By wpps-support | November 3, 2009 - 9:19 am - Posted in Fake News

Implicit in the hand-wringing over the death of news organizations (one guest on last week’s Hobson & Holtz Report podcast wondered if PR professionals should even bother tracking newspaper coverage any more) is the concern that good journalism will vanish from the Earth. We’ve always argued that the problem with newspapers today isn’t that they have no value, it’s that they no longer have a sustainable business model. The need for good journalism hasn’t changed but good journalism needs to find new ways to support itself.

Check out two new resources in this area. Jeff Jarvis articulates a future for journalists in an exceptionally cogent summary of his recent work with the City University of New York’s New Business Models for News project. Jarvis sees tomorrow’s journalists as entrepreneurs who create business models around selling their services to those who will pay for them.

Film_crewWe like the analogy to people who work on Hollywood movies. Studios don’t employ legions of camera operators and set designers. They hire that talent as needed for a project. Everyone comes together and works for a few months and then the team breaks up and goes on to other things. Lots of people make their livings that way. Some of them do very well. That’s the way things work in a competitive, entrepreneurial environment.

The skills that journalists will need to survive in this decentralized market are very different from the skills they need today. For one thing, young journalists won’t be expected to spend a decade toiling away for pocket change while learning at the knee of some cranky city editor. They’ll be able to make a good living much faster if they have the smarts and skills to compete.

Political skills won’t matter for much because most journalists won’t work for big organizations. Journalists will succeed or fail based upon the quality of their work and their ability to sustain mutually beneficial relationships with multiple employers. Social skills will matter more than political ones. Self-promotion will be essential. There’ll be less time spent in pointless meetings and bitching about the boss at the local bar because, well, there is no boss any more. Journalists will reclaim vast amounts of time that are now spent on organizational bullshit. They’ll spend their time making money instead of covering their asses.

Risky Business

This future is going to look scary to some people because there’s no job security or benefits. But who’s got job security anywhere these days? And benefits plans are being hacked to pieces as businesses downsize. In the future, working for an organization isn’t going to have many advantages over independence. There will still be company jobs for those who prefer them, but a lot of energetic and resourceful journalists will find that life is better on the outside. It’s amazing how productive you can be when you discard all the overhead of working in a big organization. Trust us on that. We left corporate life four years ago and have managed to produce three books and maintain two active blogs while still making a decent living.

Most journalists we’ve talked to are fine with this idea except for one thing: The thought of selling advertising terrorizes them. They have reason to be nervous. Most journalists we know would be lousy salesman (we tried it for a year and hated every minute) so it’s likely that business models will emerge to manage the business details for them. We told you about one of them – GrowthSpur – back in August, and there no doubt will be many others. As news organizations collapse and journalism opportunities disperse out to a million topical blogs and hyperlocal foundries, new ventures will spring up that aggregate opportunities and provide a variety of other services ranging from promotion to ad sales to accounting.

Read Jarvis’ essay for an optimistic perspective on the future opportunities for journalists. No one is suggesting this transition will be easy, but it will result in a market that is vastly more efficient than the one we have known. Journalism schools today should be training their students in the skills of small business management. Those that continue to preach the virtues of working one’s way up through a newsroom hierarchy are doing their students a disservice. Perhaps J-schools will evolve to become subspecialties of colleges of business. That wouldn’t be a bad thing; just different.

Thriving in the Free Economy

ChrisAndersonTo hear some new ideas about how organizations can profit from the emerging free economy, listen to this Churchill Club podcast titled The Free Economy: How Companies Make Money From Giving Things Away. The panel was moderated by Chris Anderson (left), whose new book,  Free: The Future of a Radical Price, paints a picture of economic change brought about by the availability of cheap digital distribution. Anderson hosts a panel of entrepreneurs who are making money with businesses that give away all or part of their services for nothing.

We’ve already seen some industries begin to adapt to this new model, but the panel explores some of its finer points, including the popular “fremium” services that offer a bare-bones product to anyone and charge various prices for more powerful features.

A couple of things struck us about the proceedings. One is that pricing can be dependent upon the experience the customer demands. One speaker cites the example of a rock band that gives away its music online but charge for merchandise, concert tickets and command performances. The band has even sold an opportunity to spend the weekend backstage with the group at a price of $75,000. The point is that technology can increasingly customize price to product. This requires a change in thinking for media companies, which have been accustomed to charging the same (usually low) price to everyone and making the money with advertising. In a free economy, more creativity is needed.

Another important point is that businesses can succeed even if only a very small percentage of the customers pay anything. Some panelists are doing quite well with payup rates of as little as 1%. Anderson suggests that a business could be a hit in the future with just a 10% subscription rate.

The key take-away for us was that publishers will need to be more innovative in packaging and pricing their products in the new economy. This creates another differentiation point. Even a company in a commodity business may be able to separate itself from the pack by designing unique bundles and delivery techniques. Conventional wisdom is that delivery is a differentiator, but this discussion suggests otherwise.

Other posts in this series:

The Future of Journalism, Part I

The Future of Journalism, Part II

The Future of Journalism, Part III

By wpps-support | October 27, 2009 - 7:53 am - Posted in Facebook, Paywalls

Media-watchers are interpreting yesterday’s horrifying Audit Bureau of Circulation audit numbers that show newspaper circulation falling at an accelerating rate. Alan Mutter takes calculator in hand and figures that readership is at historic lows. “Newspaper circulation now is lower than the 41.1 million papers sold in 1940, the earliest date for which records are published,” he writes. In those days about 31 percent of the population read a newspaper. Today, it’s less than 13%.

Mutter’s analysis draws quite a few comments, several of whom quibble with his math. Martin Langeveld cites figures that are even more alarming than Mutter’s: In 1940, publishers distributed 118 newspaper copies for every 100 households. Today, the equivalent number is 33 copies per 100 households, down from 53 per 100 less than a decade ago.

Writing in the Atlantic, Megan McArdle chooses a blunt headline for her analysis: “This is the End of the Newspaper Business.” In her view, publishers are now at the end of their ropes. They’ve cut all they can cut and still put out a respectable product. The industry is in a death spiral. “We’re eventually going to end up with a few national papers, [most likely] The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and The New York Times…But in 25 years, will any of them still be printing their product on the pulped up remains of dead trees? It doesn’t seem all that likely.”

McArdle’s predictions sound eerily similar to what we wrote more than three years ago in an essay entitled “How the Coming Newspaper Industry Collapse Will Reinvent Journalism.” We picked the same three dailies to survive but gave print only about 15 more years. We tried to place the essay in a few big dailies at the time but were rejected. Too implausible, the editors said.

In a release that served as a preamble to the ABC numbers, the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) provided some context for the circulation plunge. Its latest numbers reveal the impact of publishers’ recent efforts to tighten up on circulation in order to reduce churn and acquisition costs. As a result, newspapers are seeing “higher levels of subscribers retaining subscriptions, with subscriber ‘churn’ falling dramatically to 31.8 percent in 2008, compared with 54.5 percent in 2000.” Publishers are also raising single-copy rates and discounting more aggressively for subscriptions.

The NAA’s analysis is an important counterpoint to the hand-wringing that’s going on over the ABC numbers. At least part of the decline in US circulation is intentional. Publishers are cutting back on free distribution and deeply discounted promotions in an effort to make circulation a profit center. That’s good business sense, although it’s hardly a long-term strategy.


More local weeklies are closing.

  • Oklahoma’s Midwest City Sun will shut down this week after nearly three decades, idling 10 employees.
  • The Shoreline/Lake Forest Park (Wash.) Enterprise will print its last edition tomorrow and four other weeklies in the area will be combined into a single edition, appropriately named publisher Allen Funk announced. Enterprise features Andrea Miller editor puts the loss in human terms. “This leaves more than 65,000 people in north King County without a newspaper devoted solely to coverage of the communities they live in,” she wrote in a thoughtful e-mail to us. The Enterprise has be around more than 50 years and its lineage actually stretches back to 1904, she wrote in a 2007 history.

Last night was the American television debut of Stop The Presses: the American Newspaper in Peril, a 2008 film that claims to be the only documentary about the industry’s downfall. Directors Mark Birnbaum and Manny Mendoza interviewed “reporters, editors, media critics, journalism professors, students and newspaper readers to document the historic role of newspaper journalists as public watchdogs.” They also talked to many journalists like Ben Bradlee and Ken Auletta. It appears that the filmmakers are going to let their work trickle out through localized TV showings over the next year. You can buy a copy at prices ranging from $25 to $250 at AMS Pictures. Now that the vid has appeared on television, it will no doubt pop up online somewhere, but we would never point to a pirated copy. Just who do you think we are? Commenters are another story.

And Finally…

If you’re a newspaper history buff, have we got websites for you. Life just published a collection of classic photos involving newspapers under the banner of When Newspapers Mattered. It includes gems like the image below of Los Angeles gangster Mickey Cohen sitting amidst the newspaper headlines that galvanized his reputation as the kingpin of crime. Cohen and the Los Angeles media enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship, as he sold a lot of newspapers. He and William Randolph Hearst were reportedly pals.

Mickey Cohen

The Library of Congress is now also offering free access to a searchable database of dozens of daily newspapers stretching back to 1880. The service is part of National Digital Newspaper Program, a partnership between the National Endowments for the Humanities, the Library of Congress, and state projects “to provide enhanced access to United States newspapers published between 1836 and 1922.” Nearly 1.5 million pages have already been scanned. It’s unclear how exhaustively they’ve been indexed, but news buffs can view images like the front page from the San Francisco Call-Chronicle-Examiner documenting the earthquake of 1906 (below).

San Francisco Call-Chronicle-Examiner earthquake front page

By wpps-support | October 26, 2009 - 4:13 pm - Posted in Facebook, Paywalls

Circulation at major metro daily newspapers fell at more than twice the rate of last year’s record declines, although extenuating circumstances may be partly to blame.

Audit Bureau of Control (ABC) numbers released today showed that daily newspaper circulation plunged 10.6% for the six months ended Sept. 30 compared to the same period a year ago. Sunday circulation was off 7.5%. In the same period a year ago, average daily circulation fell 4.6%, while Sunday papers were down 4.9%. Only one newspaper – The Wall Street Journal – showed an increase in circulation and it was a meager .6%. It blew past USA Today to become the US leader in circulation as USA Today posted a 17% circulation decline, largely as a consequence of the loss of Marriott’s hotel-distribution business.

The New York Times was down 7.3% and its neighbor New York Post was off 18.8%. Both blamed extenuating circumstances. The Times has been pruning unprofitable circulation as it seeks to make subscription revenue a bigger piece of its top line. The Post blamed its plunge in part on an April, 2007 decision to double its newsstand price. The Post didn’t explain why it took two years for the price increase to show up in the circulation figures.

The figures may have also been impacted by recent ABC rules changes that tighten up the ability for newspapers to count bulk and sponsored copies in their total circulation. That doesn’t change the fact that this is the last news the industry needs to hear right now.

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By wpps-support | October 15, 2009 - 8:23 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Paywalls

Paid-content advocate Steven Brill (right) has been busy defending his position lately. He squares off over the pay wall issue with visionary Clay Shirky on McKinsey & Co.’s website.  Shirky says forget about charging readers for content. They’ll pay only if the information is “necessary, irreplaceable and unshareable.”  The Financial Times can get away with charging for online access because people make money from the information they find there, but few outlets have the kind of audience demographics to do the same. On the sharability point, Shirky notes that preventing paying subscribers from sending interesting information to their friends goes against the grain of the Internet, thereby subverting the pay wall by its very nature.

Brill begs to differ. The point is not to charge everyone for access, he says, but rather to charge those people who are most committed to the product and are willing to pay. So a college newspaper could ask alumni to pay for a subscription in order to subsidize free copies for the students. Brill says he basically agrees with Shirky but thinks publishers should go after subscription revenue where they can get it. He resorts to that most annoying of branding tactics by inserting that little ™ symbol whenever he mentions his own products. We at the Death Watch™ just hate that.

Brill was also at an event sponsored by the Paley Center for Media that put him up against National Public Radio CEO Vivian Schiller, iconoclast Jeff Jarvis and media consultant Shelly Palmer. The most damning quote came from Vivian Schiller, who was previously general manager of during the newspaper’s ill-fated TimesSelect experiment. The pay-walled venture “made $10 million, but I don’t think it was worth it,” she said. “Trying to force a change in audiences’ behavior is the fundamental problem I have with some of these pay wall models.”’s David Kaplan notes that despite the debate format, the panelists really weren’t that far apart on the fundamental issues. All of them believe publishers need to find new ways to monetize their audiences. It’s just that most believe that charging for content that readers can find elsewhere for free is not the way to do it.

Bloggers Need Shield Laws

Writing on Media Shift, Clothilde Le Coz says a double standard applies when it comes to shield laws for citizen journalists. She notes that 37 states have passed laws that protect journalists from prosecution for failing to reveal their sources. Now there is a bill awaiting Senate approval that proposes to implement a shield law on a national level. The problem is that the bill defines journalists as people who work for professional media organizations. Bloggers are not specifically addressed in its language, which seems a rather blatant oversight these days.

Josh_WolfLe Coz cites the 2005 case of journalist and blogger Josh Wolf, who was jailed for failing to hand over video of a clash between protesters and police during the G8 summit. Wolf spent a month in jail but was eventually released under the terms of California’s shield law. “Imagine what would have happened if Wolf wasn’t a journalist and couldn’t argue his right to protect his sources?” Le Coz writes. “He would have been forced to give up his footage and thus become an accomplice in the arrest of protesters.”

Blogger anonymity is a thorn in the side of many professional journalists, but the writer argues that it’s an essential tool for bloggers in some countries if they are to speak freely at all. Even in the US, the rise of citizen journalism as a legitimate complement to mainstream media would seem to argue for an extension of legal protection to those who happen to be on the scene when something happens and who report the details.


If you have a couple of hours to kill and want to trace the history of the Boston Globes near-death experience at the hands of owner New York Times Co., has a link list of its coverage in reverse chronological order.

USA Todays loss is The Wall Street Journal‘s gain. As the Gannett-owned week daily announced a plunge in daily circulation figures earlier this week, the Journal reported a year-over-year increase of .8%, making it the top-circulating US daily. The shift in industry leadership has more to do with accounting practices than actual leadership habits. USA Today attributed much of its circulation plunged to Marriott’s decision to stop distributing the paper free to all guests in its hotels. Meanwhile, changes in Audit Bureau of Control rules now permit the Journal to count more of its deeply discounted copies as legitimate circulation.

“We bought BusinessWeek to invest in it,” says Bloomberg Chief Content Officer Norm Pearlstine in an interview with The former Wall Street Journal and Time, Inc. executive says Bloomberg did have some reservations prior to its blockbuster acquisition of the struggling newsweekly, which was announced earlier this week, but that the financial publisher sees BusinessWeek as a tool to expand its reach into the executive suite. Bloomberg intends to invest in the magazine’s editorial staff and become a “true newsweekly,” meaning 52 issues a year and no games during slow times. Paid has a history of the BusinessWeek sale in links.

Huffington Post is doing some pretty creative stuff with customization, reports Zach Seward on the Nieman Journalism Lab. It’s writing two different headlines for some stories and showing them randomly to viewers for five minutes. After that time, the headline that generates the most clicks becomes the default. Huffington Post is also toying with the idea of regional versions of its homepage that would serve up, for example, a different menu of stories to the lunchtime crowd in New York than to people just arriving at their workplace in Los Angeles.

After years of cutbacks and sales declines, the Dallas Morning News is fighting back by raising subscription prices and investing in better journalism. The seven-day home delivery rate just jumped 43%, making the Morning News one of the US’s most expensive metro dailies. The paper has also added pages, increased local news and sports coverage, expanded its recipe section and introduced a new feature in the business section. And it’s looking to hire five reporters. “We need it to continue to be profitable so that we have the funds to invest to make the transition…to digital,” says publisher Jim Moroney.

If you’re using WordPress for your blog (and who isn’t these days?) then be sure to check out this list of 85 WordPress plug-ins for blogging journalists. They include gems like BackType Connect, which pulls comments posted about you on other social media sites into your own pages, and Global Translator, which translates entries into 34 different languages. We’ll include a plug here for Apture, a utility that makes it drop-dead simple to insert links and media into posts without going through the tedious download and upload process. See our ham-handed application of Apture in the Wikipedia clip above. We’re still learning.

And Finally…

Ninety-three percent of all newspaper sales “can now be attributed to kidnappers seeking to prove the day’s date in filmed ransom demands,” reports The Onion in a hilarious spoof on the industry downturn. It seems that evildoers just can’t get enough of “the smell of ink coupled with the mildew odor of a windowless basement.” Publishers are seizing the opportunity to cater to this influential audience by targeting advertorials and special sections devoted to ski masks, abandoned warehouses and industrial meat freezers.

By wpps-support | October 13, 2009 - 4:43 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Paywalls

Tom CurleyThe CEO of the Associated Press is stirring up trouble in China. Tom Curley (right) took the opportunity of an address to the World Media Summit in Beijing to outline plans for an AP-led initiative to retake control of intellectual property produced by the organization and its members.

The three-part initiative includes the News Registry, which is a rights management and tracking system that includes some kind of digital licensing protocols. He also said the AP will create a NewsMap, which is a master index of original content submitted to the registry, and NewsGuide, which is “an aggregated body of unique news content,” that sounds a little bit like Google News only a lot harder to use. All this is happening under the banner of “Protect, Point and Pay,” the objective apparently been to make it really difficult for aggregators to access AP content without paying for it. Of course, history shown that, when faced with roadblocks like this, aggregators simply go elsewhere. No timeframe for the new initiatives was announced.

Jeff Jarvis is having none of it. The media iconoclast says he can’t help pointing out the irony of Curley’s choosing to unveil the AP’s plans in a land where government exercises tight control over what citizens may know. The whole idea indicates that the AP doesn’t understand the dynamics of the link economy and word-of-mouth transmission. Curley and his fellow control freaks, “are the ones killing newspapers, not the Internet,” Jarvis says.

Condé Nast ’09 Revenue Decline May Hit $1 Billion

If anyone doubts how hard this economy has hit the luxury sector, they have only to look at the dismal performance of Condé Nast. Newsweek reports that the upscale magazine publisher – one of the nation nation’s three biggest — may see its ad revenue drop by $1 billion in 2009. In light of that disaster, it’s not surprising that Condé Nast last week decided to close venerable publications like Gourmet and Modern Bride. The company still owns Architectural Digest, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, GQ, Vogue, and Wired.

But for how long? Newsweek estimates that ad revenues at Architectural Digest are off by almost half and that Wired and Vanity Fairare off 35% and 27%, respectively. For the newspaper industry, there’s bad news, too. Condé Nast owns newspapers in more than 20 cities through its Advance Publications subsidiary. Cost-cutting could force cutbacks at those titles as well.

Glimmers of Good News

Emarketer_h109_Chart2_thumbNewspaper stocks are finally coming back from the dead, but can they hold their gains? MediaPost points to encouraging news. Since April, Gannett stock has more than tripled from $3.81 to $12.50, McClatchy has quintupled to $2.56, and Media General has jumped 250% from $2.54 to $8.86. It could be that the current valuations better reflect reality, Erik Sass suggests. Newspaper stocks became such a hot potato during the revenue implosions of the last two years that investors may have forgotten that the companies still have valuable audiences and profitable businesses.

Another researcher says the online ad market is bottoming out. eMarketer analyst David Hallerman says ad declines in the second half of 2009 will be less than the first half’s 5.3% drop. These days, that’s considered good news. See the eMarketer chart above. It looks like the big gainer will be search while classified advertising will lose ground.


For beleaguered news industry veteran who happen to speak Portuguese, the new mantra may be “goes south, young reporter.” The people of Brazil are reading newspapers in bigger numbers than ever, reports The Guardian. Total circulation of Brazilian newspapers rose 12% in 2007, or nearly five times the global average. It was up another 5% last year. The cause, apparently, is rapid growth in the middle class, which is seeing disposable income increase and creating both advertiser and reader demand. Newspaper revenues have risen every year since 2001. Rio de Janeiro’s historic Olympic Games win will only add life to the party.

Ink-stained wretches who enjoy pointing out the failings of the blogosphere should read Paul Carr’s rant about an apparently flagrant miscarriage of journalistic justice by ZDNet. The story, which was the work of a ZDNet blogger named Richard Koman, alleged that Yahoo had passed the names and e-mail addresses of hundreds of thousands of bloggers to Iranian authorities during the country’s controversial election. It turns out Koman‘s unnamed source for the story was an Iranian blogger with a decidedly vested interest in spreading misinformation. ZDNet has since retracted and apologized for the misstep. Carr isn’t letting the publisher get off that easily, however. He lectures blog aggregators in general — and ZDNet in this particular — for shoddy journalism for not even passing the blog entry by a second set of eyes before posting it. Quoting Winston Churchill: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

USA Today has defied the industry circulation trends with minimal losses for the last two years, but that’s all about to come to an end. The newspaper is expecting circulation to drop 17%, the largest decline in its 27-year history. That translates into a loss of nearly 400,000 daily copies. The losses are apparently due to USA Today‘s reliance on hotel distribution. Cutbacks in business travel, combined with Marriott’s decision to discontinue automatic deliveries to its guests, created a potent double whammy.

Chicago has a new newspaper magnate, and he says he’s not going to repeat the mistakes of the last one. James Tyree, 51, chairman of Mesirow Financial, can’t help being compared to Sam Zell, the real estate magnate who bought Tribune Co. in 2007 and presided over its rapid descent into bankruptcy. Tyree (right) says Sun-Times Media Group is different. For one thing, there’s no debt. For another, Tyree understands the Internet. He reads six papers daily, all of them online. He has also made no bones about the challenges facing the company and has wrung significant concessions from the unions as a precursor to acquiring the Chicago Sun-Times and 58 suburban titles. If all goes as planned, he will take over control of the company in late October, much to the relief of employees and the Internal Revenue Service, which is owed more than $600 million by former owners.

The Russian owner of the London Evening Standard has decided to stop playing pricing games and simply make the 182-year-old newspaper free. Alexander Lebedev (left) says the move will more than double distribution from 250,000 daily copies to 600,000. The billionaire banking magnate, who took over the paper earlier this year, says the loss of circulation revenue can be more than made up by advertising gains. However, skeptics say that’s a long shot in a market that has recently seen the loss of one free title (TheLondonPaper) and that shows no sign of an advertising upturn.

Canwest Global Communications will be run by a group of creditors as it attempts to dig out from more than $4 billion in debt. Canada’s largest publisher was granted bankruptcy protection late last week. The company owns a variety of broadcasting and print businesses including Global TV and the National Post. Its acquisition of the latter is now widely seen as the source of its current difficulties because it loaded down the company with debt.

The Claremont (N.H.) Eagle has been resuscitated and removed from our R.I.P. list after a new owner rehired about 20 staff members and relaunched the 8,000-circulation newspaper on a somewhat-less-than-daily frequency.

And Finally…

It often takes an insider who understands the existing cultural norms to effect real change. That’s why Dan Gillmor continues to be such an effective voice for new-media reform. The former San Jose Mercury News columnist posts a list of 22 ideas for “changing the way news is produced.” They include simplifying language to speak in facts, not euphemisms, linking aggressively to competitors’ content, doing away with the use of unnamed sources and illuminating the motives of the people behind reported stories. While some of Gillmor’s proscriptions may seem condescending, his manifesto reflects the way information is communicated in the emerging bottom-up world. More than 100 commenters contribute their own addenda.

By wpps-support | October 8, 2009 - 3:51 pm - Posted in Facebook profiles Stephen Taylor and Platinum Equity the two bidders for the Boston Globe. They’re long profiles, so here’s the Cliff Notes version.

The Fixer

Platinum’s Tom Gores has been profiled here before, but the Globe updates his turnaround track record. Gores has been quoted as saying that he isn’t a pump-and-dump investor. He believes that local media is a good and necessary business and that there are bargains in the market right now.

Platinum’s most notable media deal was its acqusition of the San Diego Union-Tribune early this year. While it cut deeply – laying off 28% of its staff – it has also invested selectively, including upgrading the production system to computerized pagination and helping to fund a local news startup. Observers and past business associates say Gores and partners are brilliant acquirers who take a deep interest in turning around the businesses they buy but who leave the front-line details to hired hands.

They certainly have money to work with. The partners turned the 2006 million acquisition of steel distributor PNA Group for $18 million into a $450 million sale just two years a later. That’s a return of 2,500%. Most of their turnaround jobs aren’t that fast, but they rarely hold an asset beyond five to seven years.

The partners have a record of firing a lot of expensive top executives and buying whatever resources are needed to make its acquired operations profitable. Platinum has certainly got its eye on the media these days. It’s reportedly looking at buying BusinessWeek and the Austin American-Statesman, among other properties.

Local Hero

Stephen TaylorStephen Taylor is the hometown favorite for his Boston roots and long history with the paper.

Taylor worked in a wide variety of roles at the Globe during his career, ranging from reporter to janitorial staff manager to founding publisher of He was in charge of the Globe’s technology, presses, and buildings when the operation was sold to the New York Times Co. for $1.1 billion in 1992. A technologist at heart, he spearheaded the Globe’s innovative strategy of launching as a regional news destination rather than a newspaper-branded website. He also tried, unsuccessfully, to get Globe management interested in investing in

Taylor’s family is filthy rich, but legal restrictions make most of that money unavailable to Taylor for the Globe bid. He’s teamed with his second cousin and former Globe publisher Benjamin B. Taylor and another cousin, Alexander “Sandy’’ Hawes. The bid is considered a long shot, however. The Taylor team is up against Platinum Equity’s financial might and its track record. Local investors have been reluctant to invest in what they fear is a dying industry and Taylor himself has been out of the business for a decade.

Greeen Light for Sun-Times Sale

A Delaware bankruptcy court has cleared the way for the sale of the Chicago’s Sun-Times Media Group (STMG) after the company’s biggest union voted to accept a package of “painful” wage and benefit cuts.  The Newspaper Guild had earlier rejected a proposal that called for sweeping wage reductions and limited severance for laid-off workers, but members came around when it became clear that the company will fail if the offer by local investor Jim Tyree deal doesn’t go through.

The proposed agreement still calls for big pay cuts but doubles severance terms to eight weeks for any employees laid off during the first six months under new ownership. It also provides for layoffs to be based on performance rather than cost. The latter provision is meant to protect more senior workers from being disproportionately affected by job cuts. Tyree’s proposed $26.5 million purchase goes before a bankruptcy court today. No other bidders have emerged from the bankrupt company.

Meanwhile, a Chicago investor is crying foul, saying he was blocked from talking to the STMG unions about a potential joint bid for the company. Thane Ritchie, founder of Ritchie Capital Management in Lisle, Ill. said unidentified parties told him he couldn’t team up with the unions on a bid for legal reasons. Apparently, that just ain’s so. Ritchie is urging the Guild to petition the court to re-open the bargaining process.


Business leaders continue to offer positive comments about the state of the economy and the advertising business. Google CEO Eric Schmidt told reporters early this week that business is bouncing back in both the U.S. and Europe. “We are increasing our hiring rate and investment rate in anticipation of a recovery,” he said. Google is also beginning to open its wallet for some acquisitions, although targets will probably be small companies, Schmidt said. The comments contrast sharply with Schmidt’s comments of just three months ago, when he said it was too soon to tell if the worst is over.

Rupert Murdoch’s recent comments echo Schmidt’s. The publishing tycoon told a Tokyo conference early this week that “We are seeing newspaper advertising coming back, though not yet to its previous levels,” he said, adding that “Television is still the strongest way to advertise.”Murdoch called the turnaround earlier than most. He told a New York conference last month that US advertising markets are “very much better than they were four months ago.” However, he said the improvement is likely a short-term bump to be followed by a long, flat recovery.

Former Baltimore Sun copy chief John McIntyre’s “You Don’t Say” blog should be on the reading list of any dedicated journalist. His Tuesday entry takes aim at the way journalists are taught to write which is, in his words, “appallingly, relentlessly, unapologetically DULL.”

McIntyre cites examples like the tortured excerpt below as an example of why readers are defecting to blogs. In an effort to squeeze as much information as possible into an inverted-pyramid lead, the writer succeeds in making his prose impenetrable. McIntyre also attacks cliche-ridden anecdotal leads and journalism lingo in particular in this amusing and painfully accurate essay:

Completion of a tower that will give Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport controllers technology and visibility to monitor air traffic for the foreseeable future, settling a contract that will keep the controllers on the job and redefining air space corridors, are keys to the Valley airport’s future, Robert Sturgell, FAA deputy administrator, said Thursday.

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By wpps-support | October 6, 2009 - 9:12 am - Posted in Facebook, Paywalls

gourmet-magazineThere was a bloodbath at Condé Nast yesterday. The publisher, which has been rocked by the declines in lifestyle advertising, closed four magazines – Gourmet, Modern Bride, Elegant Bride and Cookie – and laid off at least 180 people. More turmoil seems likely as Conde Nast sorts through the problem of deciding which staff members to keep and which to boot in order to make way for them. The news comes as September ad page figures for the publisher showed a stunning fall of nearly 1,700 pages. Allure, Gourmet, Self and W were all off 50% or more. Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl is tweeting her feelings about the whole affair.

Reuters reports that Time, Inc. is spearheading an effort to assemble a consortium of U.S. magazine publishers who will cooperate on digital delivery of their products. The wire service says the effort could be announced as early as next month with a “digital newsstand” on the market sometime next year.

You can already buy many magazines on the Amazon Kindle, but publishers hate Amazon’s fee structure, which skives off 70% of the subscription revenue. The digital newsstand would be device-independent, meaning that readers could download magazines to devices from Apple, Sony, E Ink and others. Why Amazon doesn’t move more forcefully to consolidate its hold on the burgeoning market continues to be a mystery to us.

The Economist, which continues to defy the freefall in print circulation, is raising the barriers to free online distribution but still not charging for new content. The magazine will start charging for all content more than 90 days old (previously, the threshold was one year) and will make its digital print replica edition available only to paying subscribers. However, new stuff will still be free to the world online. It’s not like the Economist’s back is to the wall: its 1.39 million circulation was up nearly 7% in the most recent six-month reporting period and operating profits climbed 26% on a 17% revenue increase.

BTW, magazines are only a sidelight for us. If you want to follow the industry with a Death Watch twist, checkout Magazine Death Pool.

Poynter’s Rick Edmonds is expecting to see newspaper circulation results for the first six months of 2009 and he believes a Halloween release date could be appropriate. A variety of factors are contributing to accelerating circulation declines, including the recession, publishers’ efforts to exercise more discipline over their subscriber lists and a continued flight to online alternatives. Edmonds is estimating that the drop in newspaper circulation soon to be reported will exceed the record 7% year-over-year figure for the period ending in March. This will accelerate revenue losses, which will lead to more cost cuts and smaller issue sizes that fewer people will want to pay for. There’s also the problem of coupon and circular distribution. Unlike display advertising, those revenues drop in direct proportion to circulation.

The deadline has passed for new suitors to emerge for Chicago’s Sun-Times Media Group (STMG) and nobody stepped forward. That leaves local investor Jim Tyree as the sole hope of keeping the bankrupt company afloat. Tyree has said he won’t do the deal unless the unions agree to a 15% pay cut. Five of the 16 unions at STMG have said they won’t agree to the terms. The parties have until late December to agree to terms, but the company’s current management says it doesn’t have enough money to stay afloat until then.

Members of the Newspaper Guild at the Boston Globe must be seeing red now that their union chief has been formally charged with misappropriating funds. Daniel Totten spearheaded the union’s disastrous negotiations with The New York Times Company a few months ago. He’s been charged with, among other things, faking a countersignature on his own paycheck. The union’s governing board takes up the matter tomorrow night.

The executive director of the Nevada Press Association says newspapers won’t die; they’ll just shift shape sort of like the keyboard did. “When computers came along, with ‘word processing,’ there was no longer any need for a typewriter,” writes Barry Smith. “I used to have two typewriters — one at home, one at work. Now I look around and I have at least six keyboards, not counting the touch pad on my phone. You have to look at what they do, not what they are.” That’s a great analogy, except that you have to remember that IBM was able to sell a Personal Computer for a whole lot more than a Selectric.

If all goes well, we could be removing the Claremont (N.H.) Eagle Times from the R.I.P. list next week. An anonymous e-mail says that the paper, which closed in July, will reopen on October 12 as a weekdaily. It also says that the Weekly Flea, an advertiser also owned by the Eagle Times, restarted publication last week. We are unable to find any published verification of this information.

By wpps-support | October 2, 2009 - 2:04 pm - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Paywalls

Revenue20_logoDon’t celebrate the reinvention of news as a nonprofit model, writes Slate’s Jack Shafer. Although several prominent experiments in philanthropy-funded news have sprung up lately, Shafer says it’s a case of “substituting one flawed business model for another. For-profit newspapers lose money accidentally. Nonprofit news operations lose moneydeliberately,” he points out.

The problem is that deep-pocketed sugar daddies almost always have an agenda, and the news outlets they fund invariably become mouthpieces for their political goals. Think Sun Myung Moon and the Washington Times. “Having just evicted the usual gatekeepers, how many readers are going to be eager to have philanthropists reset the news agenda?” Shafer asks. What’s more, nonprofit ventures may compete with, and weaken, existing for-profit media organizations, which is a loser for everybody. Shafer correctly points out that the most prestigious news organizations in the world all have commercial motivations.

One of the nonprofits Shafer mentions is MinnPost and local media reporter David Brauerhas issues with Shafer’s comments. It’s true that philanthropist’s agenda does influence the staff who write the stories, he says, but can’t the same be said for advertisers’ influence on profit-making entities? MinnPost’s goal is to subsist on reader subscriptions and “I’d rather be subject to the tyranny of members than advertisers.” Texas Tribunefounder John Thornton has even harsher words for Shafer. Newspapering has only been an absurdly profitable business for about 40 years, he writes. Prior to that, it was a street brawl with very little profit for anyone. We’re just getting back our roots, he suggests.

Reporters Need Not Apply

Rick Burnes used to be an editor in Moscow and at The New York Times online. Now he’s in marketing at search-engine optimization firm HubSpot, which has a very well-read blog. Burnes wants to hire a top journalist to tend the blog, but he thinks it’s unlikely a journalism veteran will get the job. Why? Most journalists don’t believe businesses can produce high-quality content, they are repulsed by the business side of publishing and they don’t understand the link- and promotion-driven culture of the Web. Burnes would like someone to prove him wrong, but at this early stage, he’s skeptical anyone will. “As a hiring manager (and a former journalist) with one chance to hire the right person, I’m wary of somebody with a background in news.”

Or if the HubSpot job doesn’t interest you, try applying at Los Angeles Kings, theLos Angeles County Supervisor’s office or Major League Baseball. Those are just some of the organizations that have recently hired journalists. “All think the news media no longer cover the universe — or their corner of it — adequately and all have hired journalists of their own,” writes James Rainey in the Los Angeles Times.  County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s new deputy for special projects, Joel Sappell, used to work for the Times. Now he’ll be writing about “little-known county programs and issues” for his new boss. Major League Baseball has employed journalists as beat reporters covering the league’s 30 teams since 2001.


Simon Owens focuses on cartoonists who are making it on the Web. But making it doesn’t necessarily mean raking in the dough. Howard Taylor creates his own books of his Schlock Mercenary comic and sells them out of his home, which resembles a publisher’s warehouse. Many other artists run the comics as a loss leader and make their money on t-shirts. The good news: You can make a living. The bad news: It’s really hard.

Ebony magazine is for sale. Its ad pages are down 35% this year and it’s in the third consecutive year of decline. Ebony’s sister publication, Jet, is in even worse shape. Ad revenues there have fallen 40% this year. Ebony was the first African-American magazine and Johnson Publishing is the world’s largest African-American-owned publishing company. It’s not clear whether Johnson can survive as an independent entity, though. The company is reportedly looking for partnerships, rather than an outright sale, it’s likely that control will pass out of the Johnson family’s hands.

Newspapers have dramatically reduced subscriber churn rates and improved circulation profitability through a combination of price increases, outsourcing and better promotions, the Newspaper Association of America reports. The percentage of subscribers who cancel subscriptions fell to 31.8 percent in 2008 from 54.5 percent in 2000. The improvement appears to reflect publishers’ efforts to refocus their circulation promotion on high-quality readership rather than just adding names to the list.

By wpps-support | September 23, 2009 - 10:06 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Paywalls

Magazines-YTD-October-2009The newspaper industry’s malaise has spread to the magazine business. Ad pages were off 20.1% in the most recent month, according to Media Industry Newsletter (Min), and those figures are down from an already depressed October last year. Of the 155 titles tracked by Min, 143 are down for the year. The carnage is worst in luxury titles like Architectural Digest (down 49.4%), Veranda (down 47.4%), W (down 45.5%), Town & Country (down 45.2%), Conde Nast Traveler (down 45.1%) and Gourmet (down 42.7%). Bucking the trend is Family Circle (up 13.9%) and several fitness titles.

The magazine industry’s troubles can be traced to the alarming trends in newsstand sales, which are off 37% since 2001, according to MediaPost. Newsstand sales are important because they’re far more profitable than subscription sales and are also a significant source of circulation promotion. However, it appears that not many people are buying magazines on newsstands any more. Check out these numbers covering total annual newsstand sales:





Woman’s Day 1,610,000 410,147 -74.5%
Redbook 556,355 154,609 -72%
Playboy 522,804 203,245 -71%
Country Living 380,192 134,884 -64.5%
National Enquirer 1,648,554 591,269 -64%
Reader’s Digest 749,099 270,045 -64%
ESPN The Magazine 54,346 25,154 -63%

One title that’s gone against the grain over the last eight years is The Economist, which is up 82% in that time. One reason might be innovations like a new service that enables New York City residents who receive text alerts from the magazine to order single copies delivered overnight. As long as the order is placed by 9 p.m. on Thursday, the customer can have a hard copy of that week’s new issue in hand in time for the Friday commute. That’s before the newsstands are even stocked. The Economist says it can provide the service at no additional charge over the newsstand price because it doesn’t have to pay distribution middlemen.

Not that magazines’ troubles are any solace to beleaguered newspaper publishers. Fitch Ratings says the decline in newspaper ad revenues will continue for at least another year, due to continued weakness in the print advertising market. The forecast is especially dour because it comes off terrible 2008 numbers and because most media markets are expected to enjoy a modest upturn in 2010 off of dismal results this year. PriceWaterhouseCoopers earlier forecast incremental newspaper advertising declines of 4.5% a year through 2013, noting that circulation revenue is falling in line with readership. Meanwhile, publishers are relying more and more upon circulation revenue to boost the bottom line. MediaPost documents several recent price increases by daily publishers and notes that circulation now makes up 39% of The New York Times revenue, compared to 27% five years ago.

Coupon Clipping

We somehow missed writing about this two months ago, when the survey was released, but the Newspaper Association of America just spent a lot of money on research that demonstrates that consumers rely upon newspaper advertising as an essential shopping tool. The survey of more than 3,000 consumers found that 59% cited newspapers as the “medium they use to help plan shopping or make purchase decisions,” while 82% “took action as a result of newspaper advertising.” Other media were way behind.

When you think about it, these results aren’t surprising. Retail purchases are local, and newspapers still do the best job of delivering local advertising. It’s also less convenient for a consumer to print and clip a coupon from the Internet than it is to cut it out of the newspaper. Finally, local display advertising has a better chance of catching the attention of passersby than an online banner ad, which many people block anyway. One thing the research makes clear is the importance of coupons: 90% of respondents said the presence of a coupon made it more likely they would read or look at an ad, making it the single most important influencing factor in stimulating an action. The NAA released the research as a series of short reports, all of which can be downloaded here.

Another Case Against Paid Content

Programmer guru Paul Graham has a pretty good essay on why people won’t pay for content. He notes that the print publishing model is based on selling paper more than it is on selling information. The more paper publishers can produce, the more revenue they generate. This is why the industry is in the doldrums now. He also suggests that the iTunes model is a poor one for publishers to emulate. “iTunes is more of a tollbooth than a store. Apple controls the default path onto the iPod…Basically, iTunes makes money by taxing people, not selling them stuff.” Well, not really. There are other ways to load up an iPod, it’s just that Apple has found the threshold of pain for paid content and manages to squeeze in just under it. The point about tollbooths is important, though. “A toll has to be ignorable to work.” Maybe that’s why micropayments have a chance.

Harkening back to arguments made earlier by Chris Anderson, Graham notes that the worst place to be is in the copying business. Consumers now perceive anything that’s distributed as a “copy” to be of low value. The reason movie and game producers manage to maintain high price points for their products is because they’re in the experience business, not the copy business. Perhaps that’s where publishers need to be, although their background as publishers gives them no particular head start in getting there.

And Finally…


Cuitlacoche, or fungus in a can

Meet Steve. He’s married, has kids, could be your neighbor or your boss or your underling. Steve is a writer, whether he thinks of himself that way or not. Steve proves the point that King Content rules the social media kingdom. Steve is gross and uses foul language. Steve is racy. Steve is one of the funniest bloggers we’ve found on the Internet. You see, Steve finds “food” that no mortal would dare eat (including, but not limited to, Ralph’s Potted Meat Food Product, Dolores Brand Pickled Pork Rinds, Cuitlacoche — “a black fungus that infects corn fields, making the kernels bulbous and swollen as they fill with spores”) and, well, scarfs it down.

How do we know he’s not lying to us? Because he very explicitly reviews each product after he tastes it. Texture, smell, taste, everything. Could he be making up his reviews? Of course, but far be it from us to correct him. We’ll leave the job of testing to him; we just hope his hospital visits are insured.

By wpps-support | September 21, 2009 - 9:20 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News



Mark Glaser invites two big thinkers on opposite sides of the micropayment debateTechdirt’s Mike Masnick and The New York Times‘ David Carr – to spar with each other and try to reach some common ground. The result is what you’d expect when you put two talented writers into competition with each other: Great wordplay and eventual meeting in the middle.

Both combatants agree that putting paywalls in front of existing content is suicidal, although Carr believes that citizens will shell out once they realize that the alternative is cacophony. Masnick wins the award for best imagery: Paywalls are “putting up a tollbooth on a 50-lane highway where the other 49 lanes have no tollbooth,” he writes. He sees no merit in paywalls whatsoever, while Carr believes they can work in some scenarios.



Carr suggests that micropayments should be looked upon “as payments for news applications instead.” In fact, the Times’ media columnist never suggests that charging readers for what they now get for free is a viable strategy. But since the status quo is no longer viable, shouldn’t publishers experiment aggressively with hybrid models?

In the end, that’s where the debaters end up. Both agree that blended paid and ad-supported models have the greatest chance of success. And if you re-read the first part of the two part series, you see that both basically suggested that approach at the outset. So maybe the “debate” was a bit of a fabrication to begin with, but at least it got our attention. And isn’t that the goal after all?

Media Employment Trend Not All Bleak


Over at BusinessWeek, Michael Mandel is looking at employment in US information industries. Using Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, he finds evidence that “someone is hiring out there,” but it isn’t newspapers, which have seen employment fall by about 40% since 1990. Mandel’s analysis goes beyond newspaper employment to look at job trends in broadcast, Internet and “other information services.” What’s interesting is the growth in the “other” category. It’s the only segment of the market that’s above Internet bubble employment levels (although the actual numbers are quite small). Mandel promises more analysis in future posts.

Jeff Jarvis takes issue with Mandel’s whole premise, calling it “measuring the wrong economy: the old, centralized, big economy. In both cases, he misses new value elsewhere in the small economy of entrepreneurs and the noneconomy of volunteers.” In Jarvis’s view, media isn’t dying so much as restructuring itself in a “post-industry” model characterized by vastly more efficient means of production, a distributed workforce and a decentralized approach to nearly everything. Innovation hasn’t left the building, he says, it has merely left the buildings where priesthoods dwell. To see the new media economy taking shape, you have to look at Wikipedia and eBay for guidance, not The New York Times and Macy’s.


It’s a two-horse race to own the Boston Globe, and one horse just got stronger. Former Globe executive Stephen Taylor has been joined by his cousin Benjamin in a bid for the Globe and its sister Worcester Telegram that’s estimated at $35 million plus the assumption of $59 million in pension obligations. Benjamin Taylor was the last member of the Taylor family to serve as publisher; he was ousted by owner New York Times Co. in 1999. The Taylors are squared off against Platinum Equity Partners, a Beverly Hills-based investment firm that successfully purchased the San Diego Union-Tribune earlier this year and that is bidding on several other newspapers around the country. A third potential bidder headed by private-equity executive Stephen Pagliuca has dropped out of the race, with Pagliuca instead electing to run for Sen. Edward Kennedy’s vacant Senate seat.

Members of the Boston Globe chapter of the Newspaper Guild have launched a petition drive to oust the chapter’s seven-member executive committee. Disgruntled union members seem to think they got a raw deal because negotiators at first rejected management’s call for pay cuts, only to later accept an even worse deal after the New York Times Co. drew a line in the sand.

We’ve been hearing anecdotally for some time that community newspapers are faring better than their big-city brethren. Now the organization called Suburban Newspapers of America has the numbers to back it up. Ad revenue at community papers was off 12.4% in the second quarter compared to a year ago. In contrast, major metros saw declines of 29%. Community papers are also seeing earlier slowing of the rate of decline, which indicates that the worst may be over, at least for now.

A federal judge has cleared the way for the Minneapolis Star Tribune to emerge from bankruptcy next week. The newspaper that McClatchy Corp. paid $1.2 billion for in 1998 is now essentially worthless, its fate being in the hands of a committee of secured creditors who will choose a new publisher to replace Chis Harte, who’s stepping down. New board members include former Wall Street Journal publisher L. Gordon Crovitz and GateHouse Media head Michael E. Reed.

Red-faced board members at The New York Times Co. have had to withdrawn compensation awarded to Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and CEO Janet Robinson because stock option grants and bonus compensation exceeded company policy. Sulzberger and Robinson will have to give back some stock options and agree to a $3 million cap on bonus compensation if they exceed all their goals, compared to the $3.5 million originally promised.

Robert Niles has an inspiring essay on Online Journalism Review about Eight things that journalism students should demand from their journalism schools. We particularly like #8: “Passion, not excuses.” If you’re associated with a J-school, ask if this description applies to your faculty: “Instructors [who] complain about the state of the news business, griping how much better it used to be and how awful bloggers/forums/websites are.” Pining for the old days isn’t going to help anyone build a career in the new journalism economy. Niles asks for teachers who are fired up about the new model of journalism and who can inspire passion in their students. He also suggests that students use the new tools of publishing to build a base of followers before the job-seek. “Who ya gonna hire?” he asks. “The student with potential… or the student who’s already got 50,000 unique readers a month?”