In DC media, newspapers sink, niche outlets swim

The interests of the paranoid and the preservers of the free press are converging: Mainstream media’s coverage of Washington, D.C., has shrunk to the point where big stories are being left uncovered. Meanwhile, more “niche” media outlets are moving in, but catering to the interests of the wealthy few.

That’s the essence of a 28-page report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which says that the number of journalists covering D.C. at the beginning of the Obama administration “is not so much smaller as it is dramatically transformed.”

You can read Howard Kurtz’s narrative in Wednesday’s Washington Post, or you could take a look at the main points we found in the release, presented bullet-point style for busy folks.

    A new sector of niche media has grown… offering more specialized and detailed information than the general media to smaller, elite audiences, often built around narrowly targeted financial, lobbying and political interests. Some of these niche outlets are financed by an economic model of high-priced subscriptions, others by image advertising from big companies like defense contractors, oil companies and mobile phone alliances trying to influence policymakers. [News you can use, and pay for. It may deprive the public of its low-cost right to know, but at least it's a business model. -ed] The contingent of foreign reporters in Washington has grown to nearly 10 times the size it was a generation ago. In 2008, newspapers from only 23 states had reporters based in Washington covering federal government… That is down from 35 states listed in the director’s 1985 edition — and that was before a host of further cutbacks in 2008. Since the 1980s, the number of newspapers accredited to cover Congress has fallen by two thirds. The number claiming a presence in Washington generally, according to Capitol directories, has fallen by more than half. Since the mid-1980s, the number of U.S. wire services and newspapers accredited to cover Congress… has fallen 72 percent… In 1985, reporters representing 564 of these outlets carried Hill credentials. By the early months of 2007, well before the latest round of cutbacks, that number had fallen to 160. The number of local TV and radio stations with access to feeds and news stories from corporate news bureaus in Washington has fallen 37 percent from the mid-1980s to 92 stations. [Does that mean fewer TV crews smacking me in the head with their cameras while I'm trying to cover a Senate presser? That used to irk me when I covered the Hill. -ed] The two most prominent [weekly magazines], Time and Newsweek, now operate with less than half the Washington staff they had in the mid-1980s. Today, many of Washington’s most experienced and talented journalists no longer explain the workings of the federal government to those in the general public, but to specialty audiences whose interests tend to be both narrow and deep. [Examples: ClimateWire, Energy Trader, Traffic World, Government Executive, Food Chemical News.] In short, those influencing poliyc have access to more information than ever, while those affected by those policies — but not organized to shape them — are likely to be less informed.

As always, we want to know what you think. How is DC coverage at your local news outlet? Is there any? Write to us.

(Photo: Reuters)

Who needs press releases anyway?

BGC Partners apparently does not. The self-described global full-service inter-dealer broker of financial instruments issued this announcement on Tuesday (via press release on the PRNewswire press release service, of course):

In compliance with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s recent guidance regarding “notice-and-access” news releases, the company plans to discontinue issuance of full-text financial news releases via a wire service and will issue only advisory press releases notifying investors when new and material information is available on its websites.

This came out a few hours after General Motors used its website to disclose news that some people might think material: It is cutting 10,000 jobs. There was no press release issued through the normal distribution services.

Bold steps for helping newspapers (seriously)

Another good reason to read lots of newspapers: You end up coming across all sorts of crazy ways to save the newspaper business. One of the most interesting that we’ve found so far comes from The Dallas Morning News, where Lazard executive John Chachas lays out some bold steps that the U.S. government could take to help save the press. (No, we’re not talking about financial support or “bailouts”.)

As he says in his introduction:

By the end of this year, some of America’s biggest dailies may well be run by their lenders. There is little evidence that banks would serve us well as the chroniclers of the nation’s news.

That’s because ad revenue is diving, costs are fixed, debt is threatening to shut down publishers and the papers have not yet found a way to make more money. So what can the government do? Wake up, Chachas suggests:

Warning: Reporting on reporting is hazardous to your health

Covering the decline of the U.S. newspaper business is the extreme sport of journalism. Ask American Journalism Review, which is pleading for funds to help it survive. Here’s an excerpt from a letter I got in the mail this morning (haha. Letter. Paper.):

The many daunting challenges facing the news media today, coupled with the nation’s economic crisis, have worsened the ongoing financial pressures on American Journalism Review.

That’s why we have formed “The Friends of AJR,” bringing together those who believe in the need for deeply reported, non-ideological media criticism, in an effort to ensure the magazine’s future. While AJR has been a critical success, keeping it going has never been easy. No journalism review has ever been self-sustaining. No exception. AJR is dependent on fundraising.

More Wall Street women, swimsuit-style

We made our share of waves when we reported last year that Playboy was recruiting women laid off from banking and finance jobs to pose nude in the adult entertainment magazine. The photos and accompanying article were supposed to hit in February, though we hear that it’s been pushed back to May.

Meanwhile, we got this press release from More magazine, published by Meredith Corp:


WHAT: Did you recently leave your Wall Street job and are curious to explore a new side of yourself? More magazine has an opportunity for you! More is giving all former Wall Street women ages 40-60 the chance to appear in its annual “Real-Women” June issue swimsuit feature. If you’re looking to trade your power suit for a swimsuit in the only lifestyle magazine for women over 40, this is your chance. Check out for more details.

Murdoch wants newspapers, just not The New York Times

Michael Wolff, author of the recently published Rupert Murdoch tell-all, “The Man Who Owns the News,” says that the News Corp chief executive would love to buy The New York Times. The only thing standing in his way is the Ochs-Sulzberger family which controls the Times. If they’re anything like the Bancrofts, former controllers of Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal, only an insane amount of money might persuade them to let go of the prized but struggling newspaper publisher.

Or maybe Murdoch himself. Whatever the scuttlebutt is about Murdoch’s plans for the Times, he told reporters on Thursday that he’s not interested in buying it. Speaking on a conference call after the company reported dismal second-quarter results, he said it might not be good for his image:

“I’ve got no desire to be an even bigger public enemy.”

This, of course, refers to the charge leveled at him from London to New York to Hong Kong that he uses the papers and other media that he owns to advance his personal business interests.

Writing for your life at The New York Times

Who can blame a print reporter for wanting to get up to speed in the new media world, particularly at The New York Times? With ad revenue down and the future in doubt, it might seem worthwhile for reporters to keep themselves marketable. The union that represents the NYT’s reporters approves, but it suspects that some are making too many concessions. Here are excerpts from the memo:

The financial troubles at The New York Times have many Guild members looking over their shoulders wondering when the next round of layoffs may occur…As a result, many of our members are understandably operating in survival mode and scurrying to find a niche.

In this economic climate, the Guild more than ever encourages members to make themselves as valuable as possible. Embrace the web, which undoubtedly holds the key to our future. …

AH Belo’s bonus bummer

Found on Romenesko on Wednesday: The Dallas Observer reports that AH Belo Corp paid out manager bonuses at the same time that the newspaper publisher said it would get rid of 500 employees. An accident of timing, especially as other U.S. newspaper publishers cut bonuses?  Here’s AH Belo Executive Vice President and Dallas Morning News chief Jim Moroney, quoted in an interview with the Observer:

Did you think the timing — announcing layoffs and handing out bonuses — was, to put it mildly, bad?

Yeah. Obviously, the bonus thing gets put into to the sequence based on approval by the board and getting it into the payroll cycle, and once you decide to make announcements, you don’t want to sit on that either. I would say it was unfortunate coincidence. If you could have control over all these things better and see father into the future, yeah, you could have tried to separate them. But I don’t think the fundamental question would change: They’d still say, ‘Should they have been paid?’ and ‘Why were they paid?’ even if we’d waited two weeks.

New York Times *still* thinks about charging

Editors think it’s the kiss of death to include words like “still” in headlines and “continued” in first paragraphs. It’s like admitting to readers that you didn’t have anything new to report. So why do I say that The New York Times is still thinking about making people pay to get news on its website? Because Times Executive Editor Bill Keller told readers on Tuesday that the Times is still thinking about doing this — and that made for a lot of news.

Here are the headlines:

    Times executive editor hints at online access fees. (The Associated Press) New York Times Considers Charging for Its Web Site (Bloomberg) Bill Keller Examines the NYT Business Model ( Should the New York Times Charge for its Website? (Gawker)

Of the four, I like Portfolio’s best. Felix Salmon hits on a key point, the very one that I was thinking after reading these headlines Tuesday night: This is not news. Salmon writes:

Bill Keller’s musings about online subscriptions are causing something of a storm in the blogosphere, and even making the MSM. But I’d highly recommend you read the long version of Keller’s comments, rather than the soundbite version. Keller spends 2,164 words on what he calls “navel-gazing”, and the overall impression is twofold. Firstly Keller does not think that he has any answers to the questions posed by falling circulations and ad revenue. [Emphasis ours -Ed.] He’s thinking about all the options, in quite a sophisticated way — as he should be.

Write this down: News Corp

News Corp is many things to many people. Its latest incarnation? Pinata.

Everyone is taking a whack at Rupert Murdoch’s international media empire these days as its stock languishes and it gets ready to report second-quarter financial results on Thursday. Newspaper advertising revenue is falling, the movie season hasn’t looked so hot so far, MySpace is unlikely to friend Facebook, the euro and the pound are hurting European operations, DVDs are dying and cable networks revenue doesn’t look like it will be able to compensate.

On top of all that, people are beginning to wonder if the company will announce a writedown, and how soon. My story, which ran on Friday, says the newspaper business looks ripe for a writedown, and quotes Pali Capital analyst RIch Greenfield saying that part of the company’s problem is Murdoch’s sentimental attachment to old media:

If Murdoch wants to keep the business healthy, it is time to make “hard decisions” and prune older media like papers, Pali Capital analyst Rich Greenfield said.