MediaFile

Martha’s Vineyard Gazette sold to KKR co-founder Kohlberg

RTRQKOPI’ve always been thankful that my grandparents were good at playing the real estate game. Among their unlikely coups was buying a house in the 1960′s in Edgartown, the tony enclave on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, whose exclusive address had no correspondence to their income level. If they hadn’t bought it, there’s no way that my journalist’s salary would have been able to scoop up property like that. In the more than three decades that I’ve been going there, I’ve become a regular reader of the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette, the enormous broadsheet newspaper that has resisted the cost-cutting size reductions that many other newspapers in the United States have sustained.

That allegiance to the paper (and its weekly competitor, the Martha’s Vineyard Times), as well as my continuing nostalgia for my former media beat — the future of newspapers, publishing and journalism — made it all the more interesting when I read on Friday that the Reston family is selling the 164-year-old paper to Jerome Kohlberg. It’s the story that has it all for a business reader, really: Daily paper, read by rich and powerful residents who are captains of the financial world (and hopefully Reuters clients), sold to a true bigwig of the private equity world, and a strange connection to The New York Times to boot.

Richard Reston took over editing and publishing the paper, as the Times’s Jacques Steinberg relates in this 2003 story, after leaving the Los Angeles Times where he was a foreign correspondent with stints in Northern Ireland, the Soviet Union and  Vietnam. His family has owned the paper since 1968, as the Vineyard Gazette reports here, when the late James “Scotty” Restonbought it from Henry Beetle Hough. Scotty Reston, of course, was a top editor at The New York Times for many years. ((In a bit of Vineyard cultural trivia, the Gazette has long been seen as the newspaper of the tourists and the seasonal visitors, while many year-round islanders favor the Times).

What strikes me as odd is the choice of buyer: Jerome Kohlberg, who co-founded the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, has another connection, once-removed, to The New York Times. Kohlberg’s son was nominated to that company’s board by Phil Falcone, the hedge fund manager at Harbinger Capital Partnerswho amassed a half-billion dollar’s worth of New York Times shares in a bid to shake up the company’s management and operations. Ultimately, Kohlberg’s son James did get nominated to the board, but Harbinger’s bet on the Times did not work out. The stock price tanked after Falcone’s move, and Harbinger since then has reduced its stake from about 20 percent to, as of this week, just above 2 percent. Kohlberg is still on the board, though Scott Galloway, the investor who came up with the Harbinger plan, has moved on.

Jerome Kohlberg is 85 and has been visiting the island from his Mount Kisco, New York home since 1943. He also appears to be taking a more friendly approach to his foray into newspapering. Here’s an excerpt from the press release:

WSJ defies newspaper ad trends

DOWJONES-NEWSCORP/Newspaper publishers are still laboring to reverse a massive decline in advertising revenue – the Newspaper Association of America reported that total industry ad revenue fell 6% in Q2 — but you sure wouldn’t know it over at The Wall Street Journal.

Wall Street Journal Publisher Les Hinton sent around an email (posted on Romenesko) touting the paper’s eye-popping 17% increase in print and online ad revenue in the quarter ending September versus the same period a year ago.  Print advertising jumped 21% while online ad revenue advanced 29%.

Hinton notes that this is the Journal’s fourth consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth and attributes the rise in ad revenue to the new products and sections such as Greater New York.

New York Times: Honest work means honest pay

Some people hate The New York Times and some people love The New York Times — but everybody wants to read The New York Times for free. That will largely end in 2011. You probably read that today on the Internet, and you probably read it for free.

The Times said it will let you read some articles per month for free, then make you pay for more. It’s what the Financial Times does. Who said it had to be original? If you subscribe to the print edition, just keep reading it. This isn’t really about you. This is a decision that will, for better or for worse, inform the public that if you want journalists to tell you stuff or entertain you, you need to pay them to do journalism all day long.

Lots of people have opinions on this and lots of people have done the research. Even more people style themselves Internet experts. The one thing they can’t help is sharing opinions on whether news sites should charge or whether they’re not just misguided for doing it — but whether they’re stupid or criminally wrong.

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.

Thursday media highlights

Here are some of the day’s top stories in the media industry:

New York Times Asks Subscribers: Is It Wrong to Charge for Online Content? (Poynter)
Bill Mitchell writes: “The New York Times is testing a price point of $5 a month for access to nytimes.com, with a 50 percent discount for print subscribers. The Times e-mailed a survey to print subscribers Thursday afternoon inviting their reaction to that pricing plan and asking a range of questions about online pricing.”

Murdoch papers paid £1m to gag phone-hacking victims (Guardian)
“The payments secured secrecy over out-of-court settlements in three cases that threatened to expose evidence of Murdoch journalists using private investigators who illegally hacked into the mobile phone messages of numerous public figures to gain unlawful access to confidential personal data, including tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills,” writes Nick Davies.
UK police won’t reopen Murdoch paper phonetap case (Reuters)

A is for abattoir; Z is for ZULU: All in the Handbook of Journalism (Reuters)
Dean Wright writes: “The handbook is the guidance Reuters journalists live by — and we’re proud of it. Until now, it hasn’t been freely available to the public. In the early 1990s, a printed handbook was published and in 2006 the Reuters Foundation published a relatively short PDF online that gave some basic guidance to reporters. But it’s only now that we’re putting the full handbook online.”

Sun Valley: David Carr’s advice for reporters

The Bald Mountain resort in Sun Valley offers moguls for advanced skiers all winter long. Media reporters show up every July for the other kind of mogul, who lands among the picturesque Idaho mountains on a private jet and has a name like “Rupert Murdoch” or “Barry Diller.”

Reporters are supposed to be part of the scenery — not part of the conference itself.* They must stand around and hope that one of the more than 200 invitees decides to speak to them, and hopefully dispense a few nuggets of news. Fortunately, this week’s weather is supposed to be sunny, dry and warm during the day, and comfortably chilly at night.

For a Sun Valley freshman like this Reuters reporter, it sounds scary terrifying, despite the clement weather forecast. I asked New York Times media columnist David Carr, who covered the conference in 2007, for some advice. Here are some excerpts from our phone conversation;

4,000 Boston Globe readers can’t be wrong

Next Monday is the day when members of The Boston Globe’s biggest union will vote on concessions that the paper’s owner, The New York Times Co, says are necessary to keep the paper from closing. The public relations campaign is heating up already.

The Boston Newspaper Guild published a press release on Friday about the testimonials of 4,000 Bostonians who signed an online petition to save the Globe. Their comments are stirring, but nothing talks like money.

Let’s take a look: The New York Times says it needs $20 million in cost cuts from several Globe unions. At that point, the paper will be on track to lose only $65 million this year, not the $85 million currently projected. A smaller loss, the thinking goes, might make the paper more attractive to a buyer once the Times can rustle one up.

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.

Help a starving business reporter

They moved your markets. Now you can move their bank accounts.

The Society of American Business Editors and Writers, or SABEW, is hosting an event next week at Columbia University’s School of Journalism to help business journalists who have lost their jobs or found themselves in other tough straits because of the biggest story on every business reporter’s beat — the financial crisis. Here is the text of the invitation:

Former Wall Street Journal Managing Editor and ProPublica founder Paul Steiger, and New York Times Business Editor Larry Ingrassia invite you to join them at an event to benefit business journalism and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW).

SABEW needs your support to help displaced business journalists and train business journalists for the digital age and new media landscape. Among SABEW’s programs are a revamped job listing site, a market for freelancers to find work, a mentor program for displaced journalists, teletraining on multimedia and business journalism topics, scholarships to attend conferences and training, and a revamp of our website to provide more robust services to members.

New York Times struggles — silently

The New York Times spits out thousands of words a day through its newspapers. If it would only start coughing a few more up about Hollywood mogul David Geffen, who wants a piece of it, if not more. If the Times doesn’t tell its story soon, everybody else will.

So far it has made no comment. That might not be such a slick move. Speculation over the Times’s future has grown during the past few years as its finances worsen because of advertising revenue declines, more than a billion dollars in debt that it has to pay off and the nearly annnual assaults on the company’s management by shareholders and others who think they know how to do the job better.

The latest news frenzy came when Fortune writer Richard Siklos said that Geffen wanted to buy a nearly 20 percent stake owned by one-time dissident shareholder Harbinger Capital Partners, but was rebuffed. Nearly every news outlet got the story (though most of us paid less attention to a report that a Harbinger-nominated director tried to get Google to buy the Times — and failed), while the Financial Times said that Geffen wants to buy the whole company.