Monthly Archives: March 2009

The 2009 Newspaper War: Where Are The Generals?

Edison Plant
The newspaper war in 2009 is not among  competing newsrooms and it's not a squabble over scoops. It's a war against declining revenue.

Total ad sales reached almost $50 billion a year as recently as 2006. Last year the figure dropped to $38 billion. This year, with another 17 percent drop expected, at least one estimate forecasts total 2009 sales at $31 billion.

Total newspaper employment is down, but the drop is not keeping pace. New numbers, which should be available in April, are likely to show 5,000 fewer jobs for reporters, editors and other journalists — for a new total of around 47,000 remaining news jobs at newspaper companies.

But with circulation declines and rising newsprint prices, the falling ad revenue means executives of newspaper companies will have to make more cost-cutting moves, and make them soon.

For several years, these top executives have made modest course corrections. For example, The New York Times, after spending $1 billion for a new printing plant in Edison, N.J., closed the plant last year. The photo above, though, shows the Times company has not had much luck getting a tenant. (Photo by Lauren Shay Lavin.)

In Philadelphia, the owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News haven't sold the headquarters building in Center City. If they had done a sale-leaseback, the bankruptcy filing for the holding company might have been delayed.

Profits are so low, that a US Senator, Benjamin Cardin, has proposed legislation allowing publishers to reorganize as nonprofits.  Any income they can earn would be free from taxes. 

All the noise about the end of newspapers ignores one fact, though. With $30 billion in ad sales, it is possible to make a profit. It's not possible to make a profit while paying for big empty printing plants or offices, while continuing to employ 50,000 journalists, or while moving slowly to take other needed steps.

Some companies will move fast enough to find a cost structure that works at the new revenue levels. Some companies will move fast enough to innovate new product lines, on and off line. A very few companies will do both. Those will be the companies that will start to collect larger and larger shares of that $30 billion.

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Newsroom Twitter Tips

Should you use Twitter? What can it do for your newsroom? Why are places like The Philadelphia Inquirer offering staff seminars about social media? (The Inquirer used Twitter to scoop competitors on a corruption trial.)

Some more pieces of evidence: The Chicago Tribune masthead emphasized Twitter addresses for one day. The New York Times has one main Twitter account @nytimes and it has more than 350,000 followers. A couple of dozen related NYTimes newsroom accounts have smaller audiences — @NYTimesOpinion, for example, has 800 plus followers — but the aggregate audience size is meaningful.

Newspapers as small as the News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill., find Twitter useful for distributing and gathering news. Meg Thilmony, a writer and innovation leader at the News-Gazette, wrote these Twitter tips for the newsroom, including two search tips:

* using
search.twitter.com – search things like “Champaign,” “Urbana” or
the communities you cover. You can also find people talking about
these communities – lots of alums tweeted things like “Going
to the football game” over UI's homecoming weekend.
* trying
other search tools. Newspaper reporter Daniel Victor, who works for
The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., suggests Twitterlocal.net. It
allows you to see the latest local tweets or sign up for an RSS feed
of these. He also uses tweetscan.com to search for people discussing
or tweeting from his location.

Here's a direct link to the Twitter search page: http://search.twitter.com/search.

I recently sent a note to Forbes reporters about shortening url's:

When circulating url's, it's often easier to use a
web-based program that shortens our long url's into something that can
fit in a short message. Tinyurl.com, shorturl.com, and snurl.com all
produce shorter substitute url's. I like tr.im, which has a log-in
option that allows you to track traffic to the substitute url.

One word of caution that I included:

Many of the people you interview use Twitter, too, and
are very likely to tell the world that they just spoke with a Forbes
reporter. Two examples from this evening:
pencilbugs — 1 interview with @wayneliew via a chat session which was
totally fun. 1 interview with a Forbes writer on the phone.

–and–
collegeadvice: I just got a call from Forbes Magazine; did an interview
about college admissions craze; April 1 around the corner. What will
headline be?

A year from now, I'll examine the evidence again. It should be clear by March 2010 if this is a passing fad or an important tool.

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Turn Your Newsroom Into A Platform

One debate we don't need: should content be paid or free. One discussion we do need: how to defend and expand our ability to obtain and distribute quality content.

Newsrooms are full of people very skilled at obtaining information, distilling the essence of it, and distributing it to an audience hungry for meaning.

Some of it will always be available free, or at a very low price. Is the content paid for when subscribers pay to have a printed newspaper delivered? No, in most markets that subscription price just pays for the actual paper and delivery costs. Is all content free when there is no online pay wall? Try getting Tom Friedman to come to your group's next meeting to give a speech. You can read his work online without paying, but that in-person delivery method will cost you.

From global economic insight to high school sports, topics addressed by many newsrooms will find a passionate audience if the material is clear, insightful, relevant and presented with some urgency.

In Wisconsin, some officials are trying to make it difficult for local newsrooms to obtain and distribute the high school sports information. Are the matches entertainment that should result in a revenue stream for a private regulatory body or are they government-sanctioned events that are owned by the public in much the same way as other activities related to the public school system?

One account, WIAA suing Gannett Co. following webcast of high school football game, notes that Wisconsin is not the only state troubled by the issue:

Many other states are undergoing similar disputes between news
organizations and high school athletic governing bodies. WNA Executive
Director Peter Fox said in some states, like Illinois and Arizona, the
sides have reached "uneasy truces" to continue coverage of events.

Publishers need to protect a newsroom's ability to provide such coverage in order to make sure there is the type of content that will attract an audience. What parts should be paid and what parts free will continue to be an issue, but only after insuring that the content is there in the first place.

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