By paulgillin | January 21, 2009 - 9:10 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Solutions

Google CEO Eric Schmidt has been one of the most vocal supporters of newspaper among the ranks of the digerati, so it must hurt him to pull the plug on Google Print Ads. When it launched the program two years ago, Google hoped Print Ads would not only be a revenue stream but also a sincere effort to bridge the print/online gap and inject new life into newspapers’ traditional business. Unfortunately, “It is clear that the current Print Ads product is not the right solution,” wrote Spencer Spinnell, Director of Google Print Ads, in a blog entry, “so we are freeing up those resources to try to come up with new and innovative online solutions that will have a meaningful impact for users, advertisers and publishers.”

Print Ads was a variation of Google’s ad brokering system that enabled advertisers to bid on space in member newspapers. Google eventually amassed over 800 newspaper partners. The program differed from a bigger initiative by Yahoo because Google targeted print advertising directly. Yahoo’s newspaper partnerships are strictly online. Spinnell’s announcement was tinged with regret. “We believe fair and accurate journalism and timely news are critical ingredients to a healthy democracy,” he wrote. “We remain dedicated to working with publishers to develop new ways for them to earn money.”

Will Slim Bid for Times Co.?

carlos_slimNow that Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim has loaned The New York Times Co. $250 million to meet its debt obligations, speculation is focusing on his motivations.  With a personal fortune estimated at more than $60 billion, Slim is one of the world’s richest men. Buying the Times Co. would add a new chapter in his storied career investing in telecommunications, retailing, construction, banking, insurance, railroads and mining. Unlike Sam Zell, Slim could finance the Times Co. with pocket change, meaning he could own one of the world’s greatest media brands without the overhead of having to meet onerous financial terms. Alan Mutter suggests that Slim could parlay his investment into an outright takeover, something no other investor has been able to attempt because of the Ochs Sulzberger family’s tight control of the company. He notes that the comparatively shallow-pocketed Rupert Murdoch bought Dow Jones for a much higher price. “If Murdoch could swing $5 billion for Dow Jones with only $8 billion in personal net worth, then imagine how much Slim could afford to pay for a trophy like NYT,” Mutter writes.

Journalism’s Distant Mirror

new_yorker_illustrationWriting in The New Yorker, Jill Lepore reminds us that newspapers have been declared dead before. Her historical account begins in 1765 and takes us through the crucial role that newspapers played in colonial America by fanning public outrage against British – and later American – rule. The Stamp Act, passed by Parliament that year, was widely thought to be the death of newspapers, since it affixed a tax to every page printers produced. But resourceful publishers persevered, even moving their presses by boat under the cloak of night to evade government enforcers.

Lepore notes that the concept of an impartial press is a relatively recent invention. “Because early newspapers tended to take aim at people in power, they were sometimes called ‘paper bullets,'” she writes. “Standards of journalistic objectivity date to the nineteenth century. Before then, the whole point was to have a point of view.” In fact, Benjamin Franklin, who could be considered the father of the American newspaper, didn’t see his role as being “to find out facts. It was to publish a sufficient range of opinion.” In that form, “Early American newspapers tend to look like one long and uninterrupted invective.”

This oppositional role didn’t just roil the British authorities. John Adams signed into law the Sedition Act in 1798, making it a crime to defame his administration. “Adams had come to consider printers a scourge,” Lepore writes. Adams’ successor, Thomas Jefferson, was an ardent supporter of a free press, but by the beginning of his second term, even Jefferson admitted to having thought about prosecuting some publishers.

While not framing the point explicitly, Lepore makes the case that partisan journalism of the kind practiced by bloggers isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Truth may be the casualty of unbridled opinion, but that was also the case in the 18th century, when even Sam Adams occasionally made up stories to dramatize British cruelty. The fact that some newspapers published untruths didn’t make them any less vital to the establishment of a fledgling democracy. “Without partisan and even scurrilous printers pushing the limits of a free press in the seventeen-nineties, [author] Marcus Daniel argues, the legitimacy of a loyal opposition never would have been established and the new nation, with its vigorous and democratizing political culture, might never have found its feet.”

We feel compelled to note again that Newspaper Death Watch is cited in the article’s opening paragraph, although we differ with the author’s characterization of our tone as gleeful. We prefer to think of it as bemused.

Miscellany

The LA Times is girding for more layoffs. Russ Newton, the Times‘ senior vice president of production, sent a letter to the Teamsters union, which shared it with its members. “The Los Angeles Times has decided to take steps to further reduce its cost including, but not limited to, layoffs,” Newton writes. “[T]he Company intends to implement the cutbacks no later than March 15th, 2009.”


Romenesko reports that Gannett newspaper boss Bob Dickey’s decision to fly from Virginia to Arizona to announce plans to sell the Tucson Citizen wasn’t entirely altruistic. In fact, Arizona appears to have been just a waypoint on a trip further west. Dickey is in Palm Beach, Calif. this week for the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic golf tournament.


tribune_to_goEditor & Publisher‘s Mark Fitzgerald reviews the redesigned Chicago Tribune and pronounces it a “home run.” With its clean look, lack of jumps and liberal use of info graphics, the “to-go” edition of the Trib, which will only be sold on newsstands, “eloquently makes the argument that it’s time America’s big-city dailies seriously consider converting to a compact format,” Fitzgerald writes. The question is when the Tribune will simplify things and make the tabloid edition available to home subscribers, too.


Lee Enterprises reported a 69.3% decline in first-quarter profits as revenues dropped 13%. The company said it is further cutting costs and will ask shareholders to authorize a reverse stock split to comply with the minimum bid price requirement of the New York Stock Exchange listing standards, if necessary. In an unrelated move, the publisher of the Lee-owned Wisconsin State Journal and Madison Capital Times said it will cut 12 positions, mostly in editorial.


The World Association of Newspapers will postpone its annual congress because of the global economic crisis. The meeting was set to take place in Hyderabad, India in March, but only 250 delegates have signed up so far. That’s well below the 1,500 who usually attend.


Last summer we told you about Neighborsgo.com, a spinoff of the Dallas Morning News that uses a social network to anchor a community journalism initiative. Apparently it’s working. Editor & Publisher reports that Neighborsgo is being expanded to cover 47 neighborhoods, with each section featuring headlines, local restaurants, gas prices, education resources and crime news.


Media malaise continues to spread beyond the newspaper industry. Warner Bros. Entertainment is cutting its global workforce by 10% by laying off 600 people and leaving 200 vacant positions unfilled. Clear Channel Communications, which is another diversified media company, announced plans to idle 1,850 workers last week.


Hearst Corp. has officially notified employees of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that they will all lose their jobs if no one buys the newspaper. This may have seemed obvious following last week’s announcement that the paper will be shuttered if a buyer isn’t found, but Hearst had to send a letter as a formality. A few people might be offered jobs at SeattlePI.com if the publisher elects to keep the website alive.


And Finally…

Here’s one to satisfy your inner voyeur. Nicholas White was trapped in an elevator in New York City’s McGraw-Hill building for 41 hours. It was a lonely ordeal, but White unknowingly had a security camera to keep him company. His plight is documented in a time-lapse video that condenses 41 hours to just a few minutes set to mournful music.

By paulgillin | November 12, 2008 - 7:33 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Paywalls

As newspapers begin to wind down their print operations, many will take the same course as the East Valley Tribune of suburban Phoenix. Faced with steadily dwindling circulation and a cost structure that doesn’t scale proportionately, the 100,000-circulation daily has scaled back its print schedule to two four days per week. That makes it the largest daily to swallow that pill. The Christian Science Monitor all but abandoned the print market two weeks ago and a few smaller dailies have trimmed Monday or Saturday editions to save money.

The Tribune signaled this move in October, when it laid off 40% of its staff and shifted to a free distribution model. BusinessWeek notes that Wisconsin’s Capital Times took a similar approach last spring, cutting its print schedule from six to two days and abandoning paid circulation in favor of free distribution. The Capital Times had only 16,500 paid subscribers at the time, but that number has increased to 85,000 since the shift was made. Of course, circulation statistics for a non-qualified free publication are practically meaningless, but the number looks good.

Other papers are likely to follow this path. Print isn’t necessarily a bad business, but daily print is becoming a terrible one. Most major metro dailies make the majority of their profit on Thursday and Sunday editions while losing money on Monday, Tuesday and Saturday. It makes sense to start cutting where the revenues are lowest.

Circulation is also a dicey business. While paid circ is marginally profitable for many papers, that isn’t always the case. As the economy deteriorates, it’s going to become more difficult to convince people to pay for information they can get on their computers for free. Advertisers like paid circ, but they’re also learning to accept that the new generation of readers doesn’t expect to pay for information. As the Web has monetized eyeballs, the perceived value of paid circulation has declined.

While the industry debates the question of how to transition newspapers to a viable economic model for the future, papers like the Monitor and the Tribune are blazing a trail that many will probably follow. The cutbacks may be painful, but the brand survives and print continues to play a role in the business, although a reduced one.

Perhaps the newspaper executives who are meeting behind closed doors in Reston, Va. this week will bandy about this idea. Or perhaps not. Jeff Jarvis nails it with this commentary on the hush-hush affair: “These are the very same proprietors of the newspaper industry’s decline. What they need is not the same old executives but new people with new ideas,” he opines. If Jarvis was running the event, “I’d fly in people from Google and a bunch of successful tech companies as well as innovators and entrepreneurs in news and let them do all the talking.” Not a bad idea. Read the comments on his post.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that the Tribune had scaled back frequency to twice a week. It actually cut back to four days a week. The Orange County Register has more.

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By paulgillin | April 28, 2008 - 5:23 am - Posted in Paywalls

How successfully are newspapers making the jump to the Web? It depends on whom you believe. A lot of research is trying to make sense out of people’s online reading habits as they relate to newspaper brands, and the numbers are inconclusive.

The monthly Audit Bureau of Circulation figures are due today, and the news is not expected to be good. Editor & Publisher got the drop on the figures and says that for the six months ending in March, daily circ was off 3.5% and Sunday was down 4.5%. The ABC has started tracking online readership for the first time, but it’s too soon to compare numbers. E&P did cite research by Scarborough Research that showed that combined print/online reach of major dailies is slowly declining.

“When comparing 20 papers, only two — The Atlanta Journal Constitution and The Oregonian in Portland — increased their integrated market reach year-over-year,” the story says. A Scarborough exec verifies, “Print [readership] is in a steady decline, and online readership is growing but the declines in print are not being offset by the increases in online readership.

The good news is that display advertising on newspaper websites is booming, according to a Media Post analysis. The bad news is that online classified advertising isn’t. That combination is leading to slowing growth in newspapers’ digital revenues.

But wait, there’s more good news. A Newspaper Association of America report, based on research commissioned by Google, finds that 30% of Internet-using newspaper readers went online to research a product they saw in a newspaper. It adds that 70% of those readers then made a purchase. The fact that the research was sponsored by Google will no doubt help make it appear more credible.

Notes

  • Reports from several sources say The New York Times will announce its first-ever editorial layoffs this week after fewer people took the paper’s buyout offer than management had hoped. Speculation is that 30 people will lose their jobs. Expect massive news coverage of this relatively small workforce reduction, mainly for its symbolic importance.
  • Speaking of the Times, the paper has a eulogy for the Capital Times, a Wisconsin afternoon institution that closed its print edition last week. The shutdown was announced in February. The Times piece has some interesting tidbits on the former popularity of afternoon dailies, which are declining faster than their morning counterparts. Afternoon papers have been hit particularly hard by online competition.
  • PBS’s Idealab has “Ten Things Journalists Should Know About Surviving In a High-Tech Industry,” including “Jobs are temporary. Friends are forever” and “Nobody has the right qualifications.” This list is right on the money. Journalists considering the shift to online media organizations need to understand that the jobs aren’t lifetime guarantees. You’re on your own, but you can learn a tremendous amount and prosper more than you would as a Guild lifer .
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By paulgillin | February 9, 2008 - 8:57 am - Posted in Fake News

Subtract Madison, Wisc. from the dwindling list of cities with more than one daily newspaper. The Capital Times, an afternoon fixture for more than 90 years, will cease daily publication in late April and move mostly online. It will continue to publish two free weekly editions.

In its announcement, the paper spun the decision as recognition of readers’ increasing preference for online news sources. However, the economic reality is that the paper’s circulation has dropped from a peak of 47,000 to just over 17,000. Despite the existence of a 60-year-old joint operating agreement with the Wisconsin State Journal, which also covered the story, the numbers weren’t working. Kristian Knutsen of Cap Times competitor Isthmus has a comprehensive reaction and analysis.

The decision “was driven by cool calculation and raw greed,” writes Bill Lueders in a column in Isthmus. The newspaper’s publisher begged to differ, saying that the move will rejuvenate the paper and make it a more vibrant voice in the medium where readers are clearly moving. About 40 jobs will be cut as a result of the shutdown of daily operations, with about 20 of them in the newsroom. However, that will still leave 40 editors and reporters.

Afternoon dailies, which were once the mainstay of newspapering, have been going under for years as Americans’ work and reading habits have changed. The decline in the Cap Times’ circulation is indicative of that trend.

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