspaper” in his recommendations (subsidies “should be platform-neutral—they should not favor print media over online media, for example”) Starr argued for government subsidies and regulatory relief that would make it easy for media organizations to become nonprofits if they so chose. He also made the case for extending tax benefits uniformly to media companies without regard to their business model or political bias. This model is apparently working well in Scandinavia, the population of which is about 8% that of the US.

Seed Money

Or we could just leave the job to private philanthropists. Alan Mutter tells of a new Bay Area nonprofit that was just funded to the tune of $5 million by a local investor. The startup capital from Warren Hellman is considered “seed money” for a venture that’s being launched in collaboration with public broadcaster KQED and the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. Mutter suggests that if the venture could raise money at the same rate as an earlier experiment in Texas, the Bay Area initiative could surpass the size of Pro Publica, which has an annual budget of $9 million and which employs 32 full-time journalists.

Hellman’s decision was motivated in part by McKinsey research that found that newspaper employment and coverage of local news have both fallen by half in the Bay Area over the last five years. The as-yet-unnamed new venture will be different from others in its focus on local news. A base staff of professional journalists will provide the meat and potatoes coverage. Berkeley students will contribute information from a series of hyperlocal blogs they have set up and broadcast partner KQED will contribute its own content as well as rebroadcast the work done by the nonprofit. Hellman said he originally considered buying the distressed San Francisco Chronicle but passed because “the business model may not be there to put a sustainable, for-profit economic foundation under quality, professional journalism.” Comments on Mutter’s blog indicate some skepticism about the venture’s chances of success

Sunset for Sun-Times?

Two weeks ago, Sun-Times Media Group CEO Jeremy Halbriech sent a memo to members of the paper’s unions warning them that if they failed to ratify a proposal for a 15% cut in compensation, the company’s prospective buyer would pull out of the deal and the Sun-Times and its affiliates would close immediately. “No other bidder has emerged who will purchase our assets.  If the current Buyer withdraws its bid, we will shortly run out of cash and we will be forced to shut down all of our publications and Web sites and liquidate the business.  This will result in the loss of all 1,800-plus jobs across the Company,” he wrote.

Well, the union said no. Unlike unions at the Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle, which caved in to threats from the parent company, the city of big shoulders likes a good fight. Tomorrow is the deadline imposed by suitor James Tyree for the union to agree to terms. However, Tyree has made it clear that this is a take-it-or-leave-it offer. “I do not want to get into a negotiation,” he said. The unions want to negotiate. The staring match has gone on for two weeks. Presumably, no one is watching more closely than staffers at the rival Chicago Tribune, which would enjoy a business boost from the failure of its competitor.

Miscellany

Judy Sims has a few hundred words of practical advice for creating a profitable hyper-local publishing model. It starts with putting four people – an online product person, an online advertising sales person, an editor and a web developer – in an office that’s completely separate from the print operation. Then get them focused on giving readers stuff that’s hard to find out – such as which emergency room has the shortest waiting time – and crafting packages for advertisers that include a lot more than just display advertising. If you’re thinking of starting a localized news operation, use Sims’ outline as a basis for your business plan.


The executive board of The Boston Globe‘s largest union has canceled president Daniel Totten’s union credit card, suspended his check-signing privileges and ordered a ”comprehensive external audit” of union finances after learning of apparent violations of its financial rules. Totten presided over disastrous negotiations between his union and management at Globe owner New York Times Co. in which the union first rejected a series of concessions in a proposed contract and then settled for an even worse deal after the Times Co. threatened to shutter the paper.


From a graphic on Mint.com. You can find the whole image here.

Newspaper_circ

Two Century-Old Weeklies to Close

The Calhoun City (Miss.) Monitor-Herald will shut down Dec. 31 after 110 years of publication. Its circulation of 811 was no longer enough to sustain it in a battle against the much larger Calhoun County Journal (circ. 4,700).


The Lemoore (Calif.) Advocate published its final issue last week afer 121 years. The staff tapped community contributions to tell the story of Lemoore and of its own rich history as the longest continuously operating business in town. The brief history of the Advocate online has these words about the role of local newspapers:

Small town newspapers seldom cover such mega events as tidal waves, auto industry bailouts or global warming. Small town newspaper staffers are too busy telling readers about lawn watering schedules, a sale at Mom’s Pie Shop and weather hot enough to melt the ice in your lemonade…Small town newspapers write stories that mean everything to their readers. And readers clip those stories to paste into scrapbooks filled with touchdowns and weddings, obituaries and births, yesterdays and tomorrows. There are no scrapbook stories about teamster strikes, golden parachutes or the polar bears’ plight.

Obits

Longtime New York Times columnist William Safire died at 79 of pancreatic cancer. The Pulitzer Prize-winning expert on speech and language was a bulwark of elite conservatism, a speechwriter for Richard Nixon and the author of Vice President Spiro Agnew’s famous phrase, ”nattering nabobs of negativism.” He won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1978 for a series of columns about Carter White House budget director Bert Lance’s financial affairs.


The daughter of slain newspaper heiress Anne Scripps Douglas apparently leapt to her death from the Tappan Zee bridge. Anne Morell Petrillo jumped from the same bridge  her stepfather chose to commit suicide after killing her mother with a claw hammer 15 years ago. Police have yet to make a positive identification. The Douglases founded the Detroit News.

globe_logoThe New York Times Company shocked the newspaper industry last week with its threats close the Boston Globe on May 1 unless Globe unions give back $20 million in concessions.  There’s new evidence that the May 1 date is a bluff and that closing down the Globe could cost the Times more than keeping it in business.

The Newspaper Guild is taking an initially defiant stance on the Times’ request that the union shoulder half of the $20 million in targeted cost savings. “We’re willing to consider some concessions but not the draconian amount they put forth,” said union president Daniel Totten, in an apparent call of the Times’ bluff. He also characterized the Times’s demand for freedom to lay off people without regards to seniority as “a nonstarter.” Globe reporter Scott Allen, who has a lifetime employment guarantee, commented “Now, nobody thinks that if we make these concessions, there won’t be more cuts in a few months.” Yes, Scott, we think you can count on that when the paper is losing $85 million a year.

The very act of closing the paper would trigger huge expenses in itself. The Boston Herald analyzed public records and found that union members could be entitled to up to 50 weeks of severance pay and that underfunded pension liabilities could swell the total cost to more than $100 million.  Contractual obligations also make the Globe a tough property to sell, since few buyers would want to assume open-ended liabilities like the lifetime employment pledges to 435 employees.  The only way to cancel the guarantees, apparently, is to close down the paper.

If the Times Co. plans to carry forward with its threats, it has yet to tell the government. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) act requires most employers with more than 100 employees to give 60 days’ notice of plant closings and mass layoffs.  The Times Co. hasn’t yet filed a WARN notice, although it could still shutter the paper and pay employees for 60 days thereafter.

The Globe is raising its newsstand prices by as much as 60% in a gamble that readers will help pick up some of the bill for keeping the paper afloat. Residents outside of Boston will now pay $4 for a Sunday paper, compared to the current $2.50.

The Globe‘s crosstown rival Herald, which can barely disguise its glee in covering this story, also reports that four Guild leaders and six governing board executives are among those with lifetime job guarantees. Those guarantees are one of the biggest obstacles to selling the paper and are a primary negotiating point between the Times Co and the Globe unions.  The guarantees are causing friction within Newspaper Guild ranks, as some members believe that the leadership will be unwilling to negotiate in good faith out of fear of losing their jobs.

howie_carrThe Herald’s rapacious columnist, Howie Carr (left), skewers his blue-blooded competition for a series of past errors provoked by lapses in judgment.  Too bad there are no hyperlinks; it would’ve been nice to read the background on this stuff.

Meanwhile, the Globe itself notes a trend: newspaper owners are increasingly using the threat of closure to extract concessions from their unions. Hearst’s success in gaining significant givebacks from the union in order to keep the San Francisco Chronicle afloat may have prompted the Times Co. to threaten the Globe with oblivion. Also, Members of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild in Seattle were scheduled to vote this week on accepting a wage freeze and two weeks of unpaid furloughs in exchange for keeping the Seattle Times afloat. A similar holdup is going on in Maine. Could it be that newspaper owners are merely posturing in order to gain concessions from the unions? Nah, they both have the higher goal of quality journalism in mind.

Is AP Worst Content Thief?

A new blog called The Future Of Newspapers features a guest column by veteran Denver sports writer Dave Krieger that poses a curious question: How can the Associated Press proposed to champion the intellectual property rights of newspapers when the AP is itself the worst violator of those rights? Krieger notes that readers don’t make a distinction between the source of information and where they consume it. News from the Denver Post that appears on ESPN.com is presumed to be from ESPN.

“Why should any newspaper in the Internet age be a member of an organization that takes that paper’s original material, rewrites it and distributes it around the world without attribution or compensation? In fact, an organization that charges the newspaper for the privilege?” The AP had some utility when newspapers were expected to provide national and international coverage, but obligation is gone now.  For most metro dailies, the AP is nothing more than a subscription service that pirates their content and distributes it free on the Internet.  He has a point.

Miscellany

Executives might want to look at what’s going on at the Virginian-Pilot, where management reports that the financial outlook is brightening even as it lays off another 40 employees.  The company has cut nearly 20% of its workforce in the past year and reduced its newsroom staff by 30% since early 2007, but it has also taken some initiatives to diversify and grow revenue. These include targeted websites, expansion of entertainment coverage and contracts to deliver national newspapers in its region. While print revenue continues to fall, management said online revenue is growing. The newspaper turned a profit in the first quarter and March was its best month in a year.


Boston University’s newspaper asks three journalists-turned -academics if university partnerships could be a solution to newspapers’ financial troubles.  They agree that university endowments could be an important source of support for failing journalist enterprises and that universities have a duty to support worthy cultural and public service institutions.  However, educational institutions are not known for acting quickly and trustees would probably balk at taking on financial liabilities as daunting a complex as those that the industry faces.


Rosa Brooks fires a parting shot in her swan song as a Los Angeles Times columnist. She’s going to the Pentagon as advisor to the undersecretary of Defense for policy, but she fears that the evisceration of her industry will leave the American public wanting. She “can’t imagine anything more dangerous than a society in which the news industry has more or less collapsed.” Brooks believes that the government must step up to the plate and subsidize journalism, which isn’t the same as subsidizing media. The problem with existing subsidies is that they “have actually contributed to the decline of high-quality journalism by enabling monopolies, freezing out smaller and locally controlled media outlets and encouraging large corporations to treat the news as just another product,” she writes. The issue isn’t how to save the media, but how to save quality.


The Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal is laying off 35 people, or about 10 percent of its workforce, and closing a weekly paper in Carson City. These are in addition to 61 other positions eliminated since December.  Do the math, and the paper has cut almost 25% of its workforce in the last four months.


Veteran newsman Ric Cox has launched a blog called “Save Our Tribune” that’s dedicated to “rescuing Chicago’s leading newspaper.”  In one of his initial posts, he suggests ways that the Tribune can make online subscriptions palatable to users who are accustomed to getting news for free.

And Finally…

Some residents of Omaha, Neb. have created a satirical website to celebrate “Totally bogus news from the mid-heartland.”  The principal target of its barbs is the Omaha World Herald, “which has laid off employees twice (usually after throwing an extravagant party for an ex-publisher), cut back circulation, and now runs obits where it used to run op-eds,” according to a promotional message. One of the early posts notes the possibility that the state may create a precedent in capital punishment due to a typographical error. “The state might be replacing the electric chair with ‘lethal infection’ rather than the intended ‘lethal injection,’” the editors write, noting that some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee actually like the idea. One of them “added an elegant provision permitting the use of a piece of rusty barbed wire to begin the process and inject the pathogens,” says the site.

globe_threatTwo numbers stood out in Friday’s shocking news that the New York Times Co. was threatening to shut down the Boston Globe: $85 million and 450. The first number is the amount of money the Globe is expected to lose this year without union concessions. The second is the number of employees at the paper who have lifetime-employment contracts. All of those people should be very nervous right now.

The Times Co., which is groaning under $1.1 billion in debt, wants the unions to give up $20 million in concessions or face closure of the 137-year-old Globe, which has dominated the news business in Boston for more than 30 years. Given the size of the projected loss this year, $20 million seems like a modest amount. This would indicate that the Times Co. threat is merely posturing, as Alan Mutter argues. But ultimatums appear to be working in San Francisco, where the union just voted 10-1 to give the Chronicle broad authority to lay off employees without regards to seniority as well as to cut vacation time and extend working hours. The Chronicle and the Globe have similar audience characteristics.

The brass ring for Times negotiators has to be the 450 Globe employees who work under lifetime job guarantees. We knew such guarantees existed, but we hadn’t seen a count of the number of employees who have them until this past Friday; they comprise nearly a third of the unionized workforce. It’s hard to imagine any company handing out promises of that kind, but the Globe did that in 1993, when the economy was emerging from recession and businesses were being conservative about guaranteeing anything. Such management hubris testifies to the dominance the Globe enjoyed at the time over the Boston market, where its only competition is the working-class Herald and a string of suburban dailies.

We live in Globe country and can testify to the paper’s reach in the affluent suburbs. Drive through a quiet subdivision on any Sunday morning and the Globe is the paper you see in the driveways of the $700,000 homes. However, the tech-savvy Boston audience is also more open than most to online alternatives, which is perhaps one reason Boston.com is the sixth largest newspaper website while the Globe reported a circulation decline of more than 10% last November on top of an 8.3% decline six months earlier.

If the 450 employees each cost $100,000 on a fully loaded basis, that’s $45 million in annual costs over which management effectively has no control. We don’t have to comment on the lack of motivation that guaranteed employment must instill in a heavily unionized environment. If we were Times Co. management, though, we’d probably aim the first few blows of the ax directly at that soft middle.


The Globe covers its own news with reaction from community members ranging from fry cooks to U.S. Senators.


College student Adam Sell, who has interned at the Globe for two years, sent us a link to a Flickr photostream he created of the closing of the Globe‘s NorthWest bureau 10 days ago.

Miscellany

Two central Pennsylvania newspapers that have published separately with a single weekly combined edition will join forces on a permanent basis at the end of June. The Intelligencer Journal and Lancaster New Era will be published Monday through Saturday mornings with combined news and features operations but separate editorial pages.  The merger will result in the reduction of 60 full-time and 40 part-time positions, or about 20% of the workforce. Management said the combined circulation of 229,500 has been growing but that the economics of the publishing industry demands changes.


Publishers who are struggling with solutions to the revenue problem, none of them very appetizing, might want to look to Europe for inspiration. The big German publisher Axel Springer just reported record profits and is looking to expand overseas, possibly into the US.  Norway’s VG Nett charges citizens for access to its news through a cable TV subscription fee. And a group of papers in Belgium joined forces to force Google to remove their content from its search results. All in all, some papers in Europe are doing just fine, thanks to tight government partnerships and creative approaches to revenue


plastic_logicThe Detroit Media Partnership, which publishes the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News, has closed a deal with Plastic Logic to distribute the Plastic Logic Reader under purchase or lease to subscribers of the Detroit dailies as an alternative to paper delivery.  The reader is the size of an 8.5 x 11-in. pad of paper, weighs less than many print magazines and sports a touch-screen interface.


With the Minneapolis Star Tribune in bankruptcy, employees have started a grass-roots effort to save the paper. A group has launched a Facebook group (1,280 members, but only one discussion post since Jan. 17), a website (inactive as of this morning) and plans to hand out paper hats and scorecards at the Twins’ home opener. It’s probably going to take more than that.


If you like Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper, you probably won’t after reading this egotistical, self-indulgent monument to himself. If this is how newspaper columnists regard their own celebrity, it’s no surprise readers are turning elsewhere. But there are a couple of good anecdotes that illustrate how divorced these scribes are from their readers.


Google CEO Eric Schmidt will keynote the Newspaper Association of America national convention in San Diego this week. Schmidt, who is often considered the great Satan by newspaper publishers, has nevertheless been a vocal proponent of the need to help the industry.  It should be an interesting encounter. Schmidt is scheduled to speak on Tuesday at 10 a.m. PDT. You can listen to his remarks live. NAA will offer a moderated “Cover it Live” discussion on its PressimeNow! blog, where visitors can pose questions, share their thoughts and get live reactions from attendees.


The Sun-Times Media Group is considering ending publication of some of its suburban newspapers as it struggles to emerge from its recently declared bankruptcy.


A.H. Belo Corp., owner of the Dallas Morning News and three other daily newspapers, will cut employee salaries next month and suspend a retirement supplement to pension plan participants next year. Cuts will range from 2.5% to 15%, depending on an employee’s salary. The company’s CEO will also take a 20% cut in pay.


Last month we told you about St. Louis Post-Dispatch editor Christopher Ave’s use of song to lament the layoffs of newspaper copy editors. Now, 26-year old Berkeley musician named Jonathan Mann has joined forces with the staff of the East Bay Express to come up with a solution to newspapers’ business problems. You have to wait to the end to hear it, but the three minutes are time well spent.

Editor & Publisher looks at the list of solutions being proposed to the newspaper industry’s troubles and adds a new one into the mix: the Low-Profit Limited Liability Company, or L3C. An L3C “is a corporation that qualifies as a charity under IRS rules but runs as a for-profit business,” Mark Fitzgerald explains, and it’s gathering momentum as a rescue strategy among various chapters of the Newspaper Guild.

That’s right: The Newspaper Guild may get into the business of running newspapers, if only to save its membership from annihilation. An L3C is allowed to take investments from charities and nonprofits because it has a “social benefit.” This new kind of nonprofit is now permitted in several states and the Guild “is lobbying for federal legislation – expected to be introduced later this spring – that would explicitly include newspapers among businesses that have a ‘social benefit.’”  

Apparently, the thinking is that a lot of newspapers are going to come on the market selling at pennies on the dollar this year and this new tax structure would allow owners to spread out ownership among a great many entities, including businesses like printing press makers and auto dealers who have a vested interest in maintaining the business. Foundations would also be able to treat their donations as investments that could earn a return.

Another school of thought is to tear down antitrust rules that prevent newspapers from cooperating on fixing prices, E&P says. This could be a solution to the “content wants to be free” problem: If newspaper owners can legally collude to set prices and licensing fees for their content, then they can conceivably reverse the tide and charge for their product.

One thread is clear throughout the feature, though: No one is seriously arguing that newspapers should be publicly supported like National Public Radio. The consensus among owners and even Guild officials is that these businesses must stand on their own.

BTW, this story was just put online on April 1 after first appearing in E&P‘s print edition in March.

Sun-Times Parent is Bankrupt

blagoextraSun-Times Media Group, Inc. (STMG), which operates 59 newspapers and websites, including the Chicago Sun-Times, filed for bankruptcy on Tuesday. The company has been under severe financial and competitive pressure and was weakened by a fraud scandal that landed two previous executives in jail. Chairman and interim CEO Jeremy Halbreich said the company is looking at possible asset sales and new investments, and that it has sufficient resources to work through the bankruptcy process.

The Toronto Globe and Mail looks deeper into STMG’s financial situation and the ripple effect of the 2007 fraud convictions. Last year, the company lost $344-million on revenue of $324-million, as advertising revenue fell 18 per cent in the fourth quarter and is expected to drop 30 per cent in 2009. What’s more, STMG is contractually obligated to pay the former executives’ legal costs, which total $118 million so far. To top it all off, it may face a $510 million tax obligation as a consequence of illegal deductions those executives took.

Dour Pew Report Nevertheless Offers Hope

cable_tv_sm“This is the sixth edition of our annual report on the State of the News Media in the United States. It is also the bleakest,” reads the introduction to The Project for Excellence in Journalism’s annual State of the News Media report. It certainly delivers on that promise. We haven’t read all 180,000 words, nor are we likely to, but you can start with the executive summary if you want to dive in yourself.

The media overall had a terrible year in 2008 with the newspaper and magazine segments being hit the hardest and the cable TV industry providing the single bright spot. Cable networks actually increased their newsroom investments by an average of 7% during the year, with CNN adding bureaus in 10 cities. This modest growth wasn’t nearly enough to make up for the huge cost cuts in other media, though. By the end of 2008, all three TV networks had pulled their embedded reporters from Iraq. Newspaper circulations continued to decline; Sunday readership is off 17% since 2001.

The biggest disaster was in news magazines, with only one in four Americans reporting they’ve read one the day before. Time, which invented the genre, may be the only one left pretty soon, the report says.

Public trust in media dropped, but historical data shows that this trend is erratic. Interestingly, a vast majority of Americans (70%) believe the media favored Barack Obama in the most recent election. Even a majority of Democrats believe that.

Newspapers are in “free fall,” the report concludes, although “We still do not subscribe to the theory that the death of the industry is imminent. The industry over all in 2008 remained profitable,” turned in revenues of $38 billion and employed 45,000 professionals gathering and editing the news. There is reason to believe that traditional walls between online and print are falling and that newspapers are figuring out how to monetize targeted audience segments. They also appear to be much more open to working with aggregators and partners.

Still, the long-term outlook continues to be dim because of the economy, debt pressure and the unwillingness of investors to spend money in mature markets. The value that papers provide, though, is only increasing in importance. “In what traditionalists tend to dismiss as a cacophony of talking heads, celebrity infotainment, opinion-driven blogosphere exchanges and information overload, the integrity and sense-making of professionally done news should be more valuable than ever.”

The report also has an interesting section analyzing the practices and credibility of citizen media. It features an update of an earlier report that audited 64 citizen news sites. The new research should provide some comfort to established news organizations because it finds that, in general, they do a better job of incorporating citizen voices into their coverage than pure grassroots citizen operations. In particular, legacy news organizations are better at giving citizens a voice in published content and making it easy for readers to download and share information. In fact, the only area in which mainstream media’s citizen journalism ventures failed to outshine the grassroots sites was in linking to competitors’ content.

Finally, the report includes profiles of several new media ventures, ranging from NewHavenIndependent.org to MinnPost.com to GlobalPost.com.

Miscellany

The San Francisco Chronicle‘s buyout offer has 120 takers, which is more than was expected. As a result, the involuntary layoff total won’t be as high as many had feared. The newspaper management has been working with the union to restructure its contract. Even with the buyout, remaining employees will still see pay cuts and longer hours.


The Livingston County (Mich.) Daily Press & Argus has announced a “significant but unspecified number of layoffs” in its 95-employee workforce. Management would only say that the number was more than 10 and included Managing Editor Maria Stuart.

 


The Staunton (Va.) Daily News Leader will cut eight full-time employees and 15 part-timers from a workforce of unspecified size. Just one day earlier, the paper said it would outsource its printing operations to the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record. Laid-off employees include “press operators, mailroom workers and other employees charged with the production side of printing the paper every day.”


If you’re in Eugene, Oregon this afternoon, you can stop by the university at 4 p.m. and hear Boston Globe editor Martin Baron talk about the challenges facing newspapers, presumably including his own. The Globe laid off another 50 people last week.

Asserting that the collapse of mainstream media demands the same urgency as “the threat of terrorism, pandemic, financial collapse or climate change,” two authors of a forthcoming book called Saving Journalism propose massive government intervention in the journalism crisis. Writing in the liberal journal The Nation, John Nichols and Robert McChesney say the recent debates over micro-payments and nonprofit funding is all well-intentioned, but these rescue scenarios don’t address the serious structural problems the US media faces. In essence, the public watchdog function is vanishing with nothing to replace it.

newspaper_revenue_trends

Media Post chart

This trend isn’t new; cost-cutting in the newsroom began in the 1970s when media tycoons began to form quasi-monopolies under the umbrella of government protection. Today, the media is a pathetic shadow of its former self, doing “almost no investigation into where the trillions of public dollars being spent by the Federal Reserve and Treasury are going but spar[ing] not a moment to update us on the ‘Octomom,’” the authors write.

Government already subsidizes media to the tune of tens of billions of dollars annually through mailing discounts, government advertising, monopoly broadcast, cable and satellite licenses and copyright protection. However, private interests have taken advantage of those subsidies to create wealth, and in the process are destroying the services they provide the public, Nichols and McChesney assert.

And they get specific about what needs to be done:

  • Eliminate postage for periodicals that get less than 20% of their revenues from advertising;
  • Give all Americans an annual tax credit for the first $200 they spend on daily newspapers or online sources that meet certain quality criteria;
  • Allocate funds to enable every middle school, high school and college to have a well-funded student newspaper, a low-power FM radio station and accompanying substantial websites.

Face it: The old system is collapsing and won’t be resurrected, they say. We are entering a world in which government abuse and corporate greed will run rampant because no one is watching over the abusers. The business media completely misled the public about what was happening in Iraq and completely missed signs of financial disaster. And that was before 20,000 more journalists lost their jobs.

Although you need to take the left-wing source into account, this article is a pretty compelling argument for government intervention.  It is particularly chilling in its description of the impact that media cutbacks have already had on the public’s ability to understand the financial crisis and its own legislators’ actions.  The authors maintain that the estimated $20 billion cost of their proposal is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount being spent on the financial bailout.  The stretch may be in equating the urgency of the two problems.

Uphill Climb

Stewart: Millennials' Cronkite?

Stewart: Millennials' Cronkite?

The Nation will have a battle convincing a skeptical American public that government support is the answer. Recent data from Rasmussen Reports paints a picture of a public that is largely disengaged from traditional media institutions while increasingly deriving its news from entertainment. A telephone survey of 1,000 Americans early this month found that 30% overall read a daily newspaper, but among respondents under 40, that percentage was only half as large. The survey also showed that newspaper websites have less “stickiness” than a product that arrives at the front door each day. Only 8% of US adults say they read their local paper’s website every day.

Meanwhile, one-third of Americans under 40 say Comedy Central’s Daily Show and Colbert Report are replacing traditional news outlets, which is slightly more than the 24% of Americans overall who think this is true. And there’s a popular opinion that this is a  good thing. “Thirty-nine percent of adults say programs of this nature are making Americans more informed about news events, while 21% believe they make people less informed,” the report says. Interestingly, Democrats are much more inclined to share this positive view than Republicans, by a margin of 48% to 28%.

Miscellany

The New York Times Co. imposed temporary 5% pay cuts for most employees in hopes of avoiding cuts to the newsroom staff.  Nevertheless, the Times also laid off 100 people in its business operations and said it would reduce freelancer spending and possibly consolidate some sections.  The pay cuts are subject to union agreement. Times management threatened to lay off 60 to 70 people out of its 1,300-person news staff if the union doesn’t concur.  The Times Co. cited an overall drop in advertising revenue of 13.1% in 2008 and 17.6% in the fourth quarter.  The pay reductions were described as temporary.  Salaries will revert to their previous level next year unless economic conditions improve fail to improve.  The company has already laid off more than 500 people this year.


The recession has clearly taken hold in the advertising business and the result is likely to be “the closing of more big regional daily newspapers and bankruptcy declarations from even more big publishers,” according to Media Post. Fourth-quarter 2008 results were a disaster, and that’s coming on top of two years of declines that seemed to get worse with each quarter. Newspaper classified advertising fell 39.2% overall in the quarter, with job-recruitment advertising plunging nearly 52%. Perhaps more ominous is that online revenue at newspaper sites was off  8% in the quarter, although online advertising is weak across the board right now.


The Rockingham News of southern New Hampshire has just published its final edition, and the weekly that has served the region for more than 40 years offers quite a lesson in its own history. Aubrey Bracco must have interviewed a couple of dozen local residents to get their recollections of what the paper meant to them, and he pens a loving and informative farewell.


Mike Hughes, president and creative director at the Martin Agency, pens an impassioned plea to his colleagues to support newspapers with their advertising dollars. “Our industry needs newspapers — but just as important, so does humankind,” he writes.  So stop following the latest trend and putting your advertising in the trendiest places.  “How many agencies aren’t selling newspaper advertising to their clients as hard as they should? It’s time for a wake-up call.” It’s an invigorating argument until you read the bio and see that Hughes’ employer is the “agency of record for the Newspaper Association of America.”


Writing on Mashable, Woody Lewis lists five ways newspapers can embrace social media more effectively. He notes that The New York Times now has an application programming interface that third parties can use to access its content from their programs. This is a cool idea. He also says partnerships with strong technology partners are a good idea.


Jay Rosen lists a dozen articles about journalism that he really thinks you should read, although we can’t fathom his top pick: Paul Starr’s laborious New Republic epic. Many of the others are excellent, though, and a few we hadn’t seen before.

And Finally…

We were thrilled to be included among the “Death of Newspapers” bloggers cited by Paul Dailing in Huffington Post. We agree with him that our self-absorbed, righteously indignant, told-you-so attitude is crap and that we have no answers to the problems facing the industry. We encourage you to boycott our book (available in fine bookstores everywhere) in support of his position. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

houston_chronicleThe Houston Chronicle joins the long string of newspapers that assert their commitment to “strong watchdog journalism” while covering news of their own troubles with e.e. cummings-like simplicity. The newspaper devotes just 208 words to news that it is laying off 12% of its staff, or nearly 200 people. That’s about one word per victim. In fact, the Chronicle doesn’t even mention a body count. You have to read The Wall Street Journal account to find that number. Even the AP devotes more space to the story than the Chronicle.

We have to wonder if this is some kind of Enron hangover. Are Houston media so tired of covering bad news that they just pass along the press release without comment or question? To be fair, the Chronicle does invite reader comments on a blog and posts a single response to the many questions people submit about who exactly was let go. Still, one response from one ombudsman to news of the loss of 90 newsroom employees hardly satisfies the public’s right to know. Nor will that information be passed along to the paper’s 448,271 print readers. How do we know there are 448,271 print readers? We read the AP story. That information wasn’t in the Chronicle.

We don’t know what went on inside the walls of the newspaper yesterday, but an entry on Houston Press Blogs makes it sound positively eerie. Without citing sources, Steve Olafson reports that no upper managers were laid off but the only two women on the editorial board were. So going forward, the editorial charter of the leading newspaper serving the great and diverse city of Houston will be directed by five white guys. The paper now has practically no suburban news coverage and it laid off the reporter who’s covered NASA since the 1986 Challenger disaster.

Olafson’s most damning anecdote: “Chronicle Vice-President and Editor Jeff Cohen never came out of his office to address the staff during the day-long process of buttonholing employees to deliver the bad news. Instead, he issued a memo.”

Boston Globe Battles Rival Herald for Irrelevance

How long will the Boston Globe be around? Bloomberg says layoffs will be needed to meet the goal of a 12% newsroom staff reduction. But it’s more than that. The Globe has become an anchor around the neck of New York Times Co., which paid $1.1 billion for it and its Worcester, Mass. sister paper in 1993. Circulation and revenue losses at the Globe have far outstripped those of the Times and the only bright spot in the business is the Boston.com website. Barclay’s recently valued the Globe at just $20 million, or more than 98% less than what the Times paid for it. And it’s clear that resistance to change is a powerful force in the newsroom. We attended a meeting of the Social Media Club in Cambridge, Mass. this week at which a young Globe reporter talked about the news staff’s focus on scooping the rival Boston Herald, a newspaper that has fallen so far that a lot of people outside of downtown Boston don’t even know it’s still around. The Globe‘s issues aren’t beating the Herald, but rather staying relevant to readers who could care less about either of them.

Publisher Fights Back at Newspaper Critics

randy_siegelRemember Time magazine’s list of the 10 Most Endangered Newspapers in America from earlier this month?  It’s a load of hooey, says Randy Siegel, president of Parade Publications in a biting commentary in Editor & Publisher. Siegel assumes that most people didn’t notice the byline on the list, which was not a Time reporter but rather Douglas McIntyre. He’s an editor at 24/7 Wall St., a website whose parent also runs a site called Volume Spike Investor, which recommends stocks that are undergoing extreme short-term volume fluctuations. “It’s a sad day when Time magazine…runs an unsubstantiated article on its website, without a single disclaimer, from Wall Street speculators who make their living peddling tips to…day-traders,” writes Siegel, who is co-founder of the Newspaper Project, a booster site for mainstream media.

Siegel doesn’t stop there when naming names.  His next target is Jeff Jarvis, the ubiquitous blogger who has long been a vocal critic of the conventional media.  Siegel credits Jarvis for being smart, but wishes the NYU professor and consultant would disclose more openly his advisory activities on behalf of companies that benefit from the destruction of the institutions he criticizes. Siegel also has some harsh words for CNN.com, which he says has covered the newspaper industry’s troubles with surprising zeal. CNN “probably would like nothing better than to see newspapers and newspaper websites fail, so their biggest competitors for audience and ad revenue would go by the wayside,” he speculates.

Miscellany

The Christian Science Monitor wraps up its 100-year run as a daily newspaper this weekend. Going forward, the thoughtful but lightly circulated journal will focus its efforts online, choosing to rely on journalism rather than video and infographics, according to editor John Yemma. He tells Media News International that the Monitor “intends to increase its page view five-fold by 2013, end its reliance on a Christian Science Church subsidy that now provides 40 percent to 50 percent of its revenues, and achieve financial sustainability by 2015.”The monitor was the first major newspaper to largely abandon the print market in favor of the Web and we wish it well.


We haven’t read any criticism of the hare-brained Newspaper Revitalization Act that’s briefer and more biting than that by Tim Windsor on the Nieman blogs. “I am immediately suspicious of any effort that has as its starting point that newspapers are precious things to be preserved, forever, like some kind of ubiquitous, everlasting Williamsburg of media,” he writes. “The worst thing that could happen would be for newspaper companies to find the means to suddenly become comfortable again.” We couldn’t have said it better and have nothing to add.


Allvoices, the community journalism project that we covered here last July, has added a feature to its website to rate the credibility of contributors. The feature is intended to address the widespread criticism that community journalism has weak quality control. The credibility meter evaluates both the content of a report and the reputation of the author on an ongoing basis as stories move through the Allvoices systems. Criteria include community ratings of the author and content, duplication with other stories and level of supporting content in mainstream media.


The Bakersfield Californian cut 12% of its staff and shook up its management ranks. The 26 positions that were eliminated include 14 in the newsroom and come on top of a 10% workforce cut in December. Management cited a 30% drop in year-over-year revenues as the culprit. The Californian, which has won some attention for its efforts to inspire reader contributions, is also establishing a high-level editorial job called vice president/content. Olivia Garcia, publisher of subsidiary Mercado Nuevo, assumes that role with Californian editor Mike Jenner reporting to her.


Gannett is telling employees to take another unpaid week off in the second quarter on top of the one they had to take off in the first quarter. The company is also temporarily cutting salaries of some high-paid employees.

And Finally…

love_satanNineteen-year-old Dutch college student Marco Kuiper has assembled a collection of weird and wild photos from around the web going back to the middle of last year. He calls it “imagedump,” and the selections range from hysterical to disturbing to borderline obscene. They all have one thing in common: They’re fascinating to look at. Is this citizen journalism?  Who cares?  It’s funny as hell.
By Paul Gillin | February 23, 2009 - 9:12 am - Posted in Business News, NewMedia, Newspapers, Regulation

The dominoes are beginning to fall. Hard on the heels of Journal Register’s bankruptcy filing this weekend, Philadelphia Newspapers LLC filed chapter 11 on Sunday. The publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News indicated that its assets and liabilities are both about $500 million and that it needs court protection to restructure its debt. “Our operations are sound and profitable,” said CEO Brian Tierney. It’s the debt that’s the problem.

Philadelphia Newspapers is the fourth newspaper company to file for bankruptcy since December, following in the path of Tribune Co., the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Journal Register.

So what happens now? Bankruptcy isn’t a death sentence. On the contrary, it can be the breath of life. Most major US airlines have declared bankruptcy at some point, some of them more than once. Bankruptcy gives a business the opportunity to shed debt and unprofitable operations, work out a sustainable business model and start life over.

This doesn’t come without cost, however.  Many executives exit the scene and the company lays bare its financial records for the public to see.  The business effectively loses control over its own operations, ceding oversight to a court which must approve nearly every management move that’s relevant to the business.  Bankrupt companies have almost no credit worthiness, meaning that they must learn to live within their means, which isn’t a bad thing.  Assets are often sold to pay off creditors.  With the market for newspaper companies in its current condition, however, it’s more likely that unprofitable operations will be shut down. Business continues pretty much as usual until the courts work out a plan.

Given the volume of bankruptcies currently choking the US courts, it’s likely that it will be many months or even years before these troubled businesses emerge from Chapter 11.  And the carnage isn’t likely to end here.  According to Alan Mutter’s Default-O-Matic, at least four other newspaper chains – including GateHouse, McClatchy, Media News and Morris Publishing – are in junk bond territory, which means they are at risk of default. More dominoes are likely to fall.

Five New York newspapers have banded together to exchange content in the largest such arrangement since the share-nicely craze began last year. The new group includes The Record of Hackensack, New Jersey, The Star-Ledger of Newark, the Times Union of Albany, the Buffalo News, and New York Daily News, which apparently organized the party.

Members will “assist each other in gathering news, sports and features materials, giving our readers access to more and expanded content from the top newspapers in each of the respective markets,” said Marc Kramer, CEO of the New York Daily News, in a very prepared statement.

No details were forthcoming, but the group issued a press release quoting top editors at all the participating papers making head-slapping “Why didn’t we think of this earlier?” statements.

The regional consortium trend was kicked off last April, when a group of five Ohio newspapers began posting all their daily stories on a private website where editors could pick and choose whatever they wanted. The Baltimore Sun and Washington Post are among other newspapers that have banded together in this way.

There was immediate speculation that the New York consortium was an excuse to lay off more newsroom employees. However, announced cutbacks at the Ohio Five haven’t been any greater than at other newspaper companies. The handshake deal is more likely aimed at setting members free from the Associated Press, which has been an industry whipping boy for the past year because of its license fees.

We’re interested in what you are seeing. If you subscribe to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Columbus Dispatch, Toledo Blade, Cincinnati Enquirer and/or Akron Beacon Journal, please leave a omment and tell us if you’ve seen any noticeable difference in quality since those papers began sharing stories nearly a year ago.

State Aid and a Posthumous Polk

Blethen - hanging on

Blethen - hanging on

Publishers from the state of Washington pleaded with legislators for a special tax break yesterday, saying the severe recession has dealt a body blow to their already shaky business model. “Some of us, like The Seattle Times, are literally holding on by our fingertips today,” said Times publisher Frank Blethen, who presumably was not literally holding in by his fingertips at that very moment.

Publishers appeared before the state senate Ways and Means Committee to support a bill that would give them a tax break through 2015. While the measure would cost the state about $8 billion, lawmakers appear willing to help. The bill has bipartisan support.

In an ironic demonstration of the seriousness of the problems in Seattle, the Times covered the story with AP wire copy. 

Speaking of Seattle, the Post-Intelligencer may become the first newspaper to win a major journalism award posthumously. Mark Fitzgerald reports that Eric Nalder, the P-I‘s chief investigative reporter, has won a George Polk Award for his two-part series “Demoted to Private,” about waste by government military contractors. The P-I is due to close March 15 if a buyer can’t be found, meaning that at the April 15 ceremony, the award may be bestowed on a newspaper that no longer exists.

P.S. The Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild will hold a meeting next week to see if it can rustle up enough enthusiasm to initiate an employee buyout of the P-I. In more robust economic times this idea might stand a chance, but it’s hard to believe employees are going to dig into their depleted savings to buy a money-losing operation.

Miscellany

Having already laid of 12% of its staff if 2008, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is now freezing wages and may impose a one-week furlough. Print revenue was down 10.4% in the fourth quarter and “We’ve seen that deterioration accelerate in the first weeks of 2009,”said publisher Betsy Brenner.


Journal Register Co.’s mass execution of scores of weekly newspapers got little media coverage because not that many people will miss the Millbrook Round Table. But an unsigned editorial in the Odessa American delivers a poignant message about the impact a local weekly’s closure has on a community. 


A blog called Brazosport News has word that the Houston Chronicle is about to cut 10% of its staff. It even has a memo from the publisher saying so. We can find no coverage of this story anywhere else.

And Finally…

tmid_babyYes we can. We just found it on Twitter. And if you came here looking for breaking news about the latest layoffs and cutbacks, you’re wasting your time. This is a daily blog, which is so last year. Instead, subscribe to The Media is Dying on Twitter. This anonymous microblogger is so speedy at documenting gloom and doom that he/she puts Romenesko to shame.  Fortunately for Romenesko, he gets more than 140 characters.