Newspaper 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.
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.
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).
This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 at 2:10 pm and is filed under Business News, BusinessModel, Citizen Journalism, Demographics, Future of Journalism, Journalism, Layoffs, Local news, Murdoch, NewMedia, Newspapers, PR, Solutions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.