By paulgillin | October 2, 2008 - 10:19 am - Posted in blogging, Business News, NewMedia, Newspapers

We debated whether to add the New York Sun to the RIP list in the right-hand column and decided against it. While the Sun’s demise this week sparked lots of press coverage, its Wall Street roots and high-profile investors reminded us more of a failed dot-cot venture than a venerable daily journal.

Which isn’t to understate the sadness of the situation. The Sun was, in many ways, a throwback to better days. As The New York Times account relates, writers worked long hours in sweltering heat and frigid cold to chase scoops, motivated more by the story than the paper’s financial success. It’s not surprising that theSun’s demise brought so many eloquent quotes out of the woodwork, for Sun alumni can now be found on the staffs of some of the most respected media titles in America.

John Koblin tells how the Sun was one of a vanishing breed of newspapers – a writer’s journal. He quotes Seth Mnookin, who later went on to Newsweek and Vanity Fair (and who wrote a helluva good book about the Boston Red Sox), and Ben Smith of Politico.com as just two examples of writers whose careers were launched there. Sun publisher Seth Lipsky had bigger ideals that just making a profit, former staffers say. He thought he was running the best newspaper in the world.

In the end, the timing was terrible. Lipsky warned nearly a month ago that the paper needed financing to continue beyond early October. True to his word, he announced the shutdown to the staff on Sept. 29, the day the Dow plunged 777 points. Any chance of rescue evaporated with the stock market freefall. Still, Lipsky said he had offers of millions in financing if he could have found the right partners, which he couldn’t.

It took a lot of guts to start a newspaper in 2002. Lipsky and his staff of 110 (who are all now unemployed) deserve credit for bringing hope to an industry that has been relentlessly beaten and humiliated almost since the day the paper launched.

Turmoil in Tampa

About the only good news out of south-central Florida this year has been that it didn’t get hit by a major hurricane. For newspapers, it’s been a year to forget. The Tampa Tribune laid off four more staffers yesterday, including a prominent columnist. The paper also hinted at mysterious changes that are planned next week that will “significantly reduce the size of the weekday newspaper.” The St. Petersburg Times cites rumors that the Tribune will cut back to two sections on weekdays, a report that got a back-handed confirmation from Executive Editor Janet Coats. Says Coats: “”People tend to be skimmers during the week, reading more in depth in the weekend.”

The news comes on the heels of an announcement by alternative weekly Creative Loafing that it has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The Tampa-based publisher, which was founded in 1972, runs a string of papers stretching from Tampa to Chicago. Last year, it announced a high-profile deal to purchase Washington, D.C.’s City Paper and Chicago’s Reader. The strain of integrating the acqusitions in a down market may have been too much for Creative Loafing, which is suing to get creditors off its back. Chapter 11 doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the line, of course, but the publisher will probably have to sell assets to pay off some portion of its debt.

Layoff Log

  • With the Newark Star-Ledger on the road to achieving its cost-reduction goals, attention is now shifting to the Minneapolis Star Tribune as a likely candidate to become the first major metro daily to fold. The 141-year-old newspaper missed a $9 million debt payment this week. That’s not good, particularly when markets are in free-fall and creditors don’t have a lot of alternative sources of cash. Unfortunately, this is becoming SOP at the Strib, which stopped payments to another group of investors earlier this year. The publisher admitted that bankruptcy is a possibility.
  • Deep cuts at the Spokane Spokesman-Review prompted the resignation of the paper’s editor. Total layoffs amount to 60 employees, with 25 positions eliminated in the newsroom. That leaves 470 employees. Editor Steven A. Smith apparently took the news hard, telling his staff this “was not a layoff that I personally could support or sustain.” The newspaper blogs about its own layoffs.
  • The Harrisburg Patriot-News is offering a generous buyout plan with the goal of cutting 25% of its total staff. Workers with more than five years of service can get one year’s salary and health care coverage. Sign us up! This sounds like a great place to work. In announcing the buyout, the publisher stated that layoffs won’t be used to reach the target and that the Patriot-News pledges job security for full-time employees.
  • Eau Claire Press Co., which publishes the Wisconsin Leader-Telegramhas laid off 12 people, or about 4 percent of its workforce.

An Opportunity for Corporations – Fumbled

With businesses empowered by blogging, you’d think that the Wall Street meltdown would be a perfect opportunity for corporations to take a leadership role by communicating a message of optimism to scared consumers. You would be wrong. An informal analysis of 15 blogs from prominent corporations shows that only three have even mentioned the financial crisis in the last two weeks. Just two have provided any guidance on what’s happening and why, and only one of those blogs is from a US company. It looks like big businesses still have a way to go in ditching the happy-talk message in favor of an open conversation.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, October 2nd, 2008 at 10:19 am and is filed under blogging, Business News, NewMedia, Newspapers. 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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  1. October 3, 2008 @ 1:10 am



    Hey,

    Seeing as you don’t have personal contact details I’ll just comment here, even though it’s not directly applicable to your post above.

    I was wondering what your opinion is on the strategy of my local newspaper, The West Australia. Sure it’s not the Times or anything, there’s only 1.5 million people in Perth, Australia however it’s reasonably large.

    Just a few months ago they sent a letter round to all teachers in Perth and offered a special deal of a years subscription to the West Australian paper 6 days a week for just $3 a week. Considering that’s the price of just the Saturday paper it’s a pretty good deal. We accepted it.

    Obviously this was an attempt to boost circulation. I laughed when a few weeks after this an article appeared in the paper proudly boasting a 3% circulation increase, without mention of the $3 deal.

    Anyway, I was just wondering do you think this kind of strategy is a good one? I’ve certainly realised how much more I enjoyable the paper is to read in the morning rather than just scanning through some feeds.

    Posted by Josh
  2. October 3, 2008 @ 7:35 am



    Thanks for pointing out the lack of contact info. It’s been added to the About page.
    Considering that free dailies are the only segment of the newspaper industry that’s showing any growth in the US right now, I’d say the discounting strategy is sound. A lot of people would disagree, noting that discounts cheapen the image of the product. But they do appear to be working, at least in this country. They are engaging a class of readers who would probably never even pick up a newspaper otherwise.

    Posted by paulgillin
  3. October 5, 2008 @ 1:41 am



    Yeah that was my first thought, although here in Australia we don’t have ‘free dailies’, not large enough market perhaps. We do have free local papers fortnightly, but these are nothing more than glorified advertisments.

    I think what I find depressing about the decline of newspapers is that it’s the trashy media, magazines and tabloids which are doing okay and the reputable media which is suffering… or alternatively getting trashier to retain an audience.

    Posted by Josh
  4. October 5, 2008 @ 8:48 pm



    […] when an ongoing blog called Newspaper Death Watch can hardly keep up with the layoffs and shutdowns, and is trying to guess which major metropolitan […]

  5. June 3, 2009 @ 2:00 pm



    […] The Bulletin struggled in a hostile environment and a market that’s barely able to support two daily papers, let alone three. In that respect, the story is reminiscent of the New York Sun, a weekday paper serving Wall Street that shut down last October. […]