MediaFile

The Wall Street Journal and the death of print

Now you know that the uncertain future about the survival of newspapers is news: The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page features an editorial castigating Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry and others for supporting the notion of federal government aid or bailouts for the struggling business.

The Journal gives us a recap of some ideas that have been seeping their way into the public consciousness in recent months, including:

    Maryland Democratic Sen. Benjamin Cardin’s bill to allow newspapers to exist as non-profits. Sen. Kerry’s endorsement of a proposal by Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus’s and Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe’s to let newspapers offset their net operating losses over five years instead of two. Sen. Kerry’s endorsement of some flexibility under the anti-trust laws, presumably in a way that would allow U.S. newspaper publishers to dream up some ways to force people to pay for the news they read online in a model similar to how the cable TV providers work with the people who provide the shows. We note that the editorial didn’t even cover Washington State’s tax break for newspapers, not to mention Connecticut legislators’ recent willingness to help rustle up buyers for some former Journal Register papers. But you might as well add them to the list of ideas.

The Journal’s answer? No! No! No! On what grounds?

The “creative destruction” theory, spurred by people getting their news online, something that governments should let happen as a natural outcome of the free market. Here’s what the WSJ says:

The larger story here is that newspapers are enduring the familiar process of economic “creative destruction,” in this case brought on by the Internet. Advertisers are fleeing to search engines, while barriers to entry in publishing have crashed. Despite the pain this causes to certain companies, this is not much different than any other industry buffeted by new technology or business strategies. The shipping industry changed radically with the advent of containerization. Wal-Mart’s state-of-the-art inventory management transformed retailing. Apple’s iTunes has revolutionized the music industry.

New York Times struggles — silently

The New York Times spits out thousands of words a day through its newspapers. If it would only start coughing a few more up about Hollywood mogul David Geffen, who wants a piece of it, if not more. If the Times doesn’t tell its story soon, everybody else will.

So far it has made no comment. That might not be such a slick move. Speculation over the Times’s future has grown during the past few years as its finances worsen because of advertising revenue declines, more than a billion dollars in debt that it has to pay off and the nearly annnual assaults on the company’s management by shareholders and others who think they know how to do the job better.

The latest news frenzy came when Fortune writer Richard Siklos said that Geffen wanted to buy a nearly 20 percent stake owned by one-time dissident shareholder Harbinger Capital Partners, but was rebuffed. Nearly every news outlet got the story (though most of us paid less attention to a report that a Harbinger-nominated director tried to get Google to buy the Times — and failed), while the Financial Times said that Geffen wants to buy the whole company.

Mr. Sulzberger goes to Amazon

When Massachusetts Democratic Senator John Kerry convenes a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday to discuss the fate of U.S. newspapers, don’t look for the man who controls the fate of Kerry’s hometown Boston Globe on Capitol Hill.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr, whose New York Times Co is threatening to close the Globe, will be at a press conference in New York City where online bookseller and retailer Amazon.com plans to release a new version of the Kindle electronic book reader. At least, that’s what The Wall Street Journal says. Amazon and the Times declined to talk to us about the Wednesday event or Sulzberger’s planned appearance.

Senator Kerry need not worry that he can’t question Sulzberger in person. As much as Sulzberger probably wants to limit his talking points to the Kindle, we’re in a Globe state of mind. After all, talks resume tonight over $10 million in cost cuts it wants to wrest from the Globe’s biggest union. We would be happy to ask Kerry’s questions on his behalf.

CNBC=Cranky Nasty Business Correspondent

Rick Santelli’s extended tryout process to join the more vitriolic commentary-mongers at Fox News continues. Santelli already raised eyebrows and network blood pressure at CNBC when he aired his “tea party” comments on live TV, raising questions among media obsessives about whether he was in the tank for the Republican Party.

Today’s incident was tamer in the sense that he only accused one of his colleagues, senior economics reporter Steve Liesman, of asking stupid questions. That’s not as big an insult to a civilian as it is to a journalist, who hopes to get paid for asking smart questions. (And someone with Liesman’s extensive business journalism pedigree probably asks fewer stupid questions than most.)

The background: Six of the CNBC gang were on TV discussing whether Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and ex-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson pressured Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis to keep quiet about losses at Merrill Lynch when Bank of America was also under pressure from the government to buy Merrill. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said last month that Bernanke and Paulson threatened Lewis with losing his job if he didn’t push the acquisition through to, essentially, save the U.S. and world financial systems.

Boston Globe, still alive

When we went to bed late last night, the state of play on The Boston Globe didn’t look so hot. Since then… it’s still not looking so hot.

The short story: Some of the Globe’s union appear to have reached tentative accords with the Globe and its parent company, The New York Times, which has threatened to shut down the money-losing paper if it doesn’t win $20 million in concessions. The Boston Newspaper Guild, which is on the hook for $10 million alone, said it has offered more than it has to, but it appears to not have been enough so far. The Times Co, meanwhile, said it would file a federal government notice that it intends to shut the paper. The big issue? Lifetime job guarantees that the Times wants to eliminate.

Here’s the latest from the sleepless reporters at its smaller competitor, the Boston Herald:

Baltimore Sun fires reporters during baseball game

The headline says it all, and adds a nasty twist to this week’s purge at The Sun in Baltimore. Here’s part of The Guardian’s report on how the Tribune-owned Sun did the deed:

The group, consisting of three writers and a photographer, were told the news as they reported back from a game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Angels in a move that was documented by a fellow reporter online.

“Tough times in the newspaper biz,” wrote the OC Register’s Bill Plunkett as an aside during his inning-by-inning update from the game. “Two writers for the Baltimore Sun in the press box here got the news – by phone, during the game – that they had been laid off in the latest round of cost-cutting. Stay classy, Baltimore Sun management.”

Newspaper Association cuts jobs, ditches print

I suppose that it’s natural that your representatives in Washington should be people who reflect their constituencies. In that spirit, there are reports out that the Newspaper Association of America — a tireless defender of print newspapers even as ad revenue crumbles all around them — is cutting the print edition of its magazine, along with half its jobs.

I’ve left messages with several NAA contacts, but in the meantime, We confirmed the news with the NAA — 39 jobs going away. Meanwhile, here is an excerpt from a report on AOL’s Daily Finance site:

The Newspaper Association of America (NAA) is the not-for-profit organization that represents the interests of over 2,000 newspapers and other print publications. Its roots can be traced back to 1887, and for many years its magazine Presstime has kept members up-to-date on trends in the marketplace. Therefore, it seems sadly ironic that the NAA is killing its print edition of Presstime. The magazine will now be available in an on-line version only.

Dear advertiser, please come home

Nobody likes to be wrong, including the people who run media companies. That’s why you haven’t heard them say things like, “We think the advertising market is recovering!” At a time when every day might bring a fresh descent into financial hell as financial companies and automakers totter, media companies reeling from ad revenue declines are hesitant to say that they’ve hit a bottom.

But consider some of the comments that Viacom executives made during their conference call with Wall Street bean counters this morning to discuss quarterly financial results. Here they are as they appeared in the alerts we sent out on the wire:

    08:12 30Apr2009 RTRS-VIACOM INC’S <VIAb.N> CEO SAYS NOT SEEING ANY FURTHER DETERIORATION IN THE ADVERTISING MARKET 08:33 30Apr2009 RTRS-VIACOM INC’S <VIAb.N> CEO SAYS CUSTOMERS ARE STARTING TO FEEL MORE CONFIDENT ABOUT A RECOVERY EMERGING LATER IN THE YEAR AND GOING INTO NEXT YEAR 08:34 30Apr2009 RTRS-VIACOM INC’S <VIAb.N> CEO SAYS “WE’RE FEELING CONSIDERABLY BETTER” THAN TWO OR THREE MONTHS AGO

That sounds suspiciously like optimism. It also fits in with some of the comments that we’ve heard from newspaper publishers such as USA Today owner Gannett Co Inc. Magazine publisher and local TV station owner Meredith Corp had similar thoughts about the ad outlook.

Mr. Sulzberger, your son ROCKS

The New York Times’s hyper-energetic reporter Sewell Chan fielded a question in a mediabistro.com Q&A about what it’s like working with Arthur Gregg Sulzberger on his City Room blog staff at nyt.com. Sulzberger is the son of Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and an heir apparent to the Times company.

Regardless of Sulzberger’s talent at City Room or in his previous reporting gig at The Oregonian, I’m not sure Chan had many options on how to answer the question. Here’s what he said:

Arthur Gregg Sulzberger joined the Times staff as a reporter, and he’s been working continuous news. He’s already been working with metro, and he’ll continue to work with metro. He has been absolutely impressive, gracious, smart as a whip, hardworking, full of energy, full of ideas, and has a great sense of language. His writing sparkles, and he’s a charm and a pleasure to work with.

Tribune Co papers hit where it hurts, Baltimore Sun slashed

Tribune Co keeps the layoffs coming at its newspapers as the media company moves through the bankruptcy court process.

The Sun: Over in Baltimore, we heard from a source that 21 editors — including most of the metro editing staff and two top editorial editors — were herded into offices and told they had to exit the building immediately. Editor & Publisher confirms this report and says more cuts might be coming as soon as today. Perhaps there’s a strategy in there, but it’s hard to tell what it is when most big-city dailies have abandoned their ambitious overseas reporting goals, saying their real value to the community is their local reporting franchise. UPDATE: Looks like at least 40 more people are getting laid off as we speak, according to two sources I just spoke to at 3pm eastern.

And another UPDATE: A Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild memo says a whopping 27 percent of the Sun’s staff is getting laid off.