Moody’s reads newspapers

Moody’s thumbed through the newspapers of the United States on Monday and concluded what many of us know: the outlook is negative. The summary: ad revenue falls, less money comes in, newspapers have to cut back to survive and it gets harder to pay their debt.

Having said that, this newspaper beat reporter found signs of a thaw, just like a crocus peeking through snow.

First, the negative:

The negative outlook for newspaper-ad revenue has worsened in the past six months as bleak data on the economy mounts, says Moody’s. Rising job losses, the weak housing market and tighter credit availability raise concerns that consumer spending will weaken further, extending and deepening the economic downturn.

The positive:

In addition, default risk is high for highly leveraged newspaper companies, says [Moody's Senior Analyst John] Puchalla, “although we expect some newspaper publishers to default in 2009, the ones that do are most likely to restructure their debt, rather than close shop.

And the really positive:

Longer term, Moody’s believes the industry will eventually deleverage, either by reducing debt with free cash flow or by way of bankruptcy filings. At that point, debt will likely stay at lower levels to make the industry a viable one.

McCartney fires up MySpace, burns NPR

So I wrote this story the other day about how Guns N’ Roses and the Paul McCartney/Youth project The Fireman were running streaming versions of their latest albums on MySpace, the social network that Rupert Murdoch counts as part of his News Corp media empire. The heart of the matter? MySpace touted it as exclusive launches preceding the albums’ debuts in stores.

On Thursday, I got a call from someone at National Public Radio who had read my story. Everything seemed fine except that it looked like Sir Paul and his buddy from Killing Joke who comprise Fireman had promised the exclusive to NPR.

I was getting ready for a good old-fashioned media brawl, but it was not to be.

NPR spokeswoman Anna Christopher: “We think that two people [at the record company] probably offered the same thing to NPR and to MySpace. Both of us are continuing to carry the album. We’re not going to make anybody take anything down or do anything drastic like that.”

Crunching the New York Times numbers

The New York Times Co’s announcement on Thursday that it’s cutting its dividend by almost 75 percent is a pretty grim indicator of the fortunes of the storied newspaper publisher. It also is fraught with implications. It prompted us to put some of the numbers in perspective, but first, here’s a recap of the news:

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The New York Times Co slashed its dividend by almost three-quarters and plans to cut spending and reevaluate its assets to cope with an advertising decline that is gouging U.S. newspaper publishers.

The trustees of the Ochs-Sulzberger family’s shares in the Times said on Thursday they support the company’s actions.

A new journalism career path: mailroom

I usually believe everything I read in Editor & Publisher, but this one seemed almost too good/horrifying to be true:

When a newspaper cuts its staff, those who remain in the depleted newsroom become valuable. But as The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. slowly says farewell to 151 newsroom folks who took buyouts last month, at least two longtime journalists have been reassigned to the mailroom.

Reporter Jason Jett and Assistant Deputy Photo Editor Mitchell Seidel have been filing, sorting, and delivering mail for more than a week, according to sources.

Huffingtonpost to fund investigative journalism

Just got back from a panel discussion at Michael’s restaurant in Manhattan where Huffingtonpost founder Arianna Huffington said that the news and commentary website is going to raise money to fund investigative journalism projects.

I asked her for more details afterward. She said there wouldn’t be any for another three months or so. That leaves me with precious little more to deliver than context. Her plan comes as the news business itself faces dire code-orange-style threat levels — many U.S. newspaper publishers are mired in debt and their ad sales are thinning, making it hard to see how they will soldier on. Not only that, investors are fleeing from them like the proverbial rats from a sinking ship and their equity value is hitting the low single digits.

For all media companies, whether or not they’re in the hands of investors, the ad revenue decline is hitting them hard, and all sorts of publications are axing staff. It leaves many media talking heads and bloggers wondering whether news will survive into the 21st century, at least in the way we know it.

Hey Media, don’t cross Barney Frank!

Here’s a fun one from my colleague Emily Kaiser, who’s reporting from Capitol Hill today (she’s monitoring the hearing on TV. Turns out we have someone else there. That’s what you get when you write about DC from New York), specifically from the Financial Services Committee in the House of Representatives:

Committee Chairman and Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Barney Frank was convening a hearing on how the government is using the $700 billion rescue fund, featuring some serious economic star power in the form of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp Chairman Sheila Bair.

Long story short, when the financial future of the nation is at stake, you gotta let the hearing get started — especially when Rep Frank wields the gavel:

Play time is over at The New York Times

We always thought that being involved in the professional sports world was like owning your own mint… which explains why we’re not independently wealthy.

For The New York Times, it looks like things didn’t quite work out. FishbowlNY broke the story that the Times was shutting Play magazine. Here is the blog quoting Play Editor Mark Bryant:

In October Bryant told us Play was scheduled to produce four issues in 2009, but apparently the worsening advertising climate and the ever-sinking NYT Co stock price altered that plan.

Newspapers, not out of the ‘wood’ yet

The American Press Institute went through with its plan to bring top U.S. newspaper publishers together in a room this week to figure out how to keep themselves alive despite all the financial evidence showing that hospice care might be their best bet at this point. It also, as we reported before, was closed to press, and none of the 50 executives who went were named. (UPDATE: Thanks to a good friend who supplied me with the list, it appears at the end of the post.)

Here are excerpts from the report. Go to the bottom of this post to read about why we couldn’t go:

The general feel of the conference:
“At times akin to group therapy and at other times resembling a business-school class… (Aren’t these folks business professionals already?)”

Scripps scraps jobs, not spelling bee

Newspaper publishers throughout the United States are cutting dividends, paper size, circulation, coverage, reporting jobs, editing jobs, advertising salesman jobs, copy editing jobs. Yes, even copy editing has to fall under the newspaper delivery truck sometime. Despite that, publisher EW Scripps — itself shedding workers — still is churning out tomorrow’s precision-focused language geeks for the copy desk.

We were curious to find out what kinds of discretionary spending cuts companies are making, and newspapers are no exception. When thinking about publishers, the most high-profile event we could think of was the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee. Could they cut the beloved Bee? I asked spokesman Tim King:

We are enthusiastically going to continue running the spelling  Bee — we’re eager to host the next one that’s coming this coming spring.

Fox Business does business with politics, hotels

Fox Business Network‘s website had a good October, thanks to the financial crisis. Here are some numbers:

- 2.5 million unique users, its highest monthly audience ever
- 21st in unique users among all Nielsen’s financial news & information websites.
- 9th in visits per person, 15th in total visits, “stickiness,” and pages per person among all financial news and information websites.
- 3.9 million unique users as measured internally and 2.5 million as measured by Nielsen Online.

Meanwhile on election night, 79,196 homes tuned in to FBN, or 0.2 percent of the 42 million homes in which the network is available. Then again, only 0.3 percent of CNBC’s 97 million homes were watching.