MediaFile

EW Scripps CEO: Storytellers are journalism’s future

I spoke late last week with the chief executive of EW Scripps Co, the company that got its share of hisses and boos for shutting down the Rocky Mountain News this past February.

Rich Boehne, a journalist back in the day, is in charge of navigating a chain publisher of U.S. newspapers through the most difficult time that it ever has had, not to mention all the employees of the papers that the company owns. And let’s not forget the local television stations that Scripps also operates.

Boehne and I talked about the future of newspapers for a story that I was working on about the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s 2009 report on the state of the news media. I included some of his remarks in a story that I wrote about ideas that the report had for saving newspapers, but our conversation ranged beyond the story at hand.

Here are some thoughts that Boehne shared with me. I prefaced a few of them with paraphrases of my own questions to save you the trouble of reading the whole transcript.

Here is Boehne speaking about how newspapers will persevere despite a decline in advertising revenue that is making some of them less viable than they ever have been before.

Searching for business with the Financial Times

The Financial Times is not the first place that anyone thinks of to search for things, at least in the Internet sense. That’s not to say that the FT isn’t interested in changing a few perceptions. The Pearson-owned paper, or more specifically, its Web operation Rather: The Pearson-owned FT Group is launching a business news search engine designed to get past the idea of relying on keywords to search for important infomation. The idea, boiled down, is that a business search engine is more likely to give you the results that you want than a massive search engine that yields results for people in every walk of life.

Here is a quick excerpt from the press release. It explains in pretty plain English what the search engine does, though it veers into press-speak territory — that twilight zone of marketing that assigns biblical proportions to earthly things:

The Financial Times Group is announcing the BETA launch of Newssift.com – a next generation search tool that, for the first time will allow business professionals the opportunity to execute a “qualitative” business news search – think a more sophisticated business search equivalent to Google. This one of a kind search tool will provide comprehensive results that contextualize the trends, opinions, and qualitative events that shape business decisions and impact corporate reputations. The groundbreaking semantic technology, aims to create a user-friendly and meaning-based platform that easily locates and compares business news in a qualitative not quantitative fashion. Think of a traditional search as delivering results in buckets, while Newssift.com offers results that passed through a magnifying glass or prism; moving search beyond traditional results and towards refinement.

The state of the news media? Not so hot

The Project for Excellence in Journalism published its sixth annual State of the News Media report on Monday. The report, at 800 pages and 180,000 words, is a monster. The news media that it’s analyzing, however, is turning into something quite a bit smaller.

The group, along with its chief, Tom Rosenstiel, has provided a snapshot of where the news industry is today, though with an industry so large, a snapshot this size is impossible to condense into one little blog, let alone a story for the wire. If you’re looking to wallow, dig in to the specifics, follow this link.

Here, meanwhile, are some of the introductory remarks and top findings of the study, mostly in the study’s own words. Warning: These findings are not suitable for your friends in journalism who are struggling to maintain their sense of self-worth.

Washington Post takes care of Business

The press release says that The Washington Post is expanding its “A” section. This is true. It also is eliminating its business section on a standalone basis, except for a more enhanced version that will run on Sundays. Our story has just hit the wire. Read the memo here:

Beginning March 30, we will make several changes in The Post’s presentation of business news and some Style-section features.

Our business coverage will shift into the main news package in the A Section Monday through Saturday. We will have a new business and economics display page inside the section, designed to signal to readers the centrality of economic news, as well as the increasing overlap of political and economic events, in today’s world. The expanded A Section will allow us to make better decisions about story play and length, and to run a leaner, better-organized newspaper.

Your newspaper died? People don’t care

I hope I’m not violating any journalistic obligations toward objectivity by calling the following piece of news from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press rather depressing.

The group said that fewer than half of Americans, 43 percent, say that losing their local paper would hurt civic life in their community “a lot.” Just 33percent say that they would miss reading the paper a lot if it went away.

And that’s the good news! According to the study, 42 percent of respondents answered “not much” or “not at all” when asked if they would miss their papers. That’s not the kind of news that inspires folks at papers threatened with shutdown like the Tucson Citizen, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and San Francisco Chronicle, not to mention ones that have shut down like the Rocky Mountain News.

Two-newspaper city? Try Montreal, with *four*

montreal

Here’s a contribution to the newspaper files from my colleague Phil Wahba, born and raised in the city of Montreal:

With the Seattle Post-Intelligencer potentially closing its print edition or shutting down entirely next week, The New York Times wrote today that it is possible that a city of 3.3 million people, and other large cities, might only be able to support one paper.

Contrast that with Montreal, a city with 3.7 million people and four dailies, three French and one English.

Newspaper ad sales down? Fire ad staff!

The Boston Globe, the revenue-challenged sibling of The New York Times, is laying off employees as it copes with a decline in advertising revenue made only worse by the recession. The thing is, it’s laying off advertising staff.

From the Globe:

The Boston Globe said yesterday it reduced by half the sales force that takes classified advertising over the telephone. Thirty classified employees, including two managers and 13 part-time employees, lost jobs. In addition, the positions of two other advertising managers were eliminated, said Robert Powers, the Globe’s spokesman.

The reason? There are fewer classified ads coming in because everyone does it for free at Craigslist and other free classified sites. Some papers have lost more than half of their classies.

More government aid to newspapers

The last time I mentioned the word “bailout” in connection with newspapers, I caught my fair share of flak from the conservative blogosphere for even entertaining the notion. I also caught a few rounds from Connecticut lawmakers who thought that I was suggesting their attempt to help secure tax breaks for struggling newspapers amounted to a bailout.

Having said that, it looks like Washington state is getting into the aid game as Hearst Corp weighs killing its Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper.

Here’s an Associated Press report about Washington’s state House of Representatives approving a temporary tax break for newspapers:

Hey buddy, don’t knock my newspaper!

The 24/7 Wall Street blog’s list of newspapers that it teed up as going out of business this year is making a certain group of people rather unhappy — the people who run those papers. Two of them are so hopping mad that they have aired their complaints to the public.

You can read the whole list on 24/7 Wall Street, but here is what it said about:

New York Daily News:

NY Daily News is one of several large papers fighting for circulation and advertising in the New York City area. Unlike The New York Times, New York Post, Newsday, and Newark Star Ledger, the Daily News is not owned by a larger organization. Real estate billionaire Mort Zuckerman owns the paper. Based on figures from other big dailies it could easily lose $60 million or $70 million and has no chance of recovering from that level

Best Life ends life

Maybe it’s something about magazines that have the word “Life” in their titles. Rodale, publisher of magazines such as Runner’s World and Prevention, is closing the book on Best Life, it’s its luxury magazine for men. Here are the first two paragraphs of the press release:

EMMAUS, PA AND NEW YORK, NY–March 11, 2009-Rodale Inc. announced today that the company will cease publication of Best Life magazine, effective immediately. The May issue, on newsstands next month, will be the last.

“Despite the great work of the sales team and the talent of the editorial staff, given the challenges of the advertising market and general conditions, Best Life could not meet our internal benchmarks, and we have made the decision to focus our resources on our core brands,” said Steven Pleshette Murphy, president and CEO of Rodale Inc. “Both VP/Editor-in-Chief Stephen Perrine and VP/Publisher Michael Wolfe have been outstanding leaders and ambassadors for the brand, and we are so proud of the work of the Best Life team.”