We wish we could end the week on a happy note, but as we noted on Monday, it’s earnings season. Unfortunately, the news couldn’t be much worse. If troubles at the New York Times and Media General are any indication, the rest of the year could be ugly.

New York Times Co. Troubles Deepen

The New York Times Co. swung to a small loss in the first quarter from a $24 million profit a year ago. In a conference call, the CEO didn’t indicate that things were going to get better any time soon. The more worrisome trend may be that online growth is now slowing.

As a result, it looks like the Times newspaper will have to resort to some layoffs to achieve its goal of a 100-position reduction in workforce. Not enough people have taken the buyout offer. The deadline is next Tuesday and the layoffs, if they happen, will be the first in the paper’s 167-year history.
The media’s focus on the 100 job cuts at the Old Gray Lady may obscure the bigger view of the NYT Co. crisis. Media Post points out that the company has cut over 2,000 jobs – about 18% of the total staff – since 2003. The reason for the low response to the recent buyout offer is that the job market is so bleak for ex-journalists, the article suggests.

It offers this cheery quote from analyst Ken Doctor: “Clearly, the decline in revenues is deepening. At this point, there really is no bottom.” As layoffs continue, in future he predicts “a lot of newspapers hiring part-timers, stringers and bloggers–but no more full-time, $50,000-a-year jobs.”

Media General Hammered by Florida Exposure

The news was even worse at Media General, which is heavily dependent to the recession-laden Florida market. The quarterly loss of $20.3 million is more than three times last year’s loss. But check out the declines in these ad categories:

  • Newspaper ad revenue off 19.1%
  • Interactive media revenue down 3.3% (this is the future, remember)
  • Classified ad revenue off 28%
  • National ad revenue down 21%

It’s not surprising that Media General just offered buyouts to half the employees in its Florida Communications Group. The terms are generous, ranging up to 39 weeks of pay. Media General didn’t say how many jobs it hopes to eliminate with the offer, but it did say that layoffs are possible.

And the Bad News Spreads

More talk of layoffs, closings and cost reductions. Here’s the rundown:

  • The Los Angeles Times Pressmens 20-Year Club has the scoop on Advance Publications’ plan to shut down one of its two production facilities. Advance Publications publishes the Newark Star-Ledger. The two plants employ more than 600 people, though it’s not clear how many jobs would be cut. A decision is expected within the next few weeks.
  • Times are hard, indeed, in the New York-Philadelphia corridor. The AP reports that the owner of Philadelphia’s two largest daily newspapers told a judge last week that unraveling its pension mess could lead to more layoffs. One of the two pensions the company merged is underfunded and the costs of bringing it up to snuff were unanticipated. In January, Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC said it had to cut costs by 10% or its viability would be in doubt.
  • The Toronto Star will cut 160 jobs, or a little less than 3% of its total workforce. The Canadian Journalism Project points out that this is disconcerting in light of the recent reports that the Canadian newspaper industry is faring much better than its U.S. counterpart.
  • The Raleigh News & Observer just told its staff that layoffs may be needed to cope with the business downturn. The paper employs 206 editorial staff.
  • The suburban Chicago Daily Herald laid off an unspecified number of employees throughout the company. Classified ad revenues are off as much as 45% year-over-year.
  • And finally, further evidence that Sam Zell’s Tribune Co. empire may be unraveling. Revenues continue to fall faster than expected, and now Zell is talking about selling off “newspapers and other properties.” Could that mean that titles other than Newsday may go on the block? One recent report said the LA Times may be in play.

But wait, there’s even more: The source of many of the industry’s problems is doing just fine. Blogger Roy Greenslade notes that Craigslist.org has quietly expanded its global footprint by 120 cities, bringing the total to 570. Craigslist may be the single biggest financial competitor the newspaper industry has. Here is the devastatingly brief, haiku-like announcement from Craig Newmark.

Finally, Philip Stone comments on the empty halls at the once-great Nexpo newspaper equipment trade show. It used to be that Nexpo was so big that only a few convention centers in the country could accommodate it, he says. But at this year’s event, you could have rolled a bowling ball down the expo floor and not disturbed anyone.

Go bowling this weekend. We can use a break.

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This entry was posted on Friday, April 18th, 2008 at 7:39 am and is filed under Advertising, BusinessModel, Circulation, Classifieds, Layoffs, Local news, NewMedia, Newspapers, OnlineMedia. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments Off on No Bright Spots in First-Quarter Earnings

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  1. April 19, 2008 @ 12:10 am



    The news will only get worse once Gannett reports its drops, although I’m sure they put their usual bogus spin on declining numbers across the board.

    Posted by Newspaper Fan