MediaFile

Newspapers plot survival as quietly as they can

Newspapers are in the business of making information public so readers can benefit. Newspaper publishers are in the business of revealing as little as possible unless someone springs a leak.

In the case of the two-dozen newspaper publishers who met in the Chicago area to discuss ways to get people to pay for the news they read online, the leak landed in the hands of The Atlantic. Here is an excerpt:

There’s no mention on its website but the Newspaper Association of America, the industry trade group, has assembled top executives of the New York Times, Gannett, E. W. Scripps, Advance Publications, McClatchy, Hearst Newspapers, MediaNews Group, the Associated Press, Philadelphia Media Holdings, Lee Enterprises and Freedom Communication Inc., among more than two dozen in all. A longtime industry chum, consultant Barbara Cohen, “will facilitate the meeting.” …

There was a dinner Wednesday and, according to the agenda, Thursday begins with a quick declaration of goals at 8 a.m., then an 8:10 a.m. session labeled, “Fair Syndication Consortium/Attributor.” …

That first session is followed by “Journalism Online: Presentation on proposed service to charge for access to newspaper content and to license that content that (sic) online aggregators” (the assistance of at least one of the many copy editors sent packing by the attendees might have been sought).

Gannett watchdog will shut down his blog

Gannett watchdog Jim Hopkins has spent a lot of time and money running his blog dedicated to keeping a close eye on, and usually criticizing, the company. Not anymore. Come Oct. 1, Hopkins said on an entry on his blog on Tuesday, he will “stop active management.”Here are the relevant excerpts:

I had planned to post this on July 1, the start of the third quarter. In fairness to my more than 10,000 monthly readers, however, I’m moving up the publication date. …

My plan did not, however, anticipate the rate at which readers would post comments: I am now anticipating at least 50,000 over the next 12 months. For both news-gathering and ethical reasons, I am committed to reading them all.

That would be OK, except the tone of comments shifted in December — for entirely understandable reasons. Many of Gannett’s 41,500 employees came to understand what was taking place in the company. They are now fear-filled, desperate, angry — even suicidal, on occasion. Blogging can be very stressful, of course, Now, I’m finding it may be psychologically harmful, too.

Gannett sets the tone for a tough earnings period

Let the bleeding begin. USA Today publisher Gannett kicked off earnings season for media companies this morning, posting a 60 percent drop in quarterly profit.

Here are some key points:

    Revenue fell almost 18 percent to $1.38 billion.
    Publishing ad revenue fell 34.1 percent from last year, with U.S. ad revenue down 28.2 percent and British ad revenue down 38.7 percent.
    At USA Today, ad sales fell 33.5 percent, and the number of paid advertising pages fell to 527 from 826 last year. USA Today’s paid circulation also likely will fall after Marriott International said this week that it would no longer automatically deliver the paper to its guests.

Don’t expect advertising revenue to look much better for biggest media companies as they roll out their numbers over the coming weeks. As Bernstein analyst Michael Nathanson recently pointed out in a research note, investors have been “looking past the horrid near-term trends to a happier place somewhere out on the horizon” but with earnings here “the recent run-up in media stocks will have resistance as the market realizes that recent trends are not likely to reverse any time soon.”

Keep an eye on:

    Dominos has found itself in the center of a publicity storm after two employees filmed a prank in one of its restaurant’s kitchens and posted it online (NY Times)
    ABC Entertainment Group President Stephen McPherson is under increasing pressure to produce a break-out hit (NY Post)
    Twitter is talking to big web companies about partnerships, but isn’t looking to sell itself (NY Times)
    Publicis Groupe agencies have added Hewlett-Packard’s personal systems group account in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region following a review (Adweek)

USA Today: Paper goes well with Kindle

Before we get to the point of this blog post, let’s see what’s up with Gannett lately.

Its stock rocketed some 40 percent last week, something many experts and news outlets said was because a big investor doubled its stake because it thinks that Gannett’s newspapers might have a future. It rocketed again on Monday, though it’s down 20 percent today (Tuesday). Some of that’s likely because of short sellers covering their bets on the stock’s movements.

Not only that, the company rejected the latest overture from a possible buyer on its Tucson, Arizona paper, prolonging the agony over whether the paper will close or not. Quarterly earnings are on their way this week too, which the company already said would be less than hot. Finally, USA Today is going to show up in fewer hotel rooms now that Marriott said it will start offering customers the option to get no paper at all.

Lee joins newspaper privation train

Lee Enterprises, publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and owner of a bunch of small U.S. daily newspapers, is learning the public relations benefits of making its executives do without.

The Davenport, Iowa-based Lee released its annual proxy filing with the U.S. government on Monday, in advance of its annual meeting. I was expecting to see the usual details buried deep within about the pay raises, bonuses and other monetary rewards that executives tend to earn even when times turn tough.

I was wrong. Here is what I found instead (the following are “named executive officers” or “NEOs,” including Chief Executive Mary Junck:

The worst vacation ever

It’s just like vacation — except that you don’t get paid and really don’t have any choice in the matter and will likely spend the days worrying this could be a hint of (bad) things to come.

Some staffers at Gannett Co, the largest U.S. newspaper publisher, will be forced to take a week off without pay in its latest move to cut costs. Already, it has cut thousands of jobs, says this furlough will help it avoid more layoffs.

Here’s what Reuters reported:

“This means that most of our U.S. employees — including myself and all other top executives — will be furloughed for the equivalent of one week in the first quarter,” Dubow wrote.

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.

It’s Midway or the highway for Redstone

Sumner Redstone is selling low — way low. Here’s The Wall Street Journal with the news:

In an effort to help resolve his debt problems, Sumner Redstone has sold his controlling stake in videogame company Midway Games Inc to a private investor.

Mr. Redstone’s holding company, National Amusements Inc., is expected to announce Monday that it sold its 87% stake in Midway to investor Mark Thomas, a move that represents a significant loss on the media mogul’s investment but secures a hefty tax benefit as he negotiates other asset sales.

Gannett watchdog needs cash

Former Gannett investigative journalist Jim Hopkins has made a new career out of bird-dogging his own company at Gannett Blog (no affiliation to the company), attracting tons of information about buyouts and layoffs, not to mention the usual office gossip that permeates any big company. No one quite follows Gannett like Hopkins, even when he spent the summer in Ibiza. (Talk about priorities!)

The problem? Here he is in his own words:

I’m now starting the time clock on an experiment illustrating the brutal economics of online journalism. Based on the long odds, I’ll probably fail — pushing Gannett Blog closer to its demise, and showing on a micro level why Gannett’s survival is so threatened.

I’m looking for ways to earn about $24,000 a year from several sources to supplement my income, now that USA Today’s severance checks are ending. A logical place to start: this blog, which in the past year has become a leading source of news and networking for more than 10,000 GCI employees and other readers each month.

McClatchy, other newspapers think vertically

Friday’s press release from McClatchy Corp about its new vice president for strategic initiatives includes a quote from interactive media VP Christian Hendricks that caught my eye:

It’s clear there’s a tremendous opportunity to provide local readers with a richer online experience by creating niche and vertical websites that combine our local experience and content with national brands and content… We are confident advertisers will also benefit greatly from better targeted advertising opportunities and increased traffic in topic-specific content areas on these sites.

By now you’ve realized that it was “niche and vertical websites” that got me all excited. Normally I find ways to translate that kind of jargon into English, but not this time.