By paulgillin | November 17, 2008 - 9:36 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local, Paywalls

The newspaper industry is in chaos, but you wouldn’t know it at the Financial Times, the U.K.-based business daily that now sells more copies in the US than in the UK. In fact, the economic crisis has been good for business, says Caspar de Bono, managing director of Financial Times Business in a story in BtoB magazine.

The reason is that panicked investors want to know how the meltdown in the US is playing out in other countries, de Bono says. The FT, with its great international reach, is becoming a coveted source of information. US circulation is up 5% this year to over 140,000. Sales for the FT Group were up 11% in the first nine months and publishing sales were up 14%. With The Wall Street Journal setting its competitive sites on The New York Times, the time might be right for the FT to become a major salmon-colored alternative to America’s business daily.

News Without Newspapers

21st News has a guest column by Gary Hook, former director of editorial operations at USA Today, about why he’s worried about journalism. Hook’s concerns were prompted by attending the Knight International Journalism Awards, which recognized two journalists who risked all to deliver the truth. Hook says their stories are inspiring, but at the same time he’s worried about who will carry on this kind of crusading work once many newspapers are out of the picture.

His answer may be in the award winners themselves: Aliaksei Karol, the editor-in-chief of the weekly Novy Chas in Belarus and Frank Nyakairu, a correspondent and freelancer who has documented human rights abuses in Africa. Neither of these men works for a major metropolitan newspaper. Novy Chas is published in print, but clearly serves more as a means of political expression than a profit-making concern.. Nyakairu is a freelancer and wire service correspondent who could just as easily write for paying Web publishers as for Reuters.

Both men were recognized for what they do, not the medium in which they do it. They are great journalists in spite of not working for a daily newspaper. Which makes Hook’s argument a little hollow. Early in the column, he quotes Walter Lippmann, who said, “The purpose of journalism is to give information on which the citizen can act.” There’s nothing in there about newspapers that we can see.


Alan Mutter takes a financial analyst’s eye to the profitability picture in the industry and concludes that further cuts are likely before year’s end. The problem is that profits are falling at a much faster rate than revenues, about 18 times the velocity of decline for 12 publishers he studied. Mutter uses EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization), an accounting standard that strips out all the non-cash events that influence an income statement. Nearly every publisher in his analysis suffered year-over-year profit declines to 40% or more, with Sun-Times Media Group logging the most extreme decline at -1523%. “Not one publisher in the group of 12 was able to prevent its profits from falling faster than its revenues,” Mutter writes. And imbalance like that is unsustainable, meaning that more cuts are almost certain.

Ken Doctor has the scoop and the schedule on CNN’s upcoming two-day offsite at which the cable TV network will pitch its services as an alternative to the Associated Press. Doctor thinks CNN’s coveting of major editors has gotten too little attention, and when you look at the numbers, it’s hard to disagree. CNN has more journalists than either the AP or Reuters, and it’s got more delivery channels, too. Amid a nationwide revolt against the AP’s licensing and fee policies, CNN’s argument on Dec. 1 and 2 could be persuasive. However, Doctor proposes nine questions that he thinks the execs in attendance should pose to their host first. He’s hoping they get an answer because the network has been unwilling to offer anyone for an interview.


Once-fierce rivalries in the Metro newspaper business are giving way to calls for collaboration. The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram used to compete toe-to-toe for readers, but with circulation and revenues going south, there’s talk of a news alliance. The two companies recently began delivering each other’s papers to local markets and discussed but later discarded a joint printing agreement. More collaboration is probably on the way, however. Star-Telegram columnist Mitchell Schnurman outlines in detail the financial realities as well as the culture shock engendered by the idea of an alliance.


Speaking of Dallas, documentary filmmaker mark Birnbaum and Dallas Morning News film critic Manny Mendoza have teamed up on “Stop the Presses,” a dark documentary about the future of newspapers. The Rocky Mountain News interviews them, but gives the piece only scant space and no room for the filmmakers to say anything. Kind of like a story in print.


Bay Area News Group has rescinded layoffs of eight workers after the union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. The union says it wants to explore alternatives to layoff, such as “asking employees who were thinking of leaving, if they want to save someone else’s job.” If you can unravel the meaning of that statement, please comment.


The Gremlin

The Gremlin

Bring it on!” cries the Boston Globe’s Joan Venocchi in a cheeky send-up of auto makers, labor unions and other failed institutions that hope to find succor at the government teat. Venocchi sees a parallel to her own profession. Sure, the newspaper industry is in trouble, she says, but “No one in government is going to back a newspaper bailout and no one should…If newspapers aren’t producing news in a format that people want to purchase, it’s the industry’s problem. If Detroit isn’t producing cars people want to buy, that’s Detroit’s problem – not the taxpayers’. Her logic is sound. There was no excuse for the AMC Gremlin.

BusinessWeek‘s Jon Fine tackles the same topic as Venocchi, though his angle is a bailout plan for the newspaper industry. With tongue planted in cheek, Fine proposes that the government adopt the industry crisis as its own and shell out billions to cover the industry’s debts while providing each household with an Amazon Kindle in a rescue plan thinly disguised as a green initiative.


Michael Sifton is out as chief executive of Canada’s Sun Media Corp. after just a year on the job. He’ll be replaced by Pierre Karl Peladeau, the CEO of parent company Quebecor Inc. “Disappointing” results in the company’s publishing and Internet businesses was cited.


60 Minutes’ Andy Rooney ditches his usual satiric tone in a homage to the newspaper industry that gave him his start. “I wouldn’t trade [my newspaper column] for all the stations that broadcast this television commentary. The money I’d trade,” he says. Rooney got his start with Stars & Stripes before World War II, and the industry taught him all about journalism. How sad to see it in such trouble. “There’s been a steady decline in the ciruclation of newspapers, but it’s strange that there’s no decline in the faith people put in them,” he says. TV has benefited from some great journalists, he says, but it’s not the same. “There are more pictures on television. That’s about it.”



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