The owner of the Minneapolis Star Tribune is disputing a report in the New York Post that the paper is on the brink of bankruptcy. In a statement issued late Friday, Publisher and Chairman Chris Harte said the Star Tribune “currently has sufficient liquidity and is current on all its debt payment obligations.” However, he acknowledged that the company has hired a private equity firm to advise it on business options.

There’s no question things are grim at the “Strib.” The paper has cut 10% of its workforce over the last two years and was one of the leading losers in the ABC audit report published last week. In February, Harte told his people “Total revenue is down almost $75 million in the last two years… classified revenue was down over 50 percent from what it was at the start of the decade.”

A Star Tribune bankruptcy raises the likelihood that the paper’s creditors could end up owning it, and you know how committed banks are to quality journalism. The most likely scenario is massive expense cuts and a fire sale. The Star Tribune’s near-monopoly position does buy it some breathing room, but it’s hard to imagine there would be much hope of attracting new readers from such a crippled state. Ironically, as we noted two weeks ago, readers of the Star Tribune’s website spend almost as much time there as readers of The Wall Street Journal’s wsj.com.

Do J-Schools Hinder Progress?

Vin Crosbie writes a searing commentary on ClickZ about why journalism schools are part of the problem in the newspaper industry, rather than part of the solution. Having spent most of the last year on a sabbatical from consulting to teach journalism, Crosbie says he’s been astounded by the refusal of faculty at various academic institutions to change the ways in which they teach their craft in the face of seismic industry disruption (he’s careful not to point the finger at his own). “What I found were faculties resistant to change and students whose insights and mastery of new media were being eroded by the authoritative resistance to change of so many professors,” he writes.

He estimates that a quarter of J-school professors are actively blocking curriculum change and that they’re intimidating the 50% of the teachers who do want to move forward. Surprisingly, it’s the academics in their 30s and 40s who seem to be most in denial.

Union Agitation in the East Bay

It didn’t take long for union organizers to return to the East Bay. More than half the employees of a chain of newspapers in the region have signed cards demanding that they get union representation. They’ve filed their petition with the National Labor Relations Board, which will probably clear them for a vote.

The unit of MediaNews Group that runs the papers in the area probably thought it had scored an end run around the union nine months ago when it combined enough operations to dilute union membership below the 50% level required for recognition. Now employees of the combined operations have struck back. It’s hard to imagine what either side stands to gain. As a commenter on Los Angeles Times Pressmens 20-Year Club notes, “Gee, now they get to be laid off in order of seniority instead on who can do the job best.”

Your Daily Murdoch

As expected, Cablevision bid $650 for Newsday, which means Murdoch will have to match the ante. Speculation is that he’ll do just that and will eventually walk away with the prize, in part because his offer cuts Tribune Co. in for a tax-efficient minority stake and in part because he and Sam Zell are now good buddies.

Alan Mutter thinks Zell has a secret agenda in cozying up to Murdoch: he sees News Corp. as his exit strategy. Mutter sketches a scenario in which Tribune Co., on the brink of default, sells to News Corp., giving News Corp. cross-ownership of multiple print and TV properties in key cities. Murdoch and Zell then argue before the Federal Trade Commission that such consolidation is necessary for survival in the face of Internet competition. If the FTC modifies the rules, then News Corp. goes on a shopping spree. Intriguing idea.

And Finally

Editor & Publisher has a nice analysis of recent shakeups in D.C. newsrooms, including the ousters of the Associated Press bureau chief and a top national editor at The Washington Post. The common thread appears to be that these people were the victims of political struggles touched off by industry change.

The Economist summarizes the trials of the U.S. newspaper industry. It’s nothing you haven’t read here already, but it’s done in that crisp, efficient Economist style.

Blogging for Time, Justin Fox says newspapers will milk their current business until they die because they just can’t bring themselves to change their print-centric mentality. This statement is followed, curiously, by a discussion of his lunch.

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This entry was posted on Monday, May 5th, 2008 at 7:46 am and is filed under BusinessModel, Circulation, Journalism, Layoffs, NewMedia, Newspapers, OnlineMedia, Regulation, Solutions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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