Monthly Archives: December 2009

Panorama offers murky view

Last week, the 320-page McSweeney’s Panorama hit the streets, bookstores and hipstery apartments in San Francisco to much fanfare among newsy folk and literary types. The one-time-only product sold out its initial run immediately, which seems to augur well for the newspaper industry — until you do the math:

The Panorama‘s 23,000 issues cost just under $200,000 to print, including $80,000 for editorial expenses. (Yes, printing costs are exorbitant.) Subtract about $40,000 to pay the 218 contributors a below-market price for their work, lop off another $15,000 for illustrations, and you’re left with maybe $25,000 to feed, clothe and house seven full-time staffers for nine months.

Eggers pinky-sweared his project would demonstrate that “if you rework the newspaper model a bit, it can not only survive, but actually thrive.” But if this is the 360-degree view of print journalism afforded by the Panorama, the skies sure look cloudy.

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With launch, newspaper lands a home in Philadelphia

It’s been a rough year for the economy and an even rougher year for Philadelphia papers. The most recent unemployment rates hover around 10 percent, and Philadelphia Newspapers, the group that owns the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, filed for bankruptcy in February, leading to a string of legal battles that most recently resulted in a trip to the U.S. Court of Appeals. But in one of the most unlikely places during one of the most unlikely times, something strange happened. On Tuesday, people were reading a new newspaper on the streets of this nearly newspaper-less city.

The 16-page One Step Away, produced entirely by homeless residents, launched yesterday and sells for $1, with 25 cents going towards covering printing costs. The rest goes directly to the vendors, who are from two Philadelphia homeless shelters.

Though the launch seems to buck almost every trend, it also sheds light on an interesting sector of the newspaper industry: one that is doing well. Homeless papers nationwide (it’s unclear, but officials quoted in the AP article about the launch estimate there are “more than two dozen street newspapers in cities across North America), are thriving. Street Sense, a homeless paper in Washington, D.C., reported record circulation of over 30,000 issues per month this year and an 18-percent increase in donations. And in Nashville, the Contributor printed a record 7,000 issues in November. Two years ago, the Contributor was selling 1,000 copies per month (also for $1).

This upward swing in readership could be a result of the tepid financial climate and its effect on homelessness — according to the 2008 Annual Homeless Assessment Report released last July, there were about 700,000 people living on the streets at any point during the year. But maybe it shouldn’t take losing a home to realize that newspapers can still make a community.

Inside scoop: the Providence Journal

Last March, the Providence Journal laid off 74 staff members to meet cost-cutting demands from its Dallas-based parent company, A.H Belo Corp. This was the fourth round of workforce cutbacks in six months to hit Rhode Island’s largest newspaper — 22 staff members took voluntary buyouts the previous September, 31 employees were laid off in October and 20 part-timers and supervisors were laid off in December.

At the time, Howard Sutton, president, chairman, publisher and CEO of the Journal Co. told his paper, “It’s always difficult to reduce your staffing levels through [layoffs], but it’s necessary to ensure the future of the franchise. We remain committed to our mission of being the premier news and information provider for the state of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts.”

On Monday night, LedeObserver went to the Journal newsroom and found a lifeless collection of empty desks, dark computer screens and a lone Web producer.

This, the producer said, is what happens when 12 percent of a newspaper’s staff is given the pink slip, the main server is outsourced to another state and the printing press loses one third of its own employees to cutbacks:

The paper goes to bed between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. because the few advertisers who still invest in the paper want it distributed by a certain time the next morning to maximize the advertisements’ effects. Any news occurring after 11 p.m. goes online-only and many of the late sports games never make it into the print edition of the paper (during this year’s baseball playoffs, this angered the Red Sox fans who wanted to read about their team in the Journal — though with a reported 18.8-percent drop in circulation for the newspaper in the last six-month period, how many fans this actually angered is unclear). And when the back end of the Web site acts up, which the producer said it does frequently, he must call the Dallas company that operates the server before he is redirected to an office in Colorado whose staff members usually don’t know how to help. There is no security officer at the front desk. And no elevator operator.

But the Web producer said it isn’t all bad news. The Journal recently hired someone who writes new code for the Web site and three new copy editors because the six it had before wasn’t enough to meet the 11 p.m. filing deadline. And even if it’s always two-thirds empty and palpably Eeyorish, the newsroom can still get hectic, he said.

Even so, it wasn’t hard to hear the death rattle, especially when the only other noise was the sound of the sports reporters playing catch.

Doing what it does best: E&P reports own demise

Editor & Publisher, a trade journal that has covered the print journalism industry since 1884, will become yet another publication to fold when parent company Nielsen shuts it down at the end of the year, according to an article on the E&P Web site. Nielsen also announced plans to close Kirkus Reviews, a publication that covers the book publishing industry, which, incidentally, is also an industry under duress.

But Nielsen is still looking to make some sort of profit, even if it doesn’t plan to look for buyers for E&P or Kirkus. In the same announcement, Nielsen revealed plans to sell eight other titles to e5 Global Media, including Billboard and the Hollywood Reporter, which cover the music and entertainment industries, respectively.

In his message announcing the decision to close E&P and Kirkus, Greg Farrar, the president of Nielsen Business Media, wrote:

This move will allow us to strengthen investment in our core businesses – those parts of our portfolio that have the greatest potential for growth – and ensure our long-term success.

Ouch. But perhaps completely shuttering these meta-publications is a preemptively good move for Nielsen, at least financially — anyone who reads E&P already knows there isn’t much “potential for growth” for newspapers. And there won’t be much to report anyway when the industry being covered no longer exists.

300: the print edition

Whoever said consumers will no longer pay top dollar for news must have forgotten to tell trendy literary virtuoso Dave Eggers. The author and founder of the McSweeney’s publishing house — famous for its popular and quirky literary journal that has been published as a bundle of mail and a cigar box — is the latest to try his hand at print journalism. His business model? Turn the newspaper into a Giffen good.

This quarter’s issue, No. 33 of Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, takes the form of a colossal Sunday-type newspaper, complete with book reviews, comics, cooking tips and, of course, news. And though the 300 brawny pages of the McSweeney’s Panorama may call to mind images of another mighty squad of 300, it’ll actually cost you more than a day at the cinema to get your hands on the one-time-only Panorama.

At $16 an issue, Eggers may look like an overbidding contestant in the game of print journalism, but the price tag could be a wise move. Many of the issues are ordered in advance under paid McSweeney’s subscriptions, and even the more casual reader would rather pay the big bucks for 112 pages of full-color broadsheet, a 116-page book review, three posters, a weekend guide and a 112-page magazine than, say, for four Big Macs. And then there’s the classic lesson from the Grey Poupon school of economics: Crank up the price, and consumers think they’re buying a luxury item.

McClatchy, Christian Science Monitor get cozy in Baghdad

More than six months after the Christian Science Monitor became an online-only publication to offset $18.9-million annual losses and save money on print, the newspaper has found another way to carry out some cost-efficient reporting. According to a memo obtained by Romenesko on Monday morning, the Monitor has taken up residence in McClatchy’s Baghdad bureau.

To: McClatchy editors
From: John Walcott
Re: 2010 McClatchy foreign bureau lineup

For 2010, McClatchy will have foreign bureaus in Beijing, Cairo, Kabul, Mexico City and in Baghdad, where we’ll be sharing staffing and expenses with The Christian Science Monitor. We’re still working out the final arrangements, but we and the Monitor will rotate reporters through the Baghdad bureau, and we’ll share the costs of housing, local staff, in-country transportation, etc. The main Monitor reporters, whose work you’ll be seeing regularly, will be Jane Arraf, whose work you may know from CNN, and Scott Peterson, who happily is also an expert on Iran…

Now that McClatchy has found a bedfellow willing to shoulder the burden of foreign correspondence, maybe it will consider reopening its Africa bureau in Kenya, which it closed on Nov. 30.

Or there might be another solution: the newspaper publisher can collect lots of these reporters who know about more than one country and put them in the same office — a bureau with such experts might allow them to “happily” eliminate all its foreign bureaus by next year.

Paying publishers to de-index content from Google not Microsoft’s ‘focus’

Two weeks ago, Rupert Murdoch made waves when he announced plans to pull his News Corporation content from Google and give Microsoft sole rights to articles from his online publications. According to a Nov. 24 article in the Financial Times, Murdoch seemed to be the instigator:

“Rupert Murdoch’s effort to change the economics of the internet by stopping Google linking to stories in his newspapers looks, at first glance, like an act of self-destruction. That is how News Corp’s negotiations on a deal to favour Microsoft’s search engine Bing instead is viewed by many rivals and technology experts.”

This wasn’t just another one of Murdoch’s schemes: Microsoft was offering News Corp. monetary incentive to remove articles from the Google search engine and put them up exclusively on Bing, according to a New York Times article. When the Times ran their story on Nov. 24, only anonymous sources would confirm the shady rumor. But today, Microsoft’s senior vice president in charge of online audiences, Yusuf Mehdi, released this statement:

“What I would say is, our focus is on improving the user experience and driving our differentiation of user intent and decision-making. It’s not to necessarily pay people to de-index our competition. That’s not our focus. So, I wouldn’t think of it that way. It’s more about how do we build a better experience for people. If there’s a way to share in the economics of search in that, then we’re game to do that.”

The Journal ran a more official story addressing the rumors on Wednesday, with a comment from Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s senior vice president for online services that there was “no real intent” to pay publishers to de-index from Google.

But you can only see the Journal article in a cached Google version — the real one is already behind a pay wall.