MediaFile

The media is hungry for corporate excess

Guess where the paparazzi are training their lenses these days? For those of you who missed it, The New York Times writes that gossip rags have all but abandoned Britney Spears for the thrill of capturing corporate excesses on camera. From the paper:

The tabloid media, of course, have always peered into the excesses of the rich and famous with a mix of puritan disapproval and voyeurism. But these outlets and other news organizations are now recording troubling uses of taxpayer money at country clubs, private airports and glamorous retreats and, in so doing, explicitly tapping into a fierce populist anger at corporate America, and even pressuring Congress to hold companies accountable.

Populist indignation apart, perhaps people also feel a sense of glee when watching or reading about the severe scaling back of corporate budgets that once supported lavish lifestyles. Gawker may have captured the glee best in this biting account of The Wall Street Journal story on Goldman Sachs executives being asked to stay at Embassy Suites rather than the Ritz.

Reporters are often sent to capture nuggets of corporate excess, the more outrageous the better. An affinity for $40 crab legs? Flying to DC in private jets to ask for bailout money? Poolside sales conferences with six-figure tabs? The media loves writing about this stuff almost as much as people enjoy reading it. So if you’ve got any tips, let us know.

Keep an eye on:

    New AOL CEO Tim Armstrong sees a lot of options for AOL’s future. (All Things Digital) Alibaba seeks partnerships with U.S. companies. (Reuters) Carl Icahn says he doesn’t intend to push for a sale of Lions Gate. (Reuters)

(Photo: Reuters)

Newspaper ad sales down? Fire ad staff!

The Boston Globe, the revenue-challenged sibling of The New York Times, is laying off employees as it copes with a decline in advertising revenue made only worse by the recession. The thing is, it’s laying off advertising staff.

From the Globe:

The Boston Globe said yesterday it reduced by half the sales force that takes classified advertising over the telephone. Thirty classified employees, including two managers and 13 part-time employees, lost jobs. In addition, the positions of two other advertising managers were eliminated, said Robert Powers, the Globe’s spokesman.

The reason? There are fewer classified ads coming in because everyone does it for free at Craigslist and other free classified sites. Some papers have lost more than half of their classies.

Murdoch’s paper love: LA Times next?

Rumors of Rupert Murdoch’s interest in buying The New York Times have been swirling for ages, and maybe the media mogul would have snapped up the venerable paper by now were it not for the Sulzbergers.

But there’s always a consolation prize, and this one’s from the West Coast. Variety writes that Murdoch could be interested in buying The Los Angeles Times and has been talking “fervently” about making a play for the paper.

And that would surely be an easier purchase to pull off, given that LA Times’ owner Tribune is in the middle of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Maybe Sam Zell, who owns Tribune, would be more willing to sell the paper to a fellow mogul than the Sulzbergers.

Thomson Reuters CEO: No paper, please

Thomson Reuters Corp, the company that employs me and runs this blog, posted fourth-quarter financial results on Tuesday. My colleague and I wrote them up for the wire, and you can see them here. Meanwhile, here’s something that didn’t make it in to the story that we wanted to share.

During a conference call with reporters, I asked Chief Executive Tom Glocer, who ran Reuters before Thomson Corp bought it, what the company plans to do regarding investing in news. I also asked if the company could ever be in the market for another print newspaper. Remember that Thomson Reuters likes to tout the fact that Thomson Corp long ago got out of the newspaper business, thinking there was more of a future in electronic information that you make people pay a lot of money for.

On news spending:

We’ve continued to invest in news and we think 2009 is a very good year in investment for us both in terms of having brought in some of the journalists who have joined from Thomson Financial, but also investments we’re making in new editorial systems, in the video, multimedia presentation of news. So I think one of the good things about the strength of our financial performance is that we can continue to invest when a lot of pure media companies aren’t.

Chernin parachutes, Murdoch keeps flying

News Corp President and Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin’s perks after he leaves News Corp at the end of June are basic compared with some legendary golden parachutes, though they’re still worth more money than I make in a year. Or 10 years for that matter.

In addition to his Fox studios production deal, Chernin’s creature comforts include 50 hours on News Corp’s jet ($1.65 million value), corporate car ($210,000 value) and possibly personal secretary services ($1.05 million value). See the proxy statement for more details.

That might not send the image of a cost-cutting corporate culture at a time when News Corp’s stock is down 70 percent and the bottom looks further away as its most can-do executive quits. Then again, maybe Chernin’s doing the right thing, all things considered. Check out this little-noticed excerpt from Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch’s memo to employees:

Murdoch wants newspapers, just not The New York Times

Michael Wolff, author of the recently published Rupert Murdoch tell-all, “The Man Who Owns the News,” says that the News Corp chief executive would love to buy The New York Times. The only thing standing in his way is the Ochs-Sulzberger family which controls the Times. If they’re anything like the Bancrofts, former controllers of Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal, only an insane amount of money might persuade them to let go of the prized but struggling newspaper publisher.

Or maybe Murdoch himself. Whatever the scuttlebutt is about Murdoch’s plans for the Times, he told reporters on Thursday that he’s not interested in buying it. Speaking on a conference call after the company reported dismal second-quarter results, he said it might not be good for his image:

“I’ve got no desire to be an even bigger public enemy.”

This, of course, refers to the charge leveled at him from London to New York to Hong Kong that he uses the papers and other media that he owns to advance his personal business interests.

Writing for your life at The New York Times

Who can blame a print reporter for wanting to get up to speed in the new media world, particularly at The New York Times? With ad revenue down and the future in doubt, it might seem worthwhile for reporters to keep themselves marketable. The union that represents the NYT’s reporters approves, but it suspects that some are making too many concessions. Here are excerpts from the memo:

The financial troubles at The New York Times have many Guild members looking over their shoulders wondering when the next round of layoffs may occur…As a result, many of our members are understandably operating in survival mode and scurrying to find a niche.

In this economic climate, the Guild more than ever encourages members to make themselves as valuable as possible. Embrace the web, which undoubtedly holds the key to our future. …

Hi, I’m Gregory Lee, banker for The New York Times

We’ve heard in recent days that The New York Times has gotten some interest in its stake in the Boston Red Sox, but it seems like whatever offers are being discussed, they must not be enough for the publisher.

In the murky, mysterious world of mergers and acquisitions, companies and their bankers and financial advisers tend to operate far below the radar — only surfacing to leak the news in The Wall Street Journal that a deal is close at hand.

Not this time. While the Journal did get the tip-off back in December, the Times on Wednesday simply issued a press release inviting all comers to take a look at the stake. Not only that, the Times published the name of the Goldman Sachs banker handling the sale, along with his phone number. Usually, as a reporter, you have to cash in lots of chips to get digits like that.

New York Times, GateHouse blink on links

The New York Times and GateHouse Media arrived at a general understanding on Monday of how Web links work. That’s good timing because they were supposed to go to trial over it today. Here’s the brief back story, courtesy of The Associated Press:

GateHouse sued the Times, the parent company of The Boston Globe and its Boston.com Web Site, last month, claiming the Globe’s new community websites use GateHouse’s newspaper headlines and lead sentences without permission.

Here’s what the Boston Herald said:

The Times agreed to disable the computer tool it used to automatically copy and display GateHouse headlines and lead sentences on Boston.com’s recently launched “Your Town” Web sites. Meanwhile, GateHouse will implement a “technological solution” to prevent Boston.com from copying its content. GateHouse has set up such a barrier in November that kept Boston.com from “scraping” Wicked Local sites, but the “electronic security measure” was quickly circumvented, according to GateHouse’s original civil complaint.

Could Slim be a bad harbinger for New York Times dissidents?

Mexican billionaire and telecommunications tycoon Carlos Slim is poised to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at The New York Times Co so the newspaper publisher can buy some more time to get its act together as advertising revenue falls and debt looms. If he is truly an ally of the Times, as our sources say, it could prove bad news for dissident investors like Harbinger Capital Partners who are pressing for drastic changes at the Times.

The Wall Street Journal broke the story on Saturday night, closely followed by Reuters. It was The New York Times itself (surprise!) that reported the specifics of Slim’s “bailout package” for the Times:

    A $250 million investment in exchange for 10-year notes with warrants that are convertible into common shares. A special annual dividend would go to Slim — maybe 10 percent or more of his investment. No voting rights, no board seat. With his 6.4 percent stake in the Times’s common shares, this could make him the largest Times shareholder, bigger even than the Ochs-Sulzberger family that has controlled the times since 1896.

The value of Slim’s previous investment already has fallen, but if he is treating the Times more as a philanthropic exercise than a business decision, this could work out well for both parties.