MediaFile

How I learned to stop worrying and love bad newspaper news

We had a hard time finding the good news in Monday’s report that U.S. newspaper circulation has fallen more than 10 percent, based on an analysis of 379 daily papers. Thank goodness for the newspapers whose publishers helped them understand why losing hundreds or thousands of paying readers is good.

Most papers acknowledged deep declines in circulation, but explained it in one of the following ways:

    We had to clear out all the bulk copies sold at discount. (I’m still not sure how this one works because I recall publishers saying this a couple of years ago. How many deadwood readers are there?) We shrank our coverage area so of course we lost some circulation. It tells advertisers that they’re getting a BETTER quality of reader. We’re charging more for the paper so circulation revenue has risen, and anyway, who wants to rely on a business as fickle as advertising (the one that lined our owners’ pockets for the past 150 years.)? Readership is rising on the Internet. At least we didn’t get whacked as bad as the next guy.

All these statements are true, and they all are good business moves. What I can’t find among the numbers is what percent of print decline at many of these papers is because of the other reasons that you hear from people. Some are legitimate, some aren’t and some are just silly. All say one thing: Many people don’t pay for the paper anymore, which means there’s less money to keep them in business. (Don’t believe us? Ask the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer):

    I hate my newspaper My newspaper doesn’t have anything interesting in it News is boring News is free on the Internet My newspaper is biased to the right/left/middle/other Little League team than the one my kid is on My paper stopped running Garfield in the funnies. It doesn’t run Hints From Heloise anymore. You can’t get good TV listings anymore I don’t care about anything that happens in the rest of the world or outside my front door. There’s not enough local/regional/national/world news here. The sports section sucks. It always arrives too early/late for me to read it.

Here are samples of how some papers handled Monday’s news:

San Francisco Chronicle headline: Chronicle’s strategy shift starts to pay off

Tribune365, thinking beyond newspaper circulation

Monday’s newspaper circulation numbers please no one who makes their living from selling papers. That’s evident when you look at the top 25 dailies by circulation and see that the best performance came from The Wall Street Journal, which rose less than 1 percent. Considering that advertisers use these numbers to determine where to spend their money, there is little reason to rejoice.

Tribune Co’s two largest papers, the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, both posted steep declines on Monday, but the company is urging advertisers to look beyond numbers that it considers less relevant than they were before the Internet. Instead, it wants them to look at how many people they can reach through Tribune’s diverse lineup of papers, websites and television stations.

To make this easier, Tribune has started “Tribune365,” a “multichannel sales solutions group providing customized marketing programs to advertisers looking to reach consumers across a variety of media platforms.” (More on what this means — in English — below.)

Chicago news co-op launches, will feed New York Times

It’s a good thing when the journalists write press releases. Today’s launch of the Chicago News Cooperative is something that we can share with you pretty much by cutting and pasting the press release. Unlike the jargon-filled missives from many companies, this is easy to read.

A few points first: The CNC is a new nonprofit reporting organization supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and comprises former Chicago Tribune journalists and other editorial staff. This is the latest foundation-sponsored news operation, a way that growing numbers of experts say could point the way to the future for financing U.S. journalism. After all, advertising isn’t working out as well as it used to, and people keep dropping their print subscriptions to read it for free online.

A report out this week from former Washington Post editor Len Downie Jr and Columbia professor Michael Schudson approaches this topic and even suggests a U.S.-style BBC to make sure that journalism doesn’t disappear just because Wall Street investors and advertisers don’t like the declining profits and circulation they’re seeing at your hometown paper.

Get ready to pay for Newsday

Newspapers often resemble a melting iceberg full of milling penguins when they talk about whether and how to make people pay for their news online. Newsday, the former Tribune-owned daily paper that serves New York’s Long Island, has left the iceberg. Here is the paper, in its own words:

Those who are not customers of Optimum Online or the newspaper – both owned by Bethpage-based Cablevision Systems Corp. – will have to pay a $5 weekly fee. However, nonpaying customers will have access to some of newsday.com’s information, including the home page, school closings, weather, obituaries, classified and entertainment listings. There also will be some limited access to Newsday stories.

Newsday described the move as one that would create a “pioneering Web model,” combining the newspaper’s newsgathering services with Cablevision’s electronic distribution capabilities. About 75 percent of Long Island households are Newsday home delivery or Cablevision online customers or both, according to Newsday. Optimum Online customers total 2.5 million in the New York area, the paper said.

The Wall Street Journal — now for ‘professionals’

The Wall Street Journal, ever on the hunt for new ways to please its readers and new ways to make money (and what, we ask, is wrong with that?), will launch a new, pricier version this November. Called “The Wall Street Journal Professional Edition,” it is designed for business readers who want more than what the daily newspaper and website provide on their own.

Essentially, it is the Journal’s daily offering, with reports from Dow Jones Newswires and a reservoir of news and information from Factiva, the news archive that Dow Jones owns — and a bunch more stuff:

    Information from more than 17,000 global sources, some of which are not available to the public. A one-year archive of Factiva’s global business sources and a two-year archive of wsj.com content. More than 30 industry pages, managed by Dow Jones editors Six industry sections managed by Journal editors who select news and information for readers on pharmaceuticals, healthcare, energy, media and marketing, telecommunications and technology. Personalized homepages and news alerts for when things break.

Dow Jones plans to sell the edition to businesses, which would make it available to employees through “site licenses” (ie, your business buys a license that makes the professional edition available to X number of people for a price to be determined). In January, it will be available to people for $49 a month, or just under $600 a year, said Clare Hart, head of Dow Jones’s Enterprise Media Group, which oversees Dow Jones Newswires, Factiva and Dow Jones Indexes.

Los Angeles Times staffers fear more layoffs coming

We feel like we’ve read this bad news before. Our sources tell us that they are expecting another round of layoffs in the Los Angeles Times newsroom. They said that people thought a few dozen editorial staffers could get their walking papers this week, though someone else close to the paper whom we spoke cautioned that amount was too extreme.

The paper hasn’t scheduled any meetings or circulated any memos, the sources said. In other words, all this could change. A Times spokeswoman declined to comment.

The blog Laobserved.com, which follows the Times closely, reported that at least one reporter, Tina Daunt, has posted on her Facebook page that she has been canned. “More expected through the day,” the blog also reported.

New York Times job cuts: Read the memo

The New York Times will cut 100 positions in its newsroom by the end of the year, Executive Editor Bill Keller told staff on Monday. This is the second time that the paper has taken this unfortunate step, having cut 100 positions last year (though, as Richard Perez-Pena reported in his story on nytimes.com, other positions were added so it was not a net reduction). Thing is, the TImes already cut pay for journalists and other employees this year in an attempt to forestall cuts. So… it’s not good news, but it is fit to print. Here is Keller’s memo:

Colleagues,

I had planned to invite you to the newsroom and break this news in person today, but I’ve been hit by something that seems to be the flu. Though I strongly believe in delivering bad news in person, I don’t want to add insult to injury by spreading infection.

Let me cut to the chase: We have been told to reduce the newsroom by 100 positions between now and the end of the year.

Thanksgiving: Cook a turkey, buy a newspaper

Thanksgiving thank-you lists can get pretty lengthy. This year, add a newspaper to the things you’re thankful for. That, more or less, is the message that the Newspaper Association of America is delivering in an advertisement that it hopes daily papers will run this coming Monday. The ad will appear a week before the Audit Bureau of Circulations publishes its latest circulation statistics for North American newspapers.

As USA Today has already said, and other insiders have told us, circulation is going to fall compared with last year — and those declines at many papers likely will be worse than usual. That’s the kind of thing that advertisers don’t like to hear, and one of the reasons that they are devoting their dollars in increasing amounts to other media. But as the NAA will remind people, some of that sentiment might be misplaced. Here, for your viewing pleasure, is the ad.

At Chicago Sun-Times, portrait of a newspaper investor

It’s not every day that you get people who are anxious to tell you that they’re investing in newspapers, that great industry sector that took a swan dive into an empty swimming pool over the past couple years. Private equity firms that are getting into that game again are just that — PRIVATE.

The latest buyers of the Chicago Sun-Times and parent company Sun-Times Media Group identified themselves on Friday, however, and we’d like to share their names with you too. Good luck with the newspaper game.

    Jim Tyree, Chairman and CEO of Mesirow Financial, Managing Member, Sun-Times Media Holdings, LLC Andrew Agostini, Principal and Owner, J.L. Woode Ltd. Kevin Flynn, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Emerald Ventures, Inc. Ed Heil, Investor and Entrepreneur Michael Mackey, Senior Managing Director, Insurance Services, Mesirow Financial William Parrillo and Robert Parrillo, Private Investors Richard Price, President and Chief Operating Officer, Mesirow Financial Ed Ross, Principal and Owner, J.L. Woode Ltd. W. Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz, President, Wirtz Corporation Bruce Young, Vice Chairman, Mesirow Financial

The Sun-Times’s website, by the way, has some mugshots. The rival Chicago Tribune tells us that the list is “studded with colorful Chicagoans.” Hopefully Saturday’s newspaper story will say why they are. I’m not a Chicagoan myself, so I’m relying on you readers to tell us why these people are colorful.

Wall Street Journal vs USA Today — Part II

Earlier this week I brought you the brewing circulation tussle between USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, and which paper will be able to claim to be the largest one in terms of circulation. You can read that here, but for the recap, here are the main points:

    Editor & Publisher reports: USA Today was set to report that circulation fell “17% to 1.88 million for the six months ending September 2009, a drop of about 390,000 copies. The decline could also threaten USA Today’s position as the No. 1 newspaper in the country by circulation.” The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press report that the Journal would be the largest paper by circulation, according to the Journal. USA Today responds, “We are confident that even with this latest economic impact, USA TODAY will remain the nation’s number one newspaper in total print circulation when the ABC statements are released October 26th.”

As I wrote at the time, it seems that the Journal is counting print and online subscriptions together, and why not? Both are made up of paying subscribers. USA Today, of course, is counting printed newspapers.

We won’t know until their circulation numbers are published on October 26 what the final, comparable figures would be. But today, the Journal revealed its latest numbers: