MediaFile

Keep on rockin’ in the fee world, newspapers

It’s refreshing to read some reasoned thinking about the future of newspapers that does not come from

    Newspaper executives whose cheerleading about how they will survive — somehow — gets undercut by reporting a 30 percent drop in profits one quarter later, or Internet Cassandras who want newspapers to burn and die because they hate editors who get precious about how the calling of journalism trumps the rules of free markets and (more typically) because they hold dear the tradition of thinking that newspapers only print lies.

The Financial Times is the bearer of these encouraging if cautionary words in an editorial that it ran on Tuesday:

There are legitimate concerns about the disappearance of general papers. The best dig up stories and provide coverage of local, national and foreign news that enlightens readers and citizens. It is easy to undervalue such news when it has been plentiful for decades, but society would feel its absence.

Perhaps some of the reporting done up to now by for-profit papers will in future be funded by foundations or trusts. But the industry should not lose faith in the free market. When people really want or need something, they will pay for it, one way or another. If today’s publishers cannot convince their readers to do so, they will be overtaken by others that can.

The FT is not saying that all newspapers have a future; it’s saying that the ones that don’t waste your time will survive because you will pay for them. To be sure, there is news that we want to know and news that we need to know (whether he want to or not). The question is: how many of our papers provide that? We would enjoy getting your response.

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.

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.

Financial Times finds new way to save newspapers

Maybe the real headline should be, “Financial Times finds old way to save newspapers.” It’s called the lawsuit. As reported by Cityfile:

You know we’re in a deep recession when even billionaire financiers can’t afford to pay for subscriptions to the Financial Times. In what will go down as one of the more bizarre (and unintentionally hilarious) lawsuits we’ve seen in quite some time, the newspaper filed a lawsuit against Steve Schwarzman’s Blackstone Group on Wednesday for sharing an FT username and password instead of setting up separate accounts for its employees. Yes, an unknown “senior employee” at the colossal private equity firm “authorized the initiation and repeated renewal of an individual, personal subscription to FT.com” and then distributed the login details to company employees so they could all join in on the fun. (The court documents list the username as “theblackstonegroup” and the password as “blackstone,” although FT says it has since “disabled the credentials to mitigate damages.”)

The New York Post gives us the background on why the situation is absurd on its face:

Walking around with the Financial Times

Having a copy of the Financial Times poking out of your valise is one way of telling the world that you are a sophisticated business type. Another way is to show people the new FT mobile service on your BlackBerry.

Here’s the news from the press release:

The Financial Times today announces the launch of a new FT.com website optimised for mobile devices available at m.ft.com. The site is consistent with the new FT.com design unveiled in November 2008 and follows the news that FT.com has broken the one million registered user barrier for the first time.

The idea is to loop a younger generation into the FT, particularly young people who think that any newspaper showing up on any part of their person is like driving a chariot to work in the morning rush hour.

Watch Gannett layoffs in slow motion

It’s layoff week at Gannett — even the second N and T might be redundant.

The largest U.S. newspaper publisher and owner of USA Today, the nation’s biggest-selling daily paper, is slashing payroll just in time for the holidays. We read about layoffs everywhere these days, but if you want to see the slow-motion car crash version of how Gannett is doing it, look to Gannett Blog, run by former company reporter Jim Hopkins.

With no newspaper job to keep him busy, Hopkins chronicles nearly every event that he hears about Gannett. That includes a dose of rumor, but much of what he reports is more right than wrong.

Financial Times — Pinker and prouder than previous

It’s not every day that we can work in obscure Nick Lowe album titles into our blog headlines, so it’s particularly gratifying when pop music trivia finds a golden opportunity for use after sitting around in our heads for years.

The news today is that the Financial Times, perhaps the world’s most famous pink paper, is overhauling its website starting Tuesday. It says new features will appear over the next six months.

Here is the top of the press release, and below you can see a shot of what the page will look like:

Breakingviews sees gold in Fortune, CNNMoney.com

Business news analysis service Breakingviews.com isn’t doing too shabbily since getting the boot from its longtime space in The Wall Street Journal. Not long after that happened, it wound up in The New York Times and its sister paper the International Herald Tribune, as well as the Daily Telegraph. (And occasionally it shows up in the Journal through the miracle of advertising.)

Now it’s scoping out Time Warner territory. Breakingviews plans to announce on Thursday that it has strucka deal to appear in Fortune magazine starting Oct. 27, while selected “views” will run on the Internet at CNNMoney.com, which includes Fortune’s online material. In addition, Breakvingviews staffers will join the CNNMoney video line-up in the near future.

Breakingviews, which jostles with The Wall Street Journal’s Heard on the Street and Financial Times’s Lex column to analyze business news for investors and other market types, has 27 columnists based in London, New York, Paris, Washington, Madrid and San Francisco, according to the press release.

Financial Times adapts to financial times

It looks like The Guardian was the first to report that the Financial Times would cut up to 60 jobs in its editorial library and managing editor’s office, as well as its advertising sales, finance, IT, conferences and marketing departments. The Guardian might have overplayed things a bit, as we hear no one has decided on final numbers and that plenty of cuts could come through leaving some jobs unfilled and various other humane means.

If the FT shed 60 non-newsroom employees, that would amount to a little under 4 percent of its total staff (1,600 positions, with about 550 in editorial). As FT chief John Ridding says in the memo, it’s streamlining, not fallout from the financial crisis. In that respect, as Ridding has told us, world economic pain has been good to the FT so far. Still, it probably won’t hurt to batten down the hatches before the advertising market starts taking on water.

Here’s the memo:

Dear All,

As I have said in our staff presentations and business updates we are continuously looking to streamline our organisation, to make it as efficient as possible and to adapt it to the rapidly changing media industry.

FT’s Barber cuts to the heart of the press problem

Some interesting points from a weekend opinion piece by Financial Times Editor Lionel Barber.
Barber analyzed how the press — particularly in the United States — got to the miserable place that it’s in now. There are plenty of reasons having to do with business models and impatient Wall Street vultures, but Barber brought up an interesting idea: the mainstream media disenfranchised itself from the public’s trust as it became more cozy with its high-level sources — precisely at the time that the Internet started to annihilate the U.S. newspaper business model.

Barber relies on Michael Elliott, the British-born editor of Time’s international edition, to sum up the U.S. newspaper crisis:

A broken business model overly reliant on classified advertising revenue that has now moved online; a mistaken notion that post-1945 newspaper staffs of 800-plus journalists were the norm rather than a historical aberration; and, crucially, a stultifying failure to innovate because of the lack of competition.