WSJ vs USA Today: Who has the biggest paper?

USA Today and The Wall Street Journal aren’t waiting for Oct. 26, the day North American newspapers report their latest circulation numbers, to begin tussling over which one has the biggest paper.

Editor & Publisher made the first move on Friday when Jennifer Saba reported that 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 news came in a memo from USA Today Publisher, David Hunke, to his workers.

Spicy stuff, considering that when we write about its owner, Gannett, we say it is the largest U.S. newspaper publisher that publishes USA Today, the largest newspaper by circulation.

The Wall Street Journal’s Shira Ovide wrote up the news too, adding this: “After USA Today’s memo, the Journal said it is now the largest U.S. newspaper by weekday circulation.” Andrew Vanacore at The Associated Press, featured the Jornal echoing that statement: “Dow Jones, the Journal’s parent company, declined to give out the newspaper’s circulation figures for the period, but spokesman Robert Christie said, ‘The Journal is now the largest newspaper by circulation.’”

We wrote up the story too, going along the same lines. The next day, however, we got this statement from USA Today’s communications vp Ed Cassidy – a bit too late to run it as an update to our old story. Still, it piqued my interest in a big way because it doesn’t go along with the lines of what we reported earlier:

Rupert Murdoch: You call it free news, I call you ‘kleptomaniac’

Lest anyone doubt the thrust of Rupert Murdoch’s speech on Thursday (or was it Friday? I’m losing track of time zones) at the World Media Summit in Beijing, it was all about paying for news — as in: You’re going to pay for news, and if you think it shouldn’t cost you anything, you’re a “flat-earther” and a “kleptomaniac.”

For those of you accustomed to the News Corp CEO’s occasional verbal ramblings and hints of ghosts of suggestions, this was a departure. He has gone on the record in great detail about his thoughts regarding paid news, but this is the first time that I recall him using fightin’ words like “flat-earther.”

Murdoch also “urged the Chinese government to take full advantage of the country’s creative potential by opening the door to media competition and ensuring that intellectual property is protected,” according to the speech and the press release, but let’s be clear — the message that resonated was: “You’re going to pay for news as long as we need to pay people to report it.”

From the desk of [your news outlet] and Scribd

The words “Document-sharing website” probably won’t thrill too many people who aren’t stationery geeks. Nevertheless, one such website,, has released a new feature that could make online news reporting a more interesting experience for the journalists and the readers.

But first, a dose of background: Scribd is a website that lets you do all sorts of things in publishing, including selling electronic copies of books. Some of us at Media File use it for a different purpose: embedding documents related to our reporting inside blog posts. See this blog post I wrote about pharmaceutical company Mylan’s legal tussle with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. At the bottom of the page, you can see the legal documents that I wrote about in the blog post and posted by using Scribd.

On Wednesday, Scribd said news outlets The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch and Mediabistro will use Scribd’s document reader on their sites in the same kinds of ways that I used it on Media File.

Hearst board additions feel… papery

You have to give Hearst some credit for sticking to what it knows. Check the short biographies of the four company executives who are joining the publisher (and broadcaster’s) board:

    George R. Hearst III, publisher of the Albany Times Union. Newspapers. Papery. Richard P. Malloch, president of Hearst Business Media and senior vice president of Hearst Corporation. He used to run Hearst’s consumer books business before selling it to HarperCollins. Papery. Scott M. Sassa, president of Hearst Entertainment & Syndication and senior vice president of Hearst Corporation. OK — a former Internet startup and venture capital guy, not to mention his career at NBC — maybe not so papery. Steven R. Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers and senior vice president of Hearst Corporation. He also ran the yellow pages business, though he seems less papery when you find out that he helped start the newspaper consortium with Yahoo. That has been a well meaning if not game-changing attempt to get newspapers and Yahoo to the point where they both feed each other big advertising profits.

Now, Hearst might be experiencing some tough times in the newspaper business, having closed the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and having thought publicly about dropping the San Francisco Chronicle. At the same time, it’s not trying to save itself by changing everything it does and acting like a new media company.

One bit of possible wisdom that I hear people saying these days is: Why not manage your media business to deal with what it knows? The print business might be declining but, if managed properly, there might be a graceful way to run things that doesn’t erode what cash the business is making with no clear way of replacing it. Maybe these print guys know something after all.

The New York Times tries local news, far away

If you read often enough about the supposed death of the newspaper business, you would think that the nation’s newsrooms are increasingly depopulated, barren places, with darkened offices and empty cubicles… the occasional tumbleweed blowing past. (Actually,  large stretches of Tribune Co’s New York bureau look just like that, as I saw earlier this year).

In San Francisco, Chicago and other metropolitan centers, you would be wrong. It’s true that both cities bear unfortunate marks of how rough the advertising decline, rise of the Internet and financial crisis have treated their news operations: Hearst was toying with shutting down the San Francisco Chronicle, and Chicago’s leading daily papers, the Tribune and the Sun-Times, are owned by bankrupt companies. Improbably enough, both are turning into hot spots for local news competition.

The New York Times and Wall Street Journal are fighting over San Francisco, and a private equity guy has teamed up with KQED and UC Berkeley to try a nonprofit local news experiment. And now, the Times reported on Wednesday, it is targeting some other cities, including Chicago. Here is an excerpt from reporter Richard Perez-Pena’s writeup on the Times’s decoder blog:

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette countersues Mylan

This one comes in on the wrong side of the weekend, but it’s worth some attention to people who follow the media and follow financial news: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sued pharmaceutical company Mylan on Friday — that action itself a countersuit to Mylan’s lawsuit against the paper. (Read the documents for yourself at this blog.)

Mylan Inc’s subsidiary Mylan Pharmaceuticals sued the Post-Gazette and two of its journalists in August, claiming that the daily paper and its reporters improperly obtained confidential documents and misappropriated trade secrets in the process of reporting and publishing a story on an internal company report about potential problems at Mylan’s Morgantown, West Virginia, plant. Mylan’s internal report, as the Post-Gazette reported, showed that employees had overridden computer-generated warnings about possible problems in its drug-making process.

Mylan naturally wasn’t crazy about that, prompting the lawsuit. Now, the Post-Gazette is smacking back. Here is an excerpt from its own news story:

How to subsidize news without feeling dirty

The U.S. Congress’s Joint Economic Committee hit one of my favorite topics on Thursday: What the government could, should, must (or must not) do to help the struggling news media survive, with the spotlight on newspapers in particular.

I had a look at the testimony and found some fascinating thoughts in the testimony from Paul Starr, a professor at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. Starr has some ideas for how the government might preserve a free press by extending a hand to the news business — all without using that word that no one wants to use: bailout.

First, the background: Newspapers are in trouble as the Internet destroys their advertising revenue. More people than ever read the news online, and news websites are trying to figure out a way to make money off that because letting people in for free just kills the circulation of their printed products. Some folks have raised the idea of federal, state or local subsidies to help papers — usually in the form of tax breaks — but the Newspaper Association and others say it’s a bad idea because the press shouldn’t be beholden to the government that it’s supposed to be monitoring for abuse, fraud, etc.

Talk, scratch head, talk some more (The future of news)

I got this invitation in my e-mail this week:

Because press space at the invitation-only event is extremely limited, kindly contact me as soon as possible to secure a seat.
Following is background on the event:

WHAT: A unique invitation-only gathering of more than 100 senior leaders from media and technology, the UCBerkeley Media Technology Summit is being organized by the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. The summit, which will run from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 at the Googleplex, is intended to provide the leaders of traditional media companies with new insights into the technologies, consumer behavior and advertising systems that will affect their businesses at a time of momentous change (Sounds like the latest opportunity to smack around traditional media companies for being traditional, no? — ed). The Koret Foundation, Google and the McCormick Foundation are generously sponsoring the event.

I got my invitation from Alan Mutter, who blogs about the future of the news business at Reflections of a Newsosaur and someone whom I frequently ask for expert comments for my news stories. Because it’s from Alan, I know it will be interesting, and I wish I could attend (I’ll be in Toronto on covert military maneuvers for the Parti Quebecois for the Thomson Reuters investor day at the time).

Ad spending down 14 percent – but it’s not getting worse!

Over the last few days executives at Goldman Sachs’ Communicopia have talked about a stabilizing — or even improving — advertising market.

It’s not the only time they’ve talked about stabilization. It was the watchword of investors calls as far back as last spring. And it appears they were right. New figures out from TNS Media Intelligence show the advertising market wasn’t any worse in the second quarter than it was in the first.

That’s cold comfort considering the data show that advertising spending in the second quarter sank 13.9 percent from a year ago. For the first six months of 2009, spending is down some 14.3 percent from a year ago, or more than $10 billion in lost TV spots, print ads and radio jingles.

Google’s Fast Flip Trick

Google wants its online news site to feel more like the good old print product.

And the company is prepared to pay for it.

Google took the wraps off of Fast Flip on Monday, a slick online tool that lets readers flip through articles from newspapers and magazines as quickly and effortlessly as if they were turning the pages of a magazine.

The company said it will share advertising revenue with the 30 publishers whose content is currently available on Fast Flip, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and Newsweek.

Obsessive Google-watchers may recall that rumors of this product emerged back in June.