By paulgillin | August 24, 2009 - 11:23 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Solutions

Hyperlocal LogoBob Garfield of NPR’s “On The Media” interviews media superblogger Jeff Jarvis and asks “Can journalism be sustained in the top 25 markets if all the dailies fold?

The question was prompted by a recent project by the City University of New York Graduate School Of Journalism that created economic models for next-generation news organizations. Jarvis says a decentralized, hyperlocal newsgathering infrastructure is not only plausible but quite profitable. Some hyperlocal bloggers are already pulling in up to $200,000 annually in revenue, he says, and that’s without the sophisticated funding and advertising mechanisms that are now being developed. We’d like to talk to one of these people.

The metropolitan news organization of the future will be smaller but no less profitable than that of today, Jarvis predicts. His study foresees a full-time staff of about 45 people with substantial contributions from locals. “It needs to work more collaboratively with bloggers and other locals,” he says. All together, a next-generation metro newsroom could have about 275 regular contributors.

“At the end of three years, our research shows that these businesses bring in margins that are reminiscent of the glory days of newspapers,” Jarvis states. “However, they’re much smaller businesses. A 20% margin on a $30 million business is not the same as on a $400 million business. But it is profitable, and that means it’s sustainable.”

Ever the optimist, Jarvis further states that journalism can become “better and richer” in the new model, Although there’s going to be some chaos in the process, “I believe we can actually improve journalism, not just save it,” he says.

They won’t be doing either in Loudoun, Va. The Washington Post Co. is closing its experimental hyperlocal site, the LoudounExtra, after two years, saying that the business “was not a sustainable model.” There were extenuating factors, however. The executives who launched the site left soon after startup and LoudounExtra never received the appropriate attention from the struggling parent company. One of those execs Rob Curley, moved on to bigger and better things in Las Vegas.


The Chicago Sun-Times Media Group (STMG) may be a few weeks from insolvency. The owner of the Sun-Times newspaper has just $19.3 million in cash left and is burning nearly $1 million per week, according to court documents. Chairman Jeremy Halbreich said he has been talking with several potential buyers who are more focused on cost structure than cash on hand.  STMG has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy since March 31. If it runs out of money, it would probably have to abruptly shut down without offering severance or other transitional amenities.

The Red Wing (Minn.) Republican Eagle will cut back from five days to two days a week. “Goodhue County’s No. 1 news Web site” will continue to be updated daily. The paper said the cutbacks were being made in order to save money and to focus  reporting on its local market.

In the economically devastated region of South Florida, the 55-year-old Boca Raton News published its last print edition yesterday. The paper had previously cut back from five days per week to three. No employees will be laid off, but the paper’s offices will be closed and everyone will work from home. Perhaps this is precisely what Jeff Jarvis has in mind.

The New York Times is quietly seeking a buyer for its Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press Democrat,” said the anonymous message that landed in our inbox. Now you know as much as we do.

And finally…

As we enter the last two weeks of summer and news all but grinds to a halt, bloggers are turning to the offbeat and bizarre. Former Baltimore Sun copy chief John McIntyre reviews a third and expanded edition of “The F Word (Oxford University Press, 270 pages, $11.53 on Amazon), a book that is all about, well, the “F word.” Author Jesse Sheidlower apparently scoured 500 years of English literature to trace the evolution of everyone’s favorite expletive from its mid-15th century origins on the European continent to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. In the course of his research, Mr. Sheidlower “read an astonishing amount of Victorian pornography,” McIntyre concludes. We can’t wait till Google gets around to putting it all on line.

We’ve been reading with some dismay recently that the US no longer ranks in the top 25 countries on high school achievement test scores. We don’t want to believe that, but then we see videos like this monologue by a resident of Santa Cruz, Calif. testifying before the city Council last year about, we think, vegetables. It speaks for itself.  (Via Free From Editors.)

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 5, 2009 - 11:42 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Solutions

Sprengelmeyer“If you look very closely, the small-town newspaper’s business model does and always has resembled a miniature version of the direction the big-city papers will eventually reach.”

That’s one of several gems in this splendidly written essay by ME Sprengelmeyer (right), a former Washington correspondent for the Rocky Mountain News and now the proud publisher and editor of the Guadalupe County Communicator, “the sixth-smallest weekly in the 36th most populous state.”

Writing on the blog of John Temple, former editor and publisher of the Rocky, Sprengelmeyer explains how his 18-month track across the US chasing the presidential candidates had the secondary objective of helping him find a new home in small-town journalism.

What he found was a century-old model that looks much like the future of big market dailies. ” They have tiny staffs – only what the day-to-day cash flow can sustain. They aren’t afraid of reader-generated content. They outsource many functions, such as printing and distribution…they keep their communities addicted to the print product because they…do not give away a whole lot of material for free.”

Most don’t make much money — in fact, some lose money — but that’s usually because they aren’t particularly well run. Big media organizations don’t bother with small markets and even if they cared, the cost of opening bureaus in thousands of small towns would cripple them.

Sprengelmeyerwrites about the “caravan of great journalists” who showed up to help him relaunch his paper. They spent the weekend strategizing, mapping the local area and redesigning the product. Then they left. “I cried some more,” Sprengelmeyer writes, “because then I was alone again, facing my first week on the job with the scariest boss in the world: myself.”

The account is an inspiring story of personal discovery and reinvention. It may make you cry, too.

The Times Regrets All the Errors

The New York Times published a jaw-dropping correction from its July 17 “appraisal” of Walter Cronkite’s career. Among the eight errors in the story where Wikipediable factoids such as the date of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Ombudsman Clark Hoyt files an explanation with this blunt assessment: “A television critic with a history of errors wrote hastily and failed to double-check her work…editors who should have been vigilant were not.” The critic, Alessandra Stanley, is apparently much admired for her intellectual coverage of television, but is so careless with facts that in 2005, “she was assigned a single copy editor responsible for checking her facts.” Those were the days…

According to Columbia Journalism Review, Stanley’s latest miscues have vaulted her into the top five most corrected journalists on the Times staff again and guaranteed her more special attention. Hoyt’s play-by-play is a fascinating glimpse into the operations of a journalistic institution and the mishaps that can bedevil even the most rigorous quality process.

It’s also a commentary upon editors’ willingness to overlook screw-ups because of perceived countervailing virtues. Be sure to read Mark Potts’ remarks upon the Times incident, in which he relates a few war stories of careless reporters he’s known. “I edited a reporter who had little or no concept of how to use commas; another who would submit long stories with gaps labeled ‘insert transitions here;’ and a third who infamously spelled a type of citrus fruit as ‘greatfruit,’” he writes. His account will make you alternately laugh and groan.

Daylife Draws Big-Media Attention

The New York Observer profiles Daylife, a startup that is partnering with media companies — and increasingly with commercial clients — to build cells of thematic content. With a small staff of 26, the New York City-based venture has already signed up the Washington Post, NPR and USA Today as clients. It takes a different approach to reporting the news. Editors are skilled not only at identifying important stories but also assembling webpages on the fly that combine all sorts of widgetized information.

The big difference between the Daylife approach and that of conventional media, explains founder Upendra Shardanand, is that Daylife assumes that news is a living and evolving organism, not a shrink-wrapped package. Investors include the odd pairing of The New York Times and Craig Newmark, whose Craigslist is considered the great Satan by many in the newspaper industry. Headlined “The Aggregator That Newspapers Like,” the story merits at least a quick read from publishers seeking reinvention, because these guys are doing something right.


Newspaper websites attracted more than 70 million visitors in June, who collectively spent 2.7 billion minutes browsing 3.5 billion pages, according to the Newspaper Association of America (NAA).  The figures are part of a new measurement methodology developed by Nielsen that measures a larger sample size and reports more granular information, according to an NAA press release.

The trade group has been on a campaign recently to stress the value of newspaper advertising.  It released a report last month showing that six in 10 US adults use newspapers to help make purchase decisions and that newspaper ads are more valuable than ads in any other medium.

The NAA’s timing may not be so great. Online ad spending declined 5% in the second quarter and the situation isn’t expected to improve much until the middle of next year, according to two reports released today. In the US, the rate of decline was 7%, or slightly above the global average. Classified ads fell 17% and display ads were down 12%. A J.P. Morgan report issued this morning said that search advertising, which has been one of the few bright spots in the market over the last year, dropped 2% in the second quarter, mainly due to poor results at Yahoo and AOL. Results were also dragged down by a 31% decline in ad sales at

Google has quietly quadrupled the number of articles in its News Archive Search service. The oldest newspaper digitized to date is this June 2, 1753 edition of the Halifax Gazette. Google hopes to make money by selling targeted advertising against the archives, a market that has traditionally been the source of some revenue for publishers themselves.


Two groups of former Los Angeles Times journalists have organized themselves into contract editorial groups selling journalism and photography. They’re called the Journalism Shop and Pro Photography Network.

The Boston Globe is said to be considering an option to become a nonprofit organization as a way to bail itself out of its current financial woes. Columnist Howie Carr of the rival Herald pens this vicious satire of the idea, calling his crosstown rivals “the bowtied bumkissers.” If you’re a disciple of editorial savagery, there is no more skilled practitioner than Carr.

The Fresno Bee will begin charging 29 cents a week for its TV supplement.

If you like the Amazon Kindle, you’re going to want to keep an eye on a new product from Britain’s Plastic Logic, which is due to launch early next year. The razor-thin reader will reportedly sell for around $300 and will have a flexible screen that makes it easy to carry. It’s also larger than the Kindle, which should warm the hearts of newspaper executives who don’t want to give up their broadsheet format. Here’s a video:

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 20, 2009 - 9:27 am - Posted in Google
We’re in Los Angeles this week working with a group of newspaper editors and sales professionals on ideas for new media ventures. For a presentation on rapid-fire decision-making and the virtues of failure, we put together a short collage of some great videos from Fail Blog, a site that celebrates the mediocre and the unexpected. We hope you enjoy it! (4:20)
This week’s meeting looks at ways to apply social media to build audience and revenue. You can follow the very active Twitter account at hash tag #KDMCLEADER or subscribe to the feed in your RSS reader.

Comments Off on Failure Can Be Funny
By paulgillin | July 3, 2009 - 9:52 am - Posted in Facebook, Google, Hyper-local, Paywalls, Solutions

NewsmixerTime magazine writes about the first crop of graduates from a new master’s program at the Medill School of Journalism that aims to blend programming and journalism skills. Medill is the most prominent of several academic institutions that are dabbling with crossover programs that seek to make the news more accessible and multi-dimensional through technology. One outcome of the students’ labors has been NewsMixer (right), a site that enhances the reader commenting experience by enabling contributors to start discussions, post quick tweet-like messages or write thoughtful letters to the editor about stories or elements within stories. The text is annotated with these comments and questions and Facebook Connect integration takes the conversations to other venues.

Most of the students in the Medill program are techies. They spend three quarters learning the craft of traditional reporting and then team up with students from the traditional journalism side to develop an application that delivers information in a new way, enhances the reader experience or makes journalists more productive.

Speaking of new ways of presenting news, a group of senators began working on a bill to overhaul of the US health care system this week, but NPR turned the camera around on the swarm of lobbyists who filled the hearing room. The radio network published photos of the scene, annotated with information about the lobbyists pictured there. And it’s asking readers to contribute information about people the staffers couldn’t identify.

Also, take a look at Newsy, an online video site that aggregates perspectives on important stories. Jessi Stafford, a recent University of Missouri graduate and Newsy intern, told us about it. “ creates videos that analyze and synthesize news coverage of important global issues from multiple sources. Its method of presenting the ways in which different media outlets around the world are covering a story lends itself well to understanding complexities.” Newsy aggregates coverage from all kinds of news outlets and presents it in a packaged video format similar to what you might see on the evening news. A newsy “anchor” guides the viewer through a variety of perspectives and attempts to explain what’s going on using these multiple sources. We’re not sure it’s easier to follow than a print digest, but it’s certainly different. See an example below.

You Are What You Tweet

The Australian media watchdog site New Matilda comments upon the ethical dilemmas presented by Twitter. It tells the story of Sydney Morning Herald technology writer Asher Moses, who was publicly embarrassed recently over comments he made about a sex scandal involving a prominent former rugby star. Moses’ comments were made during his off hours, but hasn’t stopped many Australians from questioning the journalist’s impartiality.

Julie Posetti wonders whether Twitter’s humanizing capacity is a blessing or a curse for journalists. Twitter “merges the professional and the personal, the public and the private — blurring the lines of engagement for journalists trained to be didactic observers and commentators rather than participants in debates and characters within stories,” she writes. Twitter makes journalists more accessible and thus more appealing, Posetti notes, but should people who are supposed to be rigidly unbiased be allowed to share their views on anything? Moses says he’s made up his mind. “He’s now decided to restrict his Tweeting to purely work-related messages.” BTW, it’s worth checking out Posetti’s Top 20 Tips for Journo Twits.


Small and mid-sized newspapers may be a bargain in the current market, according to a study by brokerage firm Cribb, Greene & Associates. Despite the fact that smaller papers haven’t suffered the steep losses of their big-city brethren, many publishers are putting them up for sale out of fear of losing further asset value. Asking prices are between four and eight times earnings before income tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), compared to 10 to 14 times EBITDA a few years ago, the firm said. This is despite the fact that revenue declines at these papers have been only about half that of major metro dailies.

At least two potential buyers for the Boston Globe have emerged, and owner New York Times Co. is doing everything it can to welcome them. Former advertising executive Jack Connors and private equity investor Stephen Pagliuca have received permission to team up on a bid. There is also reportedly a rival bid by former Globe executive Stephen Taylor, whose family originally sold the paper to the Times Co. for $1.1 billion in 1993. The Times Co. sweetened the pot by announcing that buyers would only have to assume $51 million worth of pension obligations for the Globe and another $8 million for the Worcester Telegram instead of the full $200 million+ for which the current owners are liable. In an unrelated event, the paper’s editorial page editor, Renée Loth, announced she is leaving the paper after 24 years for unspecified new adventures.

john_arthurCirculation at the Los Angeles Times passed one million in 1961. Last month it passed one million again – only headed the other way. Edward Padgett remembers. Meanwhile, the revolving door continues in the top editorial ranks: John Arthur (left) is out as executive editor after 23 years at the paper. A memo from Editor Russ Stanton makes it clear that the decision wasn’t Arthur’s.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says media companies should stop waiting for the market to bounce back because it isn’t going to bounce back. In the future, “All content consumed will be digital, we can [only] debate if that may be in one, two, five or 10 years,” he told the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, where he was named media person of the year. What’s more, advertising will continue to migrate online, leaving a smaller pie for traditional media companies to share.

Gannett Co. will lay off 1,400 people, not the 4,500 that was rumored. Still, that brings to 5,400 the total layoffs in the past year, which is about 12% of the company’s workforce. Gannett Blog is tracking the reductions, both announced and unannounced, from reports submitted by employees at local Gannett offices. As of this morning, the count is up to 205.

economist-coverMagazine publishers might want to catch the next flight to London to find out what the heck they’re doing right at The Economist Group. The publisher of The Economist just reported a 26% jump in profit on a 17% increase in sales in the first quarter. Circulation grew 6.4% to nearly 1.4 million while ad revenue leapt 29% and page views climbed 53%. Don’t these people know the media is dying? Interestingly, The Economist enjoys a much hipper image in the US than it does in its native land. In fact, the company just launched a new video ad that portrays a young man walking on high wires across a European city, seeking to highlight its appeal to young readers.  The average Economist reader in the US is 39 years old. In the UK, where the magazine has a more serious image, the average if 47.

Quebec’s second-largest newspaper is killing its Sunday edition. The publisher of La Presse said it made more sense to discontinue the unprofitable Sunday edition than to “pick away at all or four editions.” Sunday papers apparently aren’t very profitable in Quebec, in contrast to the US, where they are sometimes the only profitable issue. If anyone from Canada cares to comment on why this is the case, we’re sure US readers would be interested to know.

And Finally…

CrashBonsaiJohn Rooney is one weird dude. Or at least he has a unique hobby. Not content to grow bonsai trees like everyone else, Rooney wraps miniature crashed cars around them. “Each model is unique, and individually disassembled, cut, melted, filed, smashed, then reassembled to replicate a real fender bender. Some models might work perfectly with a bonsai you already have, but generally you should expect to create a new bonsai around the vehicles.” Rooney’s work is available in some Boston-area stores and you can sample some of his finer pieces at this web gallery.

By paulgillin | May 19, 2009 - 8:04 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local, Solutions
David Geffen

David Geffen

Will The New York Times Co. go under?  Don’t bet on it, says Fortune magazine.  Sure, the Times has significant business challenges, and it’s actively looking for ideas to rescue its business, but there is no shortage of investor interest in the Old Gray Lady. Hollywood mogul David Geffen reportedly made an unsuccessful play to buy the 19% stake in the Times held by hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners recently, Fortune says. Google also seriously considered investing in the Times before deciding against the move.  Meanwhile, the controlling Sulzberger family publicly says they’re not interested in selling.

The Times has a lot of problems on the business end, but its brand equity is the envy of the industry.  The problem is, at current run rates, the company will be insolvent in two years.  Rather than going under, it’s more likely that the Times will be picked up by one or more wealthy investors who are already knocking at the door or will radically change its business model.

Newsweek reports that Geffen’s overture was made with the intention of converting the Times to a nonprofit institution under a structure similar to that created by the late Nelson Poynter, whose nonprofit Poynter Institute runs the St. Petersburg Times.  That paper has suffered along with everyone else, but its nonprofit status gives it some wiggle room to absorb losses, and it’s increasingly attracting attention for the quality of its work, including two Pulitzer prizes last month.

Inside the Times, there’s a working group studying the options for radical transformation.  If all options are indeed on the table, then the Times could be looking at a much smaller and more focused editorial model. Thomson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer got some attention last month by suggesting that the Times could get by with a staff of as few as 60 reporters by cutting back on nonessential coverage and partnering for the rest.  That idea isn’t likely to be popular at a paper known for its vast resources, but the Times could set a standard for the industry by reshaping its self around a partnership model.

Baltimore Sun: Retooling or Shutting Down?

The Politico writes of the “Dark Day at Baltimore Sun in a piece that reads like an epitaph. The Sun‘s newsroom staff has been cut back from a high of 420 people to just 140. The paper recently closed its bureau covering Annapolis, the state capitol. Two columnists recently sent to cover an Orioles game were laid off before the ninth inning. Coverage of Washington has been outsourced to pool reporters from parent Tribune Co.

Executives say it’s all part of the process of retooling the Sun into an Internet-ready machine. “”If you’re looking to transform yourself, you really better stop looking at yourself as a newspaper company rather than as a digital media company,” says Monty Cook, the paper’s new editor. He said the Sun continues to devote itself to “watchdog journalism,” but admits that “the days of the six-part series are gone.” That’s probably true. The investigative team at the paper, which once numbered four reporters, is down to one person.

Editors See Brighter Future

The Associated Press Managing Editors survey finds a wellspring of optimism about the likelihood that newspapers will return to profitability. Just 17% of the editors surveyed said they believed the industry would go extinct while 60% said they’ll be profitable again. However, respondents overwhelmingly said they are having a harder time delivering quality information to their readers, which is not surprising giving the nearly 20,000 job cuts in the industry over the last 18 months.

Editors continue to be caught in a cost-cutting cycle that limits their ability to think outside the box. Fifty-seven percent said they didn’t have enough money to innovate and 31% said their people don’t have the skills to change with the times. Nearly 40% said they are devoting more space to “hyper-local” news, which is surprisingly low given the trends in reader news consumption. Nearly three in four said they’re sticking it out because they believe in “the mission of journalism.”

Most chilling quote: “”Our newspaper’s biggest revenue source today is foreclosure notices,” said Clifford Buchan, editor of the Minnesota-based weekly Forest Lake Times.


Investor John W. Rogers Jr. says it’s time to buy Gannett Co. Yes, media stocks are beaten down, says Rogers, who’s chairman and CEO of Chicago-based Ariel Investments, but “when a company with strong franchises like Gannett sells for one times trailing earnings and three times expected 2010 earnings, I step up and swing.” Rogers says newspaper companies are highly vulnerable to trends in cyclical markets like automobiles and real estate.  Once those sectors recover, though, growth should return.

It isn’t over yet for the Tucson Citizen.  A federal judge is expected to rule today on whether the Citizen, which formally closed down on Saturday, must resume publication. Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard argued that Gannett Co. and Lee Enterprises violated antitrust laws by closing down the weaker of the two players in a joint operating agreement between the Citizen and the Arizona Daily Star in order to wring more money out of the surviving property.  A core shutdown staff of eight people remains at the Citizen, and it’s unclear how many staffers could be recalled to restart the paper if the judge so orders.

The Ann Arbor News will publish its last issue on July 23.  The paper announced plans to shut down back in March, but we didn’t know a precise date until now. An online version will continue to pump out news 24X7.

At least 14 news ombudsmen have lost their jobs in the past year, writes Andrew Alexander, who holds that title at the Washington Post.  Among the reasons: ombudsmen are considered less essential to the editorial function than reporters and a new crop of bloggers is now filling some of the watchdog role.  However, ombudsmen may be more important than ever, Alexander writes, noting that he is on track to receive more than 50,000 reader messages this year. “They want an informed judgment from a professional journalist who has been empowered by management to directly confront reporters and editors with unpleasant questions.” Kevin Klose, the new dean of the J-school at the University of Maryland, has suggested that a consortium approach could provide the same reader-advocacy function for less money.

By paulgillin | May 15, 2009 - 7:16 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local, Solutions

ed_mossIf the new owners of the San Diego Union-Tribune are planning to reinvent the news operation, they made a surprising choice in appointing Ed Moss (right), a 32-year newspaper veteran, to lead the charge. Moss was most recently president and CEO of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group and publisher of the Daily News of Los Angeles, as well as eight other titles. He’s is known for his ability to focus on local communities, so it could be that owner Platinum Equity is taking “hyper-local” to heart.

“I’m all about local, local, local – local news, local advertising,” Moss told the U-T. “That’s our niche. The way to differentiate ourselves is to be as local across the company as we can.”

Moss is an advertising guy. He’s been a publisher at papers in California, Ohio, Michigan and Louisiana and also held several advertising sales positions. He told the U-T that there is an unlocked opportunity in sales to local advertisers and that he would move aggressively to capture that business.

“I like to move very, very quickly,” he said. “And I like to build a culture that believes you have to move quickly.”The piece quotes past colleagues saying Moss is a nice guy, a visionary and a great leader. One of his prior bosses is David Black, who’s advising Platinum on the U-T’‘s makeover.

Lessons From the NY Newspaper Strike

nycIf the past is any clue to the future, then the New York newspaper strike of 1962-63 may offer a glimpse of what a nation without daily newspapers would look like. Slate’s Jack Shafer has a wonderful account of what a news-starved city did when the strike crippled all of its newspapers for nearly four months.

In short: it improvised. Non-unionized dailies in the boroughs saw circulation explode. The Philadelphia Inquirer imported thousands of daily copies. Radio and TV stations began reporting real news instead of just parroting what the dailies said. The Village Voice exploded out of anonymity to become the flagship of alternative weeklies. Tom Wolfe sought freelance income by writing an article for Esquire that would launch his book-writing career. Shafer cites example after example of what a population that had been accustomed to consuming 5.7 million newspapers a day did when it suddenly had none. They made do. And the world went on.

Which is what will happen when major metro dailies begin to close or scale back: Alternatives will rush in to fill the void. People will get their news elsewhere, and what they can’t get will be delivered by entrepreneurs who figure out a way to deliver it at a profit. Destruction is an ugly thing, but it’s usually a necessary precursor to reinvention. Shafer shrewdly notes, “The least reliable source for what the end of newspapers means is usually the newspaper men, who are too stuck in their roles to reimagine the world.” Once you shed assumptions, then possibilities open up.


With 39 more layoffs last week, the San Francisco Chronicle has brought its staff reduction total to 151 since March, or about where ownership said it had to be to achieve short-term equilibrium. The cost-cutting is unlikely to end there, though. According to the San Francisco Business Times, “the Chronicle will rely increasingly on freelancers and non-staff unpaid or poorly paid bloggers to fill the paper, in many cases using former staffers.” With so many laid-off journos on the street, what’s happening to the per-word rate you’ve been able to get? Comment below.

Online strategist Matt Maggard posts a lengthy proscription for change at the Los Angeles Times. He’s even redesigned the home page of the website for them. Maggard calls his essay “an open proposal. This includes a summary of value in the digital marketplace, how the Times can improve its product and how journalism should evolve its practices and business models to survive. I’m sending this around as an open proposal to help jump-start the discussion on what can be done to save the industry.” We didn’t find a lot of revolutionary thinking in the proposal, but its recommendations seem sound enough.

The state of Washington is shifting some of the burden of propping up a dying industry onto the taxpayers, approving a 40 percent cut in the state’s main business tax for publishers and printers. What’s next, rebates for the recording industry? The Seattle Times‘ 95-word news bite on the subject inspires more than 220 comments, indicating that the recession-plagued populace might feel just a wee bit strongly about this lobbyist-inspired giveback.

For newspaper publishers who whine that Google is an Internet parasite, Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker offers a brief tutorial in the workings of the robots.txt file, which enables publishers to easily block the company’s search spider whenever they want.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers has published a 56-page report called “Outlook for newspaper publishing in the digital age.” Our day job hasn’t permitted us to consume the entire document yet, but based upon this PWC summary, we probably won’t bother. The bottom line appears to be conventional wisdom that the print model is troubled, the future is in multiple media and the revenue mix has to shift away from a sole reliance on advertising. We suspect PriceWaterhouseCoopers will be more than happy to help publishers make the shift.

And Finally…

Ryan Pagelowis a reporter at the Lake County News-Sun in Waukegan, Ill. a contributor to Mad magazine (talk about a venerable print title) and a recipient of the Charles Schulz National College Cartoonist Award. He also pens a clever daily comic called Pressed, which he describes as “a behind-the-scenes look at a newsroom that’s trying to survive in an online world of tweeting blogospheres. It features a frazzled editor, reporters, a blogger and an assortment of politicians, weasels and snitches.” Check this out. It’s good.


Comments Off on News Veteran to Lead Union-Tribune
By paulgillin | May 13, 2009 - 9:46 pm - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local, Solutions

Exuberance over the new Amazon Kindle as a potential salve for the news industry’s pain is beginning to fade as analysts dissect the financial realities. Amazon created a stir last week by introducing a large-screen version of the electronic book that does a decent job of rendering the familiar look and feel of a printed newspaper. It also announced that The New York Times, the Washington Post and others have signed up to deliver their content for a real live subscription fee. Hallelujah! Readers paying for the news!

Buried in the excitement were the terms that Amazon is demanding its news partners accept in order to join the parade: Amazon gets to keep 70% of the subscription fees. This is a huge strategic mistake that Amazon should address toute de suite.

Critics are already taking apart the strategy. Writing on Columbia Journalism Review, Ryan Chittum runs the numbers. “So of the $14 a month a reader pays for a The New York Times, say, the Times itself actually gets about $4.20. The rest goes to Amazon and to the wireless carrier that transmits the data.” He figures that if every one of the Times‘ subscribers signed up for a Kindle stream at $14/month, the revenue would barely cover the cost of the paper’s newsroom operations. And that’s assuming the Times kept all the money; in reality, it keeps only 30%

Amazon has a historic opportunity. Lacking serious competition, Kindle could own the market for electronic newspaper delivery over the next couple of years. Amazon should be making it a no-brainer for every news organization in the world to deliver content over its device. Instead of taking 70% of the subscription fees, it should be giving 90% of those fees to the publishers in a land-grab bid for market share. Alas, it’s trying to make a few quick bucks up front on a group that can’t afford to pay, and it’s mortgaging its long-term franchise in the process. It’s very un-Amazon-like to think so tactically. There’s still time to undo the damage and let’s hope it does so.

Writer Stephen Silver says the Kindle suffers from a more basic problem: it’s newspaper interface sucks “It’s slow, hard to navigate and in no way preferable to the newspaper interfaces on any smart phone, much less the Web,” he writes on North Star Writers Group. “Hell, the Times application on the BlackBerry my dad had five years ago was better-looking and easier to use than the Kindle’s version is now.”

Manifesto for Reinvention

As he does so often, Mark Potts hits the nail on the head with an essay on the lack of a magic bullet for suffering publishers. Kicking off with a short swipe at the Kindle-as-messiah craze, Potts digs in to the real problems publishers have to address: they’re too broad, too inwardly focused, and too addicted to traditional advertising models.

Potts runs down a list of changes publishers need to make in order to survive in an atomized information world. There’s nothing on his list that hasn’t been suggested before, but the summary brings a common-sense rationality to the debate. This is like a checklist for survival.

We are swimming in information, he notes. So why not aggregate what’s already out there instead of spending money on reporters to generate more information? Sounds good to us. The market for local advertising is estimated to be $25 billion annually. No one has figured out how to unlock it. Metro daily newspapers are in the best position to do that. So why are they still chasing national display advertising accounts?  This piece is like a short manifesto for reinvention that publishers should frame and hang on their walls.


The publisher of the Utica Observer-Dispatch was probably just trying to be folksy in devoting her column to the most common complaints readers have about their newspapers, but she inadvertently ends up make an argument for why print is dying so quickly. Five days to get a letter to the editor published is actually pretty good, says Donna Donovan. “If there’s a lag in your letter getting in, it might be because we couldn’t reach you to verify it, or we have a backlog.” Five days??

Now that it has a monopoly in Denver, MediaNews Group is going to start charging readers for some content. Readers won’t pay by the article, but will get a vague set of bundled services that includes fees for content. Exactly what those services will be hasn’t been specified. The whole plan sounds pretty vague at this point.

Someone has bid $13,000 for a non-paying internship at Huffington Post, the website often cited as a next-generation news publication. And the bidding doesn’t end for another two weeks. Proceeds go to charity. Believe us, it’s a lot cheaper to start a blog.