Selling the news: Reuters, the AP and Tribune

We and others reported Monday night that our parent company Thomson Reuters Corp is starting a U.S. general news service for U.S. publishers and broadcasters. Though my employer, Reuters News, has been providing general and business/financial/economic news for more than a century, we didn’t have a service before that would rely on a big group of hired journalists and stringers to get busy covering U.S. news in a large way.

You can see our story here, as well as the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and stories, for more information. One of the interesting aspects that we didn’t get into in our story is one of the reasons that Tribune Co, Reuters America’s first client, decided to work with our parent company.

Here’s Russell Adams’s explanation, taken from The Wall Street Journal:

In a cost-cutting move this past spring, Tribune began producing modules, or ready-made pages, that are filled with news from wires services and its various properties, and printed in multiple papers. Gerould Kern, editor of the Chicago Tribune, said Tribune expects to begin selling the pages to other publishing companies—something Reuters was open to.

“Clients want to be a syndicator of our content,” said Chris Ahearn, president of media for Thomson Reuters.

Martha’s Vineyard Gazette sold to KKR co-founder Kohlberg

RTRQKOPI’ve always been thankful that my grandparents were good at playing the real estate game. Among their unlikely coups was buying a house in the 1960′s in Edgartown, the tony enclave on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, whose exclusive address had no correspondence to their income level. If they hadn’t bought it, there’s no way that my journalist’s salary would have been able to scoop up property like that. In the more than three decades that I’ve been going there, I’ve become a regular reader of the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette, the enormous broadsheet newspaper that has resisted the cost-cutting size reductions that many other newspapers in the United States have sustained.

That allegiance to the paper (and its weekly competitor, the Martha’s Vineyard Times), as well as my continuing nostalgia for my former media beat — the future of newspapers, publishing and journalism — made it all the more interesting when I read on Friday that the Reston family is selling the 164-year-old paper to Jerome Kohlberg. It’s the story that has it all for a business reader, really: Daily paper, read by rich and powerful residents who are captains of the financial world (and hopefully Reuters clients), sold to a true bigwig of the private equity world, and a strange connection to The New York Times to boot.

Richard Reston took over editing and publishing the paper, as the Times’s Jacques Steinberg relates in this 2003 story, after leaving the Los Angeles Times where he was a foreign correspondent with stints in Northern Ireland, the Soviet Union and  Vietnam. His family has owned the paper since 1968, as the Vineyard Gazette reports here, when the late James “Scotty” Restonbought it from Henry Beetle Hough. Scotty Reston, of course, was a top editor at The New York Times for many years. ((In a bit of Vineyard cultural trivia, the Gazette has long been seen as the newspaper of the tourists and the seasonal visitors, while many year-round islanders favor the Times).

They’ll always be the Magazine Publishers of America to me

Vanity FairThe Magazine Publishers of America said on Friday that it is renaming itself the MPA — The Association of Magazine Media. The notable difference is the omission of the word publishers. Why?

“MPA is underscoring the fact that magazine media content engages consumers globally across multiple platforms, including websites, tablets, smartphones, books, live events and more.”

“More” presumably means “printed magazines,” but nobody in media is all that hot on associating themselves with words like “publish” and “print” because to young people (or young “consumers” in the parlance that people use when their sole desire is to make money from you) and investors those words smell like death.

New York Times poaches Wall Street Journal spokesman Christie

The New York TimesProfessional New York Times haters often fixate on the company’s seeming haplessness and its namesake newspaper’s flat-footed, delayed and defensive strategies for dealing with bad news, bad press and bad times for newspapers. Today the Times said it has hired Wall Street Journal spokesman Robert Christie, a move that could change this perception.

Christie, 40, has been the public voice of The Wall Street Journal through some of its most difficult moments in recent years. The most notable of those was when News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch decided that it and parent company Dow Jones would look good in his media menagerie and pried it from the hands of the Bancroft family with lots and lots of money as his WD-40. Christie, who joined Dow Jones in 2003, has been a staunch defender of the Journal’s reputation not only for the Bancroft family regime, but the Murdoch one too.

That’s what makes the Times’s move not just interesting, but cheeky. The Times has seen itself in media headlines in recent years more than it would like. Much of the recent ones herald stories about how Murdoch wants to destroy the Times in many of its big coverage areas, most recently by saying it will launch a New York City edition of the Journal. The Times under previous PR chief Catherine Mathis did its share of fighting off the dogs, but without her, the paper and its parent company under the Ochs-Sulzberger clan has looked at times like it’s quietly quaking before the Murdoch onslaught while publicly ignoring the barbarians at the gate. Christie has been part of that assault, thanks to his role at the Journal, and now that the Times has had a chance to appreciate what he has to offer, they’ve decided to buy.

New York Times: Honest work means honest pay

Some people hate The New York Times and some people love The New York Times — but everybody wants to read The New York Times for free. That will largely end in 2011. You probably read that today on the Internet, and you probably read it for free.

The Times said it will let you read some articles per month for free, then make you pay for more. It’s what the Financial Times does. Who said it had to be original? If you subscribe to the print edition, just keep reading it. This isn’t really about you. This is a decision that will, for better or for worse, inform the public that if you want journalists to tell you stuff or entertain you, you need to pay them to do journalism all day long.

Lots of people have opinions on this and lots of people have done the research. Even more people style themselves Internet experts. The one thing they can’t help is sharing opinions on whether news sites should charge or whether they’re not just misguided for doing it — but whether they’re stupid or criminally wrong.

Google in China: For most companies, profit trumps human rights

GoogleBy Robert MacMillan

You can find the clearest statement about what’s happening with Google and its threat to quit China over the country’s human rights record in Xinhua, China’s state-run news service – seriously.

“It is still hard to say whether Google will quit China or not. Nobody knows,” an unnamed official told Xinhua. Here’s another comment from the story: “It will not make any difference to the government if Google quits China, however Google will suffer a huge economic loss from leaving the Chinese market.” That’s from Guo Ke, a communications professor at Shanghai International Studies University.

And that’s what you need to know: Google is taking a stand, challenging China to bring its human rights record into line with what it considers its most important tenet: “Don’t be evil.” Now everyone wants to know if other companies also will discover the ethicist inside them and find a purpose more important than making money for shareholders.

Michael Kinsley and the length of newspaper articles

KinsleyPeople are abandoning print newspapers because the articles are too long. That’s what journalist Michael Kinsley says in The Atlantic. Here is his opening paragraph: “One reason seekers of news are abandoning print newspapers for the Internet has nothing directly to do with technology. It’s that newspaper articles are too long. On the Internet, news articles get to the point.”

It might be more than that.

Editors often say that different kinds of stories must conform to length restrictions. At many print news outlets, editors cut stories to fit into allotted spaces. Other times they commission more words for the same reason. That’s artificial. The way to determine length is to figure out how much room the story needs. Most stories need few words; Twitter tweets are good enough for some. Some stories need tons of words and tons of space. Some stories can be one or the other, depending on how many layers of the story you want to display. The only thing to do is ruthlessly prune that wood. If you end up with bonsai, so be it. If you end up with a sequoia, that might be because it’s what the story demands.

Kinsley hits on the real problem elsewhere in his 1,800-word essay: Certain journalism writing conventions add unnecessary words to stories, which in turn makes them too long. (Reuters editors see stories that exceed 500 or 600 words as indistinguishable from “Gravity’s Rainbow.”)

Dear newspapers: Happy holidays from John Janedis

New York TimesTake heed and rejoice, you hard-working newspaper elves. Someone on Wall Street thinks that some newspaper companies aren’t dancing quite as close to the abyss as conventional wisdom says.

Wells Fargo analyst John Janedis, never known for going too easy on newspaper stocks, raised his rating on USA Today publisher Gannett to “outperform” and his rating on The New York Times to “market perform.”

His explanation: “After years of downward revenue estimate revisions, it appears as though the newspaper ad market is improving more quickly than we previously anticipated, particularly in December. Given current trends, we now expect approx. high single digit decline in overall newspaper advertising in 2010.”

from Summit Notebook:

Media executives (mostly) read free news

BosHere's one of the headlines that we produced at this week's Reuters Global Media Summit: "Media get real about paid-for Web news." In it, we distilled media executives' thoughts on the future of news to this: The romance with free content -- stimulated by global ad spending that reached a peak of almost half a trillion dollars last year -- was over.

Or... maybe it's not over yet. Plenty of media executives, the people trying to find a way to get paid for what they produce when free stuff on the Internet makes that ever more difficult, still read free news. Not all, but some, even though they pay for some of it too. Here are some responses to the question we asked in New York and London: How do you read your news?

Nikesh Arora, president of global sales operations and business development at Google Inc (who, despite Google's despised status among newspaper defenders, pays for some of his news):

from Summit Notebook:

Michael Haneke: How to politely dislike his movies

HanekeRTL Group Chief Executive Gerhard Zeiler came to our U.S. headquarters on Thursday so we could interview him for our Global Media Summit this week. While we waited for our colleagues in London and Germany to beam in remotely, I asked him about what he and other Austrians generally think of Michael Haneke.

Haneke is perhaps Austria's most well known artist these days, a director whose films ("Cache," "Code Inconnu," "Benny's Video," "La Pianiste," "Le Temps du Loup" and others) contain violent and intense episodes combined with queasy comedy that tend to disturb, shock and dismay his fans and his foes. He also enjoys the distinction of having made "Funny Games," the only film to ever make me physically ill. In terms of his provocative content, think Peter Greenaway, not Steven Spielberg.

Zeiler told me that he used to work for ORF, the Austrian public broadcaster (which just got a cash infusion from Vienna after repeatedly going over budget). Not only did he know Haneke's work, he was responsible for financing it because it's a government obligation. As for the movies? He doesn't like them; the brutality turns him off -- so how do you tell people you don't like the movie that you just bankrolled?