When the going gets tough, newspapers clam up

The American Press Institute is gathering its newspaper nabobs to discuss ways to save their business. If you’re like this media reporter, you’d be interested in hearing what folks have to say when the conference happens. But you can’t; it’s closed to press.

Here’s Editor & Publisher:

The American Press Institute (API) will host an invitation-only, closed-door “summit conference” Nov. 13 in which 50 CEO-level executives will ponder ways to revive the newspaper business.

The one-day conference at API’s Reston, Va., headquarters will be “a facilitated discussion of concrete steps the industry can take to reverse its declines in revenue, profit and shareholder value.”

The API plans to release a report after the meeting. Of course, it would be interesting to hear the debate that goes into forming those conclusions. 

Many sources whom we deal with in the media world — particularly reporters, editors and other members of the editorial staff — find it funny that the industry they’re in (finding and reporting information, truthsquadding the government, holding the powerful accountable, etc. etc.) relies on publishers and other executives who are among the most press-averse people in the business world. Some executives talk. But many others hide, and only come out once a quarter to share some more bad news.

Obama: Good for newspapers — today

NEW YORK – In the same way that the Philadelphia Phillies’ World Series win boosted Inquirer and Daily News sales last week, U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama is jumping in to help papers across the country survive.

People across the country flocked to convenience stores and newsstands snatch up copies of their local papers, which ultimately will prove the most enduring mementos commemorating the election of the first black president of the United States. It’s not a long-term game changer, considering that you can’t hold an historic presidential election every day, but it’s a nice sweetener for a bitter industry story.

Here’s just one example of how the day is shaping up: The New York Times is printing an extra 50,000 copies of today’s paper for the local market after completely selling out, according to spokeswoman Catherine Mathis. (See the Romenesko journalism blog for more details about heavy press runs at other U.S. newspapers.)

Phillies help hometown papers SELL OUT!

The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News are two papers that have suffered persistent misery in recent years as former owner Knight Ridder couldn’t stop their ad revenue and circulation declines. Things haven’t gotten much better… until the Phillies won Major League Baseball’s World Series Wednesday night — the first time that has happened in 28 years.

Now? They can’t print enough. Here’s the press release:

PHILADELPHIA, October 30, 2008 – In response to the Phillies World Series win last night, Philadelphia Media Holdings Chief Executive Officer Brian Tierney announced this morning that last night’s over-run of almost 350,000 copies of The Inquirer and Daily News are completely sold out. And, in an unprecedented move, the printing presses are running again this morning so that an additional 350,000 copies can be printed and available by early afternoon today.

“People are buying these souvenir editions of The Inquirer and Daily News in massive quantities and we are responding by firing up our printing presses for another run this morning,” said Mr. Tierney. “We have not restarted the presses like this in decades but we want to be sure that every fan who wants a copy of our newspapers can buy one.”

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.

S&P upgrades McClatchy, man bites dog

mcclatchy.jpgMcClatchy’s third-quarter financial results could have been written last quarter, or two quarters ago… or last year. Short story: Ad revenue plunged some more, the company is doing everything it can to pay debt, online revenue is rising but not by enough, [insert here boilerplate paragraph on newspaper grappling with financial crisis/cyclical trends/slow decline of industry] and so on.

What a day for S&P Equity Research to say that it’s upgrading McClatchy to a “hold” from a “sell.” Here’s what it said:

MNI reports Q3 adjusted EPS from continuing operations of $0.13 vs. $0.31, in line with our $0.12 estimate. On a GAAP basis, loss per share was $16.42. Revenues declined 16%, with advertising falling 16% and circulation off by 5%. On a positive note, online ads grew 9%, representing 12% of total ad revenues. With a restructuring plan in place for $100 million in annual savings, and MNI’s success with its credit amendment, we are increasing our 12-month target price to $5.00 from $3.00. We lift our opinion on MNI shares to hold from sell.

Outsource, baby, outsource!

Reading newspapers at Martin Place in central SydneyAiling ad sales? Restive workers? Colossal costs? If your media company is experiencing one or more of the above symptoms, try outsourcing. While the long-term side effects are not yet known, outsourcing is proving to be an increasingly popular remedy for media companies looking to buff up their balance sheets.

The latest one — and potentially a harbinger for others in U.S. media companies — is MediaNews Group, the privately held, Colorado-based newspaper publisher run by “Lean” Dean Singleton.

Here is his latest comment on outsourcing, as covered by The Associated Press:

Singleton, who also serves as chairman of the board of The Associated Press, told the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association that his company was exploring outsourcing in nearly every aspect of their operations.

Lower your newspaper expectations – now

newspapers.jpgFormer Merrill Lynch newspaper publisher analyst Lauren Rich Fine said something cautiously optimistic about newspapers at the Dow Jones Media and Money conference on Wednesday: “Most of these companies can still be decent businesses. They just have to rethink their expectations. … Eventually, people will demand quality information, and they will pay for it.”

You can quibble with whether that’s optimistic if you like. To be fair, it’s a nice way of saying that newspapers will no longer be equipped with a license to mint their own coin, and that it’s Wall Street that has to get used to it. After all, as long as Wall Street doesn’t get used to it, you see stock moves like these today:

Gannett down 10 percent, McClatchy down 13 percent, New York Times down 8 percent (To be fair, Journal Register is up 50 percent this afternoon to an ultra-cheap 1.5 cents per share on news likely known only to itself)

Pledge a dollar, save a newspaper

It was just yesterday that I posted a blog entry on MediaFile that talked about how Gannett watchdog Jim Hopkins is soliciting advertising and reader contributions to keep himself afloat after his Gannett severance agreement peters out. Here’s one for the papers, contained in a letter I got from journalism trade publication Editor & Publisher on Tuesday:

Dear Subscriber,

In an attempt to better target the needs of our audience, we are asking all of our subscribers to indicate their types of business and job function according to the categories below. Per audit requirements, we must receive your response no later than October 31, 2008.

As thanks for your help in updating our records, we will make a donation of $1 to the charity of your choice upon receiving your completed form. (emphasis ours)

Private equity publicly disses newspapers

rtr1c8p7-1.jpgWhen it comes to newspapers, there’s nothing like the thrill of defeat. Scott Sperling, co-president of private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners, sounded anything but disappointed on stage Tuesday at the Dow Jones Media and Money conference when he told Wall Street Journal reporter Peter Lattman about dropping out of the bid for the Knight Ridder newspaper chain in 2006.

THL avoided the newspaper beat early on, Sperling said, after deciding that newspapers were just too expensive. “We looked at Knight Ridder more recently,” he said. “But we weren’t able to approach the price.”

So what does he think of the amazing advertising revenue plunge that has smacked newspaper publishers silly since then? “I would have predicted a lesser decline than what we’ve seen… We were probably too kind in our assessment of the industry three years ago.”

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.