Continuing a newspaper industry tradition of burying bad news about its business, The Oregonian announced that it will scale back home-delivery frequency from seven to four days a week.

The news is tucked into the fourth paragraph of an otherwise effusive press release on Oregon Live that crows about the launch of a new company that will “expand news and information products in Oregon and Southwest Washington” and “introduce new and improved digital products.”

In reality, the main purpose of the new company over the next few months will be to hire survivors from Oregonian Publishing Co. which produces the state’s largest and longest continuously published newspaper. That company will close on Oct. 1. Oregonian write Brent Hunsberger provides balanced coverage – and leads with the real news.

Like newspapers in Detroit, the The Oregonian will continue to publish in print seven days a week but will limit distribution of Monday, Tuesday and Thursday editions to city newsstands. Its 170,000 home subscribers will see deliveries cut to Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. In a baffling bit of doublespeak, the company also said home-delivery subscribers would get a Saturday edition “as a bonus.” It also stressed that the “Wednesday, Friday and Sunday editions will be enhanced with more content than current editions while the Saturday newspaper will have news and a strong emphasis on sports content, along with classified advertising.” In other words, a cut of 50% is an improvement.

The bigger story is that there will be unspecific but “significant” layoffs at The Oregonian, which currently employs 650 people. The paper, which has won seven Pulitzer Prizes and five since 1999, employs more than 90 journalists according to Hunsberger’s account. However, Ryan Chittum thinks the editorial cuts have been more severe. Writing on CJR.com, Chittum estimates that the newsroom staff has declined from about 315 in 2007 to 175 today. His assessment is blunt:

[Advance Publications'] new template for its newspapers is now depressingly familiar: End daily delivery; fire a third to a half of the veteran journalists, particularly the editors, particularly in news; replace some of them with young, inexperienced (and most important: cheap) labor; put them on the hamster wheel; toss around insipid buzzwords; spend a bunch of money on new offices; piss off readers; embolden competition.

Seems about right. Chittum also notes that Advance Publications’ cutbacks at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans backfired when a competitor from Baton Rouge moved in to take advantage of subscriber unrest. Advance has had to respond with a tabloid edition on days the Times-Picayune doesn’t publish, thereby negating many of its cost savings. Advance has said that it will make similar frequency cutbacks across its portfolio.

Oregon journalists are already rushing in to show their support. Former Oregonian reporter Ryan Frank has taken to social media to raise funds for a bar tab for laid-off staffers. He’s already raised more than $3,000. Follow the fund’s progress at #OregonianBarTab on Twitter. And give generously.

Thanks to Brian Parks for tipping us off to this news.

 

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By Paul Gillin | June 11, 2013 - 5:54 pm - Posted in Journalism

 

Infographic from InsideClimateNews series on the Dilbit oil spill

Infographic from InsideClimateNews series on the Dilbit oil spill

Editor & Publisher has details on InsideClimate News and the “ambitious, in-depth investigative series that began as a fluke,” winning the tiny nonprofit organization the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting.

The online-only service, which publishes its work under a Creative Commons license, beat out some of the biggest U.S. newspapers to win the honor for its three-part investigative series “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard Of.” The series focused on a 2010 crisis caused by a ruptured oil pipeline that spilled at least 1 million gallons into Michigan’s Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River, forcing 150 families permanently from their home.

The watchdog organization has a staff of only seven full-timers who work virtually in offices and homes around the country. It’s funded entirely by donations, a similar model to ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative reporting service launched in 2007 that has won two Pulitzers.

The E&P also documents the resourcefulness and determination that enabled the service to bring this story home despite a tiny budget and far-flung staff. The visibility of its work was helped by the fact that media coverage of climate change has declined steadily since 2009, according to E&P.

 

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The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) released an upbeat report on the state of newspapers worldwide, pointing to growing readership levels in emerging economies but cautioning that engagement levels are still low.

The report includes data from 70 countries that account for more than 90% of the industry’s value. It shows:

  • More than half the world’s adult population reads a daily newspaper, with 2.5 billion reading in print and more than 600 million consuming in digital form.
  • The newspaper industry generates more than US$200 billion of revenue worldwide each year. However, that figure is down 2% from last year and 22% since 2008. The numbers are dragged down by plummeting ad sales in the U.S., which has seen print advertising revenues fall 42% since 2008. The good news is that ad revenues are up 9.1% in Latin America, 3.6% in Asia and 2.3% in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • Newspaper circulation remains high, through stagnant, globally. Circulation declined only .9% worldwide in 2012 from a year earlier, primarily due to  rising circulations in Asia. Circulation is down 2.2% globally since 2008, with the steepest declines in Europe.
  • While newspapers are a vital information source, they aren’t engaging online audiences very effectively. Newspapers accounted for only 7% of visits, only 1.3% of time spent online and only .9% of total pages visited.
  • U.S. newspaper publishers now generate 27% of their revenues from non-traditional sources, such as digital advertising, services and ancillary products.

While the report can be seen as a glass-half-full scenario, we think it’s encouraging to see publishers diversifying their revenue sources. The industry’s historic dependence on print advertising in general – and classified advertising in particular – is at the root of its problems. The rapid decline of those revenue sources is prompting some publishers to get creative about finding new revenues. Those that succeed will be stronger for it.

 

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By Paul Gillin | June 9, 2013 - 10:42 am - Posted in Advertising, Business News, Newspapers

PwC (formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers) has issued its 14th annual outlook for the global entertainment and media industry, and the trends are mostly positive – or at least not horrendous – for mainstream media through 2017.

Newspaper advertising is expected to decline 2.9% annually to $28.5 billion in 2017, from an estimated $33 billion last year. The sector “is not in ‘terminal decline,; at least in the near or medium term,” writes MarketingCharts in a summary article. “In fact it has shown some resilience, and print circulation has stabilized even as newspaper websites attract an increasing number of readers.”

TV advertising looks particularly strong, with a 5.1% forecasted compound annual growth rate. Advertisers are particularly intrigued about the potential of personalization and so-called “second screen” viewing which permits audience members to interact with the broadcast as well as with each other.

Even radio is forecast to grow, driven by satellite networks. And then there are billboards. Those out-of-home vehicles will lag only TV advertising in projected revenue growth, perhaps because they still deliver a unique experience and you can’t avoid looking at them.

The full report costs $2,200, but the links above provide the highlights.

US Traditional Media Outlook 2013-2017

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By Paul Gillin | June 6, 2013 - 7:43 am - Posted in Advertising, Business News, NewMedia

ZenithOptimedia just released a list of the world’s largest media companies ranked by media revenue, which it describes as “all revenues deriving from businesses that support advertising, not just the advertising revenue itself.” Number one on the list is Google at nearly $38 billion in 2011 revenues. It’s followed by DirectTV and then News Corp. which owns The Wall Street Journal, Fox TV and many U.K. newspapers.

How dominant is Google? It accounted for 49% of the world’s internet ad expenditure in 2011, according to the ZenithOptimedia press release. Three other Internet media owners (Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo!) generated another $11.3 billion. Much of this revenue came out of the hides of traditional media companies.

That isn’t to say that mainstream media is standing still. “Of the top 30 global media owners, 22 are companies whose main business is to attract audiences with strong content,” says the press release. “Between them, these 22 generated $169 billion in media revenue in 2011, or 61% of the total generated by the Top 30.”

So content rules, but search rules more. The world’s biggest media company produces almost no content, and it’s in a market that’s growing 13% per year.

ZenithOptimedia Top 10 Global Media Owners in 2011

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Paywalls continue to spring up across the news landscape while new-media enthusiasts warn that gated news is a throwback to a bygone age.

Britain’s Telegraph and Sun announced plans to erect paywalls almost simultaneously after successful tests. The Telegraph, which claims to have the largest circulation of any U.K. daily, will give away 20 articles free every month and charge £1.99/mo. thereafter for unlimited access to the website and smartphone apps. The Sun‘s move is timed to make the most of parent company News International’s £20M deal to show near-live clips of Premiership football highlights on its websites beginning in August.

In Canada, Postmedia Network will roll out paywalls across all 10 of its properties, including the National Post. The move completes an experiment that began two years ago and has been deployed in stages. Digital-only subscribers will have to ante up $9.99/mo. for reading more than 10 articles in any title within a month.

Perhaps most indicative of the surging popularity of paywalls, though, is Politico’s decision to experiment with the idea. The Washington, D.C.-focused news service, which was once personified the new breed of digital-only publishers, has given in to the reality that advertising rates continue to fall and subscriber revenues must become part of the business. “We believe that every successful media company will ultimately charge for its content” said a memo signed by several of the Politico’s top executives.

Circling the Wagons

We continue to be more interested in experiments that break new ground in publishing economics than efforts to resurrect old models. There’s plenty to report there, as well.

Ken Doctor kicks us  off with a fine analysis of where NewsRight went wrong. NewsRight was a consortium of 20 publishers that sprung out of the Associated Press in early 2012 with the mission of tracking down copyright violators while also creating a subscription model that would permit digital publishers to license quality content for redistribution.

“Publishers have seethed with rage as they’ve seen their substantial investment in newsrooms harvested — for nothing — by many aggregators…” writes Doctor on the Nieman Journalism Lab, “…but rage — whether seething or public — isn’t a business model.”

Bingo. Consortia are good for only two things: setting standards and raising awareness. They’re a terrible way to create new products. The idea of pursuing copyright violators individually is ludicrous, anyway. It’s like trying to stamp out ants. There are always more where the first batch came from.

The only anti-piracy tactic that works is a public awareness campaign, and the newspaper industry has shown little interest in that. NewsRight died because the members inevitably had conflicting priorities, and it was impossible for everyone to find common ground when everyone had something to lose.

Does BuzzFeed Have it Right?

Sponsored Post on BuzzFeedDoctor points to the work being done at NewsCred, BuzzFeed and Forbes, among others, as examples of new ideas worth developing. “In 2013, we’re seeing more innovative use of news content than we have in a long time,” he writes. We’re particularly interested in BuzzFeed, the viral content engine started by Jonah Peretti and others in 2006. At first glance it looks like any other new-age news site, with a bottomless home page stuffed with a jumble of seemingly unrelated content ranging from the profound to the ridiculous.

As New York magazine points out in a lengthy profile, though, there’s a lot more going on there than cat photos. BuzzFeed is tuned to create content that people want to share, and it could care less who the authors are. The home page blithely mixes contributions from staffers and advertisers with minimal labeling. Every element within every story can be shared on every social network you can imagine. Every page is designed to maximize audience interaction with the content.

BuzzFeed makes little effort to segregate advertiser contributions from the work of its own staff. A photo essay on “12 Tips to Have An Amazing Barbecue” from Grill Mates sits next to “Just The London Skyline, Made Out Of Sugar Cubes” by staffer Luke Lewis. Some of the branded stuff is actually pretty good, like, JetBlue’s “The 50 Most Beautiful Shots Taken Out Of Airplane Windows.”

Is this serious journalism? Well, no. We don’t think corporate brands will ever produce that. But if they want to run their grilling tips next to similarly lightweight content from professional editors, why not let them? The genie that goes by such names as “brand journalism” and “content marketing” isn’t going back in the bottle. A recent survey concluded that corporate marketers and agencies consider branded content to be among their most effective branding tactics, and that 69% plan to spend more money on it in the coming year.

The bigger issue is whether sustainable publishing business models can be found that don’t rely entirely upon display advertising or subscription revenue. BuzzFeed and NewsCred are making some progress there. We don’t believe they produce serious journalism, if sex, gossip and voyeurism can attract a large enough audience to support real journalism, then we’re in favor of it. The idea isn’t new. It’s worked in the U.K. for decades.

Content Marketing Effectiveness

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Police Roam MA Suburb In Search Of Boston Bombers

Police Roam MA Suburb In Search Of Boston Bombers (Photo: Talk Radio News Service)

Those who fear that crowdsourcing may soon make professional journalists obsolete should take a look at some of the links below related to an amateur sleuthing experiment on the popular Reddit social news site that went horribly awry last week.

The goal was commendable enough. A “subreddit” was set up to enlist the members of this massive community (14 million monthly visitors by one report) in the hunt for suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing. Participants were told not to name names and to focus their effort on combing through thousands of photos posted on the Internet in hopes of finding the origins of the backpacks that exploded, killing three people and injuring 282 others.

The rules quickly went by the wayside, though. Names began being tossed out more or less at random, photos of anyone carrying a backpack were flagged as suspicious and chatter from the Boston Police Scanner were posted as fact. Most damaging was a rumor that Sunil Tripathi, a Brown University student who has been missing for a month, was one of the bombers.

Twitter did its part both to spread misinformation and to serve professional journalists who sought to calm the hysteria.  Some mainstream media organizations picked up on the Tripathi rumors and amplified them, while other journalists tried to settle the crowd by pointing out, among other things, that police scanner reports are unconfirmed and often wrong.

The accusation that Tripathi was involved in the bombings was particularly damaging. When the popular @NewsBreaker Twitter account reported that the missing student had been confirmed as a suspect based upon police scanner chatter, “social media went crazy,” said Reddit General Manager Erik Martin in an interview on Atlantic Wire. “It was posted so many times in [Reddit subgroup] /r/FindBostonBombers that I had to stay up the entire night deleting them.”

Martin called the experiment “a disaster,” and issued an apology to the Tripathi family on behalf of Reddit, which is owned by Conde Nast. Media critics have been swarming in the wake of the incident, with Reddit getting nearly universal condemnation. About the only contribution the crowd made to the investigation was to identify one photo of the suspected bombers that the FBI hadn’t seen. However, the distraction the experiment caused as professional reporters tried to untangle the web of amateur accusations more than offset the small benefits. A chastened Reddit has since launched a new crowdsourced campaign to help locate Tripathi.

Questioning Crowdsourcing’s Value

Does this mean crowdsourcing is a bad idea? In certain situations, yes. Criminal investigations require specialized expertise that no group of amateurs can match. FBI and police investigators had access to intelligence that enabled them to evaluate and discard spurious information that the Reddit crowd didn’t. In a highly charged atmosphere like this, investigation is best done behind closed doors, with information revealed selectively when it can move the process along. The crowd is enlisted to help authorities but not to solve the case.

We can’t help but wonder what the public response would be if police officials conducted their investigation the way Reddit did. If every rumor and bit of speculation was held up to public comment, then our opinion of law enforcement might be quite different. Sometimes there’s good reason to withhold information from the public, as the irresponsible actions of the Reddit crowd made very clear.

However, we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath. Crowdsourcing can have great value when applied to analysis of very amounts of data or eyewitness accounts. Witness the comprehensive Wikipedia report on the Marathon bombings for an example of how many eyes can tell a story better than a few.

The incident also offered some shining examples of traditional media at its best. On Friday the Boston Globe, which has been a poster child of newspaper industry tumult, posted this marvelous account of the factors that set two likable young men on the road to terrorism. It was mainstream media at its best.

Update

Mathew Ingram has a different view. He believes Reddit, Twitter and other popular tools are capable of producing quality journalism, but not in the way we’ve traditionally defined it. Ingram believes that journalism is “atomizing” into component parts, and that the fact-checking and validation functions can be better handled by a crowd.

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By Paul Gillin | April 23, 2013 - 7:49 am - Posted in Best/Worst, Journalism, Layoffs

Citing newspaper closures, high stress and low pay, CareerCast has rated newspaper reporter as the worst job in the nation, behind lumberjack, oil rig worker and meter reader.

The ratings, which the jobs portal has published annually since 1988, factor in criteria like income, growth opportunity, environmental factors, stress and physical demands in ranking 200 jobs annually. Newspaper reporter was ranked #126 in the first published report 25 years ago. However, the last decade has seen ad revenues shrink 60% and reporting staffs dwindle by 30%. At the same time, deadlines have become shorter while demands for output have increased.

The job of newspaper reporter “has attracted many aspiring writers, been romanticized in movies and helped bring down corrupt presidents,” the company said in a press release. However, Publisher Tony Lee said people who like to write are better off seeking careers in advertising, public relations or online publishing these days.

The three top-ranked jobs in the nation are actuary, biomedical engineer and software engineer, the survey said. The rankings aren’t necessarily intuitive. For example, “senior corporate executive” is rated #155, attorney #117 and air traffic controller #170. Mining, a job that many people would say is the worst in the nation, isn’t ranked at all. You can find a list of all 200 rated jobs here.

The the 10 biggest losers, with approximate pay levels, are below.
200. Newspaper Reporter – $36,000
199. Lumberjack - $32,870
198. Enlisted Military Personnel - $41,998
197. Actor - $17.44/hour
196. Oil Rig Worker - $37,640
195. Dairy Farmer - $60,750
194. Meter Reader - $36,400
193. Mail Carrier - $53,090
192. Roofer - $34,220
191. Flight Attendant - $37,74

 

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By Paul Gillin | April 13, 2013 - 10:31 am - Posted in BusinessModel, Circulation, Demographics, Newspapers, Paywalls, Revenue20, Solutions

In a dying industry, the sensible thing to do is to maximize your revenues before you die. Paywalls might well make money for newspapers. But that doesn’t mean that newspapers aren’t dying. Quite the opposite.

Felix Salmon, Reuters

That quote, which we first saw in this Mathew Ingram piece on paidContent, gave us new insight on why we dislike paywalls so much. Yes, the newspaper industry seems to be adopting them at a rapid pace, and yes, the paywalls at The New York Times and Financial Times are reportedly successful, but there’s something about putting the subscription genie back in the bottle that strikes us as a step backward.

Salmon puts his finger on one of the weaknesses of most current paywalls: They are defensive strategy. They’re designed to keep loyal readers on board, but they repel potential new readers.

Alan Mutter shares worrisome statistics: More than two-thirds of regular newspaper readers are over 45, their average age is 57 and the average age of the online newspaper audience grows one year older every year. This industry is still headed toward a cliff. Unless those demographics turn around, it’s only a matter of time before the audience dwindles to a size that is no longer economically sustainable.

What’s the answer? Unfortunately, no one has come up with one. In another piece this week, Ingram criticizes paywalls for being a no-growth strategy. His article is mostly a restatement of Mutter’s analysis, but the really interesting part is in the comments section that follows. Both critics and supporters of paywalls vigorously debate the alternatives, and both sides make good points. Done right, it seems that paywalls actually could attract new subscribers, but no publisher is reporting the kind of circulation gains that will be needed to replace this rapidly aging audience.

The time seems right for micro payments, but that idea has never gained any traction. Kachingle was one of the early players in newspaper micro payments, but it has now morphed its business model into a co-marketing app content somethingorother that we can’t figure out. People seem to be OK with using Google Checkout for 99-cent purchases, but not for five-cent purchases. We think there’s a psychological barrier to micro payments. Below 99 cents, people don’t want to be bothered to think about paying. In fact, charging a nickel to read a 5,000-word article seems a little absurd, as if the article has no value. At some point, micro payments work against you.

Reuters’ Salmon argues that paywalls as currently implemented are too inflexible. They impose a limited number of subscription options on visitors regardless of what the visitors want or how they behave. Paywalls should use a sliding scale that maps to the needs of the individual reader, he suggests. People with an intense interest in sports will pay more than those who care deeply about entertainment, so they should pay a different price. Few publishers understand their audiences in that kind of depth, though.

We did see one bit of encouraging news this week. The Newspaper Association of America reported that advertising revenues continued their seven-year-long string of declines, dropping 6% in 2012. However, overall revenues were down only 2%. The reason is that publishers are finally diversifying their revenue streams, and not just by charging readers:

These new revenue sources, which include such items as digital consulting for local business and e-commerce transactions, now account for close to one-in-ten dollars coming into newspaper media companies. They are significant enough in scale that NAA has begun to collect detailed data about these revenue categories and track their trajectory year-to-year for the first time.

Consulting? Affinity programs? Marketing Services? Where have we heard those ideas before?

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By Paul Gillin | March 29, 2013 - 4:38 pm - Posted in Business News, Paywalls

Employees at the San Francisco Chronicle have taken to social media to protest a move by parent Hearst Corp. to impose a new healthcare plan that employees say is inferior to their current coverage and costs up to $3,000 more per year.

The Chronicle has been hanging by a thread since 2009, when Hearst nearly shut it down after complaining the newspaper was losing $1 million a month. A series of layoffs, pay freezes and cutbacks in vacation and holiday time have left employees frustrated and angry, and the latest move has brought that to the surface. they complain they’re being asked to put in even more hours to satisfy the demands of a new pay wall being put in place that will charge readers $14.99/mo. for premium content.

“We love the Chronicle, and we love journalism, but we can’t keep donating our own livelihoods to increase the profits of our corporate owners,” reads a post on the Friends of The San Francisco Chronicle Guild  Facebook page.

There’s also an online petition you can sign that demands fair healthcare for employees. You can also follow the #MakesUsSick hash tag on Twitter for updates. Some reporters changed their Twitter profiles to a red box as part of the protest. We’re not sure why.

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