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Doubting Thomas Was Hearst's Big Mistake

I'm back, and typing in a bit of a jet-lagged haze after making the wonderful decision to try a two-week vacation through nine times zones without a computer, blackberry, or any pod-like creature in tow.

If you haven't done this lately, I highly recommend it. I predict it will be better than you remember.

Best of all, you'll find that your Facebook friends will forgive you. Actually, you'll probably find they could have cared less you were gone in the first place. Sorry.

Nope, for me it was back to basics. I got my news by reading whatever newspaper I could get my hands on. That makes me old and stubborn, I know. Just hope my Facebook friends don't find out.

And speaking of old and stubborn (OK, really, really old) ...

As I was pouring through a local newspaper one morning, I read that Helen Thomas had let fly with some antisemitic rhetoric that might have played well in Germany -- 70 years ago.

Continue reading "Doubting Thomas Was Hearst's Big Mistake" »

Columnist Helen Thomas Announces Retirement

Hearst is announcing White House reporter Helen Thomas is retiring. Here is part of her statement:

"I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and Palestinians, they do not reflect my heartfelt belief that peace will come only when all parties recognize there will be need for mutual respect."

So, You Say You Want To Work In Newspapers, Eh?

The following scene is most likely playing out at a newspaper near you ...

Ah, Ms. Pennybroker, thanks so much for coming in to discuss the open copy-editing position at our newspaper. I'm Mrs. Ladbroke, the head of our human resources department. And before you ask, yes, that Ladbroke. My husband, Brad, is the publisher. We were just married three months ago, and I am still positively floating on clouds!

Let me say right up front, it was so nice of you to fly yourself in. I can tell already you have that above-and-beyond attitude we are looking for at Conglomerate Communications.

Just so you know, we received 817 applications for the position, but you are one of the 75 lucky finalists! So, congratulations!

We hope to have a final decision made on the position in the next few months -- and certainly by the end of the fiscal year.

I should also add that we pride ourselves in hiring internally at Conglomerate, so you never know! We are, after all, one, big, happy family here!

Continue reading "So, You Say You Want To Work In Newspapers, Eh?" »

Brit Stiff Upper Lip Might Do Yank Papers Good

The day after all those midterm primaries that certainly, probably, might be a harbinger of things to come in November, it's nice (and a little odd) that you showed up at a site with 'politics' in its name to read about the media.

Since you stumbled in here, though, I'll serve a light offering today, so that you can get back to the real work of digesting all that political red meat. This is also my sheepish way of admitting that I did not see how the media handled its coverage of the all-important primaries.

Truth is, I've been traveling in the United Kingdom the past week or so, where something called Eyjafjallajokul (Icelandic for 'not so fast, pal') still reeks havoc on air travel, and a little election there has produced its own brand of volcanic smoke and mirrors.

Oh, and a bit of breaking political news for your trouble: I have determined that newly minted Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg are, in fact, the same person. If you take a look at these blokes, I wager it is impossible to tell them apart. Their oddball political coupling should make it only harder to separate them in the future.

Before you head out of here to see what happens next in Pennsylvania, I'll implore the newly retired Arlen Specter to address the golf ball from either the left or right side and just stick with it, and use this media space to make a few informal observations about the newspaper industry in the home of our former landlords.

Continue reading "Brit Stiff Upper Lip Might Do Yank Papers Good" »

One Kentucky Paper's Tale of Whoa!

Maybe newspapers should just take a hint.

Consider this tale of "Whoa!" from Louisville, Ky., over the weekend ...

Kentucky Derby on Saturday is the biggest day of the year in Louisville. There is no close second.

All eyes are on the southern city and the venerable horse race it hosts each year. And even if newspapers are struggling mightily to hold onto readers these days, Kentucky Derby Sunday is the biggest day of the year for the city's hometown newspaper, the Courier-Journal.

Again, there is no close second.

The Kentucky Derby is the Courier-Journal's story, and like any newspaper worth its salt, the prideful staff at the paper take the challenge to provide their readers with the most comprehensive coverage of the horse race and all the big doings at Churchill Downs anywhere. They do their job knowing that all eyes in their coverage area will be on their hard work.

Continue reading "One Kentucky Paper's Tale of Whoa!" »

Readers Aren't So Sure Newspapers Can Survive

I want to thank one and all who contacted me the past few days for at least being decent and honest in relaying their assessment that I am bonkers for my continued support of newspapers, and my strong advice Friday that they avoid the Internet and embrace print as much as possible to survive.

I can take the criticism, and even expected it. Weren't some of the greatest thinkers of all time pilloried for their unpopular musings? OK, right, I'll stop right there.

Thing is, after yet more thought on the subject through a long weekend, I am more convinced than ever that I have most of this right. Me?! Stubborn?!

Newspapers simply have to engage new generations of print readers to survive. Full speed ahead toward the Internet really is a quick way to the grave.

Continue reading "Readers Aren't So Sure Newspapers Can Survive" »

Read All About It! How Newspapers Can Survive!

Even though I am no longer affiliated with a newspaper these days, I still regularly punish myself by pondering what, if anything, can be done to save a dying industry I gave my professional life to.

This is depressing work, and the pay stinks (I'm used to that part), but if newspapers are willing to knock off the panic, and take a couple of deep breaths, maybe I have finally come up with a way to be of some help here.

So listen up, newspapers. After all, what do you have to lose ...?

To begin with, newspapers, I have decided that all this high-minded talk by your leaders about charging readers for online content is a magnificent waste of time and resources. It's just a way of avoiding your inevitable demise for a year or so.

The argument that newspapers are done if they don't mine gold online is a false premise, and a sucker's bet.

Continue reading "Read All About It! How Newspapers Can Survive!" »

No Pulitzer for National Enquirer

The 2010 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced Monday and print powerhouses The Washington Post (four) and The New York Times (three) cleaned up.

The awards (listed below), brought to you by Columbia University, are among print journalism's most prestigious, and recognize the work of journalists in 14 different categories. Pulitzers are also awarded to writers of letters, drama and music.

Some of the more notable news from the announcement surrounds a non-winner this year -- The National Enquirer. The tabloid turned around an influential series of stories in its reporting of John Edwards' extra-marital romp during and after the 2008 presidential campaign.

Turns out while the Enquirer's submissions for consideration were accepted by the Pulitzer board in two categories, they did not make it as finalists for either "Investigative Reporting" or "National News Reporting."

It's the first time the tabloid has been considered for a Pulitzer.

Continue reading "No Pulitzer for National Enquirer" »

Is the Demise of Newspapers a Legitimate Story?

The good news: Newspapers long ago claimed the high ground in the media industry, and saw to it that it was inhabited by dogged, inquisitive journalists whose job it was to be the eyes and ears of their communities.

Done right, readers needed only pick up the paper each day to know what was going on around them. They could be confident the paper had their interests in mind when covering and uncovering the myriad things going on around them -- whether it be in the seats of government, on the turf of the ballparks, or in the classrooms of their schools.

The bad news: It can get mighty lonely at the top of that virtuous mountain when news-consumers have so much low-hanging news and information to feed on. And even if so much of it is junk they are devouring, it is no less filling.

With a nod to the great Joni Mitchell then, I am re-hashing a verse today that goes straight to the ears of newspaper publishers and the people who are turning away from their products: "Don't it always seem to go/That you don't know what you've got till it's gone ..."

Continue reading "Is the Demise of Newspapers a Legitimate Story?" »

Newspapers Are a Bigger Joke Than Comics

Things are getting so bad in the newspaper business, you can't even turn to the comics for a laugh anymore.

That's because, according to this offering on the ABC News website, with increasing numbers newspapers are slashing comic strips to save money. According to the story, The Washington Times has actually eliminated its Sunday comics section altogether.

Many of the papers that are holding onto their comics are featuring them less prominently by shoehorning them onto one page, thus freeing up space for other news that has been squeezed by an ever-shrinking newshole.

Many, many others are shuttling them off their print pages in hopes of finding favor online.

No doubt these are terrifying times in the newspaper business. Too often, though, I have seen the enemy, and it is the newspapers themselves.

Continue reading "Newspapers Are a Bigger Joke Than Comics" »

First in Print, Last to Catch On

As I was wading through Jim Romenesko's always-solid menu of offerings today, I came across this mouthful from the Cincinnati Enquirer's Executive Editor Tom Callinan.

Callinan borrows from the 1970s movie, "Network" and types that, "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore."

What Callinan is mad as hell about is other media (mainstream and online) allegedly poaching stories from the newspaper's Web site, and either not properly attributing where they got this information, or worse, just flat stealing copy.

Callinan typed this:

"We're no longer willing to idly watch our good efforts stolen.

In an attempt to track down such content parasites, The Enquirer and Cincinnati.Com now employ technology that scours the media landscape for illegal use of our content. In recent weeks, we have sent warnings to several blogs, Web sites and radio stations."

Continue reading "First in Print, Last to Catch On" »

Wrighting Newspapers' and CJR's Wrongs

One of my favorite comedians of all time is Steven Wright.

With his slow, deadpan delivery, Wright provides a unique view of our world that is idiotically brilliant.

Wright: "If you can't hear me, it's because I am in parentheses."

More Wright: "It's a small world, but I wouldn't want to have to paint it."

I'll give you this link to some of Wright's stuff knowing full well, that you won't be back afterward. If nothing else, you can't say I don't give you credit for good taste. Enjoy.

For those of you who have returned, thanks, and I had a great time spending Christmas with you. Give my best to Uncle Bob, please.

And since you are in the spirit, family, let me try out my own Wright-ism where it might be applied to the troubled state of journalism, and newspapers in particular. I know, I know, there goes the party, but bear with me. You didn't have to come back here you know.

Continue reading "Wrighting Newspapers' and CJR's Wrongs" »

Learning about Health Summit the Old Way

What looked to me a lot like political advertising for the two major parties, went off yesterday under the guise of a 'health-care summit.'

Admittedly, I did not watch the whole thing or even close to a quarter of it -- maybe 15 minutes here ... 15 minutes there ...

There is no doubt loads of opinion (beside my two-second take, above), and reports about what went down at the summit if you take a look at this web site's home page, or the scores of other news sites that are a click away. And, of course, the chatterers on cable news outlets on TV are no doubt going on and on about it right now.

Except for the snippets I caught yesterday, I admit to not reading, watching or hearing about any more of it, and not because I have no interest, I do, but because of an exercise I am going to go through right now.

Continue reading "Learning about Health Summit the Old Way" »

A Tip for the Herald: Explain What Happened

The Miami Herald very quietly announced it has extinguished a very brief experiment asking its web readers for voluntary contributions.

This announcement was so quiet, and the experiment so brief, one can only surmise that it didn't go very well. That the newspaper is making us surmise at all about the successes and failures of what has become known as the "tip-jar program" is disappointing, but more on that in 30 seconds or so.

When the company announced last December that it was going to provide a link for payment in the form of a donation at the end of each of its online stories I have to admit I thought it a bit goofy

But after thinking about it for another minute or two, I mostly loved it.

Continue reading "A Tip for the Herald: Explain What Happened" »

Will Journalism Pay for this Pulitzer Decision?

It turns out The National Enquirer will be up for consideration for a Pulitzer Prize in two categories thanks to its reporting on John Edwards' extramarital mess before, during, and after the 2008 presidential campaign.

Emily Miller, a self-acknowledged cheerleader for the tabloid publication's Pulitzer candidacy, first reported this story for the Huffington Post late Thursday afternoon.

As a longtime member of what is called the "mainstream media" and now a watcher of said media, I admittedly don't know what to think about this decision.

For the past few hours, I have been playing a game of "On the one hand, I guess it makes sense ... On the other hand, it's nuts" that has left what remains of my brain tied up in a very little knot.

Continue reading "Will Journalism Pay for this Pulitzer Decision?" »

Virginian-Pilot Editor Makes Super Mistake Worse

So, you think you had a bad day at the office, eh?

Hard to believe anybody is feeling more poorly than the sports staff at The Virginian-Pilot.

Here's who should be feeling more rotten and ashamed than anybody, though: the newspaper's editor.

But more on him in a moment ...

It seems the sports staff at the newspaper got the score of Sunday's Super Bowl wrong for Monday's print editions of the newspaper.

Actually, they got the score right, but had the wrong team winning on the front page of the sports section: Colts 31, Saints 17. (The Saints, in fact, won the game.)

Continue reading "Virginian-Pilot Editor Makes Super Mistake Worse" »

Local Media Don't Get Tea Party Invite

All politics might be local, but sometimes, sadly, media coverage of politics isn't.

The inaugural National Tea Party Convention got under way in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, and world media of all stripes and political colors poured into the city to cover the three-day event.

That is mostly good news, because only a month ago, the event organizers were cherry-picking who would cover their event and, not surprisingly, most of those cherries were Republican Red.

After rethinking that one-way strategy, the Party bosses announced Thursday that they had, in fact, credentialed 111 members of the working press -- some from as far away as Japan.

"We desire transparency at this convention and have worked with media that are friendly to the Tea Party movement as well as those that have not been seen to be supportive of our efforts," convention spokesman Mark A. Skoda said.

Bravo for that, except in this case, transparency seems to work only if you are viewing the convention with a telescope.

Continue reading "Local Media Don't Get Tea Party Invite" »

For the Record, Unnamed Sources Don't Cut It

Look, politicians have been using the press for their own devices since George Washington's administration, so to start getting too bent out of shape about it now, would be like throwing buckets of water at a five-alarm neighborhood fire.

Today, anyway, that's not going to stop me from opening up the spigot, and pouring cold water all over the hot air coming from no-names in Washington regarding the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner.

Most of the water, however, will be reserved for the working press that is carelessly repeating this shoddily sourced drivel, and presenting it as news.

Hopefully, I won't come off all wet ...

Continue reading "For the Record, Unnamed Sources Don't Cut It" »

Classified Ad Revenue Takes a 10-Year Dive

Fair warning to the print people out there:

More bad news has just fallen from the sky and landed in this space -- among other places ...

In his "The Biz Blog" Poynter's Rick Edmonds is the latest to amplify chilly tidings on the newspaper advertising (cold) front.

Edmonds notes that classified advertising at newspapers has dropped a whopping 70 percent over the past 10 years. In 2000, newspapers collectively counted on classified ads to make them $19.6 billion annually. In 2009, that figure had plummeted to $6 billion.

This really is a startling decline. (see chart below)

There was a time when classified advertising was actually the bread-and-butter of a newspaper's operating budget. In 2000, it is estimated that classifieds accounted for approximately 40 percent of overall profits.

Classifieds were also a hit with readers, and helped to drive single-copy sales. Many folks used to take the paper for just the classified section alone. Those days are probably just about over, and along with them the added circulation revenue.

Continue reading "Classified Ad Revenue Takes a 10-Year Dive" »

Newspapers Eat Their Own in Bay Area

In "The Battle for Bay Area Readers," The New York Times has allegedly fired the latest significant shot.

The Times announced Friday that it has added 1,100 subscribers in the region since launching its San Francisco Bay Edition in September.

"Single-copy sales are up too," senior Times executive Jim Schachter said Thursday. "We're delighted at the reception we're getting from Bay Area readers for the pages that Felicity Barringer is editing, and for our Bay Area blog," he said.

The modest edition is actually an additional two pages each of Bay Area news running in the Friday and Sunday editions of the paper. Before the section hit the streets, The Times had 40,080 daily subscribers in the San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland market and 57,514 on Sundays.

Also looking to cash in on a region that houses notoriously favorable readership demographics, The Wall Street Journal launched its own Bay Area edition in November. Its edition also includes extra pages filled with area news and runs each Thursday.

Continue reading "Newspapers Eat Their Own in Bay Area" »

The Demise of Newspapers, Part II

Following up on the eye-opening thesis by Alan D. Mutter regarding the huge obstacles newspapers face in the current climate of down advertising and heavy competition from a variety of different news sources ...

In his second-day piece titled, "How long can publishers afford to Print"? Mutter lays out three possible scenarios facing newspaper advertising in the next 15 years. (Newspapers depend on advertising for approximately 80 percent of their operating revenue.)

* Optimistic Case - Ad sales drop 10% in 2010, are unchanged in 2011 and then grow at 2% a year in 2012 and each subsequent year.

* Middle Case - Ad sales fall 15% in 2011, slide 5% in 2012 and then decline 2% in 2012 and each subsequent year.

* Pessimistic Case - Ad sales plunge 20% in 2010, drop 15% in 2011 and then decline 5% in 2012 and each subsequent year.

Continue reading "The Demise of Newspapers, Part II" »

Study Looks at How Long Newspapers Can Survive

Wiseguys in the industry have been telling publishers for years that if they are wondering where their readers are going to check the obituary pages of their newspapers.

It's that simple, really. Older generations grew up reading newspapers and depend on them for news and information, while younger generations are growing up on the Internet and depend on it to get their news and information.

Using that basic premise, one of the industry's wiser wiseguys, Alan D. Mutter, has put together an eye-opening peek at where newspapers can expect to be a few decades from now.
The view, depending on the lens through which you are viewing it, is predictably bleak.

Continue reading "Study Looks at How Long Newspapers Can Survive" »

Newspaper Copy That's Short Is Sweet

Three cheers for Michael Kinsley's recent piece in the Atlantic regarding story length in newspapers. Kinsley argues, rightfully in my opinion, that too many stories in too many newspapers are too bloody long.

I'm not ready to accompany Kinsley on his leap that story length is a reason readers are abandoning print for the Internet (the reasons for that are many, and probably worth a book or two worth of words), but I'm with him all day long in his contention that most newspaper stories could be shorter.

"Writing long," as good editors say, has been a problem in the industry for decades, and it is inexcusable. It is hard to believe that there is a print reporter alive that at some point wasn't taught to, "say as much as you can in as few words as possible."

Continue reading "Newspaper Copy That's Short Is Sweet" »

Brown Takes Shot at U.S. Newspapers

Tina Brown for publisher!

Too late?

Well, that's a shame for any number of newspapers among the piles of failures across the United States. Who knows, if this British firebrand had been listed atop their masthead at some point they might be thriving right now.

The founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast and the former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, among others, gave a good, old-fashioned tongue-lashing to American newspapers for blaming everything -- and especially the Internet -- but themselves for their deaths.

"What a load of Spam," Brown typed in her Jan. 3 Blogs and Stories.

Continue reading "Brown Takes Shot at U.S. Newspapers" »

For Newspapers, Good News and Bad News

More people are spending more time reading newspapers - but they're doing it online and without paying. That's the highlight of a rich survey result just released by USC's Annenberg School for Communication.

The annual survey, conducted by Annenberg School's Center for the Digital Future, offers a fascinating look at the changing habits of Internet users in America. It provides robust data on what people do online - whether they shop or pay bill - as well as how their children behave based on the availability of connectivity at home.

But of most interest to this space, as well as the researchers, is the glimpse of the future for the newspaper business. In short, there is a future, just not in print.

Jeffrey Cole, the director of the center, made a bold prediction:

"We're clearly now seeing a path to the end of the printed daily newspapers -- a trend that is escalating much faster than we had anticipated. The decline of newspapers is happening at a pace they never could have anticipated. Their cushion is gone, and only those papers that can move decisively to the Web will survive."

According to the survey, Internet users in 2008 spent 53 minutes per week reading online newspapers, a 28 percent increase over a year ago. Heavy users spent nearly two hours online reading papers' web sites each week. But as a result, 22 percent of the users said they stopped paying for a subscription because they could read the same content online for free.

There is one more piece of disconcerting news for newspapers and other media outlets. While people do flock to these web sites for information, they don't necessarily believe everything in it. According to the survey: Faith in news pages posted by established media (such as nytimes.com and cnn.com) decreased, and is now at the lowest level yet reported in the Digital Future studies that began in 2000.

For more on the survey, you can read the press release and the highlights. If you wish to get all of the 191-page report - be ready to drop 500 bucks - it's available here.

Newspaper Bailout? Don't Bet On It

America's troubled newspapers are getting a lot of attention these days. But the last place it should be seeking assistance from is Capitol Hill.

For the record, newspapers have not asked the government for a bailout, even in these the worst of times for the industry. That hasn't stopped Congress from talking about them.

The House Judiciary Committee called a meeting yesterday, at the behest of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to examine what ails the industry and what might be done about it. Pelosi (D-Calif.), no doubt, is trying to score political brownie points by lending a hand to her hometown San Francisco Chronicle. But her colleagues instead used the meeting to bash the media business - from the left and right.

For those that showed up, that is. Most of the subcommittee members weren't even there. The ones that were took out whatever personal grievances they had against newspapers, starting with chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.):

[Conyers] countered with his contempt for Fox News Chairman Rupert Murdoch "telling us how important it is that the media remain free and viable." He recalled his own "hard feelings" about once being arrested while protesting outside one of the Detroit newspapers. "I'm going to ask their editors if I should meet with them tomorrow," he said bitterly. "Now that they're in bad shape, maybe I should help them?"

Conyers, who has collected his share of less-than-favorable headlines over the years, went on. "Newspapers remind me of automobile corporations," he said. "All of a sudden they need help, they need a lot of help and they need it fast."

Keep in mind that Conyers' beef with newspapers is deeply personal. His wife, Monica Conyers, is the president of the Detroit City Council and also frequently in the news for her thuggish behavior. Her brother just last week was arrested for drunk driving - and a probe of how she got him (a convicted felon) a city job is ongoing.

The show, er, meeting would've been comical if it wasn't so sad. At one point, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) asked if there were any "spies" in the audience.

Meanwhile, in the same building, former presidential candidate John Kerry is on a mission to save his own hometown paper - the Boston Globe. Kerry (D-Mass.) wants the Senate to call its own hearing to see what can be done to stop the newspaper hemorrhage.

In a letter to the employees of the Globe, whose parent New York Times Co. has threatened to shut it down if new labor deals aren't reached by May 1, Sen. Kerry wrote:

America's newspapers are struggling to survive, and while there will be serious consequences in terms of the lives and financial security of the employees involved, including hundreds at the Globe, there will also be serious consequences for our democracy where diversity of opinion and strong debate are paramount. ... I am committed to your fight, committed to your industry and committed to ensuring that the vital public service newspapers provide does not disappear.

While there may be some truly noble sentiments among the elected representatives to "save" the business, newspapers are best advised to seek solutions of their own. After all, having a free press is all about not getting in bed with the government.

Pulitzer Prize Winners - 2009

The 2009 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced Monday afternoon by Columbia University and listed below. Click here for the complete press release.

JOURNALISM:

Public Service - Las Vegas Sun (for its reporting on construction deaths on the Vegas Strip)

Breaking News Reporting - The New York Times Staff (coverage of Eliot Spitzer's demise)

Investigative Reporting - David Barstow of The New York Times (retired generals on the take to drum up support for Iraq war)

Explanatory Reporting - Bettina Boxall and Julie Cart of the Los Angeles Times (western wildfires)

Local Reporting - Detroit Free Press Staff (demise of mayor Kwame Kilpatrick) and
Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Giblin of the East Valley Tribune, Mesa, AZ (exposing a popular local sheriff)

National Reporting - St. Petersburg Times Staff (fact-checking initiative over the 2008 presidential campaign)

International Reporting - The New York Times Staff (Afpak coverage)

Feature Writing - Lane DeGregory of the St. Petersburg Times

Commentary - Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post

Criticism - Holland Cotter of The New York Times

Editorial Writing - Mark Mahoney of The Post-Star, Glens Falls, NY

Editorial Cartooning - Steve Breen of The San Diego Union-Tribune

Breaking News Photography - Patrick Farrell of The Miami Herald

Feature Photography - Damon Winter of The New York Times

LETTERS, DRAMA and MUSIC:

Fiction - Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (Random House)

Drama - Ruined by Lynn Nottage

History - The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed (W.W. Norton & Company)

Biography - American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham (Random House)

Poetry - The Shadow of Sirius by W.S. Merwin (Copper Canyon Press)

General Nonfiction - Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon (Doubleday)

Music - Double Sextet by Steve Reich, premiered March 26, 2008 in Richmond, VA (Boosey & Hawkes)


The big winner this year, without a doubt, is the much-maligned New York Times, taking five Pulitzers after winning one and sharing one last year. St. Petersburg Times, which last won a Pulitzer in 1998, is a multiple winner for the first time Politico cartoonist Matt Wuerker became the first finalist for an online-only publication.

The Washington Post didn't fare as well, with columnist Eugene Robinson as its lone winner for commentary. In 2008, the Post won six Pulitzers in public service, breaking news, feature, commentary and both national and international reporting. Wall Street Journal is shut out for the second consecutive year, its reporting on the financial crisis losing out to the St. Pete Times.

Coming Soon: Universal Pay Scheme

Amid the continuing fiscal meltdown for print media, a group has come up with a pay scheme that would make paying for reading a little less painless - at least a lot less cumbersome than the absurd mirco-payment method.

Though no one has yet signed on, the idea is quickly gaining currency. In essence, a reader can go to a central site and make a payment, which allows him access to numerous affiliated publications.

(Why didn't I think of this first?)

There's much heft, at least in terms of name recognition, behind the venture at Journalism Online LLC. Among the principals include Court TV founder Steven Brill, former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz, and Leo Hindery Jr., who has headed communications companies like Tele-Communications Inc., Global Crossing and the YES Network, and now runs InterMedia Partners, a private equity firm that specializes in media.

Brill, who said the system will be up and running by the fall, thinks the fee should be around $15 per month for the readers. He said the venture streamlines the paying process and facilitates easy access:

"The most important thing is it's simple to use. Much of the barrier to charging online is the transaction friction, as opposed to the actual cost. With this system, you'd have a single password, give your credit card number just once."

Beyond getting money from the readers, the venture is mulling over charging search engines and news aggregators for royalty. This, without a doubt, will be met with some pushback, especially from dominant Internet entities such as Google.

A pay scheme seems inevitable in the near future as newspapers continue to flounder with sharply decreasing ad revenues. In 2008, newspapers reported a 16.6 decline in ad revenue, coinciding with the recession that began in late 2007. This year, ad revenues are down by as much as 30% in the first quarter, as a few papers have folded with a number of others also teetering on the brink of extinction.

Google Bites Back, But Gently

Talk about awkward.

One day after AP Chairman Dean Singleton kicked up a maelstrom, threatening a war between newspapers and aggregators, alluding to but without naming Google, Eric Schmidt had to address this same "mad as hell" crowd at the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) convention in San Diego.

In his keynote speech, the Google CEO claimed he was "confused" by the brouhaha, and pointedly mentioned his company's multimillion dollar deal to host and use AP's content. But more critically, he echoed the thinking by anyone who's seen the handwriting on the wall - blow up the obsolete business model:

"It's obvious to me that the majority of the circulation of a newspaper should be online, rather than printed. There should be five times, 10 times more circulation because there's no distribution cost. It doesn't cost anything to read it online from an end user perspective.

"I would start with -- My diagnosis is: how do we get to 10 times more readers online? What do they want to see? What is their style? My own bias, by the way, is a technology one: I think the sites are slow. They literally are not fast. They're actually slower than reading the paper, and that's something that can be worked on on a technical basis."

(His entire speech may be heard here)

Schmidt's other suggestions included - don't "piss off" the readers, think of the next act and still look to advertising as the primary revenue source.

While Schmidt was busy making nice with the NAA, his charges up north in Mountain View wasted little time in defending Google's legal position against the AP's challenge over fair use. But one media critic really took the gloves off.

Jeff Jarvis, a former New York Daily News Sunday editor who now considers himself more of a blogger, wrote a scathing commentary on his blog BuzzMachine, excoriating the newspaper business. The point in "The Speech the NAA Should Hear"? You blew it:

The public should be angry with you for the poor stewardship you have exercised over the press and its service to society. Your journalists are angry at you for losing their jobs. Your pressmen and drivers and classified-ad takers are angry at you for the same reason (and at the journalists for paying attention only to their own plight). Your advertisers were angry at you for using your monopolistic power to overcharge them and for providing inefficient platforms and bad service for so long. But they're not angry anymore because they left you for better advertising vehicles and better prices in a competitive marketplace.

But you're the ones who are acting angry.

Yesterday, you delivered a foot-stomping little hissy fit over Google and aggregators. How dare they link to you and not pay you? Oh, I so want Eric Schmidt to tell you today that you're getting your wish and that Google will no longer link to you. Beware what you wish for. You'd lose a third of your traffic overnight. If other aggregators (I work with one) and bloggers (I am one) and Facebook all decided to follow suit, you'd lose half your traffic. On most of your sites, only 20 percent of the audience in a day ever sees your homepage and its careful packaging; 4 of 5 readers instead come in through search and links. In the link economy - instead of the outmoded content economy in which you operate - Google and aggregators and bloggers are bringing value to you; they should be charging you for the value they bring. You should rise up today and give Mr. Schmidt a big thank you for not charging you. But you won't, because you've refused to understand this new business reality.

You blew it.


AP Readies for War with Aggregators

At the Associated Press annual meeting, a new battle cry was sounded for the woebegone newspaper industry:

"We're as mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore!"

That came from William Dean Singleton, CEO of MediaNews and AP chairman during his keynote speech in San Diego. Singleton made it clear that the AP, a cooperative formed primarily by U.S. newspapers, will vigorously protect its content and demand revenue-sharing from web portals where it sees fit:

"(We will) work with portals and other partners who legally license our content ... and seek legal and legislative remedies against those who don't. We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories."

Neither Singleton nor anyone at the AP named their potential adversaries, but it's reasonable to surmise that their potential targets may range from Internet behemoths Google and Yahoo to news aggregators such as the Huffington Post. One of the contentious issues involves the use of excerpts; the other, on the portals' use of snippets of newspaper articles to generate ad revenue.

Google was quick to respond to this potential challenge, saying that any confrontation over fair use would be misguided.

"We believe search engines are of real benefit to newspapers, driving valuable traffic to their Web sites and connecting them with new readers around the world," Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker told the New York Times. "We believe that both Google Web Search and Google News are fully consistent with copyright law -- we simply link users to the site at which the news story appears."

Singleton was light on details as to how the AP plans to pursue what he termed "new rules of engagement." But he insisted that print media isn't dead, it just needs to do better - particularly by protecting its most valuable assets - in order to maximize its earning potential:

"I think our industry has been very timid about protecting our content, probably because we've done so well in the past few years that we didn't recognize that misappropriation is as serious an issue as it is. As we're now relooking at business models, it's become clear that we must protect the rights of our content.

We perhaps have been timid about enforcing [those rights]. No more. We own the content but we've let those who spend very little, if any, get the most advantage from it. (But) I am very confident that we will develop new models that help us get more."

More News from Detroit

The automakers aren't the only ones from Detroit making the news.

While GM and Chrysler wrestle with their own survival, the two newspapers in Detroit began their own struggle to stay afloat. On Monday, the Free Press and News became the first major U.S. metro dailies to cease daily delivery to subscribers.

This move was planned and announced in December last year. The papers now will be delivered to homes on only Thursday, Friday and Sunday. The rest of the week, a condensed 32-page printed paper is available only at newsstands.

Or off a subscriber's own computer. The papers now may be downloaded and printed, in its entirety, along with click-screen capabilities, from a specially-designed web site. Yes, instead of having your dog fetch the paper off the driveway, he may now go get the e-edition - a stack of letter-size paper - off your printer.

The frenzied first day crashed the paper's server for the digital edition, forcing long delays and complaints. Management dashed off a quick memo to the papers' staffs to deal with irate callers. The short memo, obtained by Media Watch:

OVERWHELMING DEMAND FOR ELECTRONIC EDITIONS OF DETROIT FREE PRESS AND THE DETROIT NEWS CAUSE SOME DELAYS

DETROIT, Mich., March 30 - Users of the electronic editions, exact copies of today's printed Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, are temporarily experiencing longer wait times for information to load. This delay is being caused by higher than anticipated demand during this peak time. The Detroit Media Partnership is working with its vendor, Tecnavia, to rectify this situation and broaden digital capacity.

More than 500,000 print copies of both newspapers are available for free at more than 18,000 retail locations where the newspapers are usually sold.

The timing of the new initiative, while it was pre-determined well in advance, also worked out to the papers' detriment. Besides the ongoing battles of GM and Chrysler in Washington, Michigan State's basketball team won on Sunday to advance to the Final Four - to be hosted next weekend at Ford Field in Detroit. The event is anticipated to be the biggest in Motown since the Super Bowl in January 2006, as crowds of 72,000 are expected at each of the three games.

The papers put on a full-court press of its own Monday, sending out scores of people to hand out free papers all over Detroit. But some of their older readers weren't quite prepared for the revolution:

To Carol Banas, a retired city planner and longtime Free Press reader, the idea of not having a printed paper is unimaginable. "I'm at the age where I like my newspapers in hand," said Ms. Banas, 56, who read a hard copy of Monday's abbreviated Free Press in an Einstein Brothers Bagels shop in Royal Oak. "I know that's English online, but it's not the same."

Ready or not, the Detroit papers are pressing on with their new digital initiative, one that will be observed closely by everyone in the industry from coast-to-coast. David Hunke, CEO of the Detroit Media Partnership, said during Monday's luncheon at the Detroit Economic Club that the e-edition is merely the first stop on the digital super highway for newspapers. The next is e-Reader, a Kindle-like device the papers plan to push out by 2010.

Paycut Times, Layoff Post and Furlough News

A day after the Washington Post Co. disclosed that it lost $25 million in 2008 and will offer employees buyouts to offset even more losses this year, the New York Times Co. announced that it is imposing a temporary 5% paycut for most Times employees.

The cuts is to be felt company-wide, including at the Boston Globe, a few smaller newspapers and also at About.com. The paycuts will last from April through December 2009 - unless economic conditions fails to improve, then it might be extended. The Times also said that about 100 employees on the business side of the company will be laid off.

The good news (of course, everything being relative) in the newspaper business is that only one paper - Ann Arbor News - has announced that it's shutting down since the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased publishing as of March 17. The Tucson Citizen, which was supposed to close up shop on March 21, is still in business as of today.

But in the first quarter this year, three newspaper companies have already filed for bankruptcy, and the rest have resorted to severe measures to cut cost, including paycuts, layoffs, buyouts and furloughs. These announcements were all made within the last 30 days:

* Hearst: San Francisco Chronicle - concessions from the guild, with about 100 employees expected to take buyouts; Houston Chronicle - 12% staff will be laid off; San Antonio Express-News - 75 newsroom positions to be cut.

* Gannett: After a mandatory unpaid one-week furlough was imposed on all employees in the first quarter, the company is repeating the measure in the second quarter, including at flagship USA Today. Some higher salaried employees may face a reduced salary for a second week.

* Newhouse: At papers such as The Star-Ledger (Newark, N.J.), The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) and The Plain Dealer (Cleveland), a 10-day furlough will be imposed and pensions are frozen.

* McClatchy: Announced that 1,600 employees, or 15% of its workforce, will be laid off and the rest will get paycuts. Particularly hard-hit is the troubled Miami Herald, with over 200 jobs being eliminated. At other papers, including the Raleigh News & Observer, Kansas City Star and Sacramento Bee, 5-10% paycuts will apply.

* MediaNews: The Denver Post employees OK'd cuts in wages and benefits. The company's other papers in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay metro areas might be hit with a second round of mandatory non-paid furloughs, similar to Gannett's.

Amidst all the layoffs and cuts, the Monday debut of the new print and delivery plan by the Detroit newspapers will be closely watched by everyone in the industry. The Free Press and News will be delivered just three days a week (Thursday, Friday and Sunday) and the print edition runs will be drastically reduced. This model, if successful, may be widely emulated, as newspapers continue to grasp for a way out of a seemingly irreversible death spiral.

Washington Post Hits the Skids

In these tumultuous times for newspapers, no one is immune. Even the Washington Post, one of the more stable and profitable papers in the country, is facing a number of hard choices financially.

In a 2,000-word letter to Washington Post Co.'s shareholders released yesterday, company chairman Don Graham disclosed that the news division - dominated by flagship Washington Post - lost nearly $25 million in 2008 and is expected to lose "substantially more" in 2009.

Responding to the gloomy outlook, the Post announced that it will be offering voluntary buyouts - its fourth since 2003 and the first since May 2008, when more than 100 staffers took the buyouts.

Graham conceded that beyond the immediate losses, he is still grasping for solutions to turn around a business that's seemingly on its deathbed:


So what's the future of the newspaper and news magazine businesses? I have no answer to this question. ... Today, it isn't obvious that even the best-run, most successful newspaper can be consistently profitable. But The Post will get every chance. ... We are willing to lose money ... if the losses are on a path to a healthy, profitable business.

Are we investing in The Post and Newsweek as a public service or because we feel their business models can be fixed? Emphatically the latter: it is universally understood that we must move toward profitability at The Post and Newsweek after what we hope will be a low point in 2009. But how we'll get there is not clear. We must cut costs; but we must (and will) continue producing excellent newspapers and magazines. Then, we have to continue to find new sources of revenue (at a time when some of our customers will be cutting back because of their own financial problems).

The Post Co., which also owns Newsweek, Slate, Kaplan education and Cable One, is trading at $380 a share, down from $800 at the end of 2007.

Ann Arbor News to Close

It's the sign of the times, particularly in the beleaguered state of Michigan. On Monday, Ann Arbor News announced that it will be ceasing publication in July, going entirely online as AnnArbor.com.

Ann Arbor News began publishing in 1835, two years before the state of Michigan was admitted into the union. Now owned by the Newhouse family, it's one of the few papers still publishing in the afternoon during the week and mornings on Saturday and Sunday.

Its current web site, mlive.com, is a top 1,000 site with traffic that outstrips much larger Detroit papers, the Free Press and News. The reason for such robust web traffic is simple - mlive.com (and Ann Arbor News) covers the University of Michigan and its powerful athletic programs, whose football team is the winningest in history with a national fan base from coast-to-coast. There is little doubt that while the paper is losing money, ownership wants to maintain the web presence, which may be achieved without as much cost.

The demise of the paper, however, brings back a flood of memories for this scribe. I got my first job as a paper boy for Ann Arbor News, while a sophomore at Huron High School. I'd come home from school, go to the curb where the bundles of papers were dumped off and fold and stack them into the bag hanging from the handlebar of my bike.

I'd usually take a little time to read the paper before navigating through the snow and ice to deliver them. My job also required me to collect subscription fees and also solicit potential subscribers. I won a contest once for being the top-producing paperboy and was invited to the downtown office to receive a plaque. My real reward (get this, it'll never happen today with all the health-police around) was four flats of Pepsi-Cola, 96 cans that I stored under my bed and lasted me all winter.

This was the job that endowed me with a sense of ownership, for the first time. I might be 15, but I was operating as an independent contractor, with obligations and incentives attached to my performance. Those were the heady times when even young boys (and girls) were entrusted with certain responsibilities that seemingly would not be granted to the succeeding generations. It was a bygone era quickly fading into history books.

Of course, newspapers probably will cease to exist sooner than later. With it, the term "paper boy" will be filed away with other anachronisms such as typewriters, cassette players, VCRs and Atari game consoles.

P-I Gone, Who and What Next?

Today marks the end of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as a newspaper. The web site seattlepi.com will live on as but a shell of its former self.

Despite coping with uncertainty for the past two months, the staff at the P-I put forth all it had for the final edition. The cover of the last paper, of course, features the P-I's iconic globe glowing in the dark.

The 146-year-run of the P-I, which began as the Seattle Gazette in 1863 and bought by William Randolph Hearst in 1921, came to an end after the parent Hearst Corporation decided it was tired of losing money at a paper where circulation was shrinking at an alarming rate in recent years. By making the paper an online-only entity, Hearst is experimenting with a future concept that may be the destiny of newspapers. The fate of P-I's web site will be closely monitored not only by other Hearst papers such as the San Francisco Chronicle and Houston Chronicle, but other newspaper operators from across the country as well.

That the P-I and the Rocky Mountain News folded in the first quarter this year is but a sign of the times. More papers will surely follow. The financial crisis has been cited as the primary reason for the demise of newspapers, but it merely accelerated it. The business model was broken, so it was merely nudged toward the cliff a little sooner than expected.

The more forward-thinking types have already moved on, that includes Clay Shirky, a well-known and respected industry analyst:

There is one possible answer to the question "If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?" The answer is: Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments, each of which will seem as minor at launch as craigslist did, as Wikipedia did. ...

Any experiment ... designed to provide new models for journalism is going to be an improvement over hiding from the real, especially in a year when, for many papers, the unthinkable future is already in the past.

The death of the P-I is but one of the many funerals for newspapers in 2009, and beyond. Only a month ago, we produced a list of newspapers most likely to fold, and as of today Nos. 1-2 are already gone and No. 3 is to be reduced to an "edition" of another paper soon.

As with the Rocky, the P-I went out with a bang, in an interactive, multi-media splash - photo gallery, and video:

Seattle P-I, R.I.P.

After allowing the employees of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to twist in the wind for the better part of a month, the parent Hearst Corporation finally put the paper out of its misery. Tuesday's edition will be the P-I's last in print, ending a 146-year run.

Hearst will maintain a skeletal web site run by some of the P-I staffers, though the vast majority of the 167 employees will lose their jobs. The P-I becomes the second major U.S. metro daily to shutter in as many months, following the Rocky Mountain News' demise in February.

The P-I's former JOA partner Seattle Times may stand to benefit, but the impact may be limited. The Times, owned by the Blethen family, is having its own financial crisis. Just last month, the paper lobbied the Washington state legislature to grant tax relief. From Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen in a statement:

Though The Seattle Times and the Seattle P-I have been fiercely competitive, we find no joy in the loss of any journalistic voice. Today's announcement is an acknowledgement that in the current economy it is a struggle for even a single newspaper to be profitable and impossible for multiple papers in a single market.

With the P-I closing, Hearst is moving ahead in its effort to keep the flagship San Francisco Chronicle operating. By a vote of 333-33, the paper's guild ratified a new agreement with management on Saturday, allowing a number of concessions. Teamsters, representing the paper's pressmen and truck drivers, is now the last union that must ratify the new proposal.

Carl Hall, the guild's lead negotiator, said of the agreement: "This is the start of the real battle. We have to find a solution, a real solution, to save what we really care about here - quality journalism and qualify jobs."

NYT Makes Right Move with Douthat

Ever since the New York Times parted company with Bill Kristol in January, speculations abounded on when and if the Grey Lady would pick another conservative columnist. Let's face it, at the moment, every one of the NYT's op-ed columnists voted for Barack Obama, including the purportedly center-right David Brooks.

Then, on Wednesday, the Times made a surprise and bold move - a brilliant one, perhaps, by picking Ross Douthat to succeed Kristol.

The Atlantic was effusive in its praise for Douthat (pronounced DOW-thut). From associate editor Marc Ambinder:

Ross is late-twenties-year-old public intellectual with the sensibility of a 60-year eminence grise, the range of a Hitchens, the pitch of a conservative AJP Taylor, the conscience of a Neibuhr and the intellectual honesty of his frequent sparring partner, Andrew Sullivan.

It's heretic for a new media pioneer to say this, I guess, but the New York Times remains the most influential journalistic force in the modern world, and its opinion columnists consistently shape policy, government and public opinion. ... The Atlantic has been a fabulous perch for Ross, but the Times offers a vantage point that is irresistible.

Douthat, who will turn 30(!) this year, is a Harvard graduate who's written for a number of conservative publications, including as a film critic for National Review. Contributors to NR's blog 'The Corner' also chimed in on the Times' choice:

From Mike Potemra: I feel the way conservative Catholics felt the day Ratzinger was elected: what a bold, surprising, great choice. Congratulations to Ross, and the NYT.

From Yuval Levin: Ross Douthat will be a fantastic columnist, and one of very few reasons to read the New York Times. A young man with an old soul, a sharp pen, and a deep sense of the connection between culture, politics, and the great human questions. He's a friend, so I'm not objective, but I'm sure I'd think it even if he weren't: Good for the Times and good for the rest of us.

Eyal Press at the liberal-progressive The Nation, has a problem with the choice - he thinks Douthat is not conservative enough:

So what's the problem with this hire? The problem is that it will not give readers of The Times any clue what most Republicans today - certainly those holding the reins of power - actually think. America's preeminent newspaper will now have two conservatives (David Brooks is the other) chiming in to argue that government isn't always evil, that tax cuts aren't always good, that something really does need to be done about health care, that markets aren't always wonderfully virtuous, and so on. This will make it a lot easier for progressives to put down their coffee in the morning without feeling queasy. It will also make it that much easier for conservatives to argue - accurately - that The Times is out-of-touch with their beliefs.

Douthat will start his online columns in mid-April, with columns in print to follow shortly after. He'll also, according to the Times, blog for the paper as well.

Eli Broad Interested in L.A. Times

Real estate mogul and philanthropist Eli Broad says he's still interested in purchasing the Los Angeles Times - if the price is right.

Broad came close to buying the paper in 2007 before Sam Zell stepped in and took over the parent Tribune Co. in a $8.2 billion deal. In less than two years after Zell's debt-laden acquisition, the Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy protection, putting many of its newspaper properties in peril, including the Times, Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun.

During a symposium in Manhattan, Broad said he hasn't ruled out using his charitable foundation to buy the L.A. Times, provided that it's in a bankruptcy sale - i.e. could be scooped up for cheap.

"We can't afford to lose good newspaper journalism, investigative reporting," said the 75-year-old billionaire. "I would like to see our foundation and others join together to own the LA Times. (But) I am not sure it can be a national paper, or have the same aspirations it once had."

Broad conceded that he has no answers to the newspaper woes that have put the business on the brink of collapse throughout the nation. He mentioned tying up the Times with the Washington Post - the two papers already form a joint wire-service. But he also said that newspapers may ultimately have to be run as non-profits.

"No one has figured out a good business model as of yet," Broad said. "Newspapers ought to be owned by foundations, not look for great financial returns."

The Last Days of P-I

Today won't be the last day of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as a daily newspaper, as it had been widely speculated. The parent Hearst Corporation said in an e-mail to the P-I staff that: "We are still evaluating our options. Timing of the decision is uncertain."

But make no mistake, the end is near. By all indication, Hearst intends to turn the P-I into an online-only operation with an emphasis on aggregation and blogs. When that happens, the P-I would become the second major U.S. metro daily newspaper to fold following the demise of the Rocky Mountain News on Feb. 27.

As if to perform the last rites, the P-I employees were allowed to pose in front of the paper's iconic rooftop globe yesterday for posterity.

2008833180.jpg
Ken Lambert, Seattle Times

In the past two weeks, Hearst has courted selected writers and editors for the proposed online-only P-I. Assuming those ranks were filled, the site will continue without a hitch while the print edition shuts down. In any event, the morale in the P-I newsroom could not be lower, with the minds of the employees already elsewhere:

There's also an emotional and group-think element that's making people agree that this week will bring the last-ever print P-I--or, at least, should. First of all, what kind of employer tells a group of 170 competitive journalists that they're about to lose their jobs, then picks about 20 of them to stay employed in an online-only project ..., then throws the chosen back into the general population, and then lets that stew of jealousy and resentment simmer for a week or so? Not a good idea. As one reporter put it last week, the current vibe in the newsroom is: "Put us out of our misery already."

While Hearst cleans out the P-I, it continues to work on saving its flagship San Francisco Chronicle. Management has tentatively agreed to a deal with the guild, with concessions granted to keep the paper operating. A bigger obstacle, however, remains the Teamsters, who represents the non-editorial staffs including truck drivers. Teamsters may yet to decide to scuttle the negotiations and dare Hearst to shut down the paper.

Members of the guild are expected to ratify the agreement, as outlined in the memo below obtained by Media Watch:

BARGAINING UPDATE
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE UNIT
MONDAY March 9, 2009

Tentative Agreement in Chronicle-Guild Talks


Negotiators for the Guild and the San Francisco Chronicle reached a tentative agreement Monday night on proposed changes to the collective bargaining agreement in connection with cost cuts planned by the company.

The agreement will require approval by Chronicle Unit Guild members. A ratification meeting will be scheduled as early as Thursday of this week. Time and place will be announced on Tuesday as soon as a large enough facility can be secured.

In view of the latest terms agreed today, the Guild Negotiating Committee recommends membership approval.

The terms reached late Monday include expanded management ability to lay off employees without regard to seniority. All employees who are discharged in a layoff or who accept voluntary buyouts are guaranteed two weeks' pay per year of service up to a maximum of one year, plus company-paid health care for the severance term, even in the event of a shutdown - which today's agreement is designed to avoid.

Guild membership will remain a condition of continued employment for all employees. However, new hires in certain advertising sales positions will be given the option of membership, even though they will retain Guild protection under the contract.

On-callers will be limited to no more than 10 percent in any classification or department.

Pension changes are not part of this agreement, but are being discussed by pension authorities and must be implemented under terms of the Pension Protection Act, due to the recent declines in investment markets. Because those changes may affect the decisions of many members concerning buyouts, we are attempting to reach some key understandings now as to the nature of the changes and when they will take effect.

A lunch-hour meeting on Wednesday March 11, with our pension plan's lawyer will be held at the Guild Office, 433 Natoma, Third Floor Conference Room.

A bulletin summarizing all the proposed contract changes will be issued Tuesday. A set of the complete proposed amendments will be available on the Guild's Web site (mediaworkers.org) as soon as possible.

Management is seeking to change the union contract as part of an attempt to cut costs and keep the paper operating under the ownership of the Hearst Corp.

The company said Feb. 24 it would sell or close the paper unless the Guild agreed to changes in the labor agreement in effect through June 2010.

Just up the road in Sacramento, the union accepted a severe paycut so the troubled parent company McClatchy may continue to keep publishing the Bee. Nevertheless, McClatchy, which also owns the Miami Herald, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Kansas City Star, is expected to slash 15% of its workforce, or about 1,600 jobs.

A Glimmer of Hope for P-I?

It may be only days before the Seattle Post-Intelligencer goes the way of the Rocky Mountain News. Its parent Hearst Corporation has set a March 10 deadline to find a buyer or it may shut down the paper.

While no serious buyer has emerged, word is that Hearst may be planning to extend the P-I's existence by making it an online-only entity. A number of P-I's staffers have been offered to stay on to work for the web site.

One reporter who turned down the offer said it came with some strings attached - it would increase his health insurance cost, cut his salary by an unspecified amount, match his 401(k) contributions, require him to forgo his P-I severance pay, reduce his vacation accrual to zero and require him to give up overtime. But Hector Castro said the reason he rejected the deal is because he finds working online "too tech-oriented."

Meanwhile, some of the newly unemployed Rocky Mountain News journalists have already found a way back on the web. Tracy Ringolsby, one of the most respected baseball writers who also co-founded Baseball America, has launched a baseball site along with fellow ex-Rocky baseball writer Jack Etkin and editor Steve Foster. It didn't take Colorado Rockies fans long to discover InsidetheRockies.com, which got around 2,100 hits the first day and climbing ever since.

The Sporting Journal

Fulfilling Rupert Murdoch's pledge to make the Wall Street Journal a more general-interest paper to compete with the likes of the New York Times, on Tuesday unveiled a sports page, to be featured now daily in the Journal.

IMG_01810.jpg

Previously, the Journal's sports coverage was limited to John Paul Newport's golf column in the weekend edition and a few sports stories in the Friday and weekend papers. Sports Editor Sam Walker said the new daily sports page won't be a place to find box scores. "We're not doing game coverage," he said. "These are stories that are idea-based with big themes."

The Journal's first sports center-piece story? Of course it came with a financial theme. It's a feature on why fewer NBA teams are capable of contending for the title this season, and what the economy has to do with it.

Philly Moves Toward One-Paper Town

Scarcely a week after filing for bankruptcy, the Philadelphia newspapers are finding temporary measures to stop the bleeding. On Monday, the newspapers announced that the smaller tabloid Daily News will become "an edition" of the broadsheet Inquirer, effective March 30.

Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC, the parent company of both papers, insists that the move is made to boost the circulation numbers of a soon-to-be single entity and to help increase advertising revenue. Currently, the Inquirer has a circulation of 300,000 and the Daily News 97,000. The Sunday Inquirer has a circulation of 556,000, making it the eighth-largest Sunday paper in the U.S.

While the parent company and the editors of both papers maintain that the papers will keep separate staffs and "compete" with each other for stories, it's all but certain that the Daily News will become merely a section of the Inquirer and eventually disappear altogether. There is no economic sense in publishing two papers, with different formats even, when the smaller of the two isn't worth the trouble. The Daily News' circulation is less than that of the papers in Allentown, Pa., or Rockland County, N.Y.

Meanwhile, papers from coast to coast are slashing and cutting. The family-owned Columbus Dispatch announced that it's trimming 45 newsroom jobs. And the Sacramento Bee, owned by financially-distressed McClatchy, is trying to get the union to accept a large-scale pay cut, with those making $50,000 or more losing 6% of their salaries, a significant concession given the increased taxation facing all Californians.

In a memo circulated to members, the guild pleaded for a yes vote in order to save jobs:

The committee tried its hardest to win some concessions in exchange for accepting a difficult package of wage cuts and layoffs. But over and over, the company said it was an all-or-nothing deal necessary to achieve the company's financial goals in the eye of a severe economic downturn.

Opinions varied within the bargaining committee regarding a choice that was unpleasant in every sense of the word. We have all heard of the layoffs elsewhere, and even steeper wage cuts being asked of other newspapers, including 11.7 percent at the Denver Post and 15 percent at the Seattle Times. Every day brings new reports of newspaper bankruptcies and closings, as was the case at The Rocky Mountain News on Friday.

There's no way to sugar coat it. This was crisis bargaining, nothing more. Now members must consider the options and vote. We have been told that a no vote will trigger high number of layoffs among us.

Read the reaction to this memo, though, and you'd be amazed at how some people just don't get it.

Hearst Makes Demands on Chronicle

As predicted here at Media Watch, after warning that the San Francisco Chronicle might fold, the parent Hearst Corporation made demands on the newspaper guild and other unions for drastic concessions to keep the paper operating. Management and labor likely will have the next 2-3 weeks to work out the givebacks or the paper could be shuttered by the end of the first quarter.

Media Watch has obtained the memo sent to guild members on the highlights of the proposal. There were a few mundane items - such as increasing the work week from 37.5 hours to 40 hours without an increase in pay, trimming four weeks of vacation to three, and loosening existing constraints on management to use freelancers. And there were a few more difficult ones, such as more layoffs and discontinuing pension contribution.

In all fairness, the demands were harsh, but not entirely unreasonable. Partly due to the high cost of living in the Bay Area, and partly due to the fact that San Francisco was one of the strongest union towns, the employees at the San Francisco newspapers have always enjoyed some of the best benefit packages of newspapers anywhere in the United States. While California's escalating taxation is taking its toll on all residents, it's not particularly a burden that Hearst should be forced to carry as its employees are giving away more and more of their salaries to satiate a near-bankrupt state's penchant for spending.

It appears that the guild, after putting up light resistance, would be willing to accept most of management's demands - given the choice of losing their jobs outright vs. losing a few perks, vacation and sick days and freeze in pay. At least Hearst is not asking for direct pay cuts and unpaid furloughs, as a number of newspaper chains have done.

But the ball might be out of the guild's hands. Its other more notorious union brethren representing the composing room, pressmen and truck drivers may be less willing to give in. And this time, if they decide to call management's bluff, they may be making a grave mistake.

Meanwhile, Hearst is exploring other ways to improve its revenue stream as it's losing about $1 million per week at the Chronicle and a bit less at its other 15 papers. The company is contemplating a pay scheme for certain articles on its properties' web sites, including the Chronicle's popular sfgate.com site.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Hearst president Steven Swartz said his company is developing a new digital strategy that may also include a Kindle-like reading device:

Reworking its digital strategy is a part of Hearst's "100 Days" plan to cast a critical eye on longstanding newspaper-industry business practices. Mr. Swartz promised profound changes. "One inescapable conclusion of our study is that our cost base is significantly out of line with the revenue available in our business today," Mr. Swartz said. "It is equally inescapable that during good times our industry developed business practices that were at best inefficient."

The Last Rocky Show

After 150 years of publishing, the Rocky Mountain News printed its final edition on Friday. The Rocky became the first major U.S. metro daily to fold since the Cincinnati Post did so in December 2007.

The final front page of the Rocky, a retro remembrance:

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Columbia Journalism Review invited former Rocky staffers to express their feelings. The reaction ranged from relief, sadness, introspection to anger. What is most admirable, however, is that however they felt, they put out one heck of a final edition, as any good journalist should:


Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo

Editor John Temple offered a few final thoughts on why Denver will cease to be a two-newspaper town:

(T)here's plenty of fault to go around. It costs more to produce two newspapers than one, because you have to pay for two newsrooms. Also, producing two newspapers introduces more complexity to the daily operations of the agency and adds more costs to its operations. That might have been OK at a time when newspapers typically were highly profitable, but became an enormous challenge when they were not.

A JOA is an unwieldy bureaucratic structure not suited to success in today's rapidly changing media environment. A JOA has been a way for Congress to keep two voices alive in a community. For newspaper owners, historically JOAs have been the equivalent of annuities. They calmed a competitive situation and spun off cash on a predictable basis.

But not anymore.

Newsday Plans to Charge for Web Site

Newsday on Long Island may become the first U.S. metro daily newspaper to jump into the pay fray as a way to sustain the current business model. During a conference call Thursday, Cablevision CEO Tom Rutledge said his company, which owns Newsday and News12, a cable TV network in the New York metro area, will be charging for content on their sites, though he did not specify a time.

"When we purchased Newsday, we were aware of the long-term issues facing the traditional newspaper industry," Rutledge said. "We plan to end the distribution of free web content and make our newsgathering capabilities a service to our customers."

Newsday reportedly lost over $300 million in the fourth quarter last year and, with a well-trafficked web site, pay-for-content may help to offset some of the losses. Currently, the Wall Street Journal is the only U.S. newspaper site that requires a subscription.

Of course, it didn't take long for skeptics to emerge. In his blog, Ken Doctor thinks Newsday may be committing web site suicide:

The average unique visitor on Newsday.com spends four minutes, 25 seconds per month on the site. Ouch. That number can sub for lots of focus groups, price elasticity testing and the like. Newsday's would-be digital audience has voted with its fingertips. That number is up almost one minute from a year earlier, here courtesy of E&P's monthly Nielsen rankings, but still ranks Newsday as having the lowest online engagement of the top 30 newspaper sites.

Confronted with having to pay for a site you may use less than five minutes a month, you think you are going to pay for it? Wrong site. Wrong year. Wrong metro area.

He may have a very valid point. The New York metro area is blanketed by newspaper web sites: The New York Times, Daily News, Post and Star-Ledger, not to mention the Journal. This goes back to the argument that if a paywall has to be erected, the most probable way for it to succeed is having a cooperative among all newspapers.

Rocky Mountain News to Fold

Denver's Rocky Mountain News will print its final edition on Friday, announced its parent company E.W. Scripps. The Rocky will become the first major U.S. metro daily to fold since the Cincinnati Post - also a Scripps paper - closed down in December 2007.

Scripps CEO Rich Boehne, in announcing the closure to a stunned newsroom Thursday, cited the economic difficulties all newspapers are currently experiencing. "Denver can't support two newspapers any longer," Boehne told staffers, some of whom cried at the news. "It's certainly not good news for you, and it's certainly not good news for Denver. ... This moment is nothing like any experience any of us have had. The industry is in serious, serious trouble."

Denver Post, the other half of the joint operating agency, wasted no time in scooping up a few of the Rocky's high-profile writers and columnists, according to the internal memo sent to Post staffers. Noted editor Greg Moore:

Obviously, we have only a short window to win over the Rocky readers. These moves will help. These hires represent less than 5% of the journalists at The Rocky. I plan to do all I can to integrate them into our paper and culture as quickly as possible and I am counting on your help. This all happens at a time of great uncertainty and personal sacrifices in our business. I know. But opportunities like these do not come along very often. And neither do the challenges. It will take the effort of all of us -- those of us who have been here for a while and the newcomers -- to make a go of it. I really need you to be focused on the challenge ahead. So please, be welcoming to our new colleagues and let's roll up our sleeves and put out the best, most interesting paper possible.

In our slide show published yesterday, the Rocky was placed No. 2 among the most troubled newspapers. Its readers quickly reacted to the demise of the 150-year-old paper, until now Colorado's oldest continuing operating business.

William Randolph Hearst, R.I.P.

There goes my pension.

OK, that's not exactly the first thing I thought of when the potential demise of the San Francisco Chronicle made the news yesterday. I count dozens of friends in that paper's newsroom after spending six years there in the 1990s. Bosses, colleagues, softball teammates ... in a few months, they all could be out on the street looking for jobs.

It's quite possible that that alarmist announcement by management is merely a negotiating tactic to extract more concessions from the guild. After all, publisher Frank Vega has a reputation as a union-buster. But he means business - it's no secret that the Hearst Corporation spent upwards of $1 billion since acquiring the Chron and divesting the Examiner in 1999.

Most of my friends at the paper seemed resigned to the new reality. No one is terribly surprised by this. One of them greeted the news with a mix of aplomb and regret - and also provided a colorful and insightful narrative on how we got here:


For you history/TV buffs, George Hearst, the mining magnate who was a real character on "Deadwood" acquired The Examiner in 1880 as payment for a gambling debt and gave it to his son William to run in 1887. William Randolph Hearst allegedly started the Spanish-American War by sinking the Maine to help newspaper circulation, went on to bigger and better things (building the Hearst Castle and cavorting with Marion Davies), then went on to "Citizen Kane" fame, being the basis for the movie and not pleased about it. He also had plans to become President of the United States but couldn't pull off that trick.

I arrived in 1982 when William Randolph Hearst III worked on the paper. In my time, Willie the 3rd eventually was made Editor/Publisher, then vanished with the bad times and went on to a new business where he continues to make more money. (His cousin was Patty Hearst, who was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army and ultimately joined her captors in furthering their cause. Apprehended after having taken part in a bank robbery with other SLA members, Hearst was imprisoned for almost two years before her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter. She was later granted a presidential pardon by President Bill Clinton in his last act as president.)

More years down the road, The Examiner bought The Chronicle, the other original San Francisco paper that is celebrating its 144th birthday this year and running a series now which struck me as very funny. (I told lots of people, they want to run this because they know they won't make 150 years and want to do a historical perspective before it goes under using the pretense of the new presses; they're not laughing at me now.)

Also in my time here, you may remember Phil Bronstein, who was a very good reporter/writer that covered the fall of Marcos in the Philippines. As a reward, he married Sharon Stone, adopted a baby, got bitten by a Komodo dragon, divorced, married the heir of the Borders chain, which is on its way out the door too, got promoted to Editor, started a new promotion "Journalism of Action," then got booted downstairs (physically) but upstairs where all managers go when they've run the course and they don't want the bad publicity with a parting.

They brought in an optimistic new editor who "wouldn't take the job if good things weren't ahead." He's lasted a little more than a year and delivered the news along with the publisher who came here several years ago to put things in order. So they kept moving forward by cutting staff, changing the design, setting up a 15-year contract with the company that owns the new presses even though they're losing a million a week. I'll leave you readers out there to figure out how successful they have been.

But I'll close by adding a 2003 report that said the 61 family members of the Hearsts were worth more than $5.2 billion. I guess The Chronicle is eating into all that profit, and the old saying is, you can have even more if you get rid of the bad guys. Boy, our family would like to have those problems.

Top 10 Newspapers in Trouble

The Atlantic stirred the pot two months ago with a sensational "End Times" piece that questioned the continued existence of the New York Times. While the Grey Lady has stayed in the news with all her financial woes, other papers are suffering silently, with certain death just around the corner for some.

The Christian Science Monitor announced that it was abandoning its print edition back in October last year, and then the avalanche came. The Tribune Co. was the first to file for bankruptcy protection, and then the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Journal Register and Philadelphia Newspapers followed suit. In the meantime, Gannett and Media News announced unpaid furlough programs, and the Los Angeles Times was but one of many to announce yet another round of massive newsroom cuts.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Rocky Mountain News and Tucson Citizen all might not see April Fools Day. Then yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle hinted that it could be going away soon as well. Even the Washington Post, one of the most stable papers, reported a 77% drop in earnings in the fourth quarter of 2008. In todays gloomy newspaper landscape, no one is safe.

With that in mind, we present you with the top 10 major metro newspapers in trouble.

No. 10 New York Daily News

Erecting the Great (Pay) Wall for Newspapers

Let's face it, pay-per-view will be returning to newspaper web sites with a vengeance in the near future. If not by the second half of this year, definitely 2010. Ad revenue is way down - for both print and online - and the recession isn't going anywhere soon.

By now, everyone's shared their own ideas about how to rescue the business. But lately, it's become apparent that we've run out of new thoughts. Most everyone has returned to some variation of a pay scheme.

No one except the Christian Science Monitor dares to do the obvious, which is to shut down the print edition altogether. Newspapers are still too afraid to embrace the new world by leaving the "paper" part of their legacy behind. Since that's the case, a paywall seems to be the only thing that might keep more newspapers from going out of business, for now.

But if we must erect a paywall, let's not make it just any wall. Let's build a Great (pay) Wall that's strong enough to keep the barbarians at bay.

Let's start by creating a cooperative, managed by the NAA (Newspaper Association of America). Every paper that's part of the NAA may participate in this cooperative, which will serve as the clearinghouse for the new great paywall.

Then, with ample warning to the readers, put up the wall on September 1. Why September 1? Because the summer is over, kids are back in school and adults are back at their computer terminals. But more important, it's the dawn of the football season, when web traffic typically spikes for news sites.

Once the wall is up, every newspaper web site is accessible only to paid subscribers. Each paper may decide to allow some free content daily, but it must be extremely limited. The index page for every paper's site should be so full of teasers on the good stuff that a reader just can't help himself but to pay to see what he's missing.

So how do you subscribe? There would be two kinds of subscribers. Anyone who subscribes to the print edition of any paper would be granted a complimentary online subscription. If you don't want to subscribe to your local paper - or any paper, for that matter - you may become an online-only subscriber, at say, $50 a year for the privilege.

Your unique username and password would allow you access to every newspaper site that's part of this cooperative. But here's one catch - you could only access it from one computer at a time (like how an AOL account works) so you won't be so inclined to share your account with dozens of your buddies. Educational institutions and large companies may purchase corporate accounts so that individuals using school or company terminals will be able to bypass the wall.

So how would the money be distributed? Papers get to keep all of the print subscriber money, so it makes sense for individual papers to work to drive up circulation. As for the online-only subscribers, half of the money would be equally divided among all members (socialism), the other half would be distributed according to web site traffic (capitalism), so papers would have an incentive to drive in more traffic to their own sites.

Let's do a little, and very crude, math. According to the NAA, its 2,000 member sites average about 75 million unique visitors. About 25 million already subscribe to a paper, so leave them out. If we may extract 50 bucks out of the rest of the 50 million heretofore freeloaders, that's $2.5 billion. Counting conservatively, at $1 billion, that means under the 50-50 scheme, the smallest of the papers would make about $250,000 annually. The New York Times, on the other hand, would make about $90 million, Wall Street Journal $33.5 million, San Francisco Chronicle, $38 million.

This model may tide the papers over the tough times until they figure out just what needs to be done for long-term survival. And there are challenges to implement this scheme: The Justice Department may have to sign off on the cooperative. There may be fierce pushback initially by the consumers. An independent auditor would be required to referee disputes.

And finally, the newspaper business has to be ready for the potential that this concept may be more like the Berlin Wall than the Great Wall of China - merely a flawed stop-gap rather than something that brings about stability and longevity. At some point in the future, the papers must accept the new reality and act accordingly.

That starts with stopping the presses.

Philadelphia Story: Bankruptcy

Philadelphia Newspapers LLC, the JOA that runs the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and the shared online portal philly.com, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Sunday, becoming the fourth newspaper holding company to do so in the last three months.

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The company is seeking to restructure its $390 million in debt, brought upon in part by the downturn in advertising over the last year. The company apparently had been in negotiations with its creditors for 11 months but was unable to reach a settlement.

A day earlier, the Journal Register Company, which owns 20 small dailies in the Philadelphia and Cleveland areas as well as in Michigan, filed for bankruptcy to seek relief from its debt of over $1 billion. That came after the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, also filed for bankruptcy in January and December, respectively.

Two other papers' fates likely will be determined next month: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Rocky Mountain News were both put up for sale by their respective parent companies as a formality in December. If no buyer is found - and so far there hasn't been any interest - the papers would cease publication before the end of March.

The P-I's staff is meeting Tuesday to discuss a proposal that would allow the employees to buy out the paper and save it from extinction. The P-I's rival Seattle Times, itself in severe financial distress, is lobbying Washington State lawmakers to reduce business tax levied on newspapers.

A Newspaper Bailout?

With newspapers seemingly failing faster than banks, many ideas have sprouted in an effort to "save" the business. Content-sharing between former rivals is one. Reducing or eliminating print editions is another. And a couple of chains have resorted to unpaid furloughs to save jobs.

L.A. Times' Tim Rutten, his own paper also in a world of trouble, thinks that making the readers pay is the only way out. His idea certainly isn't original, but his proposal adds one twist - allowing the newspaper business to be exempt from existing anti-trust laws:

Two major newspapers -- the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times -- charge readers tiered fees to view their online journalism. The rest of the industry has decided there's more money to be made in charging advertisers for the larger audiences that free content attracts than in selling online subscriptions.

That's wrong, in my view, but it's hard to argue with as long as some major newspapers are giving their online journalism away; until they stop, nobody can risk charging for theirs. That's where the antitrust exemption would come in: It would allow all U.S. newspaper companies -- and others in the English-speaking world, as well as popular broadcast-based sites such as CNN.com -- to sit down and negotiate an agreement on how to scale prices and, then, to begin imposing them simultaneously.

Walter Isaacson, former managing editor of Time, thinks a model based on the concepts of iTunes and PayPal might work. And his system could be used to encompass all media, including magazines, blogs and even garage bands.

Another idea, suggested by two Yale money men David Swensen and Michael Schmidt, is to get rich guys to endow newspapers, as they do universities. Essentially, they'd be sugar daddies subsidizing non-profit outfits:

Note that just as endowed educational institutions charge tuition, endowed newspapers would generate incremental revenues from hard-copy sales and online subscriptions. If revenues were to exceed the costs of distribution, the endowment requirement would decline.

Many newspapers will not weather the digital storm on their own. Only a handful of foundations and wealthy individuals have the money required to endow, and thereby preserve, our nation's premier news-gathering organizations. Enlightened philanthropists must act now or watch a vital component of American democracy fade into irrelevance.

Either method, however, introduces the potential dangers of polarizing both the publications and the audience. Sure, maybe the New York Times and Wall Street Journal might get an endowment from Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, but what of the Bakersfield Californian and The State of Columbia, S.C.? And if we go the route of the cartels, inevitably the big papers and large chains will band together, leaving the smaller, locally-owned papers in the cold.

It is the demise of the local papers that would have a greater impact on journalism. After all, the masses - the majority of the people in the United States - do not read the Times or the Journal to get their news. If the smaller chains and papers disappear - or are forced to a pay model that their customers are unwilling to support, then we would have an increasingly ignorant and less engaged public. They cannot be blithely written off - as the elites wish. They need to be part of this conversation.

Barbarians at the Gate

Just when was the dawn of the Internet age? It was earlier than you think. And the newspapers, as was pointed out in a previous post, they were really early adapters.

Check out this vintage video from a San Francisco newscast in 1981.

The anchor's parting shot seemed cute at the time, but it was that kind of complacency - or an underestimation of the power of the Internet - that put the newspapers in the bind they're in today.

During lunch yesterday with an editor of the besieged L.A. Times, we mused over just how newspapers lost their power over the readers. One thing was clear: Back in the day when the AP and other news wires were only available to the editors in newsrooms, the print media were the kingmaker. When the masses started getting their own wire reports from portals such as Yahoo!, Google and AOL over the Internet, the genie simply left the bottle for good.

Troubled Times at the L.A. Times

I grew up reading the Los Angeles Times. Back when I was a teenager and a new immigrant to this country, I read the Times religiously - first just the numbers in the back of the sports pages, then gradually the contents in the voluminous sections. I literally learned and improved my English by reading the Times.

Spending the week in L.A., I discovered that the Times is but a shell of its former self. Check that - saying so would be giving "shell" a bad name.

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The near-death spiral for the Times appears to be continuing unabated. On Saturday, the paper announced that it's trimming another 300 jobs. And it's also eliminating the "California" section, the primary local news page of the paper. According to a well-placed source, the morale at the paper has reached an all-time low.

That's saying something. This will be the fourth massive layoff by the Times in the last 12 months. After this round of reductions, the newsroom staff will be down to about 600, roughly half of its size in 2001.

The mass and frequent layoffs, not coincidentally, mirrored the plummeting circulation numbers of the paper. While it's still the fourth-largest paper in the country, the Times has experienced a readership loss that's unrivaled by any metro daily in the U.S. In 1998, the LAT's circulation was well over 1 million. At the end of 2008, it's down to 773,000.

Many point to the Times' troubles to its acquisition by the Tribune Co. in 2000. And it's not difficult to see why. The constant downsizing of both staff and content drove many readers away. The Times used to publish separate sections in both San Fernando Valley and Orange County, but they were both shut down in 2006 as readers fled to the Daily News and Orange County Register, respectively.

Moreover, the Times was slow to react to the challenges of the Internet age. Until initiating "The Spring Street Project" in late 2006, the Times web site was known for its unreliability and difficulty to navigate, leading to a scathing internal memo to describe the publication as "not web-savvy but web-stupid." To this day, the Times is still playing catch-up, as the traffic at latimes.com is dwarfed by other media portals and many papers with much lower circulation numbers.

The memos from publisher Eddy Hartenstein and editor Russ Stanton spelled out the latest round of changes (the Times is so sick of its internal memos being leaked by the staff, now it puts them up on its own web site so it doesn't get scooped!). Stanton managed to spin out this gem:

We are all too familiar with this process, but over the past year in particular, we have come through each of these downsizings and continued to produce some of the highest-quality journalism in our industry. We simply don't know how to do otherwise.

And to reward their readers, the Times also just jacked up the newsstand price from 50 cents to 75 cents.

Media News Making Bad News

Is Dean Singleton's Media News Group in financial distress? The media chain that owns 56 daily newspapers is privately held, but some of the latest news strongly suggests that the company is short on cash.

The Rocky Mountain News reported that its crosstown rival Denver Post, the flagship of Singleton papers, had to borrow $13 million from the agency that operates the Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) to meet payroll. Both Denver papers are losing money rapidly, at about $4 million per paper per quarter.

Media News refuted the Rocky's reports in a memo circulated in the Post's newsroom. But the gist of the memo really was to say that the Rocky may not be around for much longer since it was put on the market by its parent E.W. Scripps Co. back in December. If no buyer is found by mid-March, the paper will be shuttered. In that event, the Post will take over the agency, therefore any issue between the agency and Media News will be rendered irrelevant.

Whatever the case may be in Denver, Media News is not doing well. The company is heavily leveraged, having borrowed at least $350 million to purchase the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times in 2006. Its creditors include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Hearst Corporation, the parent of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Media News' Bay Area entities, which also include the Oakland Tribune, just announced that all employees are required to take an unpaid one-week furlough in the first quarter of 2009 - a practice first introduced by Gannett in early January. Its Los Angeles area papers, which include the Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram and Pasadena Star-News, are also adopting the same measures.

And the furloughs may be only the beginning. According to David Rounds of the Bay Area News Group, there may be more to come:

I realize that we are all working hard to overcome this difficult time. I know this action will create a strain on our personal budgets, and unfortunately, I cannot guarantee that a furlough will prevent any further layoffs. However, from what I am hearing across our company ... "a brief period without pay is better than many more layoffs."

Anything But Kristol-Clear

The New York Times parted ways with conservative columnist William Kristol after just a one-year stint. The paper claimed the decision was mutual. Kristol, who is the founder and editor of The Weekly Standard, is not telling.

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Bill Kristol

Speculations are running rampant. Most suspected that the Times pushed before Kristol jumped. The primary reason given for the severing of the relationship - undoubtedly leaked by the Times - was that Kristol was sloppy and the Times got tired of running corrections.

Scott Horton of the Daily Beast said his source indicated that the "firing" had nothing to do with Kristol's politics:

The source makes clear that the decision not to renew Kristol's contract is not related to his neoconservative ideology. ... The problems that emerged were more fundamental. Kristol's writing wasn't compelling or even very careful. He either lacked a talent for solid opinion journalism or wasn't putting his heart into it. A give-away came in the form of four corrections the newspaper was forced to run over factual mistakes in the columns, creating an impression that they were rushed out without due diligence or attention to factual claims.

Another, if a lesser, reason was that Kristol was too personally involved in the politics that he was writing about, particularly his tireless campaigning for Sarah Palin, which ultimately had at least some influence in John McCain's selecting the Alaska governor as the VP candidate for the GOP ticket.

If these indeed were the reasons for the Times to oust Kristol, then it clearly has more stringent guidelines for him. If Maureen Dowd were held to the same standards, she'd lost her job quite some time ago. Consider:

Dowd famously strung together three George W. Bush sentences in a May 2003 column, using ellipses to mask the fact that she was fabricating something Bush never said. But more recently, Dowd essentially made up a quote - Jayson Blair-style - from Gen. David Petraeus in a July 2008 column, which the Times had to admit as much in a correction:

In her column last Wednesday, Maureen Dowd wrote that a Democratic lawmaker privately asked Gen. David Petraeus why there weren't more Democrats in the military, and he replied, "There are more than you think." Col. Steven Boylan of the general's public affairs office in Baghdad, which was not contacted for comment, says the quotation "is in error as he never made nor would make such a statement."

And if Kristol was taking up Palin's cause, who was Caroline Kennedy's mouthpiece in her unsuccessful attempt to claim Hillary Clinton's New York senate seat? Here's a hint: When Kennedy "dropped out," a certain NYT columnist went on a wild rant, calling New York Gov. David Paterson, among other things: "namby-pamby," "goofball," "dithering" and "chuckle-headed," all because he "strangled his best choice for the Senate."

Kristol will be taking his work to the Washington Post, which snapped him up in an instant. Meanwhile, the Times is playing coy about whether another conservative columnist will be chosen to replace Kristol. Said Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal: "... stay tuned. We have some interesting plans."

Free Press, the French Way

Well, President Obama, maybe it's time to dig into that TARP money to bail out the newspaper industry.

Short of that, how about some government-subsidized delivery service?

French president Nicolas Sarkozy, always a man with an idea and on the move, has unveiled a grand plan to help the also ailing French newspaper industry:

One of Sarkozy's solutions to help the industry is a pilot program that will give teenagers celebrating their 18th birthday a free, yearlong subscription to any general news daily of their choice. The publisher is to give the newspapers away, while the state pays for the deliveries.

That initiative appeared designed to assuage industry fears that young readers don't share the same appetite for print media that their parents and grandparents have, denting current and future revenues.

Not a bad idea, on the surface. But it'll never fly here in the States for various reasons. The French government is already heavily subsidizing the newspaper business, with an annual boost expecting to reach $90 million this year. It's probably not something that will be matched in the less statist economy of the U.S. (though some think that's about to change). Besides, the way the U.S. papers are losing money, $90 million annually aren't enough to bail out even one paper - such as the San Francisco Chronicle.

But more to the point: The force-feeding kids of ink-stained papers just won't work. Back in the late '90s, in the adolescence of the Internet, I taught a few communications classes at UCLA. I made a habit of polling my students on newspaper readership, and even back then the news was not encouraging. With the student paper The Daily Bruin freely distributed and the Los Angeles Times available at a massive student discount, most of the kids still weren't into the papers. Overall, less than 5 percent of the students read newspapers on a regular basis.

With that in mind, Le Monde and Le Figaro had better not stake their futures on Sarkozy's birthday presents.

Newspapers - Not a Poor Man's Game

For the time being, it looks like the only thing (or people) that can save the newspaper business from its impending doom would be well-heeled billionaires. It matters not what passports they carry. It only matters that they show up with suitcases full of cash.

And they arrive in many different ways - A Mexican bailed out America's leading newspaper by paying down $250 million. He doesn't want to have a say in how the paper's run, as long as he collects the sweet 14% interest. A Russian spent one pound (that's about a buck 40) to buy the last of the London evening papers and immediately he wants to make the paper more liberal. Oh, by the way, he used to work for the KGB.

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But hey, finding a sugar daddy to pay the bills beats getting thrown out on the street.

To be sure, appealing to the vanity of the wealthy isn't necessarily a bad business practice. For some, there's still prestige in owning a newspaper, especially one steeped in tradition and/or one with a sterling reputation. There is some parallel to owning a sporting franchise.

For a good while, a sports team - just about anywhere - was a lousy investment but the rich guys willingly paid for the privilege to be part of a distinguished club. They wrote off the losses year after year, taking hard-earned money from their core businesses to subsidize their plaything. Eventually, however, sports franchises became good investments because their values increased exponentially - whether it's an NFL or baseball team or a Premier League or Serie A soccer club.

Is there such a turnaround in the newspapers' future? That's doubtful. The economic model remains senseless. In the Economist, there was this shocking revelation:

The editor of the Los Angeles Times, Russ Stanton, says that its website's revenues now pay for the publication's entire print and online editorial staff. Publishing news electronically is also cheaper than printing and distributing it on paper. There is still huge demand for newspapers' product, the question is how to get readers and advertisers to pay for it.

If what Stanton said is actually true, then it makes little sense for the LA Times to continue publishing its print editions. It's ironic that the paper's parent, the Tribune Co., is trying to emerge out of bankruptcy by selling its most valuable asset: Not the LA Times, not the Chicago Tribune, but the Chicago Cubs baseball team and Wrigley Field, which fetched a cool $900 million.

About two years ago, that's about how much a good U.S. paper was worth. Even in 2007, the Boston Globe was valued at about $550-$600 million. Today, it's barely worth $20 million. Most other papers are worth far less than that, if anything at all.

Maybe the newspaper business really does need these rich guys. Not just for their money. But for some infusion of ideas as well. They must've done something right to make their billions.

Chicago's Paper Trails

Chicago's days as a two-newspaper town are numbered, a condition that became apparent probably as early as the second half of 2008. The Tribune Co. ran out of time selling the Chicago Cubs and finally had to file for bankruptcy protection in December. But the Sun-Times may be the paper in bigger trouble financially, as it's stuck in the netherworld of penny stocks.

Finally, some good news for the Trib. On Thursday, Chicago financier Tom Ricketts was selected the winner of the Cubs bidding war. Ricketts will pay $900 million for the Cubs and historic Wrigley Field - though the transfer must still be approved by Major League Baseball owners. He will have 60-90 days to close the deal.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Ricketts is a pretty solid buyer even in today's economic climate:

However, people involved in the auction say Mr. Ricketts emerged as the frontrunner in part because he appeared to be the bidder most likely to finalize a deal -- an important factor for Tribune, which is in dire need of cash as it grapples with a huge debt load and a downturn in its core newspaper assets, including the Los Angeles Times. Mr. Ricketts' offer included 50 percent of the purchase price in cash, with the rest financed. The other offers included more debt.

If the deal is approved, it should help the Tribune Co. to start working with the bankruptcy court to pay back its creditors. In the original filing, the Cubs sale was left out of the bankruptcy process to smooth the way for the sale. The Cubs package was originally priced at around $1 billion.

While the Tribune may be on the road to recovery, the Sun-Times' future remains as in doubt as ever. The paper's stocks are worth about 8 cents a share. Just last week, a boardroom coup resulted in the change of almost the entire management structure. Currently, the Sun-Times is reported to be burning through $20 million in cash each quarter.

Writing in his blog "Reflections of a Newsosaur," former Sun-Times city editor Alan Mutter has a two-part series detailing the demise of the paper in all its excruciating details over the past quarter century. According to Mutter, this is how it all began:

I can tell you exactly when the spell of bad luck began, because I was there.

The year was 1984 and I stepped into the elevator near the newsroom for the short, four-story ride to the first floor. The only other person in the elevator was the then-publisher of the paper, Marshall Field V, who I, the mere city editor, barely knew.

"Don't worry," volunteered Marshall, who never had spoken to me in his life. "I would never sell the paper to Rupert Murdoch."

That's when I realized the paper was about to be sold to Rupert Murdoch. Within days, I proved to be right.

And former Sun-Times sports columnist Jay Mariotti, in an exclusive interview with RealClearSports, couldn't wait to perform the last rites:

It's my life, not theirs. I wrote 5,000 columns for them in 17 years. I wrote on holidays, spent massive amounts of time away from home. Roger Ebert, whom I've met once, can kiss my ass. No one gave more blood to that place than I did, and if I decide it's going to die an imminent death, it's my call. And based on events of the last four months, I couldn't have been more accurate. The place is dead.

New York Times Gets Slim - Fast

It didn't take long for the New York Times to strike a deal with Carlos Slim. While the nation was riveted by Barack Obama's inauguration, the New York Times Co. quietly got a $250 million cash infusion from the Mexican telecommunications billionaire.

The deal allows Slim to own about 17% of the company, up from the 6.4% after he paid $127 million in September. But Slim isn't simply a sugar daddy - he's a loan shark, too. While he did not acquire any voting rights on the Times Co. board, he is getting a hefty 14% interest on his investment, with 11% in cash and 3% in additional bonds.

What this deal does is alleviate the Times Co.'s most pressing financial concerns. More than $1 billion in debt, the Times also faces a May deadline on a $400 million credit line. The cash infusion from Slim should allow the company to let the credit line expire without having to replace it. This also gives the Times more time to raise more cash by divesting its interest in the New England Sports Ventures, as well as getting a loan using its Eighth Avenue building as collateral.

The Times was desperate, though. Even spokeswoman Catherine Mathis admits that the interest rate the company agreed to pay is, well, not something she's familiar with:

"I honestly don't know the answer. If you recall, in the early '80s, interest rates soared. This is an appropriate rate given the challenging market conditions."

The market wondered about the deal, too, as investors sent the Times stocks sharply down, dropping 50 cents, or nearly 8%, to $5.91 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Perhaps anticipating the deal and the pending "Slim" times ahead, the Times already started squeezing its staff on expenses. No more $100 bottle wine to go with the lobster dinner, while eating out with a fellow Times staffer. (Yeah, that is now officially frowned upon.)

The New York Observer got its hands on the lengthy memo - no doubt leaked by a disgruntled Times staffer.

New York Times' 'Slim' Prospects

With mounting debt and negative cash flow, the New York Times Co. has been seeking a number of options to alleviate its $1 billion-plus debt. The Times has sought to mortgage its Eighth Avenue building, sell its interest in the New England Sports Ventures, and now, get Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim to buy up more of the company.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the company will be holding a special board meeting this week to discuss the potential of having Slim - and/or other investors - inject some needed cash into the financially struggling company. Slim already owns 6.4% stake in the company after paying $127 million in September 2008.

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Carlos Slim

A potential hangup for Slim, or any investor, in buying up more of the Times is the dual-class structure the company is set up for its shareholders. Despite owning only about 10% of the total outstanding shares, the Ochs-Sulzberger families control more than 90% of the privately-held Class B stocks and with it, nine of the 13 seats on the board. In 2007, Morgan Stanley fund manager Hassan Elmasry staged an unsuccessful coup to change the structure, to no avail.

That the board is controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger families should concern potential investors. The company's fortunes and the paper's prestige have been in perpetual decline since Arthur Ochs "Pinch" Sulzberger took over as publisher of the Times in 1992 and chairman of the board in 1997. His management ineptitude has been well-chronicled. But his stewardship of the paper might have done even more to damage the brand.

Sulzberger's appointment of Howell Raines as executive editor in 2001 proved to be an unmitigated disaster. Raines aggressively attacked Augusta National Golf Club for its membership policies, to the point of silencing his own writers who expressed contrary opinions. Sulzberger initially backed Raines even in the midst of the Jayson Blair scandal before finally sacking him in May 2003 when the New York Times newsroom was on the verge of a staff mutiny.

Raines' departure did little to halt the Times' drift and erosion of its reputation. Just in the most recent election cycle, the Times' two most noteworthy contributions were the thinly-sourced hit piece on Republican candidate John McCain and later its refusal to print his op-ed piece after publishing one from his opponent Barack Obama.

The Times' editorial direction under Sulzberger, not to mention management of the company, will be a source of contention for any potential suitor interested in reviving the once-great national paper of record. Without Sulzberger's relinquishing at least some control, the Times' prospects of a turnaround may be slim indeed.

The Dominos Are Falling Fast

In "End Times" The Atlantic's Michael Hirschorn fancifully speculated the demise of the New York Times. While he made a few salient arguments, the fact remains that it's preposterous to think the Times would fold in 2009.

Not so, however, for a number of U.S. newspapers. At least a dozen major metro dailies are certain to close down this coming year, the question is only who'll be first.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is on life-support. With no buyer in sight, the paper could close as soon as March. Ditto for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. You can add the Tucson Citizen to the list now as its parent company Gannett just announced that if no buyer is found, the paper will close on March 21.

Also Friday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune filed for bankruptcy, becoming the second newspaper publisher in as many months to do so, following the filing by the Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. But even with the Chapter 11 filing, the Star-Tribune might outlast its Twin Cities rival, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, who is apparently in worse financial straits.

Writing in his blog 24/7 Wall St., Douglas McIntyre listed five newspapers most likely to fold: The Miami Herald, Star-Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Daily News and New York Observer. Yes, the newspaper landscape is changing so fast that the P-I and Rocky Mountain News didn't even make the list.

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Next to go?

The Herald is at the top of McIntyre's list because of the combination of the failing health of its parent company McClatchy and the gloomy real estate market in South Florida:

The Miami Herald is already for sale. It is owned by McClatchy, a company which simply may not make it. McClatchy had operating income of $40 million last quarter, but its debt service was $34 million. In addition, McClatchy revenue dropped 16% for the quarter. Based on the figures the company has posted over the last several months, the top line is dropping more rapidly, especially at its Florida and California properties. Classified sales are down over 30% in these regions. For the six months ending last September, daily circulation at the Miami paper was down 11.8% to 240.000. A large daily newspaper operation that covers a huge metro area is simply too expensive to run with this enormous audience loss. The Herald won't be sold. There is too much risk here for a buyer. The most likely fate of the paper is that it will be merged with the Ft. Lauderdale paper or some other media in south Florida.

McClatchy, the nation's third-largest newspaper chain, made a questionable decision to purchase Knight Ridder in June 2006, one that could prove fatal. Its stock, valued at around $40 a share at the time of the acquisition, was at 81 cents when the markets closed on Friday. With 32 dailies, including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Kansas City Star and Sacramento Bee in its fold, a McClatchy collapse may bring a catastrophic meltdown to an industry already on thin ice.

Outsourcing the News

The wheels continue to turn in the great makeover of newspapers. Outsourcing may be the newest fad.

Coming on the heels of content- and beat-sharing deals in Maryland and the Metroplex, the Tribune Co. is contemplating a proposal that would allow it to shut down expensive foreign bureaus. Already under bankruptcy protection, the Tribune Co. seeks to cut expenses by buying the Washington Post's international coverage so it wouldn't have to maintain its own overseas staffs for the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.

But the New York Daily News has an even more revolutionary idea. The nation's fifth-largest daily paper has signed a deal with GlobalPost, a Boston-based start-up, for its international news content. This is essentially outsourcing - GlobalPost is a warehouse where it hires an army of stringers worldwide on a part-time basis. More syndication deals like this will be needed to ensure its survival.

Is this a good idea? A quick glance at some of the GlobalPost articles suggests that its reporting is adequate. For most newspapers that rely on wire services for its foreign news coverage, this would even be an upgrade. But I think it's doubtful that most papers would be willing to pay the very reasonable fee of $50,000 or less to pick up GlobalPost if it never had overseas correspondents to start with.

Newspapers, though, will continue to explore ways to save money out of necessity - and outsourcing is an option. Last June, the Orange County Register and Miami Herald began outsourcing some of its copy editing to MindWorks Global Media Services, an India-based company. Since MindWorks claims that it saves the newspapers 35% to 40%, there surely will be more outsourcing to come.

MindWorks plans to expand its staff from its current total of 100 to 1,500 by 2013. If you're fresh out of J-school, you might want to consider relocating to New Delhi or Bangalore.

A Pay-Per-View Future?

The raging debate in the media industry these days is centered on whether media entities - specifically newspapers - should charge for their content. And if their readers are willing to pay for it.

Pay-for-content certainly isn't a new idea. The New York Times launched "Times Select" in 2005, putting some of its premium content behind a pay wall and charged $49.95 annually for it. It lasted just two years before the Times abandoned it in September 2007. The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times maintain pay walls, but no other major U.S. or U.K. publications do so at this time.

Of course, with the current economic climate and plunging ad revenues, the pay-for-content concept is enjoying a rebirth - at least it's back in the conversation. Writing in the Times, David Carr pondered the possibility of an iTunes-like setup for newspapers to deliver the news, only to paying subscribers. It needs to go that way because the current model of online advertising just isn't going to pay the bills:

As a report by Craig Moffett of Bernstein Research stated last year, "The notion that the enormous cost of real news-gathering might be supported by the ad load of display advertising down the side of the page, or by the revenue share from having a Google search box in the corner of the page, or even by a 15-second teaser from Geico prior to a news clip, is idiotic on its face."

Slate's Jack Shafer responded to Carr's challenge by suggesting a Kindle-like device for the purpose of receiving the news - with subscribers paying a fee for the privilege. But Shafer admits that this model potentially would only work for the big dogs - the Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, maybe USA Today and Los Angeles Times.

This is where the future of newspapers - at least in the U.S. - may be reaching a fork in the road. There will be national papers that provide national and international news coverage, do investigative reporting and publish commentaries from the top thinkers and movers. Other papers would have to become aggressively local, covering cities, towns and rural areas - and they could charge for this content, too, since they will be found nowhere else.

The success of any pay-per-view model, however, will hinge on the public's willingness to fork over the dough for stuff it's taken for granted for some time now. At the moment, less than 10% of the public is willing to pay $30 a year for currently ad-driven free sites. Mike Vorhaus of Advertising Age writes that "Consumers might 'hate ads,' but not enough to pay even as little as a few cents a day to avoid them."

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Source: Advertising Age

So the question remains: Will newspapers last long enough to finally get their readers to pay up for reading the news online?

Gannett Employees Forced with Furloughs

In the troubled U.S. newspaper landscape, Gannett became the latest to announce a drastic plan in an effort to cut cost. The nation's largest newspaper chain and parent of USA Today, Detroit Free Press and Arizona Republic announced that employees will be forced to take unpaid one-week furloughs in the first quarter of 2009.

Gannett CEO Craig Dubow said in his memo, distributed to all Gannett newspaper employees by email, that he and all executives will be taking the unpaid leaves as well:

We are doing this to preserve our operations and continue to deliver for our customers while confronting the issues raised by some of the most difficult economic conditions we have ever experienced.

After much consideration, we decided a furlough program would be the fairest and least intrusive way to meet these fiscal challenges in the first quarter, which is traditionally the lightest time of the year. We sincerely hope this minimizes the need for any layoffs going forward.

Gannett isn't immune to the economic woes that are besieging all newspapers in the U.S. It has seen its stocks sank from $37.50 in January 2008 to about $7.50.

One Gannett paper that is exempt from the furlough plan is the Detroit Free Press, which announced in December that it's ceasing deliveries four days a week in a new program designed to cut printing and delivery costs. The Watchdog has obtained the memo that was just sent to Free Press employees:


Most of you have probably seen or are aware of the announcement today from Craig Dubow that Gannett is implementing a furlough program whereby employees will be required to take unpaid leave for one week during the first quarter.

Because of the intense attention and focus required to implement our strategic plan and meet our March 30 deadline, Detroit will not be included in the furlough program at this time. We very much appreciate Gannett's support as we move forward with our transformation model.


David L. Hunke
Publisher, Detroit Free Press
CEO, Detroit Media Partnership

The Lone Paper State

Well, it looks like Mark Cuban was just slightly ahead of his time.

Writing in his "Blog Maverick," the owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA franchise mused that in order for money-losing newspapers to save cost and stay relevant, they ought to band together - with help from the leagues - in covering sports teams:


My suggestion ... is to create a "beatwriter co-operative." ... The writers would cover multiple teams and multiple sports. They will report to the newspapers where the articles will be placed, who will have complete editorial control. In exchange, the newspapers will provide a minimum of a full page on a daily basis in season, and some lesser amount out of season. ... And most importantly, these articles will be exclusive to print subscribers. They can do all the ad supported short summaries online and minute by minute blog posts and tweets they would like. To make this work, print editions and subscriber only online sites have to become the de facto destinations for in depth and unique coverage. They have to become the local version of ESPN.com's for pay "ESPN Insider."

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Visionary?

Well, not even three weeks since this blog post appeared, the "beat writer co-operative" is being formed in Cuban's very own Metroplex market. The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram announced that they will be combining sports coverage for all local pro and college teams, except the Dallas Cowboys.

Beginning Feb. 1, the Morning News will cover Cuban's Mavericks and the NHL Dallas Stars. The Star-Telegram will cover the Arlington-based Texas Rangers baseball team. This means the elimination of three pro beat writers, not to mention a number of others who cover auto racing, golf and college sports.

Star-Telegram Executive Editor Jim Witt and Morning News Editor Bob Mong said the move was being made in order to allow both papers to reduce expenses and eliminate duplicate stories while maintaining high-quality coverage of topics readers have come to expect.

So what once was considered journalistic competition is now merely viewed as "duplicate stories"? Welcome to 2009, the brave new world of newspaper journalism.

To be sure, the Metroplex Merger is not even the first of its kind. The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun already started doing that on Jan. 1, on a far bigger scale involving many beats outside of sports. And there will be more to come.

Quickly spinning my head from coast-to-coast, I've come up with a not-so-short list of cooperatives soon to hit a market near you:

* Boston: Globe and Herald - The New York Times Co., owner of the Globe, really needs to save money and may need to dump the Globe altogether.
* Philadelphia: Inquirer and Daily News - They already share the same web site.
* Chicago: Tribune and Sun-Times - Trib filed for bankruptcy and Sun-Times is a penny stock.
* Detroit: Free Press and News - The papers will be drastically cutting back their print editions.
* Twin Cities: Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press - Star Trib just ended contract talks with the unions; bankruptcy may be next.
*San Francisco Bay Area: MediaNews already merged beats from Oakland, San Jose and Contra Costa. The Chronicle may soon join in.
* Los Angeles: Trib-owned LA Times may soon either abandon Orange County altogether, or enter into a forced marriage with the Register to cover the O.C.
* Seattle: Actually, with the Post-Intelligencer on the verge of being shut down, the Times might be the only game in town soon.

Things sure look bleak for the newspaper business in 2009 ... and we're not even two weeks into it yet.

New York Times vs. The Atlantic

It's not every day that the New York Times is fighting someone, it just seems that way. A couple of weeks ago, it's the White House. Now, it's The Atlantic.

Writing in the January issue of The Atlantic, Michael Hirschorn pondered in "End Times" the possibility of the New York Times disappearing as a print entity - maybe as soon as May. With the Times $1 billion in debt and a $400 million credit line due to expire, it seemed fair speculation:

Regardless of what happens over the next few months, The Times is destined for significant and traumatic change. At some point soon--sooner than most of us think--the print edition, and with it The Times as we know it, will no longer exist. And it will likely have plenty of company. In December, the Fitch Ratings service, which monitors the health of media companies, predicted a widespread newspaper die-off: "Fitch believes more newspapers and news­paper groups will default, be shut down and be liquidated in 2009 and several cities could go without a daily print newspaper by 2010."

Clearly touching a nerve, the Times hit back with a letter to The Atlantic, which was distributed to a few industry insiders, including Poynter and Editor & Publisher. Signed by Catherine Mathis, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications, the letter did not dispute the mounting amount of debt the Times is under, but claimed everything is under control:

While credit markets remain tight, we have been talking with lenders and, based on our conversations with them, we expect to get the financing to meet our obligations when they come due. And please remember, we continue to generate good cash flow from our operations.

The letter went on to blast what it characterized as "uninformed speculation" in The Atlantic piece - though its own assertions seemed just as much speculation. Saying that "we talked to someone and they said they're going to loan us the money in time for us to pay you back" resembles what a desperate gambler would claim while in the presence of a creditor with a crowbar in his hands.

For the time being, the Times continues to insist that it isn't worried about the expiring credit line in May. New York Times Co. CFO James Follo said in December that the Times has two $400 million revolving credit lines and has drawn about $400 million between them. In theory, since the second credit line doesn't expire until June 2011, it should be able to buy some time to maneuver, refinance some of the debt without having to replace the expiring credit line.

Whether Hirschorn was being an alarmist remains to be seen. While he never suggested that the New York Times itself would go out of business anytime soon, there is this nagging sense that the folks at Eighth Avenue are feeling a bit under siege.

Seattle P-I on the Chopping Block

The next major metro U.S. daily newspaper to disappear may be the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

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The Hearst Corporation has put the Seattle P-I on the market, giving itself 60 days to find a buyer. Short of that, the company plans to, at the minimum, shut down the print edition. Given today's economic climate, there's a possibility that the Seattle P-I may no longer exist in any form by the end of March.

The P-I's staff is stunned by the news as it was delivered by Hearst president Steve Swartz:

Our journalists continue to do a spectacular job of serving the people of Seattle, which has been our great privilege for the past 88 years. But our losses have reached an unacceptable level, so with great regret we are seeking a new owner for the P-I.

These are historically difficult times for our country and our industry, and our problems will likely worsen over the months ahead. Many companies in our industry find themselves saddled with far too much debt, and a painful restructuring process has just begun, with all the negative publicity that comes with that.

Hearst, which is also mulling options to mitigate its losses at its flagship San Francisco Chronicle, has lost money at the P-I every year since 2000, including $14 million in 2008. According to Swartz, the company also has no interest in buying the rival Seattle Times.

Founded as the Seattle Gazette in 1863, the Post-Intelligencer has been owned by Hearst since 1921. It entered into a joint operating agreement (JOA) with the Blethens-family owned Times in 1983. But since the Times abandoned the AM/PM arrangement and went head-to-head with the P-I in the morning in 2000, the more liberal P-I has seen a precipitous drop in readership. Currently, the Times' circulation is 198,000 while the P-I's is at 117,000.

Click here for Hearst's memo to the P-I employees.

Playing Monopoly in San Francisco

There was a time when the San Francisco Bay Area was the second-best newspaper market in America, behind only New York City. Major metro and suburban dailies, owned by different entities, were all competing in the same high-energy newsmaking environment.

A decade later, the Bay Area is on the verge of becoming a one-newspaper region.

The Hearst Corporation (full disclosure: my former employer) owns the biggest paper - the San Francisco Chronicle - but its ever-dwindling circulation is dwarfed by the Dean Singleton-owned MediaNews Group papers surrounding it: San Jose Mercury News to the south, Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune to the east and Marin Independent Journal to the north (the only thing west is the Honolulu Advertiser). The only other paper in the region not owned by MediaNews is New York Times Co.'s Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

And it looks like Hearst is ready to throw in the towel - or at the very least, get into bed with Singleton.

Alan Mutter, a well-connected insider writing on his blog "Reflections of a Newsosaur," revealed that Hearst actually already has a significant stake in the MediaNews operations in Northern California, inasmuch that it helped secure the latter's purchases of Contra Costa Times and Mercury News. As a privately held company, Hearst's books aren't open to the public. But it's believed that it has pumped more than $1 billion into the money-losing Chronicle in this decade.

Against this backdrop, Mutter speculates on what might happen:

With the outlook for the newspaper business now worse than ever, a more radical solution than nipping and tucking the Chronicle to profitability would seem to be in order. And it probably is this:

Folding the Chronicle into the network of MediaNews Group papers that completely surround it - a network, significantly, that Hearst itself played a major role in building.

In that event, the Chronicle's now-independent news, ad sales, production, distribution and administrative staffs would be merged into a single entity managed by MediaNews. Deep staff cuts likely would result in every department, not the least of which would be the already decimated newsroom.

In other words, one newspaper operation in the entire Bay Area, with different banners depending on where they're distributed.

When Hearst bought the Chronicle and folded the Examiner into it in 1999, there were nearly 600 newsroom employees. With annual and now semi-annual buyouts since then, that number has dwindled down to 260. Reliable sources inside that newsroom indicate that the staff size might be close to just 200 by the end of the year.

That is if the aforementioned "merger" doesn't take place.

Back in the '90s, the Department of Justice, with assistance from then-mayors Frank Jordan and Willie Brown, did its part to keep San Francisco from becoming a one-newspaper town. But in today's economic climate, particularly one facing the woebegone newspaper industry, it's doubtful that the DoJ can - or even wishes to - do much of anything.

Bristol Press Staves Off Elimination

Barely 10 days before its final editions were supposed to be printed, the Bristol (Conn.) Press will survive for now as Michael Schroeder, owner of Central Connecticut Communications, has agreed to buy the daily along with The Herald of New Britain and three weeklies.

These publications, owned by the Journal Register Company, had been targeted for shut down on Jan. 16. Hard hit by the economic crisis and the general decline in the newspaper industry, Journal Register stocks lost 99.5 percent of their value in 2008 and are now worth about half a penny per share.

Since the beginning of December, 10 papers have either shut down or reduced their editions, with four more announcing similar measures for the first quarter of 2009. A total of two papers went down in 2007 and 10 downsized or went away in the first 11 months of 2008.

Steve Yelvington's "The Shutdown List" keeps track of the carnage.

Is Demise of Newspapers Preordained?

In an amazingly short amount of time, the discussion on the fall of the newspapers has moved away from possibility to inevitability. The consensus now seems to be that the actual print editions might vanish within the next decade, if not sooner.

Obituaries of the newspaper business are being widely written. While some contended that the slow reaction to the Internet challenge is leading to the papers' demise, the more fascinating analyses are suggesting that the doom was inevitable - no matter what the papers did.

Ezra Klein, writing in The American Prospect, simply says that "There's Nothing Anyone Can Do About It":

Most of the commentary on dying newspapers has been about making their news product better. But the salable product of newspapers was not news. It was local advertising and classifieds. Classifieds are now free and online advertising is a weak revenue stream. Meanwhile, the internet gives individuals have access to more news, not less.

Writing for Slate, Jack Shafer makes the argument that newspapers were actually innovators who jumped on the Internet before anyone realized its power and reach. Yet despite being early adopters, newspapers still failed:

Newspapers deserve bragging rights for having homesteaded the Web long before most government agencies and major corporations knew what a URL was. Given the industry's early tenancy, deep pockets, and history of paranoid experimentation with new communication forms, one would expect to find plenty in the way of innovations and spinoffs.

But that's not the case, and I think I know why: From the beginning, newspapers sought to invent the Web in their own image by repurposing the copy, values, and temperament found in their ink-and-paper editions. Despite being early arrivals, despite having spent millions on manpower and hardware, despite all the animations, links, videos, databases, and other software tricks found on their sites, every newspaper Web site is instantly identifiable as a newspaper Web site. By succeeding, they failed to invent the Web.

Shafer's conclusion is rather illuminating. Newspaper operators saw the opportunity to use the web as a potent weapon but failed to appreciate the extent of its agility. While they stubbornly held onto a soon-to-be obsolete business model, their customers already moved on.

Even now, most of the papers - including people who work in the newsroom and in corporate headquarters - are still clinging to the hopes that somehow the traditional paper will survive beyond the immediate future. But luckily for them, and with rich irony, the financial crisis is spurring the papers to action much earlier than if they were left to their own devices.

At the end, this abrupt kick in the derriere just might end up "saving" the newspaper business, as they belatedly dump the paper part of it.

Deadlines - An Anachronism?

It took Jay Mariotti nearly five months to land on his feet. After abruptly quitting the Chicago Sun-Times and declaring that newspapers are "dead," Mariotti finally resurfaced on Monday, beginning his new gig for AOL Fanhouse.

Mariotti's departure from the Sun-Times was rather acrimonious, with his former colleagues taking various parting shots - including Roger Ebert, who advised him: " ... On your way out, don't let the door bang you on the ass."

In his first column for AOL, Mariotti attempted to have the last word. But what particularly struck me in his semi-rant was his utter disdain for the concept of newspaper deadlines:

A week into the Olympics, I was inside The Water Cube That Phelps Built when a voice-mail popped in. It was from the sports editor of the ailing Chicago Sun-Times, asking me to accommodate the newspaper's Paleozoic-era deadlines by doing something the readers wouldn't appreciate. He wanted me to write one column that had Michael Phelps winning that day's race and another column that had him losing. Both would be filed long before the event, which, in some quarters, would be considered an editorial directive to cook up fiction.

I would insert blanks for the finishing times, which a copy editor would fill in, and the bulk would be a lot of jibber-jabber that worked regardless of the result. The editors would decide which column ran based on the outcome. In other words, processed lunch meat for your 50 cents -- and it wasn't the first time. I usually just dealt with these hideous requests. This time, I balked.

Any newspaper writer - particularly those who worked in sports at large metro dailies - can appreciate this. And this indeed has always been a problem: Sacrificing quality for expediency.

When I worked in San Francisco, we had insane deadlines, particularly on Saturdays, with the Sunday paper being distributed throughout Northern California. The first deadline usually came at 7 p.m. for the "Weed Edition" - aptly named for Weed, Calif., one of the places this edition would be printed for.

It wouldn't be unusual for a reporter or a columnist to re-write the same story two or three times, in order to satisfy different deadlines. And sometimes that was done at the expense of the quality of your work, taking away valuable time that could've been spent on the field or in the locker room.

In the Internet age, the deadline concept must be reconsidered if not obliterated. The readers in places like Weed will no longer be satisfied by these plugger stories - they'll just go online instead to find the most complete account of the events. People who live in city centers won't want to spend money to get a paper that has incomplete information just because an event the night before took place on the West Coast, or in another part of the world.

Mariotti is right about this - it's rather liberating:

For the first time I won't have to worry about a third-quarter plugger column or something as inane. I can watch the whole game, a four-hour game, go downstairs [from the press box] and come back up, spend two hours writing and have it appear on a post at 3 in the morning, which is four hours before the newspaper comes. It's the future.

And it's already here.

All the Ads That Are Fit to Print

Look at today's New York Times - the paper itself - and see if you find something unusual.

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Yes, on the bottom of the front page, six columns across, is an ad, by CBS.

For the first time, the Times is selling front page space for display ads. The paper had occasionally run a few classified ads on the front page and display ads on the front pages of different sections - but never on A-1.

Chalk it up as yet another sign of the times.

This is not meant to pick on the NYT - far from it. Other leading papers - the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Los Angeles Times - have been doing this for some time. The combination of dwindling circulation and a bad economy that's depressing ad revenues is forcing all media entities to think of new ways to scrape for cash.

The magazine industry is also hurting, with considerably fewer advertising placements for its January issues. And the decline is universal, as magazines as diverse as Wired, Vogue, Boating and Boys' Life are all among the 10 worst-hit monthlies.

Requiem or Clarion Call?

In the 300-year history of American newspapers, 2008 proved to be the most trying and difficult for the once vaunted institution. It's all but a certainty that 2009 won't be a cakewalk, either.

Gloom and doom is spreading in all quarters as newspaper journalists lament the state of affairs. Kathleen Parker, writing in the Washington Post, sees the handwriting on the wall. Yet, she's not thrilled with what seems to be schadenfreude:

But most painful -- perhaps odd is a better word -- has been the celebration in some quarters.

Yes, we know: Journalists are held in low esteem, below lawyers and politicians. Some deserve it; most do not. In other oddities, we seem to reserve special hatred for the best papers -- the ones that do the expensive, labor-intensive reporting that keeps government in check and exposes corruption, sometimes even among their own kind.

Are papers sometimes wrong? Do some reporters embarrass the rest? Is bias a problem? Yes, yes and yes, of course. Journalists are not saints, but they do perform a valuable service for which the rewards are few. If you want friends or money, my first editor told me, get another line of work.

What, meanwhile, would twitterers and bloggers tweet and blog about if news organizations no longer provided them the meat on which most chew?

To be sure, this is not one of the places that delights in the unraveling of the newspaper business. Seeing dozens of friends lose their jobs over the last 12 months does not make my heart sing. There is no joy in watching an ol' buddy die a slow death.

But over the last couple of weeks, I've become more optimistic. Journalists should be by nature inquisitive and resilient. And many of them have stopped the wailing and started thinking ... ahead.

Writing on his blog (yes, many former newspapermen have now flooded the ranks of the pajamahadeen), Jason Kintzler offered up some ideas to help newspapers reinvent themselves. He's but one of the many, but his sentiments are right on:


So, to all of you doom-and-gloomers satisfied with watching the downward spiral continue, I suggest you start looking for a new profession. For those journalists embracing this change, my hat's off to you. The future of news may not be entirely made of paper, but good content and reliable, ethical journalism will still have its place in the world.

The newspapers of tomorrow won't be published by the newspapers of today unless they embrace and engage a new model of survival. Are you contributing to the change, or settling in for slow demise?

This is what newspapers need - a new attitude, not the tired ol' diatribes bemoaning everything from the Internet to bloggers and twitterers. Yes, change is hard and adapting to a new way of life is difficult for any professional. But the only way to save the industry from the apocalypse, as James Poinewozik of Time put it eloquently, is to embrace change:


The media business needs to see that the shovel it got whacked with--the change in the way people communicate and the spreading of that power--is not necessarily a weapon or a means to make our graves. It's just a tool. Time to start digging.

Newspaper Stocks Taking a Beating

Without question, 2008 was a terrible year for stocks. The Dow was down by 35% and the S&P 500 was off by about 40%. Yet, when it comes to getting hammered in the stock market, there's no business like the newspaper business.

A number of newspaper publishers have seen their stock value decline by 90% or more in 2008, having been or are on the verge of being delisted by the NYSE. Gatehouse Media, Journal Register and Sun-Times Media Group all have become penny stocks and been kicked off the big board.

The stocks for Gatehouse, which publishes nearly 100 mostly small-town dailies, are down 99.5%. Journal Register, parent company of 22 mostly suburban dailies, had a similar meltdown. Sun-Times, owner of the eponymous Chicago paper, is trading at about 5 cents a share.

Bigger chains are not faring much better. Lee Enterprises, with St. Louis Post-Dispatch its flagship, is trading at 40 cents a share. Media General, publisher of the Tampa Tribune, is at around $2.50. Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper publisher and parent of USA Today and Detroit Free Press, is at $8.50, down from around $37 in January 2008.

The New York Times Co., despite all the bad news and bad press, actually has held up better than most. The NYT is trading at about $7.60, down from the 2008 high of $21. The NYT plans to mortgage its Manhattan building and is actively trying to sell its 17.5% stake in the New England Sports Ventures.

According to a source, the NYT is asking around $350 million for its share in the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park and NESN television network - though the actual worth of the stake is probably closer to $150-200 million. The company turned down an opportunity to unload the Boston Globe two years ago when it was valued at around $550-600 million. Today, the Globe is worth about $20 million.

The NYT has to sell something - anything - quickly. It is reportedly $1 billion in debt, with a $400 million credit line due to expire in May 2009. It might also want to think about selling about.com, which has been valued at around $600 million.

The Great Shrinking Papers (Cont.)

Coming on the heels of the Detroit newspapers' decision to curtail publication and delivery of their weekday papers, a few other dailies have followed suit with great reduction of printed papers.

The Tallahassee Democrat announced Monday that it's taking measures to reduce its paper production, eliminating the "TV Book" from the Sunday paper and shrinking the Monday and Tuesday editions. The paper cited dramatic losses in ad revenue as the primary reason for the reduction, after having trimmed 25 jobs in December.

Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Enquirer is eliminating classified ads from its Monday and Tuesday papers, also after cutting jobs and getting about 60 employees to take voluntary buyouts. And as with the Tallahassee Democrat, the TV listings will be either reduced or purged.

Declining ad revenue, in the face of a recession, has forced a number of papers to take dramatic measures to cut cost. In the newspaper business, the top two expense items are payroll (and a good chunk of which goes to non-newsroom employees) and newsprint. So far, most papers have sought to reduce cost by slashing staff and reducing the size of the paper in order to cut cost.

But how long can newspapers continue to shrink its product without massive loss of their customers? The year 2009 is shaping up to be a watershed moment for the industry. Without a sudden improvement in the economy, it's but a certainty that a significant number of papers will be printing their final editions next year.

A large-scale migration to the web, however, appears all but inevitable. And there is some good news in this department: Almost each of the top 30 newspaper websites saw huge gains in recent months. The Los Angeles Times' web site, for example, in November made a 143% gain in unique visitors compared to the same period last year. The historic presidential election helped, sure, but there's little doubt that many people today are still reading their newspapers - they're just doing it online.

USA Today Keeps Its Hold on No. 1

While newspapers were losing subscribers everywhere in 2008, USA Today managed to buck the trend. The nation's top selling paper now has a circulation of 2,293,000, up slightly from 2007. In fact, USA Today and Chicago Sun-Times are the only papers ranked in the top 20 that gained readership from a year ago, according to the annual BurrellesLuce Report.

The Wall Street Journal joins USA Today as the only papers cracking the 2 million mark. The New York Times, at No. 3, continues its alarming slide, losing nearly 80,000 in circulation from the past year to finish with just over 1 million. Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune follow as the only other papers clearing the 500,000 mark.

Of the top 15 dailies, five are in the New York metro area. Two-paper towns continue to disappear as New York and Chicago are the only cities with multiple papers ranked in the top 25.

Magazines, meanwhile, held up reasonably well from 2007, with the AARP publishing the top two ranked magazines, followed by Reader's Digest. The Huffington Post continues to be the top ranked English language blog. And for the first time, social networks appeared in BurrellesLuce's rankings, with Facebook checking in at No. 1.

There was some good news for the weathered Grey Lady. The Times still publishes the most-read Sunday paper, with a circulation of over 1.4 million. And its web site is by far the most trafficked among newspaper sites in the U.S., checking in at No. 26. The Washington Post's site, at No. 100, is the only other newspapers site cracking the top 100.

Heading for the Cliff with Blinders On

Sometimes I just don't get newspaper journalists, my onetime comrades-in-arms. With doom and gloom all over the newspaper business, many of them can't seem to see the big picture. Most often, they'd blame the impending demise of the papers on either corporate ownership or the Internet.

Here's latest example. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Paul Mulshine of the Newark Star-Ledger thundered:

So if you want a car or a job, go to the Internet. But don't expect that Web site to hire somebody to sit through town-council meetings and explain to you why your taxes will be going up. Soon, newspapers won't be able to do it either.

Has it ever occurred to him that the web and the survival of newspapers need not be mutually exclusive?

For newspapers to stave off elimination, they need to start seeing the web as an ally, not an enemy. You can still practice journalism on the web, but you can't practice journalism when you're unemployed. What newspapers are facing now is mostly a technical issue, not one of their relevance. People still need journalists to do their jobs, they just don't necessarily need their news in the form of printed paper thrown at their doorsteps.

Glenn Reynolds and Will Leitch don't pretend to be - and they'll never replace - journalists. But instead of spending countless time bashing them, journalists need to open their eyes, and minds, to survive the Internet Age.

Web Blows By Papers as News Source

For the first time ever, more people cited the Internet than newspapers as their primary source for news, according to the latest Pew Research Center survey, conducted Dec. 3-7 among nearly 1,500 adults in the U.S.

Currently, 40 percent of the respondents say that they get most of their national and international news from the Internet, up sharply from 24 percent in 2007. Newspapers remain the top source for 35 percent, about even with the past three years, but down significantly from the 50 percent as surveyed in 2003.

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Pew Research Center

Television is still the top source for news, with 70 percent (multiple responses were allowed), though the web is closing in on it as well. Among young people (ages 18-29), the Internet has pulled even with TV, with each drawing 59 percent. Just a year ago, twice as many young people cited the tube over the web (68 percent to 34).

The Internet's gain in 2008 was partly fueled by the heated presidential election, during which a record number of people flocked to the web daily to get their political news. But the survey also confirmed perhaps the worst-kept secret in the media industry, that the viability of the printed press is in grave danger. The two trains have passed each other in broad daylight.

Grey Lady Selling Her Ball Team

Hard hit by the financial crisis and dwindling readership, the New York Times Co. is looking to unload its stake in a fabled sports franchise and its ballyard.

Why, it's the Boston Red Sox and Fenway Park, of course.

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The Times Co., according to the Wall Street Journal, is seeking a buyer for its 17.5 percent interest in New England Sports Ventures, which owns the Red Sox, Fenway Park and NESN, the dominant sports television network in New England. The company may also include the Boston Globe newspaper in the package.

It's well known that the New York Times is facing unprecedented financial crunch. In September, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim acquired a 6.4 percent stake in the company for $127 million. It recently put its Manhattan building up as a collateral in an effort to secure a new loan to replace a $400 million credit line that's scheduled to expire in May 2009. It's reported that the Times Co. is $1 billion in debt.

The problem is that short of selling its assets - and this would be a terrible time to sell - the Times Co. has very few options. Its ad revenue took a huge dive so far in the fourth quarter and its flagship paper is continuing to lose readers (at least the print editions) at an alarming rate. The latest ABC circulation report puts the Times at just over 1 million readers, down nearly 8 percent from 2007 and a net loss of nearly 183,000 readers since its peak in 1993.

Adding to the Times' woes is the continuing erosion of its prestige. Just earlier this week, it was forced to admit that it had published a fake letter from Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe criticizing Caroline Kennedy's senatorial bid. Its shoddy journalism was, well, appalling:

In this case, our staff sent an edited version of the letter to the sender of the e-mail and did not hear back. At that point, we should have contacted Mr. Delanoe's office to verify that he had, in fact, written to us. We did not do that. Without that verification, the letter should never have been printed.

Who knew it'd be so hard to find all the real news that's fit to print?

Beltway Marriage of Convenience

The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun have announced that on Jan. 1, 2009, the papers will share the majority of their content. The two papers were already part of the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service, but previously they were prohibited from using each other's content. That restriction will be lifted by the new agreement.

Both papers insisted that this marriage of convenience will not result in newsroom cuts, but merely reassignments for reporters now doubled up on the same beats. The Sun will concede most of the coverage on the federal government, as well as the Navy football beat, to the Post, while the Post will be using the Sun's reports on northern Maryland counties and horse racing at Pimlico.

"I know journalists in both newsrooms may find this anathema," said Timothy A. Franklin, editor of the Sun, "but we're talking about daily, breaking, fairly routine stories so The Sun can use its resources developing original, unique content, which I think is a key part of our future success."

But one can't help but wonder if buyouts and layoffs would be imminent, particularly on the Sun's end. The paper is owned by the Tribune Company, which just filed for bankruptcy earlier this month and is looking to divest some of its assets, including the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Like just about every other paper in the United States, the Sun experienced a steep drop in readership in recent years. Its 2008 circulation is listed at 218,923, down 6 percent from 2007.

Washington Post: Fair and Balanced

Former Washington Post reporter Ronald Kessler thinks the paper has turned a corner - veering back toward the center.

After for years competing with the New York Times to see who could do a better job trashing the Bush Administration, the Post has decided to reacquire its journalistic objectivity, according to Kessler. The turning point apparently was the appointment of Marcus Brauchli, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, as executive editor in September.

Kessler observes:

No longer do I pick up the paper to find slanted stories that suppress or ignore the other side or that mischaracterize issues to further a liberal agenda. Instead, honesty has been restored to the coverage. It has become more probing and interesting as well.

Last week, the lead story on Page One was, "Charter Schools Make Gains on Tests." Prior to Brauchli's takeover, it would have been unthinkable for the paper to highlight that a pet Republican approach to education was successful. When conservative icon Paul Weyrich died last week, the Post ran the story under a three-column headline on Page One. In contrast, The New York Times ran a story on page B11.

The question is if this trend would hold, now with the Democrats sweeping back into Washington. Would the Post scrutinize every move by the incoming Obama Adminstration or could it be that its grand strategy is to make nice with whomever is in the White House?

I'm sure the Washington Times would be very interested to find out.

White House vs. New York Times

Seems like the Bush White House is willing to take the heat on Iraq, Guantanamo, Katrina, the bailout and a whole host of goings-on that it may or may not have been the culprit.

But when it gets blamed on the housing meltdown, especially coming from the New York Times, the gloves are off.

The White House issued a blistering 500-word rebuttal accusing the self-styled Paper of Record of "gross negligence." The statement, released by White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, called the hit piece relying "on hindsight with blinders on and one eye closed.

The White House accused the Times of framing a hypothesis - "It's Bush's fault" - and going about proving it by ignoring any countervailing evidence:

There are many more reporting failures in this story -- failure to consider the impact of monetary policy; ignoring the regional nature of housing markets; and ignoring the Bush Administration's historic proposal to overhaul the nation's regulatory system, for example. But then a review of these issues would wave complicated the reporters' myopic point of view that only Bush Administration policies could possibly be responsible for the housing and finance crises.

White House counsel Ed Gillespie was more glib, telling Fox News: "They've had to mortgage their building in Manhattan to help make ends meet, and they've been reduced to junk-bond status. I don't know if the New York Times' shoddy reporting is the result of being in junk-bond status, or if their junk-bond status is what's resulting in their shoddy reporting."

The Times, meanwhile, offered a terse response with a plug to boot. Said Executive Editor Bill Keller:

The piece that has driven the White House spokesmen to such a show of apoplexy was based on on-the-record interviews with dozens of current and former officials of the current administration. It is part of an ongoing series that examines in depth the accountability of numerous players in the economic meltdown, including Congress, rating agencies, brokerage houses and the Fed. The series is available in full on our Web site, nytimes.com.

To Charge or Not to Charge ...

Joel Brinkley, a former foreign policy correspondent for the New York Times, had what he considered a revolutionary idea for floundering newspapers to regain their footing. In essence:

Now, here's my idea: The newspaper industry should ask the Justice Department for an antitrust exemption that would allow publishers to collaborate on a decision to begin charging for their Web sites. No paper would have to charge, and each paper could determine its own price. But if most papers in a region - San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, for example - began charging for Web access at more or less the same time, many readers would likely subscribe.

Basically, Brinkley wants the Justice Department to allow the newspapers to practice a form of collusion so they can begin charging for original content. Collusion is required because unless almost all of the papers decide to get in, it would blow the pooch.

The problem with this thinking is that unless the entire world goes in on it, it just won't work. In fact, Brinkley's idea is really backward thinking - his old employer, the New York Times, had tried it and it didn't work. The Times Select concept was officially abandoned in September 2007 because paywalls only hurt business.

Newspapers would be better off thinking up ways to extract more out of their advertisers than the ol' pay-per-view route.