A tale of newspapers’ financial collapse in three charts …

CATEGORY: JournalismThree charts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, two covering about 15 years, bluntly demonstrate the swift collapse of the centuries-old newspaper industry business model. They also herald the rise of an information-disbursing replacement — the internet.

A 2015 survey by the American Society of News Editors shows newsroom (not overall) employment in the nation’s 1,400 daily newspapers at just under 33,000 people. That’s down from a high of 56,000 newsroom employees in the early ’90s. Of course, those paying attention to newsroom cuts over the past two years have seen what newspaper managements, particularly at Gannett, have done to its remaining workforce. I estimate the daily newsroom workforce to be down to nearly 31,000.

The BLS data covers all employment in the newspaper industry, not just reporters and editors, and not just from dailies. The Editor & Publisher Yearbook lists more than 6,500 community weeklies, defined as any newspaper publishing at least once a week but no more than three times a week.

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The ‘enemy of the American People’ doesn’t work at your local newspaper

It engenders anger to know the president of the United States says that what I did for a living for 20 years — and what I’ve spent 25 years teaching — represents the acts of “an enemy of the American People.”

CATEGORY: JournalismPresident Donald, titularly “the most powerful man in the world,” will eventually learn not to pick fights with people who buy ink in 55-gallon drums — and have plenty of digital and video ink to spare.

He’s awakened a slumbering watchdog. Recall journalism’s reactions to President Nixon’s overt and covert deceits. The nation’s best newspapers rose to challenge the president — and Nixon lost. Trust in the executive branch withered. Remember, too, the swell of entrants to the nation’s journalism programs (well, after “All the President’s Men” hit the big screen). Will that happen again in President Donald’s first term?

President Donald’s fortunate in the timing of his presidency. The last 20 years have left journalism in a weakened, altered state. Reasons are many — management reacting too late to the challenge of the internet, a decline in interest in the field among the young, and massive losses of revenue prompting executives to pare the workforce of daily print journalists by 20,000 positions, about 39 percent.

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State of the news biz in 2016? Oh, my god … it’s really bad.

Newsies dread this time of year. It’s when the Pew Research Center releases its annual State of the Media report. And the findings, for print newsies, are bad, bad, bad.

Ad revenue down. Trust measures down. Newsroom staffing down. Circulation down.

CATEGORY: JournalismOh, look — digital ad revenue up. You remember back in the early Oughts when newspapers began to chase that digital ad revenue, right? They were hoping as print ad dollars fell, digital ad dollars would offset the loss, maybe even bring the same high profits. All would be good.

Well, Pew says digital ad revenue is up 20 percent to nearly $60 billion. Wow. Continue reading

Newspapers’ big problem: failure to distinguish meaningful from meaningless

Warren Buffett, the newspaper-loving Oracle of Omaha, isn’t loving newspapers quite as much these days. Speaking of the industry’s attempts to create a viable business plan, he told USA Today’s Rem Rieder, “We haven’t cracked the code yet.”

Said Buffett:

Circulation continues to decline at a significant pace, advertising at an even faster pace. The easy cutting has taken place. There’s no indication that anyone besides the national papers has found a way.

JournalismWell, duh, Mr. Buffett. We’ve known about your first two sentences for a decade. And the third? The New York Times is the only “national paper” I pay to read, as a digital subscriber. But I routinely read stories in The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal — as I’m doing this morning over breakfast. The Times gets a ten spot from me every month. Everyone else gets squat.

Unlike millennials, for whom all information must be free, I’m willing to pay. That’s because at my age, I have a long history of paying for news. That’s how newspapers operated: Pay us and read our ads, and we’ll provide you the news you want and need. That was the fair exchange under the previous, and now failed, business model newspapers rode to riches (well, at least their owners) for more than a century.

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Newspapers founder in habit-driven cultures — so the habits need changing

One morning a few weeks ago, I sat at the end of the counter in my favorite diner, Robbins Nest. Lisa brought tea, Jessica asked, “The usual?” and owner Crystal badgered chef Anthony (as usual).

CATEGORY: JournalismI set up my iPad mini to read. I noticed, however, the house copy of the metro daily from the big city two hours north. I picked it up and leafed through the 10-page front section. You know, the section with meaningful news for someone who lives two hours away.

I looked at story after story, page after page. I saw the metro had 11 — that’s 11 — stories from The New York Times in those 10 pages. That’s not unusual: Newspapers subscribe to wire services. Such services act as consortiums to provide newspapers with material they could not afford to report, write, and edit on their own. My own paper subscribed to The Times’ wire service back in the day. So seeing 11 Times stories in the local metro daily wasn’t a surprise.

But I had read each of those Times stories 12 hours before on my little iPad mini — because I’m one of The Times’ million-plus digital-only subscribers.

How does this metro daily — and others — fare financially if it prints stories many of its readers may have read online the day before?

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Local newspapers: fewer reporters = less content = declining revenue

Corporate owners treat news as “product.” As a result, the industry is on life support.

by Patrick Vecchio

I can’t remember how young I was when I fell in love with my local newspaper. It started with a comic strip: Mandrake the Magician. I would wait on our front porch for the newspaper boy, spread the paper on the floor and read Mandrake on my hands and knees. As I grew older, my interest expanded to different sections of the paper. By the time I reached high school, I was reading it from front to back. I loved it.

I never left my hometown, and after studying journalism in college, I began working as a reporter at a tiny daily newspaper about 20 miles away. Continue reading

Pew study: Newspapers’ hard times continue

Shocked! Shocked we should be! But the latest report on the State of the Media by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism comes as no surprise. The bottom line: Fewer resources equals compromised journalism. From a PEJ press release summarizing the 2013 report‘s overview:

The report pinpoints multiple signs of shrinking reporting power. For newspapers, estimates for newsroom cutbacks in 2012 put industry employment down 30% since its peak in 2000 and below 40,000 employees for the first time since 1978. On local television, where audiences were down across every key time slot in 2012, news stories have shrunk in length, and, compared with 2005, coverage of government has been cut in half and sports, weather and traffic now account for 40% of the content. On cable, coverage of live events during the day, which often requires a crew and correspondent, fell 30% from 2007 to 2012, while interview segments were up 31%. And among news magazines, the end of Newsweek’s print edition coincided with another round of staff cuts, and Time, the only general news print magazine left, announced cuts of roughly 5% in early 2013 as a part of broader company layoffs. [For a quick look at the Pew findings, view its infographic overview]

The drop in newsroom employment has fallen precipitiously, particularly since 2007. That’s not news to S&R’s regular readers, as that’s been a principal topic of discussion here over the years. S&R has covered the reasons behind the firings (yep, “layoffs” is too soft a word for canning a pro) and posited on the consequences of a depleted journalism workforce. (See here, here, here, and here.)

The root cause? Loss of revenue. As the graphic below shows, print ad revenue is down dramatically (at 45 percent of 2006 revenues). Digital ad revenue is increasing, but at a far slower rate than print revenue is falling.

And now, Pew research has detailed the decline of journalistic expertise and ability.

This adds up to a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands.[emphasis added]

Pew placed particular emphasis on the one of 2012’s most significant stories — the most recent U.S. elections. Journalists underperformed, argues Pew:

So far, this trend has emerged most clearly in the political sphere, particularly with the biggest story of 2012—the presidential election. A Pew Research Center analysis revealed that campaign reporters were acting primarily as megaphones, rather than as investigators, of the assertions put forward by the candidates and other political partisans. That meant more direct relaying of assertions made by the campaigns and less reporting by journalists to interpret and contextualize them. This is summarized in our special video report on our Election Research, only about a quarter of statements in the media about the character and records of the presidential candidates originated with journalists in the 2012 race, while twice that many came from political partisans. That is a reversal from a dozen years earlier when half the statements originated with journalists and a third came from partisans. The campaigns also found more ways than ever to connect directly with citizens.

Sadly, reports Pew, 60 percent of Americans have heard little, or nothing, about the news industry’s financial reversals. But a third of Americans know when they’re not getting what they used to: Pew reports that 31 percent of Americans have fled a particular news outlet because it no longer provides readers or viewers what it once did.

That’s particularly disturbing. A third of Americans, if you have faith in Pew’s arithmetic, seek new sources of information, particularly news. Sure, digital media offer those Americans choices — but how will they assess the quality and credibility of those sources? If information seekers flee to news aggregation sites, where the hell (with a few exceptions) do they think those aggregated stories originated?

And the blogs? How will the credibility of millions of blogs, many, if not most, operated and populated by untrained volunteers (or wing nuts with large chips on their shoulders), be assessed?

Good sources of reliable, credible information exist. Most are newspapers or originated with newspapers’ materials. Some are operated by foundations or Kickstarted into existence.

Newspaper circulation has begun to recover (or at least not decline further). But 44 million papers sold daily is a far cry from nearly 60 million in the early ’90s at the dawn of the World Wide Web. Those 16 million readers aren’t returning. (Many are dead, of course; newspaper circulation skews more older than younger these days.)

Is there hope that newspapers will survive long enough to return to some form of prosperity (defined either as financially healthy or journalistically sound)?

Rick Edmonds, a longtime newspaper analyst at The Poynter Institute, suggests the news industry is not dead despite its myriad problems.

Newspapers’ fortunes, admittedly from a rock-bottom base, have been looking up lately — Warren Buffett and others have bought papers, digital pay plans are boosting circulation revenue, and new lines of business like digital marketing services are taking root.

After wisely noting the “continued erosion of resources” in the industry, Edmonds offers this counsel:

  • Be present on the mobile platforms where news consumers are headed. Try, try again on advertising or related revenue possibilities. Find money to support development of new apps and experimentation, but pace the spending since today’s hot technology yields quickly to tomorrow’s.
  • Get reader/users to pay a share. Digital subscriptions and print + digital bundles have been the industry’s biggest success story of the last several years. The report found that 33 percent of the country’s 1,380 dailies “have started or announced plans for some kind of paid content subscription or paywall plan.” Of course, a corollary to asking readers to pay is giving them a news report that’s worth it in an era where free options are abundant.
  • Continue to develop “other” efforts — digital marketing, events, contract printing and sponsored content. And measure it — first indicators are that newspapers may be covering as much as half their print ad losses with circulation revenue increases and income from these new ventures.
  • As the new business models become established, focus on the net income they generate. Halting, or at least slowing revenue declines, has been the first order of business. However, New York Times Co. executive James Follo raised the relevant caution late last year: the margin on new circulation revenue and other activities may not be nearly as good as on selling more print advertising. [emphasis in original]

That’s good advice. Readers — and those who need information — should hope it’s not too little, too late.

The Des Moines Register's presidential endorsement is short-sighted and shallow; Iowa deserves better journalism

by Andrea Frantz

My husband and I, Iowa natives both, recently returned to our home state after 14 years in Pennsylvania. There were many things to look forward to as we anticipated our move home, not the least of which was the fact that we have long deemed Iowa an independent-minded state both socially and politically.

I am proud of the fact that I was raised in the state whose Supreme Court ruled against racially segregated schools more than 80 years before the Federal Supreme Court would do the same. In the same vein, Iowa was the nation’s leader to ensure its public schools were co-educational, guaranteeing that women could have the same opportunities for education that men had so long enjoyed. And I celebrated its forward-thinking attitude when it became the fifth state in the nation to legalize gay marriage.

We also looked forward to returning to Iowa’s long tradition of excellence in journalism and the Des Moines Register.

I was not surprised by the Register‘s endorsement of Mitt Romney last night. I saw it coming by drips and drabs in its coverage of both candidates, though it was perhaps clearest last week when I saw the blatant difference in tone in the side by side campaign “news coverage” on its front page. While the lead on the article focused on Obama was long-winded and struck a negative tone focusing on how his campaign had stepped up criticism against Romney, the lead in the Romney article was pithy and clear where the Register was leaning: “This must be what momentum looks like.” Hm. So much for objective news coverage.

While the Register‘s editorial board points to the state of the economy and jobs as the key drivers behind its endorsement, there is little in the way of specifics in this piece to support the choice. Not unlike Mr. Romney’s campaign, the endorsement offers no specific economic policies, plans, or achievements that illustrate how he is better suited to lead our country further out of the mire created by the Bush administration. This surface treatment of an exceptionally important issue does a disservice to your readers and ensures that political conversation in Iowa remains the consistency and nutritional value of a flaky, sugary pastry a la Pella’s famous Dutch letters. While sweet and perhaps a temporary energy fix, there’s nothing sustainable. Needless to say, I was looking forward to more meat and potatoes upon my return to the state. A little protein please, Des Moines Register.

Last, while the economy should, in fact, be a leading criterion for this Presidential choice, I am stunned by the fact that the Register ignores foreign policy, women’s health and reproductive rights, immigration, education, energy and the environment in its endorsement. All of these things are, in fact, drivers of economic stability and President Obama has a proven record and well-articulated vision with them. Mitt Romney has stated for the record he will boost funding to our military and aggressively engage Iran and China while simultaneously cutting funding to Planned Parenthood and federal pell grants. This is the “fresh economic vision” you herald?

For a newspaper that purports to serve Iowans equally, your endorsement falls short of the progressive, nuanced understanding of Iowans’ needs that I had so looked forward to upon my return to this state. Your endorsement is short-sighted and shallow both politically and as a journalistic contribution to the larger discussion. We deserve more.

Andrea Frantz is a journalism professor who still has faith in the future of the field…though some days, that faith is tested more than others.

Newspaper ownership shifting, says Pew; better days ahead? Nope.

Those grad students in the business of writing dissertations about media and newspapers now have an old topic with a new twist: Who owns the media now? Critic Ben Bagdikian, author of six editions of “The Media Monopoly,” traced ownership of America’s media through decades of consolidation. In a PBS interview at the end of the last century, he said:

[T]he media is increasingly owned by a few very large multinational corporations. By the media, newspapers, magazines, books, movies, television and radio. This is growing.

And the consequence of this? Continue reading

Where, oh where, have the readers gone? Oh where, oh where can they be?

Finding a word or phrase that describes the journalism industry today is not that difficult. Since 2007, contraction — some big newspapers folded and suits fired tens of thousands of journalists — describes well the process. The result? A free fall to obscurity, a corporate-led collapse into irrelevance fit. But are industry leaders paying attention to the attendant contraction in the industry’s former print audience?

The history is clear: Newspapers wrongly did not recognize the Internet as a viable threat to its news and advertising franchises. Ad revenues fell dramatically, much lost to the Internet. Suits cut costs. At some southeastern U.S. papers, people losing jobs this week include serious, experienced, and award-winning journalists (an example). Hundreds of jobs will be lost as managers of The Times-Picayune, The Birmingham News, and The Huntsville Times shift focus and financial outlook from print to Web.

Next cost target: Newsprint. Newspapers have reduced the number of days on which they actually print newspapers. The most visible of these over the past week have been at Advance Publications-owned newspapers in New Orleans and Alabama. (Advance, a private company, is owned by the Newhouse family.) Want to lose a print reader? Don’t give her a paper to read.

Why is such severe contraction necessary if it reduces the quality and quantity of the product sold? Continue reading

Pew study missing a notion: What is the impact of quality on newspaper loyalty?

Pew reports this:

Nearly three quarters (72%) of adults are quite attached to following local news and information, and local newspapers are by far the source they rely on for much of the local information they need. In fact, local news enthusiasts are substantially more wedded to their local newspapers than others. They are much more likely than others to say that if their local newspaper vanished, it would have a major impact on their ability to get the local information they want. This is especially true of local news followers age 40 and older …

Then Steve Myers at Poynter says this:

The report goes on to say that 32 percent of these people say the disappearance of their local paper would have a major impact on their lives. Among people who aren’t that interested in local news, about half say their lives wouldn’t change at all if they didn’t have a local paper. Good, for newspapers, right?

But look at it another way: That means 68 percent of local news enthusiasts don’t believe the disappearance of their local paper would affect their lives in a major way. And 34 percent of such enthusiasts say the disappearance wouldn’t affect their lives at all.

But neither addresses how the quality of the local newspaper might affect these statistics of who would feel an impact and who would not if the local paper folded.
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Print ad revenues: Even a rock doesn't fall this fast

Derek Thompson, a senior editor at The Atlantic, cuts to the chase in his lede:

Call it creative if you want, but this is what economic destruction looks like. Print newspaper ads have fallen by two-thirds from $60 billion in the late-1990s to $20 billion in 2011.

“This” is a graph in a post by Mark Perry, a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan.

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Nota Bene #121: Birds of an Ancient Feather

“Television is an invention whereby you can be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your house.” Who said it? The answer is at the end of this post. Now on to the links! Continue reading

Jaycee's story more important than tracking Casey Anthony

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

Where in the world is Casey Anthony?

I don’t know, and I don’t care, and I think the media pursuit and frenzy over this question is both bizarre and foolish. Her parents care, and that’s appropriate. Likely the plaintiffs in the various lawsuits care because they have to serve her under the court rules. But the media frenzy, with more than likely a number of blank checks ready to be written, hurts journalism as a profession.

In stark contrast to the Anthony is kidnap victim Jaycee Dugard. What an amazing woman, she’s a true profile in courage and grace. She went through 18 years of hell, captured by a pedophile and his sidekick–his equally sicko wife. Diane Sawyer’s ABC interview was probing and often disturbing as Jaycee calmly related the day to day horrors of her existence during her imprisonment. ABC paid for her story, and likely People did, too. Continue reading

A morality play: When Rupert Murdoch entered Parliament

Any morality play has its set-piece characters. The villain, the outraged public, the crusading representatives of order.

Democracy in the UK is very tactile. Parliament is the voice and instrument of the people. Anyone, no matter how powerful, can be summoned to answer questions before the people. These performances can destroy careers and reputations but are an adjunct to the more dull and complex process of police investigations, judicial review and eventual judgement. They permit the public to see their anger expressed.

Rupert Murdoch’s role before his questioning was clear: he is the villain of this set-piece. He was there to be a subject of the collective outrage of British society and to hold himself to account.

Yet you don’t get to be an 80-year-old media tycoon without understanding that a story is made in the telling. Continue reading

Murdochgate redux

There have been any number of further developments since our last post, and this shows signs of accelerating to the point of being out of Murdoch’s control entirely. Well, let’s face it—in the UK, it pretty much is. Rebekah Brooks resigned on Friday, and was arrested on Sunday. Murdoch’s long time deputy Les Hinton, who ran News International at the time of peak phone hacking, and more recently ran Dow Jones for Murdoch, also resigned. Brooks’s arrest means her testimony to Parliament tomorrow may be compromised—how convenient for someone, maybe the police?

Let’s not forget that in all the unseemly haste to somehow pin this all on PM David Cameron (of whom I am not a fan, by the way, but still), that all of this pretty much happened while Labour was in power, and Labour pretty much did nothing. And that the Metropolitan Police force has been deeply compromised, as evidence by the head of the MPC, Paul Stephenson, resigning yesterday. And the Assistant Commissioner, John Yates, resigning today. Continue reading

Hold Rupert Murdoch to account. But go no further.

A goodly number of Murdoch’s newspapers run at a loss.  This isn’t because he’s a bad businessman, it’s because of the industry.  His competitors are doing worse.

However, Murdoch loves newspapers and news.  Whatever else his failings, it’s rare to have a newspaper owner who actually loves the medium.  So even though these companies lose money for him (and, in revenue terms, are a tiny proportion of an empire that is mainly about entertainment and media) he keeps them alive and well financed.

Say that the clusterfuck over the infractions of a small number of his newspapers (assuming this goes beyond just News of the World) results in him divesting of news entirely.  Firstly, who’d buy them?  Secondly, what happens if this leads to the final destruction of actual daily newspapers?  Continue reading

EXCLUSIVE: S&R obtains copy of Rupert Murdoch's original, unedited apology

News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch has issued a public apology for the News of the World scandal, which appears in several British national newspapers this weekend. The final text is available here.

For those unfamiliar with the exciting world of public relations, these kinds of official statements often go through a rigorous process of draft, revision, review, more revision, show it to legal, start over, and finally approval by the person whose name appears at the bottom. S&R has obtained a copy of Murdoch’s original draft and the redline revision produced by Edelman, the PR agency handling the crisis. Edelman, whose client list doesn’t include Charles Manson, Hitler, Simon Cowell or NAMBLA, but would if they showed up with a suitcase full of cash, is very highly regarded when it comes to the task of lipsticking rabid pigs. Continue reading

Trouble in Murdochland redux

A couple of months ago we noted that things were not going all that well in Murdochland, what with investigations heating up over allegations that phone hacking–that delightful pastime of hacking into someone’s voicemail so you can read and/or hear their messages—was far more pervasive than anyone had guessed. Or, certainly, than Murdoch and his News Corporation team were prepared to admit. Since then, it’s gotten worse, with lots of lawsuits, and allegations, and to-ing and fro-ing all over the place. But it wasn’t until this past week that the whole situation finally exploded, and explode big time it did.

Because it’s one thing to hack the voicemail of movie stars and politicians—the public turns out to be supremely indifferent to that. It’s quite something else to hack into the voicemails of a murdered schoolgirl and delete messages, leading her parents to think she was still alive. Or the families of other murdered schoolgirls. Or the relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the victims of the July 7 bombings. Not only is this beyond the bounds of decency by several orders of magnitude, the public actually recognizes this. And they’re steamed. Continue reading