By paulgillin | June 5, 2008 - 10:57 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Paywalls

Moody’s Investors Service has joined the Greek chorus of financial watchdogs predicting more bad news for the newspaper industry. Analysts expect newspaper advertising revenue to drop 7% to 9% in 2008 and maybe slightly less in 2009, but only if the economy recovers next year. If it doesn’t, look out.

Most troubling is the decline in cash flow, defined as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA). Over the past 10 years, EBITDA has fallen from 28% to 19% as a percentage of revenue, Moody’s said. Cost cuts aren’t keeping up with revenue declines, which is eroding EBITDA by more than 10% a year. That erosion comes at a terrible time because so many publishers are heavily leveraged with debt. Less cash means less money to pay creditors. Moody’s thinks deeper cuts will be needed in editorial operations, but “It will prove challenging to continually reduce editorial costs without impairing the core news product or employee morale.”

As if to accent the Moody’s forecast, E.W. Scripps Co. said newspaper revenues will fall 8% to 10% in the second half of 2008. The company is in the process of splitting itself in two.

Optimists See Growth, But Much of it is Free

The head of the World Association of Newspapers says reports of the industry’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Speaking to the World Editors Forum meeting in Göteborg, Sweden, CEO Timothy Balding cites statistics showing growth in Asia and South America that is outstripping declines in the US and Europe. Overall newspaper circulation is up over 3% internationally. A lot of that growth is coming from the expanding free-daily industry, however. Free papers now make up 23% of circulation in the EU and 8% in the US.

Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson comments on this trend, noting that it is another indication that information is becoming free. While any growth is good, the loss of paid subscribers presents big challenges to the economics of the newspaper industry, which are predicated on circulation lists.

Free isn’t necessarily good business in the US, though. The CEO of Metro International SA tells Bloomberg that it’s examining its options in the North American and European markets while looking to expand into 30 new markets. The world’s leading publisher of free dailies has struggled to reach profitability, although its market penetration has grown rapidly. Per Mikael Jensen says emerging economies look to have more promise at the moment.

A study conducted by advocacy group Newspaper Works shows that Australian readers hold newspapers in high esteem. The survey of 1,010 people found that 90% of readers do nothing else when reading a newspaper as compared to the half who busy themselves with other things while the TV is on. Most perceive newspapers as “absorbing, dynamic and reputable,” and the online extensions only add to that credibility. (Via Editors Weblog).

Finally, the editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Times tells Media Bistro that print isn’t going away in his lifetime. That said, Russ Stanton is honest about the challenges, noting that the substantial infrastructure cost of print is a liability. “Someone, somewhere is going to grow the revenue from online enough that it can support a newsroom of our size and talent. And when that happens, that’s when you can start, if you so choose, to pull the plug on the paper,” he says. He adds that citizen journalism is pretty intriguing.

Turnover Continues At the Top

Rupert Murdoch continues to put his own team into place at The Wall Street Journal. Deputy Managing Editor Bill Grueskin is the latest to go, leaving the paper for a post in the ivy-covered halls of academia. Grueskin’s departure comes just two months after Managing Editor Marcus Brauchli was unceremoniously shown the door.

Los Angeles Times Editorial Pages Editor James Newton will leave the paper to finish writing a book about Dwight Eisenhower. He had been in the job only 14 months. Newton’s memo to staffers made it clear that he wasn’t motivated by some pressing inner urge to tell the Eisenhower story. “[T]he paper still has challenges ahead. The publisher and I have discussed those difficulties, and he is entitled to an editorial page editor who shares his vision on how best to confront them,” he wrote. LA Observed has Newton’s farewell memo, as well as the obligatory bouquets of gratitude from Publisher David Hiller.

Thoughts on the New Journalism

Jeff Jarvis eloquently expresses an important point about the future of journalism in this essay on the ethics and culture of linking. The link is the currency of the blogosphere, of course, and the emerging culture of journalism is embedding links into news reporting process. In the old days, Jarvis notes, reporters would rather repeat all the legwork done by a competitor than acknowledge being beaten on a story. This led to tremendous duplication of effort. In the new model, though, journalists are learning to link to useful information and build upon it, creating a new and richer style of journalism.

Jarvis cites the experiment being conducted by a group of Ohio papers that are sharing stories between each other rather than processing them through the Associated Press. This means less rewriting, faster delivery and more genuine content. Says Jarvis: “[T]hey’re doing what they do best and linking to the rest and they are linking to original journalism: the new architecture at work.”

Meanwhile, the CEO of acquisitive MediaNews Group urges newspaper executives to “discard our arrogance.” Speaking to the World Newspaper Congress in Sweden William Dean Singleton says, “We’re going to have to quit writing and editing for each other and write and edit for that consumer out there.” He says half the chain’s profits will come from online sources by 2012. Singleton continues recent criticism by industry CEOs of the way newspaper journalism is done. News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch recently said The Wall Street Journal has too much management overhead and Tribune Co. CEO Sam Zell has also insulted his editors.

Layoff Log

  • The Portland Press-Herald and will cut up to 35 positions on top of the 27 jobs that were eliminated in March.
  • Newsday has reportedly laid off 32 employees — half in operations management and half from Star Community Publishing. This follows a 120-person reduction in March. Publisher Timothy Knight said the move would “reduce management layers in operations, clarify roles and responsibilities, and speed decision-making.” The paper is awaiting transfer of ownership from Tribune Co. to Cablevision Systems Corp.

And Finally…

Simon Owns interviews journalist and Editor & Publisher columnist Steve Outing about a new venture he’s working on called Reinventing Classifieds. It’s a blog in which prominent publishing professionals contribute their insights on classified advertising and how the newspaper industry can recapture that business. At first glance, the content looks a little like Newspaper Death Watch ““ lots of bad news. But there hasn’t been much good news to report in the classified industry of late. There’s lots of up-to-date news and even a piece by design guru Roger Black. The site is tied to a project led by Future of News developer Christopher Ryan that’s attempting to build a distribute ad placement platform that newspapers could use to get a leg up on Craigslist.



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