By paulgillin | July 24, 2018 - 7:54 pm - Posted in Hyper-local, Layoffs

The cure for the newspaper  industry’s ills was once thought to be a “hyper-local” focus, but that’s not proving to be the salve for New York City, which is suffering an unprecedented decline in local news coverage. The latest casualty is the New York  Daily News, which on Monday said it would cut its newsroom staff by half. The Washington Post points out that this means that a paper that employed 400 journalists in 1988 will have a reportorial staff of just 45 when the latest cuts new owner Tronc take effect.
U.S. newspaper employment has fallen by 55% since 2000, from 424,000 people to 183,300 in mid-2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ironically, the cuts are hitting hardest in New York, which is one of the media capitals of the world. Politico notes that The Wall Street Journal shut down its own experiment in hyper-local journalism called “Greater New York” in 2016 while The New York Times has cut back on metro coverage and the Village Voice shut down its print edition last year. Newsday pulled out of Manhattan long ago and no one knows about the condition of The New York Post, whose finances are closely held secret of owner Rupert Murdoch.
BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith, who is a veteran New York reporter, summed it up best, telling the Post, “Politicians know nobody is watching in a state where everything from economic development to the electoral system is plagued by systematic corruption.” The Daily News has won 11 Pulitzer Prizes, including one last year for its work with ProPublica on the abuse of eviction rules in New York City.
Arthur Browne, who served as editor-in-chief of the Daily News last year, told the Daily Beast last year that the borough of Queens, which has 2.3 million residents, now has no full-time court reporter, despite the fact that it experiences 35,000 major crimes a year and that the local courthouse hears 200,000 criminal cases annually.
Robert York, the Daily News‘s new EIC, asked the staff for 30 days to define a new strategy, which was apparently not in place before the firings were announced. York has a 20-year-plus journalism career, including some recent successes with the Allentown, Pa. Morning Call, but his background has been mostly limited to features and photography, and he has no experience in the rough-and-tumble New York market.
Among the casualties was former Daily News EIC Jim Rich, who had reportedly resisted demands for further staff cuts. Rich didn’t respond to media inquiries, but issued this tweet, which sort of sums up the situation in NYC right now.

Cuts are expected at other Tronc papers, which include The Baltimore Sun and The Chicago Tribune, but Tronc CEO Justin Dearborn said they wouldn’t be as draconian as they were at the Daily News. 

Image: Pixabay
By paulgillin | May 29, 2010 - 4:38 am - Posted in Layoffs, Solutions

Last January we told you about Adam Chadwick and Bill Loerch, two filmmakers who are chronicling the decline of the US newspaper industry and the resulting crisis in journalism for a documentary film called Fit to Print. We just got a link to the trailer for their film. Watch it below. The filmmakers have been working on a shoestring budget and could use funding. If you can help them, contact Chadwick directly.

Update 5/23/19: The original video has been taken down. A more recent trailer is available here. There appears to be no embed option.

By paulgillin | March 24, 2010 - 10:42 pm - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local

Perhaps it’s because we were headed down to Long Island for a day-long visit to a journalism school today, but an opinion piece in the Loyola student newspaper got us riled up about the state of journalism education when we came across it yesterday.

Michael GiustiIn it, Loyola journalism professor Michael Giusti (right) makes a misguided assumption that the print media model is going to be just fine, basing his conclusions on the assumption that the worst is over, advertising activity is starting to pick up again and that his own reading habits can be projected out to the general population. We hope this isn’t what he’s teaching his students, but we suspect otherwise.

Giusti does have some interesting figures from Lee Enterprises to support his point. They show a 50% drop in classified advertising revenue compared between 2006 and 2009, compared to just a 20% decline in display advertising. Giusti finds reason for optimism in this fact, based on the assumption that a recovering economy will stimulate the latter category while the worst is over in the former. Even better, newspaper publishers have largely completed their cost-cutting initiatives and will learn to make due with smaller staffs.

“With their leaner personnel roles, newsrooms can continue operating within their tighter post-Craigslist budgets. Most publicly traded newspapers are now posting positive numbers, and many are even on track to post profits for the first quarter of this year.”

This conclusion appears to assume that nothing will change in the future, but evidence indicates otherwise. The Internet  recently became the world’s largest advertising market and it’s going nowhere but up in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, newspapers who  have lost the young audience are focused mainly on milking whatever revenue they can out of an aging reader base while doing little to prepare for a digital future other than trying to charge for the content they now give away. This is not a healthy state of affairs.

It’s disturbing to see such blind optimism from someone who is supposed to shape young minds. For starters, the core problem for newspapers isn’t Craiglist but efficiency. Advertisers now have vastly more leverage in the way they invest their dollars than they did a few years ago. What’s more, the online competitors that newspapers face operate far more efficiently than print publishers do. The cost of advertising is only going to decline further in the future. Publishers are enjoying a respite right now because of the slowly recovering economy and the benefits of cost-cutting over the last two years, but to believe that the worst is over and the future is bright is to take a dangerously optimistic point of view. The business model is anything but “solid;” it is on very shaky ground.

Also, Mr. Giusti’s statement that “I plan to read my newspaper in its paper edition long into the future” demonstrates that he is out of step with his students. We addressed a class of public relations seniors at a major university last week and asked our usual question: How many of you have read a print newspaper in the last week? Out of a room of 25 students, one hand went up. This is par for the course in our experience with young communicators and it indicates that while Mr. Giusti may plan to read his newspaper far into the future, very few of his students will.

Online News Readers are Tech-Savvy

Alan Mutter quotes new research demonstrating that visitors to newspaper websites are more technologically savvy than many of us would believe. The research by Greg Harmon found that online newspaper readers are about the same age as their print-focused counterparts but are 1.5 times more likely to own a smart phone. He also quotes Harmon characterizing as “stunning” the finding that 30% of these readers are hungry to buy an Apple iPad.

It seems that the usual pattern in consumer gadget purchase is that about twice as many people plan to buy a gizmo at any give time as actually own it at that moment. But Harmon discovered that in the case of the iPad, five times as many online newspapers readers plan to buy it or some other kind of e-reader as currently own one.  This suggests that newspaper enthusiasts are keen to embrace the new technologies, a finding that should encourage news executives to get off the mushrooms on which they’ve been sitting since late January and start figuring out how to turn these loyalists into e-reader subscribers.

Sadly, the whole newspaper industry has been gloomily silent in that time. Perhaps they’re waiting for the population of iPads to reach critical mass – by which time someone else will have captured the market – or maybe they don’t know how to offer a differentiated product on a portable digital platform. Here’s an idea: regional aggregation. And there’s more where that came from if you’d care to give us a call.

Miscellany

The Financial Times must be thinking it has figured out the paywall model. The British business daily has completely eliminated free access to its content, except for readers who arrive from Google. Previously, FT.com visitors got five articles per month for free and 25 if they filled out a free registration form. Now those thresholds have been reduced to 0 and 10 stories, respectively. Annual subscriptions cost as much as $550.


Gannett's Craig Dubow, Newspaper Death WatchCurrent and former employees of Gannett Co, who aren’t known for reticence with their opinions, are likely to be royally steamed to learn that CEO Craig Dubow took home a $4.7 million paycheck last year even as revenue declined 22%, the company laid off 6,000 people and shut down the Tucson Citizen. However, those employees should keep in mind that the market capitalization of Gannett increasedby about $3 billion during the year. As far as shareholders are concerned, Dubow’s bonus is cheap.


Only 544 newspaper employees were laid off in the first two months of 2010, says the blog News Cycle. indicating that the blood flow may be slowing. That compares to more than 30,000 newspaper jobs that were lost between 2008 and 2009, according to Erica Smith. Smith’s 2010 numbers are less optimistic than News Cycle’s: she  counts more than 1,650 lost newspaper jobs this year, but that may include the 600 people at the Honolulu Advertiser who have yet to receive their formal termination notices. We’re inclined to trust Erica, who has documented this trend with unerring discipline for more than three years.


Speaking of Erica Smith, her latest blog entry is about Paper Haters, a blog that documents the more outrageous and ignorant complaints that newspaper editors get from readers. “The blog is intended to point out the irrationality and sometimes utter ignorance of newspaper readers and their often misplaced anger,” blogger Maggie Jenkins tells Smith. “It’s all at once funny and frustrating.”

A scan of the site reveals that readers do complain vociferously about seemingly ridiculous things. Jenkins, who fields reader letters as part of her job, estimates that only about 1% of communications from readers are positive. The most common complaints: alleged favoritism toward a particular restaurant/school/candidate and the classic “You’re just a bunch of bleeding-heart liberals” accusation. She invites you to submit your own favorites, whether from print, broadcast or online.

And Finally…

Reporters are editors disagree all the time, but rarely do you see their differences erupt in the way they did between these two TV newsmen in a recent exchange. We assume these guys don’t often go out for beers after the evening newscast.

By paulgillin | December 18, 2009 - 10:38 am - Posted in Facebook

It would be nice to believe, as many newspaper executives apparently do, that brighter days are ahead. Kubas Consultants polled 500 newspapers executives in November and found that, on the whole, they believe the worst is almost over and the 2011 could actually see a return to growth. Most expect next year to be flat, and few foresee the need to outsource printing or reduce frequency, as many newspapers did this year. In fact, one in four said they plan to start specialty, niche or lifestyle products.

Alan Mutter isn’t buying it, and apparently neither is the man who produced the survey. Mutter e-mailed Ed Strapagiel, the Kubas executive who led the research. His opinion is that publishers’ forecasts of a .2% decline in ad sales next year aren’t realistic and he offers a list of reasons for their optimism. Our favorite: “Optimism is better than slitting your wrists.”

In the category of blind optimism, you can also include the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It forecasts that the newspaper industry will lose 25% of its jobs over the next eight years, making it the seventh fastest shrinking job market in the US during that time. The bureau doesn’t explain its methodology, but we suspect that a dart board is involved. The newspaper industry has shed 45% of its jobs since the 2001 peak and nearly 31,000 and just the last two years, according to the amazing Erica Smith. There is nothing on the horizon from a demographic, economic or competitive standpoint that suggests a turnaround in the business so the BLS forecast of a roughly 3% annual decline over the next eight years strikes us as a bit optimistic. Perhaps the prospect of an end to the suffering of the last 18 months is sparking some irrational exuberance.

Incidentally, these last two stories were reported by the industry trade journal Editor & Publisher, whose closure was announced last week in a sale of magazines by its former owner, Nielsen Co. A short story on the E&P website says that staff members plan to go ahead with a January issue and that E&P‘s 125-year run may not yet be at an end. “A number of outside companies and individuals have expressed interest in possibly keeping E&P going, so stay tuned for updates,” the story notes, cryptically.


For a more realistic look at the industry’s short-and long-term prospects, read Martin Langeveld’s thoughtful list of predictions for 2010. Among them are continuing slides in revenue of about 10%, disappointing performance for paywalls, a couple of publisher bankruptcies and likely consolidation by some of the survivors. There’s other good stuff there, too.

Miscellany

The BBC’s worldwide chief executive, John Smith, has come out in support of Rupert Murdoch’s plans to charge for news. The endorsement is notable because the BBC has been something of a foil for news organization’s paywall ambitions, since it provides high quality information – including international coverage – under a government subsidy. While Smith praised Murdoch’s lone-wolf advocacy for the “importance of having quality content,” he notes that paywalls will be extremely difficult to maintain. Separately, the BBC’s director general last month said the broadcaster had no plans to erect paywalls around its public service broadcasting websites.


Whether you like Jeff Jarvis or you hate him — and few people in the publishing industry feel ambivalent about the outspoken blogger — you have to admit that he walks the walk. In the spirit of total transparency and living in public, Jarvis has posted an update on his battle with prostate cancer. The good news is that he appears to be winning. Treatment, however, has come with its fair share of pain, and Jarvis outlines in great detail his problems with incontinence and impotence.

“I plan to say that publicness has benefitted me and that I wish the doctors would, in turn, be more public,” he writes. “The response I got from my posts here was helpful not only in the support I received but especially in the information I got from fellow patients who proceeded me and told me in frank and brave detail what I would experience.” We wish him a speedy recovery, whether in public or private, as we would all be worse off for the loss of his often blunt but always intelligent criticisms.

By paulgillin | December 3, 2009 - 9:19 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Solutions

Perhaps all those fresh-faced young journalism wannabes who are flooding J-schools across the country right now know something we graybeards don’t. While there’s still plenty of legitimate hand-wringing going on over the collapse of publishing institutions, some media seers are beginning to see promise where others see peril.

David Carr’s essay in The New York Times last weekend is drawing considerable attention and well-deserved praise for its glass-is-half-full perspective. Carr, who put in his time at the traditional media watering trough, observes that the technology-enabled young journalists he meets these days increasingly see the collapse of hidebound media institutions as an opportunity to make a name for themselves based upon merit rather than survival. “The next wave is not just knocking on doors, but seeking to knock them down,” he writes. “Young men and women are still coming [to New York] to remake the world, they just won’t be stopping by the human resources department of Condé Nast to begin their ascent.”

We found ourselves nodding vigorously as we read this piece. Carr expresses no nostalgia for an industry that was built on the inefficiencies of traditional advertising that are now being Googled out of existence. Career paths that relied upon young journalists doing “marginal jobs for indifferent bosses doing mundane tasks” are being vaporized and replaced by a meritocracy in which the best may not only survive but thrive. We’re still a long way from the Promised Land, and it’s a scary world if your job security is based upon having outlasted everyone else, but it’s invigorating if you’re young, energetic and enabled with all the trappings of today’s technology.

New York City venture capitalist Fred Wilson agrees. “I believe the move from a velvet rope model to a meritocracy is a good thing and that the new media business we are building in the wake of the old one will be a better media business; leaner, faster, and controlled more by users than media moguls,” he writes. Amen. As sympathetic as we are to the many people whose careers and lives have been thrown into chaos by the collapse of traditional media, we continue to see a much brighter future once the wreckage is cleared away.

AOL to Automate the News

America Online, which recently announced plans to lay off a third of its employees, is breaking some new ground in the newsgathering field. The company plans to use automation to crawl the Web looking for stories that its visitors have indicated they prefer through their clicks and page views. The robot will then advise a team of increasingly dehumanized editors when and where to publish what it finds. AOL will also use its new venture, Seed.com, to outsource assignments to an army of (presumably low-paid) reporters and photographers.

It sounds impersonal and even a little creepy. The idea of building a new site based entirely upon the preferences of viewers strikes us as a little like the model at Digg.com, which generates boatloads of traffic, but tends toward stories about video games and loopy kids. Digg isn’t threatening to upend CNN.

Writing on FastCompany.com, Kit Eaton makes an interesting case for AOL’s actions creating a revenge effect. If social media is actually adding more of a human element to interactions between groups, does a service that removes much of the human decision-making make any sense? Eaton proposes that readers today actually expect more of the human element in their news coverage rather than less. Of course, we haven’t seen the AOL technology in action and human editors could tweak the parameters over time to make its selections look more like The New York Times. But we doubt it.

Miscellany

Last week we told you about a new daily newspaper that is being launched into the Detroit market, hoping to fill a void left by the reduced publication schedules of the two major dailies there. Well, the experiment didn’t last long. The Detroit Daily Press published just five issues before hitting “a bump in the road” and suspending further operations until the new year. The suspension was blamed on “lack of advertising, lateness of our press runs and lack of distribution and sales,” according to an announcement on the publication’s Facebook page. This sounds to us like more than just a pothole, but we hope the owners, who have courted this market before, can overcome their troubles and come back in 2010. Photographer Rodney Curtis offers an insider’s perspective. Having lost his job at the Detroit Free Press earlier this year, he’s now a double-dip victim of the industry’s troubles.


Some local television stations are now crowdsourcing the news assignment process. Broadcasting & Cable reports on stations in Milwaukee, Lancaster, Pa. and Little Rock that are opening their daily news budget meetings to outsiders through video, live blogs and Twitter. News directors say the experiment has been a mixed bag, since audiences that sometimes number over 100 can get stuck on gossip and minutia instead of general interest stories. However, they say the open-air meetings have also resulted in solid news tips, such as the WITI (Milwaukee) story on a father surprising his son at school upon returning from Iraq. The boy’s teacher had clued the station about the visit.


Add MediaNews and A.H. Belo to the short list of newspaper publishers who are considering joining Rupert Murdoch in his crusade against Google’s evil empire. Executives at both companies were quoted recently saying that they may withhold some paid content from Google’s search spiders. However, they indicated that they would not block access to free content. These statements are a minor blow to Google, which says it can work perfectly well with paid content and that publishers using paywalls need Google even more to make their content discoverable.


The Hopi Tribal Council has decided to close down the Hopi Tutuveni, which is the primary newspaper covering Hopi lands. The 6,000-circulation paper, which has been publishing since the 1970s, was called “ineffective” by one tribal Council maker and didn’t merit continued funding by the budget-pressed group.


It’s the end of an era, of sorts, at the Washington Post. The paper plans to close down its last three domestic bureaus – in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago – at the end of this month in a significant retrenchment that focuses on the Washington area. The move continues a recent trend toward embattled big-city dailies shutting down the remote offices as they attempt to go hyperlocal. David Carr quotes Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli as saying “We are not a national news organization of record serving a general audience.” The Wall Street Journal announced plans to close its Boston bureau last month.

By paulgillin | November 19, 2009 - 11:44 pm - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Paywalls, Solutions

Detroit Daily PressAfter nearly losing its two daily newspapers a year ago, Detroit is actually adding one to the stable. The Detroit Daily Press will launch next week with daily newsstand distribution at first and home delivery scheduled to begin in about a month. This is actually the title’s second appearance; it originally appeared in 1964 and lasted for about four months before folding. The owners, who said they came out of retirement to take another shot at the Detroit market, plan to distribute 200,000 daily copies and charge a fraction of what their competitors charge for newsstand sales and advertising space.

Brothers Mark and Gary Stern say they have enough capital to make a go of it for two months and need 150,000 paying subscribers to break event after that. In light of that short timeframe, the quote in Editor & Publisher seems a little odd: ” “This is a permanent situation for us.” However, the brothers say they have raised private capital and have a much more efficient operating model that does away with unions and captive printing presses, so perhaps they have cash on hand to last much longer. The operation will employ about 60 people. It has recruited several veterans of the Detroit newspaper industry.

The Detroit market was roiled early this year when the Free Press and the News scaled back their home delivery operations to three and two days per week, respectively, in the name of saving costs. Few details have emerged on the financial success of the experiment. Both saw circulation declines in the first half of this year, but well within the average range for the industry

Local writer Isak Dinesen notes that the Stern brothers are Detroit natives and so may have an affinity for their local area. She also points to a Facebook page and online mockup (above) of the new title. The promotional language advertises “paper delivered seven days,” which is a direct reference to its competitors’ reduced schedule.

Miscellany

The question of whether readers are willing to pay for news appears to come down to how you ask the question. Alan Mutters tallies up recent research and finds that the percentage of Americans who say they’d crack open their wallets ranges from a low of 20% (Forrester Research) to a high of 53% (American Press Institute). The amounts vary widely, too. We’d suggest the wording of the question and the makeup of the sample group has a lot to do with the variations. That and the fact that Internet research is inherently unreliable. Forrester at least has been doing this for a long time.


Jeff Jarvis hits the nail on the head again with an essay about the new business model for news organizations. He observes that the cost model for a successful online title is about 10% that of a print property. In other words, there’s money to be made online, but requires the cost structure to be radically changed. The problem is that most newspaper publishers  can’t stomach the idea of eliminating 90% of their staff. Of the major metro dailies that have closed this year, only one — the Seattle Post-Intelligencer — has successfully shifted it is cost model to match the online revenue opportunities. Recent reports have indicated that the P-I actually is profitable online, although few details are available.

It isn’t human nature to shoot nine out of every 10 employees. So for many publishers, it’s easier simply to go under completely. That’s why Jarvis argues that bankruptcy is a bit of a magic potion. It’s an opportunity to get out from under debt, blow up the unions and completely restructure the way an organization works. Unfortunately, he correctly points out that those publishers that have gone through the bankruptcy procedure — which is most of them — have mostly failed to do more than trim a few expenses here and there. That isn’t going to save them; it will just postpone the inevitable.


The New York Times will end its Times Extra aggregation experiment in two weeks, about a year after launching the feature. The company insists that the decision isn’t a backtrack from the goal of aggregating outside content but rather than the content would now be presented within stories rather than on a dedicated site.


The New York Sun, a weekdaily that shut down a year ago, has been rejuvenated online. It will be resurrected for a 20-week run featuring crosswords from famous puzzle editor Peter Gordon for $1 per week. No word on whether management will decide whether to continue publishing the paper, but we expect that revenue will be an important factor.


BusinessWeek is reportedly set to lay off 100 people in the wake of its acquisition by Bloomberg LP. It appears that layoffs will be across the board, with employees who are in the line of fire being asked to submit resumes, news clips, and 250-word statements about their qualifications for continuing to work at the esteemed business publisher. BusinessWeek becomes property of Bloomberg on Dec. 1.


The Associated Press laid off 57 union workers, including 33 editors. The newswire is seeking to cut its personnel expenses by 10% by the end of the year.


Citizen journalism startup AllVoices will start paying professional journalists to cover beats, although the compensation is a meager $250 for now. The site has more than 200,000 registered members, most of whom contribute their work for free. AllVoices’ CEO Amra Tareen said the program is intended to recognize that these are “tough times for many journalists as news organizations downsize” and noted that reporters could earn more than the basic fee if their stories generate a lot of traffic. We profiled AllVoices last year.

And Finally…

Go to the basic Google home page and start typing a question. See what the Genius Google, in its near-infinite wisdom, thinks you’re asking when it provides all those “helpful” suggestions in a drop-down box. It turns out that certain kinds of queries generate amusing suggestions. For example, type “Is there any” (sans quotation marks) and see what Google suggests you really mean. (Okay, so we stole that from TheNextWeb.com.) Let’s get creative… Type in “why will” or “how come” or even “why is it that” and see what you come up with. The results are so strange that this feels like a big practical joke on Google’s part, but it does lend itself to endless experimentation.

By paulgillin | November 16, 2009 - 9:22 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Paywalls

The debate over whether search engines are friend or foe to the newspaper industry continues to grow and become more complex.

Rupert Murdoch says he will really go ahead with his stated plans to remove his portfolio of publications from Google’s search index. Jonathan Miller, News Corp’s chief digital officer, told the Monaco Media Forum on Friday that the company would begin blocking Google’s search spiders within a few months. Miller said Google brings in an army of one-click visitors who are “the least valuable traffic to us…You can survive without it.” He also said Murdoch intends to lead the industry in the just-say-no campaign. A Google spokesman responded that the search engine sends about 100,000 clicks to news organizations every minute. TechCrunch estimates that Google drives about one quarter of the total traffic to The Wall Street Journal.

While there’s no doubt that Murdoch is serious about drawing a line in the sand on this issue, the decision to talk about it this far in advance indicates that this is a negotiating tactic. Much as Hearst and the New York Times Co. wrung concessions from unions by threatening to close the papers they own, Murdoch may be looking to extract some kind of licensing deal from Google in return for backing down.

The Journal and the Financial Times are the only two daily newspapers that are having any success with a paid subscription model because both provide information that subscribers see as essential to their business. Few other newspapers can make that claim, which is why paywalls have been so difficult to implement.

Miller’s comment about drive-by visitors is worth noting. Publishers and auditors tend to look at traffic as the ultimate metric of success, but there are different kinds of traffic. Sex and celebrities drive page views just as they sell newsstand copies, but that kind of traffic is undesirable to most advertisers and extremely hard to monetize. If Murdoch has decided that his core base of paying and print subscribers are sufficient to run the company, he may be choosing to press his advantage while he still has leverage. The Wall Street Journal was the only large US newspaper to show any growth in the recent Audit Bureau Of Circulation report and Murdoch may have decided that he doesn’t need the casual visitor in order to be successful.

The Bing Factor

Media entrepreneur Jason Calacanis thinks Murdoch wants to do a deal. He suggests that the publishing tycoon could strike an exclusivity agreement with Microsoft Bing. This would have the win-win effect of driving revenue from Microsoft’s deep pockets while also upping the ante in the search wars. It’s an intriguing idea, and few other companies have the throw weight to pull it off.

Bing appeals to news executives as a foil for Google. TechCrunch reported last week that Microsoft held a secret meeting with representatives of some of Europe’s largest newspapers to discuss throwing its weight behind ACAP, a protocol that provides a variety of access controls over content. TechCrunch says Microsoft told the European publishers that it’s ready to commit £100,000 to fund development of ACAP, which permits search engines, for example, to index the full content of an article while displaying only part of it to a casual visitor. The report speculates that Microsoft may be hoping to use publishers as allies in a flank attack on Google by striking deals that give Bing exclusive or semi-exclusive access to their content.

Bloom Fading from User-Generated Content Rose?

Is user generated content beginning to lose some of its shine? Current TV, the cable channel founded by former Vice President Al Gore is in the process of retooling its content model to emphasize acquired and compiled programming while cutting back on standalone viewer submissions. The company will lay off 80 people in the process. Current TV says that while it’s as gung ho as ever on user-generated content, it will shift to a style of programming that sounds more reminiscent of America’s Funniest Home Videos than full length amateur documentaries. Chief Operating Officer Joanna Drake Earl also said “viewer-created ad messages” have been a huge success, with viewers preferring them by a 9-1 margin and advertisers reporting higher recall rates.

The Current TV downsizing bookends a year that began with the shutdown of another prominent user generated media company, 8020 Media. That publisher had a brief moment in the spotlight when it produced two print magazines consisting entirely of submissions from readers. The experiment proved that user-generated content is no panacea, however. The task of sorting through thousands of articles and photographs and turning them into professional-looking copy was little more efficient than working with professional journalists. The advertising downturn didn’t help.

The troubles of these prominent experiments shouldn’t be seen as a referendum on citizen media. Scores of other ventures are ongoing and an increasing number of events are being reported first through channels like Twitter. The most viable models appear to be those that combine citizen reports with moderation by professional editors. Perhaps America’s Funniest Home Videos had this all figured out years ago.

Miscellany

Maxim GrinevIf you’re following this Twitter thing that everyone is so excited about, you should check out a couple of new resources. Twitter Times is “a real-time personalized newspaper generated from your Twitter account” and it’s a pretty good metaphor for the way trust is awarded in the new world of democratized information. The service chooses news and blog posts mentioned in the Twitter streams of people you follow. The result is a digest that looks like a newspaper, only the stories are selected by your friends.

The algorithm behind Twitter Times is obscure and the site appears to be the work of a single Russian programmer named Maxim Grinev (right). While it doesn’t try to capture every recommendation from trusted sources, its constantly changing selection of content pretty much reflects the topics we are interested in. Users can share personalized home pages with each other and, of course, follow tweeters mentioned therein.

Also check out MuckRack.com. It’s a collection of jounalist Twitter feeds set up by a small group of people who call themselves Sawhorse Media. Journalists have to apply for inclusion and list a publication they are affiliated with before being added to the list. The qualification criteria seems a bit outdated to us in this age of citizen media, but the resulting list is a pretty good lineup of media pros. MuckRack is one of 16 identical sites that run the topical gamut from beauty to beer. It seems that lists are all the new rage on Twitter.


The wrangling over Philadelphia’s two bankrupt newspapers continues to grow more bizarre. A Federal district court judge last week ruled that the creditors trying to take control of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News must make a cash offer for the papers rather than simply taking control of them from the bankrupt Philadelphia Newspapers, LLC. The two parties have engaged in months of legal wrangling, even trading accusations of document theft. The new ruling opens the bidding to third parties as well as current ownership, with the courts apparently trying to steer the matter toward a resolution that keeps both newspapers operating.


Publishers can take heart in recent numbers from Scarborough Research that indicate that newspapers continue to be at the center of American reading habits. Writing on Media Post, Scarborough’s Bob Cohen cites the following 2009 stats:

  • 74% of adults read a paper in print or online during the past week. Newspaper readership in some markets reach upwards of 90%;
  • 19% visited a newspaper website during the past week;
  • 70% of American adults read a printed newspaper during an average week.

Scarborough’s numbers jive with other data that indicates that newspaper readership — online and in print — continues at all-time highs. The problem is monetizing the low-value web traffic. Cohen suggests that publishers need to do a better job of selling the centrality of their products to the audience’s daily habits. “Aggressive self-promotion, while not a natural inclination of this culture, could go a long way in these unusual times,” he writes.

By paulgillin | October 23, 2009 - 3:27 pm - Posted in Facebook, Fake News
Yes, it's a wall

A wall (not to scale)

Newsday will join the slowly growing ranks of newspaper publishers that charge for access. Beginning next Wednesday, the Long Island daily will begin charging a $5 weekly fee for access to most of its content. Subscribers to the print edition or to owner Cablevision’s Optimum Online service will continue to get Newsday for free. A limited amount of Newsday coverage will still be free online, including the home page, school closings, weather, obituaries, classified and entertainment listings, but nearly everything else will go behind the paywall.

Newsday is keeping an open mind about the idea, saying it will listen to reader feedback and quickly adjust the free/paid mix accordingly. “If there is something that is of critical need for Long Islanders to be aware, we would give them access,” said Debby Krenek, managing editor and senior vice president/digital media. She added that the pay wall won’t be a major issue to local readers, since 75% of them subscribe to either the paper or Optimum Online already. Newsday said readers are taking the announcement in stride, but responses to its news story would indicate otherwise. Of 20 comments posted this morning, not a single one supports the paywall move.

Glynnis MacNicol performs an interesting non-scientific paywall-related experiment based upon comments on The New York Times’ coverage of its own layoffs. She notes that of the 502 comments on reporter Richard Perez-Pena’s blog entry about the news, nearly one-third offered to pay for access to Times content. Some said they had actually volunteered to pay in the past but were told they couldn’t. We’re going to take her word on the math.

The Boston Herald would like to charge for access to its website but says it probably won’t do so unless rival Globe does the same. The Globe says it’s unlikely to take that plunge. Any cooperation on that front between Boston’s only two dailies would undoubtedly invite government scrutiny.

Miscellany

Nearly half of all newspaper journalists believe their newsrooms are moving too slowly into the digital age, according to a report by Northwestern University’s Media Management Center (MMC). While the majority of the 3,800 respondents still work in print, only 6% were characterized as “Turn Back the Clock” journalists who wish digital would just go away. Half of the respondents would be happy to work in digital as much as in print and 12% are true digital enthusiasts. Surprisingly for an industry that’s experiencing so much turmoil, 77% said they’re satisfied with their jobs and two in three say they expect to be working in the news business two years from now.


It’s been a busy couple of weeks for the New York Times Co. Just one week after taking the Boston Globe off the market, the company announced plans to lay off 100 newsroom employees and a nearly 17% drop in third quarter revenue. The drop was driven by a 26.9% decline in advertising revenue. Circulation revenue actually rose 6.7%. The stock jumped, however, on a positive outlook by CEO Janet Robinson: “We have seen encouraging signs of improvement in the overall economy and in discussions with our advertisers,” she said.


Craig Silverman

Craig Silverman

“Content-sharing is now moving into its next phase by bringing stories online and looking at ways to share revenue,” writes Craig Silverman in a MediaShift article on a new round of agreements between major content providers. The trend began in Ohio last year, when a group of non-competitive newspapers started swapping articles for their next day’s edition. Similar informal consortia were later set up in Florida, Tennessee, New York and New Jersey. Now Bloomberg and the Washington Post have done a deal to create the Washington Post News Service With Bloomberg News. The novel part of the arrangement is a revenue-sharing agreement that will create a co-branded online business section on the Post‘s website in the first quarter of next year. The two companies will share ad revenue from the venture.

In addition, a group of members of the Associated Press Sports Editors will soon launch a federated content-sharing alliance. Members will be able to reprint each other’s stories without special permission, but online excerpts will be limited to 150 words with a link back to the original source. About 60 newspapers have expressed interest in joining the consortium, which plans to launch the service in November.


The Minneapolis Star Tribune is replacing its Saturday edition with one that could be called “Sunday light.” The edition will be delivered early on Sunday and will include the content that subscribers usually get in their Saturday edition plus Sunday’s comics and ad inserts. It will be priced at 50 cents, or the same price as the regular Saturday edition.

By paulgillin | October 8, 2009 - 3:51 pm - Posted in Facebook

Boston.com profiles Stephen Taylor and Platinum Equity the two bidders for the Boston Globe. They’re long profiles, so here’s the Cliff Notes version.

The Fixer

Platinum’s Tom Gores has been profiled here before, but the Globe updates his turnaround track record. Gores has been quoted as saying that he isn’t a pump-and-dump investor. He believes that local media is a good and necessary business and that there are bargains in the market right now.

Platinum’s most notable media deal was its acqusition of the San Diego Union-Tribune early this year. While it cut deeply – laying off 28% of its staff – it has also invested selectively, including upgrading the production system to computerized pagination and helping to fund a local news startup. Observers and past business associates say Gores and partners are brilliant acquirers who take a deep interest in turning around the businesses they buy but who leave the front-line details to hired hands.

They certainly have money to work with. The partners turned the 2006 million acquisition of steel distributor PNA Group for $18 million into a $450 million sale just two years a later. That’s a return of 2,500%. Most of their turnaround jobs aren’t that fast, but they rarely hold an asset beyond five to seven years.

The partners have a record of firing a lot of expensive top executives and buying whatever resources are needed to make its acquired operations profitable. Platinum has certainly got its eye on the media these days. It’s reportedly looking at buying BusinessWeek and the Austin American-Statesman, among other properties.

Local Hero

Stephen TaylorStephen Taylor is the hometown favorite for his Boston roots and long history with the paper.

Taylor worked in a wide variety of roles at the Globe during his career, ranging from reporter to janitorial staff manager to founding publisher of Boston.com. He was in charge of the Globe’s technology, presses, and buildings when the operation was sold to the New York Times Co. for $1.1 billion in 1992. A technologist at heart, he spearheaded the Globe’s innovative strategy of launching Boston.com as a regional news destination rather than a newspaper-branded website. He also tried, unsuccessfully, to get Globe management interested in investing in Monster.com.

Taylor’s family is filthy rich, but legal restrictions make most of that money unavailable to Taylor for the Globe bid. He’s teamed with his second cousin and former Globe publisher Benjamin B. Taylor and another cousin, Alexander “Sandy’’ Hawes. The bid is considered a long shot, however. The Taylor team is up against Platinum Equity’s financial might and its track record. Local investors have been reluctant to invest in what they fear is a dying industry and Taylor himself has been out of the business for a decade.

Greeen Light for Sun-Times Sale

A Delaware bankruptcy court has cleared the way for the sale of the Chicago’s Sun-Times Media Group (STMG) after the company’s biggest union voted to accept a package of “painful” wage and benefit cuts.  The Newspaper Guild had earlier rejected a proposal that called for sweeping wage reductions and limited severance for laid-off workers, but members came around when it became clear that the company will fail if the offer by local investor Jim Tyree deal doesn’t go through.

The proposed agreement still calls for big pay cuts but doubles severance terms to eight weeks for any employees laid off during the first six months under new ownership. It also provides for layoffs to be based on performance rather than cost. The latter provision is meant to protect more senior workers from being disproportionately affected by job cuts. Tyree’s proposed $26.5 million purchase goes before a bankruptcy court today. No other bidders have emerged from the bankrupt company.

Meanwhile, a Chicago investor is crying foul, saying he was blocked from talking to the STMG unions about a potential joint bid for the company. Thane Ritchie, founder of Ritchie Capital Management in Lisle, Ill. said unidentified parties told him he couldn’t team up with the unions on a bid for legal reasons. Apparently, that just ain’s so. Ritchie is urging the Guild to petition the court to re-open the bargaining process.

Miscellany

Business leaders continue to offer positive comments about the state of the economy and the advertising business. Google CEO Eric Schmidt told reporters early this week that business is bouncing back in both the U.S. and Europe. “We are increasing our hiring rate and investment rate in anticipation of a recovery,” he said. Google is also beginning to open its wallet for some acquisitions, although targets will probably be small companies, Schmidt said. The comments contrast sharply with Schmidt’s comments of just three months ago, when he said it was too soon to tell if the worst is over.

Rupert Murdoch’s recent comments echo Schmidt’s. The publishing tycoon told a Tokyo conference early this week that “We are seeing newspaper advertising coming back, though not yet to its previous levels,” he said, adding that “Television is still the strongest way to advertise.”Murdoch called the turnaround earlier than most. He told a New York conference last month that US advertising markets are “very much better than they were four months ago.” However, he said the improvement is likely a short-term bump to be followed by a long, flat recovery.


Former Baltimore Sun copy chief John McIntyre’s “You Don’t Say” blog should be on the reading list of any dedicated journalist. His Tuesday entry takes aim at the way journalists are taught to write which is, in his words, “appallingly, relentlessly, unapologetically DULL.”

McIntyre cites examples like the tortured excerpt below as an example of why readers are defecting to blogs. In an effort to squeeze as much information as possible into an inverted-pyramid lead, the writer succeeds in making his prose impenetrable. McIntyre also attacks cliche-ridden anecdotal leads and journalism lingo in particular in this amusing and painfully accurate essay:

Completion of a tower that will give Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport controllers technology and visibility to monitor air traffic for the foreseeable future, settling a contract that will keep the controllers on the job and redefining air space corridors, are keys to the Valley airport’s future, Robert Sturgell, FAA deputy administrator, said Thursday.

Comments Off on Sizing Up Globe Suitors
By paulgillin | September 15, 2009 - 8:37 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local, Solutions

Judy Sims’ “Top 10 Lies Newspaper Execs are Telling Themselves” may be painful for newspaper execs to read, but they should read it anyway. In blunt language, she shoots down some of the most common rationalizations newspaper executives use for continuing to do business as usual. Not all of her points are thoroughly supported, but it’s hard to argue with the common-sense thinking behind most of them.

Among our favorite quotes:

The only way newspapers can ensure the survival of their brands and the journalistic principles they hold so dearly is to separate the Web organization completely from the newspaper.

This frames the list’s biggest “myth,” which is that news organizations can prosper online while doing what they’ve always done in print. The nature of online publishing is conversation and community, not top-down communication. Organizations that derive 90% of their revenue from print are never, ever going to give an online division the attention or resources it needs.

Figure out what is truly scarce information to your readers.  Then, maybe you can charge for it.

Yes, yes, yes. Putting pay walls in front of information that doesn’t meaningfully affect people’s lives is a DOA idea, yet it seems to be conventional wisdom right now that readers will pay for stuff like popular columnists and exclusive sports coverage. No they won’t. They will pay for information that saves them money, enhances their appearance or finds them love, and precious little else. Maslow’s Hierarchy wasn’t invalidated by Internet.

We used the paper to help us shop every week…and decide what movie to see at what time and where. How much of the value of the newspaper was derived from news and how much was derived from all these other things?  After all, news has always been free on TV and radio.

See the previous point. Publishers who think readers are going to pay for news are delusional. Not to mention pompous. Half the reason people subscribe to newspapers is for the coupons. News is a commodity. You have to deliver value that affects people’s lives in a meaningful way.

Figure out what is truly scarce information to your readers.  Then, maybe you can charge for it…Do what you do best and link to the rest.

The second part of the quote is from Jeff Jarvis, but the sentiment is appropriate to the “myth” theme. Newspapers have traditionally had to do everything for their readers because readers had no way to find information for themselves. Now that restriction has been lifted, which means publishers should stop spending money on stuff they suck at.

The more cuts are made, the more newspapers are guaranteeing their own demise.

That’s because the people they’re cutting are setting up shop as hyperlocal bloggers and competing against their former employers. Newspaper layoffs are thus giving rise to the next breed of competitors.

If there’s any unifying thesis to Sims’ 10 lies, it is that trying to manage a revolution is futile. Publishers will not iterate themselves to a secure future, nor will they ever bring back the profit margins of the past. The rules have changed forever and that means blowing up a lot of stuff. The process is incredibly painful but it’s necessary for any organization that hopes to make it to the other side of this vortex.

A couple of weeks ago, SeattlePI.com reported that its Web traffic has remained unexpectedly strong after pulling the plug on its print edition and firing 80% of its staff. The Post Intelligencer may have given the rest of the industry a model for completing the transition to the digital world.

Get Comfortable with “Good Enough”

After you’re done reading about 10 lies, head over to Journalism Iconoclast Pat Thornton, who speaks much truth about what he calls the “Down and Dirty Revolution.” Thornton’s main point: Stop thinking like an entity that was the be-all and end-all of information to its community and start thinking like a participant in the digital community. What does that mean? Paraphrasing:

  • Make the most of what you’ve got and stop whining about the resources you lack.
  • Be satisfied with good enough. You can improve it later. Perfection is the enemy of getting stuff done.
  • Stop duplicating effort. “If parents are taking pictures at a high school football game…it makes much more sense to work out a deal with them than to spend staff resources on taking pictures at said game.” So true. Likewise, use Creative Commons photos and stuff people post on Flickr instead of sending your own photographer to shoot the same stuff.

There’s more, but those are the basic themes.

Miscellany

If all goes well, we may soon remove the Claremont (N.H.)  Eagle Times from the R.I.P. list.  A federal judge has given a Sample, Pa. newspaper chain conditional approval to buy the newspaper with the intent to relaunch it. The 7,800-circulation Eagle Times closed abruptly in July when its owner ran out of money. It took with it three small weeklies, which also will be relaunched if new owner Sample News Group has its way. Owner George Sample said his goal is to relaunch the daily before the end of the month with a staff of 25, which would be significantly smaller than the 66 full-timers and 29 part-timers the paper previously employed. Sample also said he plans to relaunch the weeklies at some point. Sample offered just $261,000 for the franchise, which was nearly $4 million in debt when it declared Chapter 7 this summer.


Ryan Chittum runs the numbers and finds that newspaper ad revenues are on track to hit their lowest level since 1965. In real dollars, revenues peaked in 2000. The comeback from the 2001-2002 recession was never very strong and sales have plummeted for the last three years. Real dollar revenue for 2009 will be about half of what it was just nine years ago, a stunning development in an industry that’s been historically known for its stability. Chittum also notes that circulation is the only slice of the revenue pie that’s growing right now while online advertising is declining. In fact, it appears that the online advertising business will only support one spectacularly successful business and that’s Google. A busy comment stream on this month-old piece debates whether online advertising is actually stealing share from print. Right, and global warming is a myth. (If you have trouble reading the chart below, click on it to go to Chittum’s analysis at the Columbia Journalism Review, where you can see an enlarged version.)

newspaper_revenue_1950-2009


PaidContent.org has an interview with Josh Cohen, senior business product manager of Google News. Cohen has been schooled well to say little in a lot of words, so don’t expect any great insights. The main takeaway for us was that Google has no intention of sharing with publishers any revenue generated on Google’s site but that the company really wants to work with news organizations to make sure content behind pay walls is visible to Google’s search engine. In conversations like these, we hear Google executives sounding more and more like Microsoft officials did in the early 90s.


Speaking of Google, have you seen Google Fast Flip? It’s a new Google Labs project that “lets you browse sequentially through bundles of recent news, headlines and popular topics, as well as feeds from individual top publishers,” according to an entry on the Official Google Blog. “As the name suggests, flipping through content is very fast, so you can quickly look through a lot of pages until you find something interesting.” The service is the product of a partnership between Google and “three dozen top publishers, including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Salon, Fast Company, ProPublica and Newsweek.” The idea is that if people can access news more quickly, they’ll read more news and that will result in more advertising revenue. Google continues to try to extend the olive branch to publishers who see nothing to like in other Google services that they claim steal their intellectual property.

Google_flip


Final bids for BusinessWeek are due today and Bloomberg LP is reported to be the leading contender. Other possible buyers include Bruce Wasserstein, Lazard, OpenGate Capital and ZelnickMedia, but Bloomberg is said to have the top bid. BusinessWeek revenues are on track to be down 43% from last year’s levels.