By paulgillin | March 24, 2008 - 7:22 am - Posted in BusinessModel, Journalism, Layoffs, NewMedia, Newspapers

Newsday in Play: Media Moguls Salivate

The New York Times has more details on Sam Zell’s interest in selling Newsday. In addition to the previously reported interest by Rupert Murdoch and Mortimer Zuckerman, it now appears that Cablevision also wants to get in on the bidding. Unless Cablevision wins, the most likely outcome is that Newsday’s production facilities will be combined either with Zuckerman’s Daily News or Murdoch’s New York Post, thereby putting heavy pressure on the loser. It’s been questionable for some time whether New York City could support three tabloids and this may decide the issue. For Zell, the sale of Newsday must be a defeat. As the Times points out, the deal “illustrates the paradox Tribune faces: The best way to raise cash to meet short-term demands is to sell the very same properties the company would want to keep in the long run because they generate healthy profits.”


Variety analyzes the first few months of Zell’s Tribune ownership and concludes that the real estate magnate got more than he bargained for. The 15% decline in revenues was unexpected, insiders say, and that’s why extreme measures like layoffs and asset sales are on the table. Zell has tried to bring in managers who question everything, but the problems at Tribune Co. run deeper than a calcified corporate structure. The industry is imploding and that’s not good when there’s a $13 billion debt to service.

Faltering Economics

Alan Mutter comments on the potential impact of bond rating downgrades on the newspaper industry. In a helpful tutorial on the workings of the bond market, he explains why the near-junk status of Belo, GateHouse Media, McClatchy, Media General, MediaNews Group, Morris and Tribune increases their debt burden at a time when they can least afford it. Paying off bonds is simply a matter of growing the business faster than the debt burden, but newspapers are unable to do that right now. Lenders don’t want to run newspapers, so they’ll do what they can to right the business, but that usually means vicious cost cuts. In a worst-case scenario, the defaulting borrower’s assets are chopped up and the company shut down.


On top of everything else, the price of newsprint is up over 10% in the last six months. The increases are offsetting many of the savings publishers had hoped to realize from resizing initiatives. Dow Jones spent $30 million to retrofit presses and manufacturing operations when it shrunk the Wall Street Journal a year ago. Those expenses may have done little more than stave off the impact of the rise in paper prices for a while.

 

Three From the Coast

Pasadena Weekly attempts to total up the newspaper layoffs in the Los Angeles area. It comes up with 70, including 31 pressroom workes at the LA Times, 22 at the LA Daily News and 10 in Pasadena (where there are now five reporters left to cover a dozen communities). The epicenter (‘scuse the reference) of coverage is LA Observed, which journalists are reportedly checking every half hour for more bad news.


That’s the Press, Baby! proposes a novel explanation for the San Jose Mercury News’ implosion: geography. The author proposes that in a high-cost area like the South Bay, the Merc had to expand or be pecked to death by free local papers in the bedroom communities crowded into the narrow corridor between the bay and the mountains. There was simply nowhere to expand.

Finally, the Los Angeles Times has an interesting new example of grassroots journalism. The Homicide Report blog, written by a reporter and one contributor, documents every homicide in Los Angeles County (which adds up to 165 as of this writing). It’s the type of reporting that only a professional news organization could do and it dramatizes that real people are affected by homicide, a topic that is often treated matter-of-factly by the news media.

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