Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Greed is Good

At a hearing this week, Tribune Co.'s bankruptcy judge approved more than $13 million in bonuses to nearly 700 employees for their work last year, but denied about $2 million in severance payments to about 60 employees who were laid off before the company entered bankruptcy proceedings.

The employees had an average length of service of 20 years. According to the court, "Tribune had not demonstrated that the payments were necessary to the operation of the company," according to a story in the Wall Street Journal. However, the judge left the door open for the employees, stating that "if asked," he would order the severance funds to be held in escrow, pending reorganization.

The $60,000 question now is, will somebody at the "employee-owned company" ask, hmmm?

In another intriguing nugget of news, Tribune chief financial officer Chandler Bigelow III testified that no Tribune paper lost money last year (emphasis mine), while 21 broadcast stations gained advertising market share, according to the Associated Press. Company strategic initiatives are expected to generate $425 million in annual cash flow; other deals may reap more than $1 billion in proceeds.

Crocodile tears.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gimme Shelter

The Senate Commerce Committee's recent hearings on the future of newspapers brought together some fascinating characters--Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post meets David Simon of The Wire meets Sen. John Kerry.

Of course, Kerry got everything off to a fine, fine start, saying newspapers were an "endangered species."

I found the different approaches to the issues intriguing. Huffington, as expected, is all about the Internet and where news gathering is headed. Simon doesn't mind opening the door to government interference. Alberto Ibarguen, formerly of the Miami Herald, was insightful, reminding everyone that newspapers weren't all that great when they were great. James Moroney of the Dallas Morning News was particularly depressing and galling. He went to Washington looking for corporate welfare, and he probably flew there in first class (but, who knows, maybe a private jet).

Here in condensed form are some random quotes and information. Does not include everyone who testified, just the folks I thought would be most interesting.

Arianna Huffington's testimony was the shortest, at 4 pages, but the most spot on:

“We are actually in the midst of a Golden Age for news consumers.”

“It’s important to remember that the future of quality journalism is not dependent on the future of newspapers.”

“Digital news is a classic case of ‘disruptive innovation’—a development that newspapers ignored for far too long.”

“For far too long, traditional media have been afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder—they are far too quick to drop a story — even a good one, in their eagerness to move on to the Next Big Thing. Online journalists, meanwhile, tend to have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. . . they chomp down on a story and stay with it, refusing to move off it until they’ve gotten down to the marrow. In the future, these two will come together and create a much healthier kind of journalism.”

“The discussion needs to move from ‘How do we save newspapers?’ to ‘How do we strengthen journalism?—via whatever platform it is delivered.”

“I am convinced that journalism’s best days lie ahead."

David Simon's testimony was the longest--10 pages--although he kept insisting he shouldn't be testifying because he hasn't worked in daily journalism since the early 1990s.

“I’m tired of hearing myself on this subject.” (!)

“The parasite is slowly killing the host.” (There are no parasites, Simon.)

“My industry butchered itself and we did so at the behest of Wall Street and the same unfettered, free-market logic that has proved so disastrous for so many American industries. And the original sin of American newspapering lies, indeed, in going to Wall Street in the first place.”

“We pretend to an undeserved martyrdom at the hands of new technology.”

Simon rightly states that public financing of journalism would “pull both sides from their comfort zone and prove unacceptable to all.”

He pushes for the creation of nonprofit status for newspapers (as if employee-owned has helped Tribune employees much) and for relaxing certain anti-trust prohibitions to protect newspaper copyrights (and create monopoly power).

Alberto Ibarguen, formerly of the Miami Herald, now with the John Knight Foundation, 5 pages:

“Mine is not a lament for the past that excluded many in our society, especially women and minorities, from the main pages of a newspaper. Nor do I pine for the symbolic authority of three, broadcast television, white male anchors. I enthusiastically welcome the democratization of media and am thrilled by its possibilities.”

“I confess to great qualms to the role of government in [journalism].”

Ibarguen pushed for universal digital access and adoption, as did Huffington. He also asked for the removal of laws that prohibit the combination of print and broadcast journalism (bad idea), saying it deserves a "fresh look." (Tribune pushed for this for far too long, instead of focusing on changing technology and delivery.)

“We will be a nation of media users, not consumers” (Yes sirree).

James Moroney, publisher, Dallas Morning News, 9 pages:

Pushed for tax relief via an extended period for a carryback period for net operating losses.

Greater antitrust flexibility to experiment with innovative content distribution and cost-saving arrangements (bad idea; I love it when free enterprise folks ask for monopolies).

Fair compensation from Internet companies for content. (In other words, a wall, which is a bad idea.)

True businessman. All business, no heart.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Up, Up and Away

For the second time this year, and in what seems like a counter intuitive move, the Orlando Sentinel hiked the price of its single-copy daily paper to $1. Back in March, the Sentinel increased the price of its single copy daily to 75 cents from 50 cents, according to Editor and Publisher.

If this is true, the Sentinel would have jacked up the single-copy price of the daily paper 100 percent in less than six months. Doesn't seem to make sense at a moment when there's a recession raging, people are losing their jobs and have less money, the Sentinel's news staff has been cut to the bone, news coverage and news pages are dwindling, and so is the paper's circulation (down more than 9 percent in the latest reporting period).

Then again, this is an industry grasping for new cash. As if to confirm it, the New York Times followed suit this week. The newsstand price for the Times' weekday and Saturday editions will go up to $2 effective June 1, up from $1.50. Its Sunday paper will sell for $6. Geesh. That's the second time in less than a year that the Times has pushed up prices.

My take: This move will drive more people to the Internet, where they can read the papers for free. In the end, the newspaper industry is accelerating its own demise.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Shoehorn Journalism

If you want to read a heated discussion of what people are whispering about the Orlando Sentinel redesign, its layoffs and what the future holds, visit Charles Apple's blog at

Some folks have been going at it hammer and tong for several days about the goings on at the Orlando Sentinel. They are mostly taking visuals guru Bonita Burton to task for what some say is "callousness" in handling recent newspaper changes and layoffs. Others are beating up on Nick Masuda, a senior designer, for "sucking up" to Burton. And if that's not enough for you, the commentators have resurrected the ghost of Oxycontin. It's that bad.

It's good stuff, as gossip goes. Only a few people have gone on the record, including Burton (I think), Masuda and former Orlando Sentinel AME Sean Holton, who defended the copy desk against allegations that it fouled up Oxycontin.

There's discussion of templates as the future look of the Sentinel and other Tribune papers. That's why the copy desks have been gutted. Copy will flow directly from reporters' heads directly onto the page. Did anyone say stream of consciousness? I doubt we will discover the new William Faulkner.

It's obvious that the new owners have little taste or respect for journalism or the personality and uniqueness of the cities in which the newspapers are based. This is now a one-size-fits-all approach.

I've got one thought about all this: One-size-fits-all didn't work for pantyhose, guys. What makes Tribune honchos think it will work for newspapers?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Log Rolling in Our Time

The old Spy magazine had a feature called "Log Rolling In Our Time," in which it took to task reporters, authors and others who wrote blurbs and book-jacket copy for people who had done the same for them. Like a lot of things in Spy, it was witty and irreverent.

Well, my thoughts turned to Spy when I spied Arthur (Pinch) Sulzburger Jr.'s write-up in Time about Carlos Slim, the Mexican industrialist and now investor in the New York Times. Without Slim's money, the Times would have been in a deep financial hole. It essentially didn't have sufficient cash flow. I know this is "not in our backyard," but it's so fawning that no wonder the newspaper industry is in trouble.

Here's a short excerpt:

"It was obvious from the moment we met that he was a true Times loyalist. We had an enjoyable conversation about what was happening in this country and everywhere else in the world."

This is just too delicious and easy to mock.

Read the rest here:,28804,1894410_1893837_1894158,00.html

Trickle Down Theory

You know things are really, really bad when the decline of the old media has trickled down to the Poynter Institute. Staffers over the age of 55 years old were offered voluntary buyouts this week in order to reduce expenses.

Earlier this year, Poynter froze employee wages and reduced its contributions to retirement accounts. As an industry group, they've got to change drastically, like the newspaper industry itself--or else it won't be around much longer.

Your ESOP at Work

Tribune Co. is going to pay Sam Zell's legal expenses in the Rod Blagojevich mess. Catch the Chicago Tribune story here:

Financially strapped Tribune Co. plans to pay the legal bills of company Chairman and Chief Executive Sam Zell, who has been interviewed as a potential witness in the federal corruption investigation of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, according to a filing today in bankruptcy court.

For the rest of the story, click here,0,4456884.story.

Goodbye, Cruel World

Folks, there's lots to catch up on. If you haven't read Orlando Sentinel Editor Charlotte Hall's goodbye letter to ASNE, here it is. My editorial observations are in (red).

Dear ASNE friends:
As I end my year as ASNE’s president, I want to thank you for your support and guidance. I have been honored to serve as your president. Along with this note, you will find my report to the ASNE board on an extraordinary year. In Marty Kaiser, ASNE will have a new president with passion and energy. I will help him in any way I can.

If I were to give the usual speech at our convention, I would talk first of the tremendous respect, admiration and affection I have for all of you. Your courage and tenacity are inspirational. The strength I draw from you has enabled me to fight for the organization whose values I cherish.
I end my ASNE year both hopeful and angry. (I'm not going to take it anymore!)

Many, in and out of our industry, are working hard to envision new models to support journalism. I cheer them on. But I am angry at the pundits who would dance on newspapers’ graves. (The biggest grave dancer is Tribune owner Sam Zell. Unfortunate choice of words.) Their anti-newspaper vitriol disrespects the work being done by journalists in newsrooms all over America. (What bigger disrespect than being shown the door? Crocodile tears. )

These pundits take delight in telling us we are failures. Yet truth be told, the vast majority of local public interest journalism--the watchdog stories, the investigations, the coverage of city hall and the school board, the stories with impact on public policy--is still being done in newspaper newsrooms. (No argument there.) And that is why thoughtful people are frightened (a bit of hyperbole) about the perilous state of newspapers. They know that the loss of every journalist is a loss for democracy. (Then why is the newspaper industry laying them off in droves? Does that mean newspapers are anti-democracy?) And that is why we must fight on.

Hope has been hard to come by lately, no doubt about it. We have had to say farewell to storied newspapers and talented journalists. And yet I see hope popping up like the brave flowers of spring that rise from frigid ground. (Poetic.) I see it in our huge and growing audience--our Web audience is up more than 10 percent in a year, Nielsen reported last week. (Thanks to Casey Anthony.) I see it in the digital skills of our staffs. I see it in the transformation of our newsrooms to digital information centers that also produce a print newspaper. (Digital information centers? Hmm, not sure I know what that means. What's wrong with digital news centers?) I see it in our ability to engage people through social media. I see it in creation of online communities hosted by our newsrooms. I see it in the redesign of our print papers. (Okay, so the redesign didn't help much.) I see it in the undiminished commitment to public service journalism. (I'd say that's a flame that has turned into a flicker.)

At this point, I feel like giving the Winston Churchill finale about fighting on the beaches and never giving up. (With all the dead soldiers lying around you on Normandy Beach. How depressing.) But you are already doing that. You are battling on every front, not for yourself and not for your company, but for the journalists you lead and the communities you serve. (But for the corporate owners who pull our strings.)

Journalism is being reborn. How painful! How exciting! None of us knows what it will look like in three, four, five, years. (Nope.) But we do know it will be alive and kicking because we will not, and cannot, fail. (Onward, news soldiers.)

Thank you for your friendship. You are the unsung heroes of journalism. (Firing people is hard work.) Lead on.

Best wishes,


Monday, April 27, 2009

Arrested Development

The latest newspaper circulation figures came out this week, and--quick!--run for the hills. Things look worse than ever. The industry decline didn't take a holiday. In fact, it accelerated.

The Orlando Sentinel -- down 9.4 percent to 206,205 daily circulation
The South Florida Sun Sentinel -- off 10.4 percent to 195,522 daily
The Los Angeles Times -- fell by 6.5 percent to 703,181
Baltimore Sun -- plummeted 9.6 to 210,098
Chicago Tribune -- declined 7.4 percent to 501,202

Editor and Publisher rightly points out that the chain's vaunted redesigns have not pulled the newspapers out of a serious slump. So much for design and form over content. The 50-50 ad-to-news ratio, fewer pages and less reporting are not fooling anyone. Less is less, not more.

At this rate of decline, the Orlando Sentinel will fall below 200,000 in daily circulation for the next circulation reporting period--about 187,000 daily circulation to be precise. At this rate of decline, newspapers have no choice but to go for online eyeballs whole hog, and even that strategy won't work because the revenue generated won't be enough.

If it's any consolation, some papers at other chains turned in an even worse performance than Tribune's. Circulation at McClatchy's Miami Herald was down a whopping 15 percent. The St. Pete Times' circulation fell 10.4 percent.

Missing Persons File

A reader sent this link to an Orlando Sentinel "careers" video that apparently is on the newspaper Web site. The clip is supposed to demonstrate what a great place to work the Orlando Sentinel is. However, it's outdated.

The point of the clip now would be, how many people can you count who no longer have "careers" with the paper? I counted six or seven, but there could be more. This is a little like finding the hidden shapes or objects in a photo or illustration. Click on the link below to find out how many you can spot.