Demonstrating the power of diversification, News Corp. bucked industry trends and posted a profit of $5.8 billion for the fiscal year just ended, buoyed by a string of box office hits, robust online growth and a strong Australian economy. However, CEO Rupert Murdoch warned of tough times ahead in the US market and said News Corp. will step up investments overseas to compensate.
Robust retail and real estate advertising at the company’s Australian, Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun newspapers in Australia helped burnish profits, which were up by 21%. While US and UK performance was weak, The Wall Street Journal grew online subscriptions by 88%, results that stand in stark contrast to the prevailing wisdom in the US that newspaper publishers should give away all their content for free. MySpace.com also had a pretty good year, Murdoch said, without elaborating.
News Corp. is looking to India and China to fuel growth as western economies stumble. India’s GNP is expected to grow 7% in the next year, Murdoch said, and the company is responding by investing $109 million) in six new television channels there.
News Corp. has invested wisely in its online and broadcast diversification strategy over the last decade and the investments appear to be paying off. With the US newspaper industry flat on its back, News Corp. has managed to find growth in areas that US publishers largely shunned in better days. As a result, the company expects operating profits to grow another 4% to 6% in the coming year.
Despite the rosy results, Wall Street continues to debate the wisdom of the Murdoch strategy. A detailed piece in Variety questions whether the mogul overpaid for the Journal last year and whether weakness in US newspaper stocks could tempt Murdoch to go on an ill-advised buying spree. The piece lists a number of investments Murdoch has made in the Journal and in the Dow Jones wire services that he acquired and notes that News Corp. is the only publisher that has appeared to be impervious to the layoffs and downsizing that are afflicting the competition.
Good news, right? Not exactly. News Corp. shares are off 40% this year and some analysts cluck that Murdoch has failed to outline a compelling vision for integrating the Dow Jones properties with his other holdings. Murdoch remains optimistic, but cautious. “This is destined to be an extra-inning game, and to use an overly used metaphor, we’re only in the first inning,” he said recently.
Tuesday brought a welcome respite from the pummeling newspaper stocks have taken recently. Buoyed by a 332-point rally in the Dow, most domestic newspaper companies enjoyed share price increases of between 3% and 10%, with Media General leading the way.
Ombudsmen Becoming History
When I was a ninth-grade student in 1972, my English teacher presented us with “ombudsman” on a Word Power quiz. I scanned every dictionary I could get my hands on, but couldn’t come up with a definition of the term.
Ombudsmen, however, were destined to become fixtures at newspapers over the next few years. These reader representatives were all the rage in the 1970s and 80s. The idea was to take an aging reporter and make him or her a sort of armchair quarterback for the editors, fielding complaints from readers and rendering judgments that carried no particular weight but hopefully made the quality of journalism better.
Now it appears that ombudsmen role may be destined for the scrap heap. Karen Hunter, the Hartford Courant‘s reader representative, pens her farewell column as her job is eliminated in the current round of layoffs.
“Of the nearly 1,500 newspapers in the United States, only a few dozen have ombudsmen and the number is decreasing,” Hunter writes. “Over the past year, reader representatives/public editors/reader advocates/ombudsmen have been reassigned, retired or bought out at the Baltimore Sun, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Orlando Sentinel, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Palm Beach Post. She points readers to the Organization of News Ombudsmen, which carries on the fight.
Pam Platt, reader representative at the Louisville Courier-Journal, also writes an obit for the position this week. The Courier-Journal was the first US paper to employ an ombudsman 40 years ago, she says, but the job doesn’t make sense any more in the current economic climate. Platt will write editorials and columns instead.
- The San Francisco Chronicle, which has been losing money for years, continues to be the poster child of industry problems. Now it’s offering a buyout package to 125 employees. The paper has shed half its editorial staff since 2000 and is reportedly losing about $1 million a week. BusinessWeek‘s Jon Fine last year predicted that it could be the first major metro daily to fold its print edition.
- The Sarasota Herald-Tribune laid off 33 staff on Tuesday, with cuts coming about equally from the editorial and business sides. Parent company New York Times Co. didn’t elaborate.
- The soap opera at Blethen Maine Newspapers continues, with an exasperated publisher of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram denying reports that the paper could be shut down without a sale. Charles C. Cochrane said that option was a worst-case scenario outlined in recent court documents and is highly unlikely. Blethen is trying to sell its Maine portfolio to a group of local investors.
- The Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger will reduce its headcount by 20 people, or about 5% of total staff. Romenesko has a memo from the publisher outlining all the usual reasons.
- The Cincinnati Enquirer is asking 50 non-union staffers to take a buyout and says layoffs may be necessary if there aren’t enough takers. Parent Gannett Co. just reported a 36% drop in profits on a 10% revenue decline.
- The good news is that the LA Times ended up shedding fewer jobs than expected: 135 instead of the planned 150. Editor Russ Stanton writes an inspirational memo to his colleagues, exhorting them to continue to innovate despite their depleted numbers.
Los Angeles Times veteran William Lobdell left the paper after 18 years last week. He posts a bitter 42-point analysis of the mistakes the paper made, particularly on the business side. Lobdell says Sam Zell isn’t the villain, but the Tribune CEO did accelerate the company’s s fall. He doesn’t mince words in his criticism of Tribune Chief Innovation Officer Lee Abrams, whom Lobdell clearly considers to be a dunce. He also refers to “good sources” who say another 150-200 layoffs are coming. Lobdell doesn’t see much hope for the Times barring a Herculean effort by the editorial and business operations to reinvent the paper. He’s happy he’s not sticking around for that. Lots of comments on this entry.
The Newspaper Association of America Newspaper says newspaper websites attracted more than 40% of all unique visits on the Internet in the second quarter of 2008, a 12.2 percent increase over the same period a year ago. The custom analysis prepared by Nielsen Online also says total page views averaged three billion per month in the period. Considering that Google alone reportedly processes more than 25 billion queries a month, the 40% figure seems questionable.
The Audit Bureau of Control (ABC) made a bunch of changes to its procedures in an effort to “simplify ABC rules, reduce audit costs and provide greater pricing and marketing flexibility to publishers,” the organization said in a press release. Publishers have been clamoring for ways to boost their numbers in a period of declining circulation and the ABC adjustments appear to give them a bit more latitude to do so.
There’s no question that the 81 squares that make up a Sudoku grid have been one of newspapers’ greatest friends over the last decade. Many people buy their daily newspaper just to get their fix. True achievers will have a chance to compete for fame and fortune at the 2008 Philadelphia Inquirer Sudoku National Championship on October 25 in the City of Brotherly Love. The Inquirer has even launched a line of apparel honoring the pencil game, but is doing what it can to prevent sales. The Sudoku apparel web page invites visitors to click on the image of a shirt to make a purchase, but none of the images are clickable, meaning that there is effectively no way to make a purchase. Click the image at left to see how it’s done.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 6th, 2008 at 9:06 am and is filed under Business News, Circulation, Journalism, Layoffs, Murdoch, NewMedia, Newspapers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.