During fourth-quarter earnings calls, several newspaper executives tried to put a positive spin on their financial situation, noting that the rate of decline in advertising revenues has slowed. That’s true, says Martin Langeveld, but it’s still a dismal situation overall. Langeveld totes up the numbers from the five publishers who have reported earnings so far and forecasts that the US industry as a whole will show a decline of 16% for the quarter. That’s better than the average 28% decline of the first three quarters of last year, but the overall trend is still in the wrong direction. It’s even uglier when you look at the last five years in aggregate: Total revenues for 2009 will come to about $28.4 billion, compared to $49.4 billion in the boom year of 2005. That’s a decline of 43%.
Langeveld analyzes the earnings announcement so far and finds scant reason for optimism. Publishers are talking of “stability” rather than growth, which means that their dramatic cost cuts of the last year are finally generating some profits. The good news is that this will enable them to finally pay down some of their huge debt burdens, but any growth into new areas still seems a long way off given that most publishers still derive less than 15% of their revenue from online advertising. The sole bright spot was Media General, which reported that total revenues in December “were essentially even with December 2008.” Langeveld takes that to mean that they were only down in the single digits. Still, any stability is a good thing. There’s much more on the Nieman site.
In other good business news, McClatchy’s debt ratings were upgraded by two major credit ratings agencies. While the upgrades were small, they moved McClatchy out of the “highly speculative” category. The company just concluded a sale of $875 million of senior secured notes that pays off impending loans and stretches maturities out to 2017, giving it some breathing room.
Things are getting worse at the Boston Globe, though. The newspaper, which failed to sell for a reported asking price of $25 million last year, suffered a 20.3% drop in advertising revenues in the fourth quarter. Full-year revenue was down nearly 16%. The only glimmer of good news was an increase in circulation revenue, but the Globe, which has been frantically slashing costs since its near-death experience a year ago, continues to sink while it’s much smaller crosstown rival, the Herald, is reportedly earning a small profit.
“The old gatekeepers are disappearing. We’ve become our own and one another’s editors.” That’s one of the gems from Ken Doctor’s post this week on Nieman Journalism Lab in which he weighs in on Google Buzz and the rapid socialization of the Web. Noting that the bit.ly URL shortening service, which is one of about a dozen on the Internet, is now processing about 2 billion link referrals a month, Doctor suggests that news organizations must tap into the link-sharing patterns of social networks to identify new readers. “Are Facebook users of a certain kind more likely to convert to become regular users of NYTimes.com (or Dallasnews.com or VoiceofSanDiego.org) than Twitter users?” he asks, citing one example.
It’s an excellent point. Social network practitioners who frequently refer their friends and followers to content from the same source should, in theory, be more likely to become paying subscribers to that source. The tricky part is how to find these people. Amid the deafening social cacophony of the Internet, pinpointing fans can make the task of searching for a needle in a haystack look trivial.
Doctor cites an emerging discipline called “social media optimization,” that is about making content more appealing to people who like to share. This goes beyond packaging or optimizing headlines for search; it’s also about making stuff easily shareable and getting the content producers embedded into the networks that grow around their products.
The Death Watch on Facebook
Our day job is helping businesses understand and adapt to the social Web, so it seems only natural that the Death Watch should go up on Facebook. Well, here we are. We’ll use this platform to point to the many stories we read but don’t get a chance to summarize in our occasional blog entries. We’ll also post some discussion topics and would like to hear your comments on the choices we make. Fan us! It’s hot in here.
Gerald Posner resigned from the Daily Beast this week amid a swirl of charges of serial plagiarism. In a post on his blog, Posner admitted that he had copied material from the Miami Herald, among other sources, but insisted that the plagiarism was inadvertent. Posner’s shame highlights a risk of the copy-and-paste nature of Web publishing, in which original information quickly becomes intermingled with notes lifted from other sources. While that’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation of how the need for speed, combined with the portability of printed words, can be a recipe for disaster. When in doubt, select the text and copy it into Google. You’ll quickly see if you’ve violated someone else’s property.
The Berkeley Daily Planet, which isn’t daily, will cease print publication and go online only, although the owners held out the possibility of a return to the newsstands. Distribution was only one of several problems the paper faced. The city of San Francisco’s recent ban on freestanding newspaper stands hurt distribution, and the Daily Planet’s often critical reporting on local businesses didn’t help with advertising sales. The newspaper also suffered from a campaign by a group of East Bay Zionists to dissuade businesses from advertising because of editorials that criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Two amusing closing items today:
The funny folks at 10,000 Words are back with their collection of Valentines for journalists. Although vaguely suggestive, they’re mostly G-rated and should be good for a laugh if your beloved happens to end his or her love letters with “-30-.”
It was 113 years ago yesterday that the phrase “All the News That’s Fit to Print” first appeared on the front page of The New York Times. The phrase was actually being used in marketing and advertising prior to that date and had assumed a modest place on the Times’ editorial page, but it was a slogan contest organized in late 1896 by publisher Adolph Ochs that catapulted the now-famous slogan to the banner. W. Joseph Campbell, whose 2006 book entitled The Year That Defined American Journalism documented the momentous events of 1897, recounts some of the entries that didn’t win the contest and its $100 prize. They include:
- Always decent; never dull;
- The news of the day; not the rubbish;
- A decent newspaper for decent people;
- All the world’s news, but not a school for scandal.
We think Ochs made a good choice, though his choice of words probably didn’t anticipate the Internet.
This entry was posted on Friday, February 12th, 2010 at 11:45 am and is filed under Advertising, Business News, Circulation, Future of Journalism, Newspapers, Solutions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.