Monthly Archives: November 2009

People still like (free) news, report finds

The gloomy industry outlook might suggest abject newspaper abandonment, but a report issued by Scarborough Research found 74 percent of adults in the U.S. are still reading news. Just maybe not in print form.

Though the Integrated Newspaper Audience survey, which ran from February 2008 through last March, asked respondents only if they read the newspaper in some form (online or offline), the results still provide more optimistic numbers than a report released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations last month, which found circulation had decreased 10 percent during the six-month period starting in April. But if circulation is rapidly decreasing (it declined 7 percent in the previous six-month period) despite these seemingly hopeful Scarborough figures, maybe the report is really just another indication that people would rather read their news for free.

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Into the archives: a time that was

Though the past year wreaked havoc on the newspaper industry, 28 years ago was a different story. Gannett might have reported a 28.4-percent decline in ad revenue for its third-quarter this year, but on December 16, 1981, another kind of article appeared as a special to the New York Times, buried within the front section on page 21:

The print is small, but the article has this graph:

“Leonard R. Harris, a spokesman for The Times, welcomed the new addition to the ranks of national publications, and added that the willingness of Gannett to undertake the venture was ‘evidence of the increasing strength’ of newspaper circulation and advertising.”

And next to the article is a small blurb from the United Press International announcing the launch of the Washington Times, the paper that just saw its editor resign and three of its top executives fired.

Looks like maybe the way to save newspapers is a time machine.

Detroit paper launches, folds five days later

In a year when many newspapers struggled to stay afloat, a breath of fresh air seemed to whistle through Detroit when two veteran newspaper publishers launched a new paper, the Detroit Daily Press, last Monday.

In June, brothers Mark and Gary Stern, who published papers in New York, St. Louis and Minneapolis during newspaper strikes in the 60s, 70s and 80s, announced their intention to launch a paper to compensate for dwindling Detroit news coverage. In addition to providing the city with more continuous printed news (the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press had reduced their home delivery to three days per week earlier this year), the new daily would provide Detroit with some much-needed employment opportunities — the newsroom would offer 60 new jobs.

The paper, they said, would sell for 50 cents during the week and $1 for the Sunday edition. Home delivery was set to begin Nov. 30. “We are affordable, both to the advertiser and the reader,” Mark Stern told the AP before the launch. And on Tuesday, Jim Lingemann, the paper’s circulation director, told the AP sales and subscriptions were “much better than expected,” despite printing, trucking and retail glitches.

But the anachronistic business venture lasted less than a week. In a message posted on the paper’s Facebook wall today, the brothers announced they were temporarily shuttering their paper:

Due to circimstances [sic] beyond our control, lack of advertising, lateness of our press runs and lack of distribution and sales, we find it necessary to temporarily suspend publication of the Detroit Daily Press until after the 1st of the year. Once we can fix these things, we plan to be back stronger and more organized when we return. This is just a bump in the road and not the end of the Detroit Daily Press.

The brothers may attribute the temporary suspension to a wide variety of unforeseen setbacks, but maybe they should have also included a need for better editing in their reasoning. The newspaper market is a rough place these days, and if the Sterns hope to generate readership when they relaunch the paper, investing in a copy editor who can correct the spelling of ‘circumstances’ might give the fledgling paper more credibility.

Talking turkey: LA Times plans layoffs

Though Los Angeles may not always stick to conventions, the city’s paper takes the Thanksgiving cake with this Scroogelike announcement: according to Nikki Finke of the insider-LA-entertainment blog Deadline Hollywood, sources within the Los Angeles Times said on Tuesday the paper is cutting 40 staff positions, including two well-known film critics.

But, as is Finke’s custom, she backtracked on Wednesday, writing that members of the LA Times management asserted “the 40 number is too high,” though, according to Finke’s post, management did not deny there are layoffs in store. In her updated post, Finke also added she was “told there will be a big push LA Times-wide in coming months to turn staff writers into freelance writers.”

This isn’t the first time the Times has made a sweeping layoff announcement in the past year. Last January, the paper announced plans to eliminate 300 staff positions — including 70 in the newsroom — as part of a cost-cutting measure that also included the elimination of one of the paper’s daily sections.

The Times’ decidedly anti-holiday-spirit announcement adds to the recent Los Angeles news woes. Earlier this week, the Washington Post decided to close its U.S. bureaus, including its Los Angeles bureau.

Is anyone planning to cover news in the city of angels? If it weren’t for other papers like the New York Times, Los Angeles news could be as opaque as the city during rolling power blackouts.

Providence Journal joins fray, contemplates pay wall

Yet another newspaper is considering putting its content behind a pay wall — and this one seems serious. The Providence Journal announced today it may start charging for its web content as early as next March, limiting online access to the smallest state’s largest newspaper. A team of “internal senior managers” is already looking into possible pay models, according to the Thursday Journal article. Good thing the ProJo’s online articles are still free, or newspaper readers in the Ocean State would never know they were soon to lose their biggest source of news — the announcement was buried on the paper’s Web site.

The decision comes on the heels of a series of abysmal reports for the Rhode Island paper. During the third quarter, ad revenue dropped 33.1 percent, according to figures released by the ProJo’s parent company, Dallas-based A.H. Belo Corp. And last month, the Audit Bureau of Circulations twice-annual circulation report revealed the ProJo had recorded a steep 18.8-percent drop in daily circulation and a 17.3-percent drop in Sunday circulation for the six-month period starting last April.

The paper’s publisher, Howard Sutton, said the talks were preliminary, though he suggested daily subscribers would continue to receive free online access if the paper did implement a pay-wall structure. “We don’t want to diminish the breadth and depth of our reporting, so we want to ensure a reasonable cost structure to protect the franchise,” Sutton told the Journal on Wednesday.

But Sutton’s claim rings slightly false: last March, the ProJo slashed 100 staff positions, and, during the last few years, has limited its sports coverage.

The Journal did, however, manage to scrounge together enough funds earlier this year to hire a team of visual designers to redesign its print edition. It’s just too bad no one will see the paper’s cool new appearance: one of the reasons Sutton wants to start charging for online content is because he said his readers are turning away from the print edition to the paper’s free online articles.

Trendlines: is no news good news?

Today’s front page of the New York Times featured a left column story about a new trend in holiday travel: Thanksgiving vacation is now a weeklong venture. Strapped for cash, travelers booked their flights early to avoid steep airline fees. But what the Times didn’t report is that apparently, the news has taken an extended vacation, too.

Of the six front-page articles in the national edition, only one provided a report on Tuesday’s happenings, a story about President Obama and his promise to “finish the job” in Afghanistan by sending in an additional 25,000 to 30,000 troops.

What else was on the page? Lots of trends.

“Soccer in Iraq: Another Field For Argument”
“From the Hospital Room to Bankruptcy Court”
“Seeking Deals, Holiday Fliers Get Early Start”
“Spare Change for Homeless? Cuomo Sees a Sham and Sues”
“In Reality Show to Drop Weight, Health Can Be Lost in the Frenzy”

Maybe there really was no news on Tuesday (the Los Angeles Times front page was similarly trendy, with articles about activists in N. Korea, the top U.S. intelligence officer in Afghanistan and an immigrant enclave in Minneapolis under FBI investigation). Or maybe the lack of Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving hard news reporting has something to do with the recent axing of 100 Times newsroom staff who write the stories.

Bye lines: Washington Post shuts down U.S. bureaus

Only days after the Washington Post announced plans to cut members of its web staff, the paper indicated today it also intends to shutter its New York, Chicago and Los Angeles bureaus.

It’s been a rough few months for the paper. In the third quarter, the Post reported it had increased its profit by 69 percent — largely as a result of buyouts and cost-cutting. Despite this upward swing, profit from the Post’s Web site fell 18 percent in the quarter, which may have contributed to the Nov. 20 decision to lay off web staff. Post spokesperson Kris Coratti told Politico on Friday:

“As part of the work we’re doing to turn around the business that supports our journalism, there were a small number of individual positions eliminated as a result of efficiencies we have found through our new structure and through new technology, and those have taken place both in print and online.”

Though the Post did not reveal its intention to close the three bureaus last Friday when it announced it was eliminating staff positions, the two decisions seem to be related — in an internal memo obtained by the Associated Press, Post management wrote:

To the Staff:

Today we have informed our news colleagues in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles that we are closing the offices in those cities, effective Dec. 31. The reporters in those bureaus are being offered new roles here in Washington. Regretfully, the three news aides, who have been dedicated colleagues and are friends of many here, will be let go.

At a time of limited resources and increased competitive pressure, it’s necessary to concentrate our journalistic firepower on our central mission of covering Washington and the news, trends and ideas that shape both the region and the country’s politics, policies and government.

We will continue to cover events around the country as we have for decades, by sending reporters into the field. We have a strong tradition of bringing understanding and authority to our coverage of politics and issues that matter, wherever the stories take us. The evidence is visible daily in The Post: our deeply reported narrative series on the human consequences of the economic downturn; our insightful coverage of the healthcare debate, from the efficient hallways of the Mayo Clinic to the raucous townhalls of last August; even the ongoing coverage of the Ft. Hood shootings or the impending 2010 midterm campaigns.

Our commitment to national news of interest to our readers is undiminished, and we will maintain the level and caliber of coverage our readers expect.

Marcus Liz Raju

Closing its remaining U.S. bureaus may be more efficient for the Washington paper, but the latest casualties also leave a gaping hole for other papers to fill. That is, if they haven’t started already — The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal began printing editions in San Francisco earlier this fall, and the Times just rolled out its first Chicago edition Nov. 20 — the same day the Post began its layoffs.

The good news is the six WaPo correspondents in LA, NY and Chicago are being reassigned to Washington and are not facing layoffs yet. But, having axed member of its web staff (isn’t this the digital age of news?) and shuttered all its other U.S. bureaus (isn’t this the hyperlocal age of news?), we wonder when the Post will decide a bureau in its own city is unnecessary, too.