MediaFile

Wall Street Journal finds friend in Chicago

…And we’re not talking about Tribune Chief Executive Sam Zell. We Mean Coleen Davison, private citizen, and resident of Chicago, Illinois.

The Wall Street Journal turned a letter from Davison, a former Chicago Tribune subscriber, into an advertisement — that it tried to run in the Trib. Trouble is, that paper declined to run the ad. Now, it’s running in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Trib’s rival.

Here’s some of her letter:

Our growing discontent with the Tribune’s diminishing quality became intolerable after their redesign last fall, and led us to explore other news options. We settled on the WSJ after perusing several different newspapers, even though neither my husband nor I are particularly involved in the financial world. … While the focus is obviously on the business sector, there is so much to be gleaned about our world from your reporting. Your journalists/contributors clearly know their subjects. Articles are presented articulately and coherently. Your coverage of world news and your human interest pieces are insightful, engaging and thought provoking. And I LOVE your editorial pages-just when I had begun to think common sense was a lost art, I’ve discovered the WSJ!

The ad then offers readers two free weeks of the Journal, along with a 75 percent discount.

A Chicago Tribune spokeswoman declined to comment on the ad. I asked Sun-Times spokeswoman Tammy Chase what she thought about the paper agreeing to run an ad knocking its competitor, but not even mentioning the Sun-Times as an option. She said it’s a business transaction, but in the spirit of good business, asked us to deliver this message to Ms. Davison:

Online ads, creatively in your face

The Online Publishers Association got a bunch of Web publishers (including Reuters) to agree to test a new series of ad formats that it says will “stimulate a renaissance of creative advertising on the Internet.”

Renaissance? Indeed, says the OPA. The ads will:

    Inspire creativity and high-quality advertising Provide a greater share of voice for the advertisers Introduce a measurement to capture impact Enhance interactivity to build user engagement with brands

Or, roughly translated: The new online ad formats are supposed to work because there will be fewer of them, they will be larger, they theoretically could command a higher fee for advertisers who buy the space, and more people will buy stuff because of them.

Here are the formats:

    The Fixed Panel (recommended dimension is 336 wide x 860 tall), which looks naturally embedded into the page layout and scrolls to the top and bottom of the page as a user scrolls. The XXL Box (recommended dimension is 468 wide x 648 tall), which has page-turn functionality with video capability. The Pushdown (recommended dimension is 970 wide x 418 tall), which opens to display the advertisement and then rolls up to the top of the page.

This is intended as a way to succeed the era of banner ads because who, after all, looks at them except as a prelude to irritation? (No one, according to lots of studies)

More work, same pay at New York Post

New York Post newsroom staff are grumbling about a new work rule that essentially pays them the same amount of money, but for more work.

Two sources told MediaFile that Rupert Murdoch’s daily tabloid has told reporters that their work week is now 40 hours long. That’s no big deal to most working stiffs, but that’s a change from the earlier 37-1/2 hours.

The upshot is that overtime pay, which once started as the clock struck 37-1/2, now doesn’t begin until 2-1/2 hours later. As many journalists know, it’s hard to break news on your beat unless you’re willing to put up with stories — and events — that happen at any time and don’t fit well into normal working hours. That said, journalists who don’t like this move say it amounts to a 6 percent pay cut because it’s more work for the same pay.

Moody’s Bottom Rung – media edition

Moody’s published its “U.S. Bottom Rung” on Tuesday a list of companies that the corporate credit ratings agency thinks are at most risk of defaulting on their debt. There are 283 companies on the list, which is current as of March 1, including some near and dear names for people who love the media business.

Why do this? The Wall Street Journal offers some possibilities:

“Sounds like Moody’s may be trying to get out in front on defaults, given they were perhaps a little behind on subprime mortgages and commercial mortgage-backed securities,” said David Resnick, managing director at investment banking firm Rothschild Inc. which works on many corporate bankruptcies and restructurings.

Moody’s and credit-rating rival Standard & Poor’s Corp., were criticized by the Senate in hearings late last year about the effectiveness of the ratings agencies.

Tough times force ASNE to cancel convention

The only kind of party that most U.S. newspapers are having these days is a funeral party. This week alone we have seen:

This is why the American Society of Newspaper Editors said on Friday that it canceled its annual convention. Here’s the memo:

ASNE’s leadership has decided to cancel our 2009 convention because of the challenging times we face. The text of the press release that is going out this morning follows this note.

Happy trails, Rocky Mountain News

EW Scripps Co’s decision to shut down Denver’s Rocky Mountain News as of Friday offers an interesting lesson about the value of news.

But first, a bit of background: It is not the first U.S. daily to fail as the economy falters. Scripps already put down two other papers in recent memory (Albuquerque, New Mexico and Cincinnati, Ohio, its home town). Having said that, it’s the biggest daily that I can think of to go under since the newspaper apocalypse crept in like Death in the Bosch painting. Not just bankrupt like Tribune’s papers, the Minneapolis Star Tribune or The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and the whole Journal Register stable — and not just threatened with closing like Hearst has done with the San Francisco Chronicle and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It’s really over.

When it goes, William Dean Singleton’s Denver-based MediaNews Group will still publish the Denver Post. Still, half the printed news that Colorado residents have been used to reading will be gone.

Thomson Reuters CEO: No paper, please

Thomson Reuters Corp, the company that employs me and runs this blog, posted fourth-quarter financial results on Tuesday. My colleague and I wrote them up for the wire, and you can see them here. Meanwhile, here’s something that didn’t make it in to the story that we wanted to share.

During a conference call with reporters, I asked Chief Executive Tom Glocer, who ran Reuters before Thomson Corp bought it, what the company plans to do regarding investing in news. I also asked if the company could ever be in the market for another print newspaper. Remember that Thomson Reuters likes to tout the fact that Thomson Corp long ago got out of the newspaper business, thinking there was more of a future in electronic information that you make people pay a lot of money for.

On news spending:

We’ve continued to invest in news and we think 2009 is a very good year in investment for us both in terms of having brought in some of the journalists who have joined from Thomson Financial, but also investments we’re making in new editorial systems, in the video, multimedia presentation of news. So I think one of the good things about the strength of our financial performance is that we can continue to invest when a lot of pure media companies aren’t.

Murdoch daughter disses dad

Courtesy of Richard Siklos, Fortune’s media writer extraordinaire, who just posted this on the website on Tuesday:

“In the weeks that Rupert Murdoch was locked in unsuccessful negotiations to keep his longtime No. 2 at News Corp., the media baron also had to accept his daughter Elisabeth’s decision to turn down a spot on the company’s board, sources told Fortune.”

That’s exciting, from a soap-opera-meets-financial-news angle, because Murdoch is letting longtime right-hand man Peter Chernin leave the company, in part because the media baron has a sense of familial duty. That is to say, many people say he wants his children to take over the company. The most likely choice is his son James, 36, who is active in the company’s UK and Asian operations. Having said that, Elisabeth is no slouch in the media department.

Chernin parachutes, Murdoch keeps flying

News Corp President and Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin’s perks after he leaves News Corp at the end of June are basic compared with some legendary golden parachutes, though they’re still worth more money than I make in a year. Or 10 years for that matter.

In addition to his Fox studios production deal, Chernin’s creature comforts include 50 hours on News Corp’s jet ($1.65 million value), corporate car ($210,000 value) and possibly personal secretary services ($1.05 million value). See the proxy statement for more details.

That might not send the image of a cost-cutting corporate culture at a time when News Corp’s stock is down 70 percent and the bottom looks further away as its most can-do executive quits. Then again, maybe Chernin’s doing the right thing, all things considered. Check out this little-noticed excerpt from Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch’s memo to employees:

Baltimore Sun feels Tribune cost cuts

Suburban bureau reporters at The Sun in Baltimore, Maryland, are about to learn the true meaning of the word “mobile.” The Tribune Co-owned paper is shutting down the last of its three suburban bureaus and bringing their reporters back to the main newsroom in Baltimore proper, sources told MediaFile on Tuesday.

The paper will outfit them with laptops and Blackberries and will send them back into the field to do their job by car or however else they can get to the story. It is part of wider changes going on at Tribune Co, which is in bankruptcy proceedings because of some $13 billion in debt that it has been unable to deal with because of the increasingly grim advertising sales plaguing newspapers.

Tribune’s chief executive, real estate magnate Sam Zell, was unhappy with the amount of empty space that The Sun has in downtown Baltimore, especially when considering all the space that the paper was renting in the suburbs, one of our sources says. The three bureaus that The Sun will shut down are in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties. The Sun’s bureaus in Carroll and Harford counties already closed in the past year. It’s not clear if the two are related, but the three bureaus shutting down now are traditional turf war zones with The Washington Post, which recently said it will begin cooperating with The Sun on some coverage in the counties.