A.H. Belo will lay off 500 employees, or about 14% of its workforce. Combined with 590 layoffs in two rounds last summer and fall, Belo has cut its total workforce by an astounding 25% in less than a year. Belo is also seeking to recover more cash by suspending a savings plan matching fund program, raising parking and transportation charges to employees and reducing cell phone reimbursements. The company owns several major daily newspapers, including the Dallas Morning News, Providence Journal, Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise and the Denton (Texas) Record-Chronicle. Belo stock slipped about 4% on the news amid a general pounding of newspaper stocks on Friday. Gannett said fourth quarter net fell 36% and Media General said it would suspend its dividend. This quarterly malaise has become so common that it barely even merits mention any more, particularly with most of these stocks trading in the two-dollar range.

Jeff Pijanowski has started a running tally of newspaper layoffs. The 2009 total is already 1,399. Erica Smith has been doing the same thing since early 2008, and her total for the new year is 2,002. Let’s hope they’re staying in touch.

Voice of Reason in Nonprofit Debate

We’re tempted to shout “Hear, hear!” to Jonathan Weber’s superbly argued comeback to the doom-sayers who argue that going the nonprofit route is the only viable way to save American journalism.

In 1,400 words of unusual clarity, the publisher of the proudly for-profit NewWest.net makes these cogent points:

  • The people making the strongest case for taking news organizations nonprofit mostly work for nonprofits themselves (a reference to David Swensen and Michael Schmidt’s op-ed in The New York Times last week);
  • Nonprofit news organizations still have to meet their numbers, and that makes them subject to the same pressures to feed their audiences celebrity pabulum as profit-making organizations;
  • Nonprofits will actually hurt profit-making news organizations by competing for advertising revenues while enjoying the benefit of tax-exempt status;
  • The argument that readers are losing out because US newspapers have cut foreign bureaus is hokum. Americans have access to more foreign reporting than ever thanks to the Internet;
  • There are successful profit-making ventures emerging online right now;
  • The profit motive encourages innovation;
  • To discard profitable business models as unworkable right now is to give up any hope that new models can emerge.

We particularly commend Weber for pointing out that much of the argument for giving up the profitability ghost is predicated on the belief that news organizations must continue to work they way they always have. As we’ve noted here many times, innovation flourishes when people discard assumptions. Paving the cowpaths of old newsgathering models will simply keep us marching in the same direction.

At the same time, we do want to acknowledge laid-off Providence Journal reporter David Scharfenberg’s well-argued case for a national journalism fund in a Boston Globe op-ed. The federal government already invests in public radio and public television, he notes; why shouldn’t online journalism be afforded the same benefit? Scharfenberg suggests a $100 million fund would “seed low-cost, Internet-based news operations in cities large and small – combining vigorous, professional reporting with blogging, video posts, citizen journalism, and aggregation of stories from other sources.” It’s not clear how he arrived at the $100 million figure or how these new Web projects would be different from the hybrids that are emerging as the media melts together into a single pool, but the amount seems modest enough in light of the billions being given to bail out the financial industry, whose misdeeds may never be publicly known because there are no journalist watchdogs around to report them.

Miscellany

The contentious dispute between the Hawaii Newspaper and Printing Trades Council and the Honolulu Advertiser has been resolved, with the Advertiser apparently getting the upper hand. Employees will have their wages cut 10 percent cut under a deal announced Friday. Union members will also give up two holidays a year. Just eight months ago, the union rejected management’s offer of a flat pay package with modest bonus increases. After looking at the company’s books and witnessing more layoffs, the union agreed to a much worse deal than the one it rejected earlier, with the sole added provision that it can see management’s books twice a year and the empty promise that the Advertiser will make “every practical effort to avoid involuntary layoffs.” There could be some grumbling in the ranks come dues-paying time in Honolulu.


E.W. Scripps is accusing partner MediaNews Group of behaving badly in borrowing $13 million from its Denver Newspaper Agency partnership to meet payroll at the Denver Post. Scripps is on its way out of Denver as it works to sell or close the Rocky Mountain News. Despite its lame duck status, Scripps will apparently miss the $13 million, which it can’t recover through loans due to the terms of its joint operating agreement with MediaNews.


Writing on Wired.com, Bruce Sterling analyzes French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s newspaper bailout and sees nefarious motives. Sarkozy announced last week that the French government will move to bail out its ailing print media (see There’ll Always Be a France)  by boosting support for newspaper deliveries, doubling government advertising and giving every 18-year-old French citizen a free one-year newspaper subscription. Is Sarkozy concerned about the disappearance of a free press? Hardly, Sterling theorizes. Rather, the collapse of the industry on the continent will raise the French President’s visibility as he becomes one of the few politicians who generates any media coverage at all. “While political rivals are scrabbling with bloody fingertips for a few grams of serious public attention, Sarkozy still has a regional empire of conventional media,” Sterling writes. Cynical indeed.


Sam Zell has had plenty of negative attention for under-estimating the enormity of the problems facing Tribune Co., but he’s still got admirers in the real estate industry. Another big-city publisher, Mortimer Zuckerman of the New York Daily News, says three Manhattan skyscrapers his company purchases lost $165 million in value in just seven months. It turns out Zuckerman’s Boston Properties acquired the buildings shortly after Zell exited the office property market in February 2007 for $39 billion. It was basically the peak of the market. In comparison, Zell’s personal losses on Tribune Co. amount to only about $300 million, according to most estimates. Our calculator tells us that’s about four months’ interest on the proceeds from his real estate sales.


Chicago Tribune associate editor Joycelyn Winnecke has earned plenty of derision for a Jan. 19 memo stating that attitude will now be a factor in employee performance reviews.  The idea that skeptical reporters should be expected to present a positive mental attitude strikes some journalists as just wrong. BusinessWeek‘s Catherine Arnst sums up some of the reactions in a blog entry. “The beatings will continue until the morale improves,” notes one predictable comment, and several other visitors weigh in with perspectives on both sides of the issue.

Layoff Log

And Finally…

phelpsYes, that really is Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps smoking a bong pipe in a photo taken last November during a house party at the University of South Carolina. Phelps has admitted that he “engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment.” Observers said he knew exactly what to do with the pipe. To be fair, Phelps was taking a long hiatus from training at the time. Fox Sports has more, along with a link to a photo gallery of “Sports’ top tokers.”

Comments

comments

This entry was posted on Monday, February 2nd, 2009 at 1:33 pm and is filed under Business News, BusinessModel, Future of Journalism, Journalism, Layoffs, NewMedia, Newspapers, Solutions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

1 Comment

  1. February 2, 2009 @ 3:57 pm



    Yes, I will try to reach Erica and make sure my site is up the date. It seems she has done a great job for some time now. Unfortunately, I fear that both our numbers might be low. For instance, I did not include newspapers offering buyouts until the exact number of people who are let go are finalized. An example of this is the Buffalo News, which started the process earlier this month. While it has not officially determined the number of buyouts it expects to grant, its own story indicated 300 people were offered the buyout. It’s anyone’s guess how many will accept it and how many the paper will ultimately let go.

    Jeff P.

    Posted by Jeff Pijanowski