By paulgillin | September 11, 2009 - 2:42 pm - Posted in Facebook, Fake News

The Chicago Sun-Times and the Boston Globe, which were both fighting for their lives earlier this year, appear to have turned the corner and may soon be profitable, owners say.

Jeremy HalbreichAlan Mutter interviews Jeremy Halbreich, the newly installed CEO of the bankrupt Sun-Times Media Group (STMG). Halbreich (right) says that contrary to popular belief, the Sun-Times is gaining market share against the Tribune and that new owners are ready to invest more than $10 million in streamlining and modernizing the paper’s internal processes.

Halbreich isn’t giving out specifics, but he appears fully confident that the company will emerge from bankruptcy late this year and deliver 5% to 7% operating profit margins by the end of 2011. This hasn’t come without pain, of course. The STMG has gone through two years of aggressive cutbacks and more blood is likely to be shed before the turnaround is complete, but Halbreich appears to have the right attitude. He’s not waiting for the glory days to return but rather is restructing the organization to compete profitably at a smaller size. In an interview with Editor & Publisher, Halbreich provides a bit more detail on the STMG’s burn rate.

Globe May Turn Profit Soon

Meanwhile, The New York Times Co. is now saying it may not sell the Boston Globe and Worcester Telegram after all. It seems that a combination of cost cuts, union concessions and a modestly improving economy have created the possibility that the Globe could actually turn a profit in the foreseeable future. That would be an accomplishment, given that the paper was losing $1.7 million a week at the beginning of this year.

Times Co. CEO Arthur Sulzberger Jr. isn’t making any promises, though. He’s started showing potential buyers around the facilities and is saying nothing to squelch speculation that Platinum Equity, which is considered the Chainsaw Al Dunlap of the newspaper business, may end up owning the New England properties. Employees fear that Platinum could come in as the new owner and make the kind of draconian cuts that have reduced the size of the San Diego Union-Tribune’s staff to a little more than half of what it was two years ago.

National Post RedesignNational Post Returns on Mondays

And finally, Canada’s National Post will return on Mondays following a summer-long hiatus. The Canwest daily announced in June that it would temporarily discontinue the lightly advertised Monday edition as a cost-cutting move. It didn’t gave a date for the issue’s return, but it appears that the ensuring nine weeks have given Canwest time to find some efficiencies and take a run at the Monday market with a slimmer, redesigned two-section edition (right).

By paulgillin | September 4, 2009 - 7:33 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local

We’d like to be able to close out the week on a happier note, but the evidence that newspaper executives and union leaders have no friggin’ clue about the enormity of the challenges facing them just keeps on coming. Consider:

Newspaper layoffs have hit young people the hardest, according to a survey by the Associated Press Managing Editors. The survey of 95 editors found that newsroom staffs have shrunk more than 10% in the last year and that workers between the ages of 18 and 35 were the most likely to be shown the door. This information comes at a time when newspapers are desperately struggling to become relevant to precisely that age group. It’s not that the editors want to lay off all the young staff, but union rules require them to preserve the jobs of older – and more change-averse – employees at the expense of younger and cheaper workers. We like Silicon Alley’s graphic accompanying this story. It shows a man aiming a revolver at his foot.

Ken Doctor of Outsell has a new report on the state of newspaper companies’ digital migration efforts and he comes to some pretty bleak conclusions. Newspapers derived just 11% of their revenues from digital sources in 2008, Doctor found. In comparison, the rest of the information industry gets 70% of its revenue online. In other words, the specialty publishing markets have substantially completed their migration to digital business models while newspapers are just beginning.

It gets worse. Online revenue for newspapers is now static or declining while it’s growing nearly everywhere else. And all the major publishers except Dow Jones are losing market share. “The news segment still stands out as the biggest laggard in the information industry overall,” Doctor says. Listen to our August interview with Doctor.


The number of reporters on Capitol Hill isn’t declining, but the profile is changing. There were 819 accredited reporters from mainstream US newspapers and wire services on the Hill in 2009, a decline of 193 – or 19% – from the previous year, according to the Pew Research Center. However, the gap is being filled by reporters from niche and specialty publications. There were 500 of them in the galleries this year, up from 335 a decade ago. As a result, the full Washington press corps has remained fairly stable at between 1,300 and 1,500 souls over the last 20 years. It’s just that newspapers now make up less than half the total, compared to two-thirds a decade ago.

The authors of the study note that ordinary Joes are privy to less and less information about their government, while well-heeled business types can afford to finance on-site reportage that keeps them in the lobbying loop. And the advantage isn’t limited to conservative business interests. “The Washington bureau of Mother Jones, a San Francisco-based, left-leaning non-profit magazine, which had no reporters permanently assigned to the nation’s capital a decade ago, today has seven, about the same size as the now-reduced Time magazine bureau,” the study notes.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is the latest newspaper to jump on the pay-wall bandwagon. Its new PG+ section went live this week, offering bonus features like “social networking, live chats, videos, blogs and behind-the-scenes” look at the daily news,” according to president Christopher H. Chamberlain. Standard daily fare will remain free, but for $3.99/month or $36/year, readers will get exclusive access to the thoughts of Steelers reporter Ed Bouchette, as well as undefined special offers. We’ll see. You can tour the “PG+ Experience” here.

The folks at North America’s largest French-language daily must have liked what they saw in Boston, where The New York Times Co. successfully stared down unions at the Boston Globe and won significant cost reductions. Montreal’s La Presse will shut down Dec. 1 if the newspaper’s eight unions don’t help it cut $26 million in operating expenses. Among the concessions management is seeking are the end of a four-day work week for full-time pay and elimination of as many as 100 of the 700 jobs at the newspaper. The union says it’s open to discussion if it can see the paper’s books. La Presse cut out Sunday publication earlier this year in order to save money.

By paulgillin | August 20, 2009 - 4:02 pm - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local, Paywalls

Abandoned newspaper racksIt hurts to read Bill Wyman’s blunt, sometimes savage piece on Five Key Reasons Why Newspapers Are Failing, but the veteran journalist says some things that need to be said. Unlike recent analyses that have mainly focused on the industry’s business challenges, Wyman aims his guns squarely at the editors and reporters whom he believes fostered a culture of risk-aversion and self-absorption even as the need for change grew urgent. Although the piece is heavy on anecdotes and light on statistical evidence, we found ourselves nodding in agreement frequently as Wyman ticked off a list of editorial missteps.

Perhaps the most damning point in the 9,000-word opus is when the author lists headlines from a “recent” (actually, it was well over a year ago) features section of an unnamed local newspaper (actually, it was the Arizona Republic). They include: “Post office food drive,” “Fight Crohn’s and colitis,” “Mom and Estában,” “Healthful salsa non-guilty pleasure,” and

“Great gifts for teachers.” The point: “There was nothing there of remote interest [to] just about any sentient being. But that’s not what the paper’s editors were aiming for. The point is that there was nothing there that could possibly offend anyone.”

Wyman hammers home this point repeatedly. In his view, advertisers and editors joined in an unholy alliance decades ago in which watchdog journalism was sacrificed to reliable and profitable ad contracts, stable circulation and don’t-rock-the-boat blandness. As a consequence, the guiding principle in editorial departments changed from informing the public to offending as few people as possible. Causing a reader to cancel a subscription was the ultimate sin. Better to under-inform than to antagonize.

As a longtime arts critic, Wyman has some stories to back up the premise. He tells of one arts editor who instructed him to avoid negativity in reviews because readers didn’t want to “hear bad things about their favorite artists over breakfast.” Reviews sections in local papers are almost unfailing positive, or at worst blasé, he notes. Arts sections are filled out with snippets from those stanchions of informational blandness: Press releases.

“Let’s be honest. Most newspapers in the U.S. aren’t watchdogs…Most papers are instead lapdogs, and the metaphorical lap they sit in isn’t even that of powerful interests like their advertisers…The real tyrant the papers served was the tender sensibilities of their readers,” he writes.

Tangled Web

The piece is equally damning in its criticism of newspaper websites, which Wyman believes are too often ponderous, difficult to use and inwardly focused. Search results return rivers of irrelevant promotions that the user doesn’t care about and that exist only to serve the interests of internal constituents, he says. External links are far too rare and readability is managed by people whose expertise is mostly in print. As a result, newspaper websites are some of the least useful properties on the Web, which is a shame because their content should be some of the most useful.

Wyman’s piece makes valuable reading, if only to hammer home the problems of a change-averse culture that still exists in many metro dailies. In part, that attitude is a hangover of management greed that has steadily pared back resources in the interest of maintaining 20% profit tax margins. However, the evils of management are a horse has been beaten to death pretty thoroughly by now. What’s different about Wyman’s perspective is that he takes editors and reporters to step to task for not doing more with the resources they have. Pack journalism and the not-invented-here mentality frustrate efforts at meaningful change. Last week’s acquisition of EveryBlock by Microsoft and MSNBC – rather than by a newspaper company — is just another indication that these businesses don’t move quickly enough.

Bloggers’ Harsh Glare

One insight that we found particularly illuminating is Wyman’s observation that the freewheeling — some would say reckless — culture of the blogosphere has cast a harsh light on the mediocrity that many newspapers have dished out for years. “The Web mercilessly exposes the flaccidness of the content of most papers. It creates a straightjacket for them: As they desperately bland themselves out on land, the material they have on hand to impress in cyberspace is correspondingly pallid,” he writes.

This point deserves special attention. Journalists like to trash talk bloggers for lacking basic journalism skills, but for all its weaknesses, the blogosphere is nothing if not interesting. Put another way, the sudden availability of massive choice exposes boring information for what it is. Big media could get away with mediocrity for many years because readers had no choice. Now that they do, the weakness of the products is magnified.

Wyman’s piece is far from perfect, being at times more tirade than exposé. But it is thought-provoking and — dare we say it — interesting. To hear him tell it, that’s a characteristic that’s all too often missing from the publications he criticizes.


After six quarters of stomachturning losses, newspaper companies finally reported some stability in the most recent quarter, and even a couple of upside surprises. The Wall Street Journal asks if the recovery is sustainable and largely concludes that it isn’t. One unexpected factor in the industry’s recent good fortune has been the plummeting price of paper, which is down nearly 40% in the last nine months. But the Journal expects those prices to come back as the market winnows out some weaker players. It also points to recent research indicating that marketers are more likely to cut newspaper and direct-mail spending than any other line item in the name of increasing their interactive budgets.

Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper company plans to close the free daily thelondonpaper after reporting a ₤13 million pretax loss. Thelondonpaper is one of two afternoon free dailies, which are targeted mainly at young commuters. It lost ₤12.9 million in the fiscal year ended June 2008 on revenue of just ₤14.1 million. About 60 jobs are affected, though it’s not clear how many people will lose their jobs.

Marty Petty, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist-turned-successful-publisher, will leave the St. Petersburg Times after nine years. Calling the apparently voluntary move a “business decision” that reflects the shrinking size of the newspaper, Petty said management must adjust along with employees. Petty was a member of two Pulitzer Prize-winning teams at the Kansas City Star and Times in 1982. She later joined the Hartford Courant, where she rose to the position of associate publisher. She was named the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s BusinessWoman of the Year for media in 2005.

pornWhat do journalists and porn stars have in common? Plenty, according to a short piece in New York magazine. Jessica Pressler writes that pornographers who were making good money online just a couple of years ago are suddenly confronting a new threat from amateur videographers who are giving away all the sex you can watch for free. Once highly paid porn stars are complaining that they can’t find work and there’s little new blood coming into the system. Pressler suggests that maybe The New York Times ought to steal a page from the porn industry by focusing more on stars than on programs. That means orchestrating the careers and various activities of its best reporters instead of simply publishing their stuff.

By paulgillin | August 18, 2009 - 1:15 pm - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Paywalls, Solutions

Did you know they still do paste-up at the San Diego Union-Tribune? That’s just one of the revelations in a story about the new openness of the U-T’s management, an openness that is apparently playing very well with employees. Having laid off more than 300 people since taking control of the daily in May, Platinum Equity is now forecasting a profit of $5 million this year, which would be a major turnaround from the $8 million the paper was on track to lose when new management arrived.

The extent of the new ownership’s transparency about the paper’s finances and operations apparently surprised and pleased staffers, who had been privy to almost no financial information under former owners the Copley family. They learned that the U-T’s revenues have dropped 53% since 2006 while profitability has plummeted from $67 million that year to the expected $8 million loss this year. They also learned that the paper has shed nearly half its staff in the last 21 months. However, cuts like that are what set the stage for a return to profitability. Staffers apparently liked what they heard. They told Voice of San Diego that Platinum’s decisiveness was a welcome change from the plodding pace of change under the Copleys. Now they need to work on getting rid of those paste-up boards.

Platinum’s early success at the U-T is apparently not typical of private equity firms. Yesterday’s blockbuster announcement that Reader’s Digest is bankrupt cast a harsh spotlight on Ripplewood Holdings, which bought the publisher for $1.6 billion in 2007 and which has now seen that entire investment wiped out by bankruptcy. Reader’s Digest magazine, which was once a coffee-table staple, has suffered circulation declines of more than half over the last 30 years and 40% in the last decade. The company is staggering under $2.2 billion in debt. Under the proposed reorganization, creditors will now own 92.5% of the company, which publishes more than 100 titles. Even after the debt is restructured, though, Readers Digest will owe four times its annual earnings to lenders.

Meanwhile, the owner of Philadelphia’s two largest newspapers has proposed an audacious plan to get creditors off his back. Brian Tierney wants to swap $300 million in debt for $90 million in cash, real estate and bankruptcy costs. Under the proposed deal, creditors would get little ownership stake in Philadelphia Newspaper Holdings, while the company would walk away from most of its debt. Tierney appears to be betting that the alternative of total insolvency will scare lenders into accepting the deal, but an attorney for the creditors calls the plan a “horrible proposal.”


The Financial Times began charging for access to its website in 2002, and history is vindicating the London-based publisher. With media leaders like Rupert Murdoch now openly advocating for pay walls, the FT is stepping up its experimentation with new paid-content models. It plans to add a micropayment system for access to individual articles and it recently launched an online newsletter for investors in China that costs $4,138 a year for a subscription. The FT newspaper has only 117,000 paid online subscribers, compared to more than one million for The Wall Street Journal, but it charges $300 a year for Web access. CEO John Ridding says he’s pleased that the industry is finally coming around to seeing things the way the FT has seen them for many years. “Quality journalism has to be paid for,” he tells The New York Times.

EveryBlock ScreenA partnership of Microsoft and MSNBC made off with EveryBlock and Alan Mutter can’t quite believe it. “If ever there were an application designed to fast-forward newspapers into at least the late 20th Century, then this was it,” he writes. Funded by a Knight Foundation grant, EveryBlock (screen grab at right) is perhaps the nation’s most visible experiment in hyperlocal news. It covers 15 cities with news focused on tight geographic segments. Under Microsoft/MSNBC ownership, expect that coverage to expand dramatically. Microsoft was actually an early innovator in hyperlocal publishing with its Sidewalk city guides more than a decade ago. Sidewalk bombed, but the concept may simply have been ahead of its time.

Things continue to rock and roll under new ownership at the Waco Tribune. A few weeks ago, the paper made headlines when the new owner added the words “In God We Trust” under the front-page logo. Now it has jettisoned rock musician and gun activist Ted Nugent as a columnist after Nugent refused to tone down invective and personal attacks in a weekly guest column he writes. Editor Carlos Sanchez makes it clear that he was somewhat reluctant to carry out the new owner’s orders to reprimand Nugent, but he was stunned and outraged by the tactics Nugent used to lodge his protests.

The AP has one of those charming throwback pieces about The Budget, a 119-year-old newspaper that serves Amish and Mennonite communities and which seems to have none of the problems or pressures of its Internet-addled counterparts. In fact, the 20,000 readers seem to be quite militant about keeping The Budget in print and delivered by mail to their homes each week. The Budget’s owners and editors aren’t Amish, but they’re careful not to offend their pious readership. Ads for alcohol and tobacco aren’t accepted and much of the content consists of homespun diary entries submitted by a network of unpaid correspondents. To the geographically dispersed Amish, The Budget is kind of a hard-copy Facebook. It’s the way they keep up to date on births, deaths and the price of wheat. Circulation has stayed strong even during the economic downturn.

By paulgillin | August 14, 2009 - 11:29 am - Posted in Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Paywalls, Solutions

PenguinsMark Potts elucidates a criticism of pack journalism that we’ve been expressing for some time: Why do news organizations send so many people to cover the same event?  Potts observes that the Tribune Company “had 14 reporters, columnists and photogs at this year’s Super Bowl, even though neither Super Bowl team came from a city where Tribune actually has a newspaper.” Tribune Co. has apparently wised up and is consolidating some sports beats. Potts also points to the Dayton Daily News, which recently forced its Cincinnati Reds beat reporter into retirement. Potts estimates the paper was spending about $250,000 a year for the 37-year veteran to cover a baseball team 55 miles away that was already being covered by the AP. Perhaps that money would be better used to double up on coverage of local sports, although Potts doubts that’s what’ll happen.

We feel the same way whenever we watch a political convention or a Presidential press conference. Hundreds of journalists travel from far away, stay at expensive hotels and drink top-shelf booze to report the same things everyone can already see on TV. Is it possible that Super Bowl trips are used as rewards for treasured staffers? Could a couple of nice dinners out or a $1,000 bonus accomplish the same objective at less cost? We’re just asking.

Although we outsource most of our layoff coverage to the vastly superior work of Erica Smith, we occasionally see news that merits a comment. Such is the case in San Diego, where anyone who thought Platinum Equity would be the white knight to preserve jobs at the Union-Tribune should have those dreams dashed by the latest round of layoffs. The new owner cut 112 jobs this week on top of 192 announced shortly after Platinum assumed control in May. That means Platinum has laid off nearly 30% of the U-T’s workforce in less than four months. The story on the U-T website reads like a press release, mixing news of the job cuts with upbeat talk about investments in new pagination systems and improvements in local reporting. There is no effort to analyze the impact of Platinum Equity’s ownership on the staff or the product they produce, and no comments about the human impact. Perhaps that’s being held for a day two story.

We also have to give the Journal News of Westchester County a nod for their innovative idea of firing all 288 employees and inviting them to re-apply for 218 jobs. It’s not layoff, it’s a job fair! Seriously, the company plans to make all rehiring decisions final by the week of August 24, which means that managers must conduct 218 interviews within the next two weeks. Just shoot us. Fortunately, August is a slow week in the publishing business.

Journalism Online, LLC, the company formed by Steven Brill to help newspapers charge for content, said 506 publications have now signed up for its affiliate network. In a press release carefully crafted to avoid the gaze of antitrust regulators, the company said its customers are eyeing annual charges of $50 to $100 per subscriber “with little diminution of overall page views or online ad revenue.” Neat trick.

Sites with one million monthly page views can expect to earn an additional $5 million to $10 million annually through reader revenue, which figures out to about 40 to 80 cents per page view. Wow, if any plan can generate 40 cents per page view, sign us up! Journalism Online was cautious to stress that each individual publisher will make its own decisions about what, and whether, to charge. “We’re giving them all the dials to turn…but they will be the ones turning the dials,” Brill said.

Perhaps the best argument we’ve seen against citizen journalism is the parade of crazies showing up to criticize the Obama health care plan. The thought that some of these people could acquire a following is truly unsettling. Sacramento Bee cartoonist Rex Babin illustrates this brilliantly, provoking the usual rash of political diatribes.

Clown hall

By paulgillin | August 7, 2009 - 9:28 am - Posted in Fake News, Hyper-local, Solutions

Ken DoctorKen Doctor is one of those rare breed of editors who understands the business side of newspapering. After spending nearly 25 years as an editor at papers ranging from alternative weeklies to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, he moved to Knight Ridder corporate to help lead the company’s push into new media. Doctor ultimately worked on editorial, strategy and content services for Knight Ridder Digital, ran its online content division for five years, a position that had him managing a P&L  and scouting out new sources of revenue. He’s currently an Affiliate Analyst With Outsell, a research and advisory firm focused on the publishing, information, and education industries.

Doctor is fundamentally optimistic about the reinvention of the industry to come, but he worries about the estimated 800,000 stories that Americans won’t read this year because reporters around to write them. In this interview, he assesses the various rescue strategies that have been floated, the struggles publishers are having with reinvention and the silver lining behind the nearly 15,00 newspaper layoffs of the last two years.

Paul Gillin spoke to Ken Doctor on August 5th. Here are highlights of the 33-minute conversation.

Time Summary
1:45 The current respite in the newspaper industry’s freefall and how publishers should take advantage of the situation
3:20 The growth and transformation of local markets
4:15 The outlook for paid content strategies
5:30 Why local newspapers can’t easily monetize content
6:15 The outlook for an “all access pass” subscription model
8:20 Will people be paying for news five years from now? Probably not.
10:20 The Schenectady experiment: in small cities, subscription walls may slow declines but they won’t solve the bigger problems.
12:30 The value of an online vs. print reader: 12 minutes per month versus four hours per month
14:30 “Newspapers missed the search market and are still paying the price.”
16:30 “Fair use has never been adjudicated at a high court level.” Perhaps it’s time for the news companies to press Google on the fairness issue.
19:30 Why most newspaper executives are not prepared to reinvent their organizations
21:30 The partnerships and skills needed to run today’s business just don’t exist in many newspaper organizations.
22:40 Journalism innovation is thriving but who’s going to pay the bills?
23:10 800,000 fewer stories will be written this year than before the industry meltdown began.
26:10 We’ll see true multimedia companies at the local level.
27:30 The opportunity of a valueless market is to look up at possibilities without worrying too much about the downside.
29:40 We’re at the bottom of the news chasm.

Listen to the interview (33:23) (right click to download)

By paulgillin | July 21, 2009 - 1:36 pm - Posted in Facebook, Hyper-local, Solutions

globe_deadlineThe battle over concessions by Boston Globe union is over and management won. Was there ever any doubt? By a decisive 366-to-179 vote, the Boston Newspaper Guild voted to accept a package of pay cuts, benefit reductions and other concessions that is harsher than the one the union rejected last month. Owner New York Times Co. responded to the earlier contract rejection by unilaterally slashing wages 23%. That forced the union to dance a jig and recommend a revised package that had even deeper benefits reductions. Despite considerable grousing in the ranks, Guild members ultimately decided they’d better accept the current deal before things get any worse. Still, widespread layoffs are expected.

Meanwhile, Boston Business Journal editor George Donnelly reports that the Globe’s cross-town rival Herald just closed its fiscal year with a $2 million profit. It seems the publisher started cutting costs and working with the union long ago, while the Globe shoveled money into a pit. So who’s more likely to survive if the recession continues? Ask staffers at the Seattle Times, who believed that the Post-Intelligencer was the weaker of the two local dailies before Hearst abruptly pulled the plug.


Congressional Quarterly, which has been on the market for much of this year, has been acquired by rival Roll Call, which is part of the Economist Group. This can’t come as happy news to CQ employees, who now face the awkward task of merging with an organization that would have been happy to put them out of business. Still, they could do worse than work for The Economist. “The new CQ-Roll Call Group will have the largest and most experienced newsroom covering Washington,” said Laurie Battaglia, managing director and executive vice president of Roll Call Group. Mike Mills, editorial director at Roll Call, will call the shots at the combined entity.

Steve Yelvington has a well-balanced reality check on the future of journalism. The decline of print isn’t the end of journalism, he argues, but it will require a shape-shift. While Yelvington does succumb to some finger-pointing (“Newspapers could have invented search, directories and social networking. Few even tried.”), he ultimately puts the challenge of reinventing journalism at the door of journalists: “How long and how well newspapers and professional journalists persist in our future will be determined in part by how well they identify new ways to play socially valuable roles.”

Cox Enterprises continues to divest its newspaper holdings. It just sold three North Carolina dailies and 10 weeklies to John Kent Cooke, a media, sports and real estate magnate. Cooke’s son will run the North Carolina operation.

Mark Potts analyzes Rupert Murdoch’s plans to knock off The New York Times with The Wall Street Journal, dubbing it a “scorched earth strategy.” Murdoch appears content to let the Times Co. implode under the weight of its own debt while gradually moving the WSJ into its mainstream news stronghold. “There’s been some speculation that Murdoch’s real endgame is to buy the Times on the cheap, but why bother? If he makes the Journal the dominant national paper as the Times withers, he’ll emerge the winner,” writes Potts. It’s a good point. Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff has said that the Australian media magnate “sits around all day and thinks about buying The New York Times,” but why bother when market forces may make that expense unnecessary?

The Writers Bridge logoDarrell Laurant writes: “I run something called The Writers’ Bridge that is unique in the freelance universe. Not only do we match ideas with markets, but we generate lots of ideas for writers. We handle each member individually, and we’re good at hand-holding. My biggest frustration is the inability to recruit journalists, a group I see as the guts of this endeavour. I am currently a columnist/feature writer for a mid-size daily in Lynchburg, and I think I have something to offer. It costs $10 a month, but I’m willing to offer two months free to anyone who’s been laid off, just to check us out. After that, it’s $10 a month.” Let us know if it helps, OK?

Ahwatukee Foothills News staff writer Krystin Wiggs writes about being victimized by an elaborate hoax concocted by a young man who claimed to be a gifted and successful chef. The man, Vinayak Gorur, convinced Wiggs that he had won scholarships to culinary school and landed a sous chef job at a top restaurant at the tender age of 21. Gorur even enlisted an accomplice to masquerade as head chef at the restaurant for a phone interview. The guy even duped his parents. Wiggs is sick, angry and apologetic about the whole thing, but her story will resonate with any reporter who had gone through the usual motions of reporting a seemingly benign human interest story. How often do we go the extra mile to verify a story when everyone appears to be so genuine?

And Finally…

Slate has a clever video mashup of what media coverage of the moon landing might look like today. Many of the quotes are clipped from the last presidential election, but work just fine. Best scene: Wolf Blitzer interviewing a Neil Armstrong avatar.

For sheer satirical hilarity, though, we can’t beat this clip from The Onion.

By paulgillin | July 15, 2009 - 8:46 am - Posted in Fake News

Rodney_CurtisRodney Curtis, a former photo editor at the Detroit Free Press, wrote up some stream-of-consciousness musings as he waited for the layoff ax to fall. “Unemployment isn’t pretty, but it’s a lot less ugly than I thought it would look,” he writes. You can view sample chapters of his new book at

Am I getting a gold watch? Wow, the HR lady’s kinda hot. Breathe, Rodney, breathe. They all look so sad; make ‘em laugh. Ha, they liked the gold watch joke. That guac from the party’s gonna go bad if this takes too long. Push Spiritual Wanderer, push Spiritual Wanderer. What does COBRA stand for? Joke about stealing pens. Don’t tell ‘em about Sharpies. Top boss banters with me about there not being ink in the pens. Phwew, Sharpies are safe. Breathe, breathe, breathe. This is it. This is the end of the career. How long does guacamole last in this heat? Gotta buy a lottery ticket. Seriously, listen to the COBRA spiel. Keep the humor up. Do I hug? If one, then everyone. Top boss reflects on me correcting his tip during our dinner interview three years ago. Says he knew he’d hire me then and there. Should I correct him about something now? They look so serious. Oh, oh, HR lady is nervous; shaky hands give it away. Humor, jokes, feign interest in Employee Assistance program. Do COBRAs bite or squeeze? Remember to thank sweet daughters for helping me cry earlier so I don’t now. Do I sign something? Hey, you forgot to take my ID card. It’s ending. Career and this exit interview. Guac’s probably a goner too. It’s hot. Maybe it’s the HR lady. Breathe. Why are they looking at me? Should I say something? Is it my turn to get up and sing? Do I leave? What do I do? Take bull by the horns. Start hugging. Surprises ‘em. Ha, hot HR lady says she wants one too.


(Hours later, more Mexican food. Guac’s fine.)

Comments Off on Musings On a Layoff
By paulgillin | July 13, 2009 - 5:13 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Solutions


Back in January, we told you about The Printed Blog, a venture by serial entrepeneur Josh Karp that sought to flip the online publishing model by delivering blogs in print. The idea was to take the best entries by local bloggers and rush them into print for consumption by busy commuters, whom advertisers would want to reach. “If his idea reaches its full potential, he’ll have hyper-local twice-daily editions in thousands of communities around the US,” we wrote. “Chicago alone could support 50 localized Printed Blogs.”

Well, it turns out Chicago could barely support even one Printed Blog for more than a few issues. Josh Karp shut his doors last week, having poured more than $100,000 of his own money into a venture that barely got off the ground. The Printed Blog published 16 issues in seven regions and it was a pretty interesting read. Its slogan – “Like the Internet, only flammable” – betrayed its playful nature and the website is the essence of Web 2.0 shareability. The venture was a victim of a harsh economy, in part, but also the reality that people apparently don’t want to read 13-hour-old blog entries about the White Sox in print, as the Christian Science Monitor account points out. It was a long shot that drew skepticism from the start, but it generated huge publicity for Karp, who we hope will quickly find a more successful outlet for his ample creativity.

Karp posted several closing entries on his blog, including this one about the lessons he learned from the venture. Among the half-dozen he lists are this one: “Instead of focusing on one thing – revenue – on a small enough scale to prove our model, I decided to try and publish the paper in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles… I got carried away, and we spread ourselves too thin too fast.” We’re going to be seeing a lot of entrepreneurs try to fill the void left by dying newspapers in the coming years and they would do well to read Karp’s advice. Or even bring him on as a publisher.

The Flap Over Free

freecoverWe don’t know if you’ve followed Wired editor Chris Anderson’s latest book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, but the premise is worthy of attention from publishers. Anderson’s premise is that the Internet has created a new competitive dynamic that is relentlessly forcing the price of all things digital – and some things physical – toward zero.

Software that once commanded six-figure license fees is now free.  The entertainment industry has all but abandoned efforts to copy-protect music. Artists now give away music and make money on concerts.

Anderson further argues that other businesses may be pulled into the low-cost business model orbit. T-shirts are basically free, but the cost of a Major League Baseball logo is $30. Casinos give away flights and hotel rooms and make it back on gambling. Ryan Air has staged promotions in which its flights are given away for free while revenue is derived from value-added services like luxury meals or gambling.

This has big implications not just for publishers but for anyone whose value is predicated upon delivering content. Anderson’s premise is controversial and scary to many people. Others simply don’t buy it, including Malcolm Gladwell, who penned a well-argued review in The New Yorker last week. Gladwell points out that Anderson’s argument ignores the value – and cost- of the distribution network. He notes that YouTube makes most of its money from advertising sold against professional programming that it buys from entertainment companies. Thus, the company’s supposedly free content model is really underwritten by real cash money.

Anderson fires back with a respectful rejoinder, telling the story of GeekDad, a blog he started a few years ago that is now run by a largely volunteer workforce. These writers do a heckuva job delivering a product that would have formerly required an expensive publishing infrastructure, and they do it for personal fulfillment, Anderson says. He suggests that this is where the news model is going: “I can imagine far more subjects that are better handled by well-coordinated amateurs than those that can support professional journalists. My business card says ‘Editor in Chief’, but if one of my children follows in my footsteps, I suspect their business card will say ‘Community Manager.’ Both can be good careers.”

True to form, Anderson is giving away digital copies of Free (you can read the whole thing here) but charging for the book. Publicity will no doubt help sustain his five-digit speaking fee. That’s further support for the book’s premise. It isn’t helping his magazine, though, which is among the worst-performing print magazines of 2009. Free can apparently only get you so far.


The Cincinnati Enquirer appears to be shouldering more than its share in the latest round of Gannett Co. layoffs. The paper has laid off 101 people out of a total staff estimated at between 800 and 920. It has also laid off the entire staff of CinWeekly,  companion publication aimed at young readers. Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press is escaping the axe entirely, but that’s because it and its JOA partner the Detroit News have already cut 17% of their combined workforces since December.

More than half of business communicators surveyed by Ragan Communications think Twitter is a fad that will crest and decline as people run out of interesting things to say. The 28% of respondents who have a microblogging policy in place credit it with improving employee engagement, helping customer service, building reputation and boosting website traffic. Another 40% have no microblogging plan in place. EMarketer remarks on Twitter mania, noting that when people start attributing world-changing characteristics to a new technology, it’s time to start worrying.

The New York Times Co. has extended until late this month the deadine for bids on the Boston Globe. The move is intended to give prospective bidders (three at the moment) time to see if advertising revenue has leveled off and whether the Newspaper Guild approves a tentative contract containing $20 million in concessions. Meanwhile, a lively discussion is going on within the Guild ranks over whether to approve the proposed deal.

A federal judge has cleared the way for Journal Register Co. to emerge from bankruptcy with 90% of the company in the hands of its debtors. The company’s reorganization plan had been held up pending resolution of a dispute over a $1.3 million “shutdown” bonus, which will pay some senior managers to lay off staff and shut down publications. Opponents argued that the bonuses are excessive and unwarranted, but Judge Allan L. Gropper ruled that the fact that the fact that the plan was approved by secured lenders and the company’s creditors committee justified its validity. Under the reorganization plan, JRC gives up 90% of the company in exchange for $225 million from lenders.

And Finally…

gazetaThe comedy team of Bob & Ray once had a skit about an idea called edible food packaging. It turns out the notion may not have been so far-fetched, as publishers are trying every possible idea to make their print products palatable. In Moscow, the the GazetaPacket is delivering news, crosswords, recipes and advertising on printed paper bags. It’s been running since last August. Editors Weblog tell of other ideas, like Bill Shein’s suggestions for edible paper, martini-flavored ink and naked women on the cover. That last one’s been tried and apparently doesn’t work, but you know what they say about if at first you don’t succeed…

By paulgillin | July 7, 2009 - 11:33 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local, Paywalls, Solutions

stevefosterphotoAnother group of Rocky Mountain News ex-pats is taking a run at a new-media publishing model with a paid-subscription component. The Rocky Mountain Independent debuted yesterday with a staff of 14 ex-Rocky employees and a determination not to repeat the mistakes that were made by InDenverTimes, a startup that struggles along on life support after badly missing its goal of recruiting 50,000 paying subscribers. Several members of the Independent staff also worked at InDenver Times.

The new site will be mostly free but with a small collection of columns and in-depth pieces behind a $4/mo. pay wall. Staffer Steve Foster (right), a former assistant sports editor at the Rocky Mountain News, likened the model to ESPN, which is mostly ad-supported but which also has a small amount of subscriber-only material for diehard sports enthusiasts. Foster said editorial content will focus on “larger, broader stories…We’re not as interested in following somebody on the campaign trail on a daily basis. We’d rather step back and assess someone’s chances in an election.” If anyone can detect a difference between that approach and a daily newspaper’s please let us know. Foster also said the Independent will run long pieces, too, which challenges conventional wisdom that online readers don’t have the attention span for that kind of material. The reason? As magazines and newspapers shrink, there’s less long-form journalism being published any more. That creates demand.

Some Good News, Some Bad News on Ad Front

Mag_closingsZenithOptimedia sees some light at the end of the tunnel for advertising. The plunge in global advertising appears to have reached bottom in the second quarter and is poised for some recovery. The agency also trimmed its forecast of a 6.9% decline in advertising spending for 2009. Growth will come mainly in online ads, which is the only segment to expand this year. Within that segment, search advertising has the greatest momentum, with expected growth of 20% this year. The big losers are newspaper and magazine advertising, which the agency expects to decline nearly 15% this year.

The pickup can’t come too soon for the beleaguered magazine industry, which has seen 279 titles close their doors this year already and another 43 end their print versions. The good news: there have also been 187 new launches. However, the trend is in the wrong direction, according to MediaFinder, which notes that in the second quarter alone, 77 magazines have launched while 184 have folded.

Overzealous WaPo Marketer Ruffles Feathers

Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth cancelled plans for a series of dinners at her home after an overzealous Post marketing executive issued flyers positioning the events as a way for sponsors to buy access to the paper’s journalists and members of Congress. Weymouth said the promotions “should never have happened… We’re not going to do any dinners that would impugn the integrity of the newsroom.” Post Editor Marcus Brauchli said he was “appalled” by the promotions that promised “an exclusive opportunity to participate in the health-care reform debate among the select few who will actually get it done.”

The whole affair was a platform for strong language on the part of participants and observers. Boston University’s Tom Fiedler said he was “astonished” at the Post’s “crossing a boundary line that seems to me painted so brightly white.” Charles Pelton, the Post marketing executive who created the flyers, said he had been “sloppy” in allowing them to go out. A spokesman for Rep. Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat, called the dinner as advertised “a radioactive event.” Everyone flagellated themselves fully and promised not to let it happen again.


Gannett Blog has a letter that was apparently sent to employees of Gannett’s 10-paper Newspaper Network of Central Ohio that outlines plans to consolidate 10 regional newspapers under a single editor. The letter is from Linda Greiwe, publisher of the Newark (Ohio) Advocate. It outlines plans to consolidate page production into two locations and to form an “enterprise and data reporting team of two people” who will “write in-depth daily and project stories on issues that impact as many NNCO markets as possible.” Headcount will be reduced but the job losses are not part of Gannett’s larger 1,400-employee layoff announced last week.

Talking Points Memo, the fledgling new-journalism venture run by Josh Marshall, just took a venture funding round from Marc Andreessen, creator of the Netscape browser. The investment is small – less than $1 million – but it’s an important step for TPM, which has been bootstrap-funded until now. Marshall told TechCrunch the company is profitable and has 11 full-time employees. After this cash infusion, it will no doubt have more.

The bankrupt Tribune Co. may be under legal protection from debtors, but it isn’t protected from the realities of the market. The company’s revenue slid 23% in the first five months of the year and its profit margins have dwindled from 19% to 8% during that time, according to a Morningstar analysis. Tribune Co. doesn’t have to report financial results while in bankruptcy, so Morningstar derved the financial picture from an analysis of “operating receipts” reported so far this year. While the company is still cash flow positive, the declining margins would indicate that its debts will have to be significantly restructured to enable it to emerge from bankruptcy. The good news is that the company appears to be close to selling the Chicago Cubs to a local family for a reported $900 million. The Cubs have been for sale for two years. Tribune bought the team and the stadium for $20.5 million in 1981, representing a capital gain of nearly 4,500% in 28 years.

A new study finds that small newspapers are faring better than large ones, although only marginally. Media Post reports on the study by Inland Press that found that papers with less than 15,000 circulation actually saw revenue increases of 2.4% over the last five years. While that’s tiny, it’s a lot better than the 22% decline experienced by the overall newspaper business. However, the study also found that there’s plenty of pain in small markets, particularly at papers in the 25,000-to-50,000 circulation range that are under heavy debt loads. “If this trend continues, bankruptcy and sale or closure could follow for scores of newspapers, as the plague afflicting big metro dailies infects smaller markets,” it asserts. The problem many markets, of course, is debt. Heavy debt burdens are forcing big publishers to plow profits into loan payments instead of investing in their properties. Small publishers without much debt are better positioned overall to weather the crisis.

Trying to come up with someone to blame for the newspaper industry’s crisis? Try Macy’s. The department store chain has chopped more than half of its spending on newspaper advertising since 2005, Alan Mutter reports. He estimates the bite at $616 million annually. And considering that Macy’s it itself a chimera of smaller department store chains, the aggregate loss may be even larger. Macy’s was the second-largest newspaper advertiser in 2008, surpassed only by Verizon.

Tomorrow is the deadline to get in bids to buy the Boston Globe, so hurry!

The Houston Business Journal conducted a non-scientific poll asking readers, “If your local daily newspaper stopped its print edition, would you miss it?” Fifty-six percent said they wouldn’t, with many adding that biased coverage is their biggest complaint.

The San Francisco Chronicle shut down its presses on Sunday after more than 140 years in the printing business. The function has been outsourced to Transcontinental, Inc., the sixth largest printer in North America. More than 200 unionized pressmen lost their jobs.