Monday, September 29, 2008

Caylee vs. the Bailout

While the world has been watching the financial markets nearly collapse in a first-of-its-kind meltdown, what news has the Orlando Sentinel been bringing you?

The answer: It depends on whether you are an online reader or a newspaper reader.

If you are an online reader, the Sentinel is not expending much energy on keeping you up to date with the latest economic news that has already cost you big sums of money in terms of the value of your retirement portfolio and/or the value of your home. News, in fact, that is about to cost you a good deal more as a taxpayer, too.

Taking center stage online is the Caylee-Casey saga. The Sentinel covers everything that moves about this tawdry affair, most of which is non news.

About two weeks ago, columnist Mike Thomas asked disingenously whether that's all people are interested in reading. "Tax policy, schmax policy," he wrote. Then he ended the column with, "It seems for a lot of people, that beats watching the real news these days."

Hogwash. If Caylee is all the Sentinel is offering up, what else is there to read? And please don't conjure up the bogey man of the old liberal media elite feeding you the news. I read the Wall Street Journal every day, and it's shoving the economic collapse down my throat. Nobody would call the Wall Street Journal part of the liberal media elite.

I like to think the Journal is doing its job of keeping its readers informed of extremely complicated, bad news. Not so for the Orlando Sentinel, which is tied up in titilation.

Several weeks ago, when the market plummeted more than 300 points, it took the Sentinel a half-hour -- until after the stock exchanges closed -- to update its website to reflect the sliding fortunes of Americans, including many of its own readers. A half-hour in online time is an eternity. Would that happen with the Caylee affair? The answer is a resounding no.

Meanwhile, readers of the paper edition are offered a very different kind of coverage. In today's paper (9-29), the headline reads: "Leaders: Start Bailing." The online paper, however, contains the usual Caylee box on the upper left corner. The headline reads: "Orange Sheriff Beary on Casey Anthony case: 'You might say it's a challenge." No kidding. The only hint of economic turmoil was a link on the rail to the right that stated, "Dow down 300 points in first half hour."

Sunday's paper had a weird cover on "50 Years of NASA. " Now, NASA is certainly a local story in Central Florida, but it didn't merit the kind of coverage it got Sunday during a weekend in which the country's political leaders (nay, heels) are negotiating to literally save the U. S. and world economy from collapse to the tune of $700 billion. That's going to cost every man, woman and child in the United States about $2,000 each or $6,500 per family.

The Caylee tabloid story pales in comparsion, but not to Sentinel editors. Perhaps this is what the Sentinel means by hyper loco coverage.

It is loco alright. Even if you wanted to focus on a local story, it raises a legitimate question: Is Caylee it?

Where are the Sentinel's priorities? Where is the news judgment? What can the editors at the Sentinel be thinking?

The paper must do more. What we are reading/seeing is an insult to a thinking person's intelligence.

Can You Spare a Second for the Sentinel?

How much time do you have to spend with the Orlando Sentinel online? According to the latest Nielsen Online numbers for August, it's exactly 7 minutes and 59 seconds, up from 7 minutes and 44 seconds in August 2007. The Sentinel came in dead last among the top 30 sites. But, obviously, that is still an improvement.

Why, that's 15 seconds more of all Caylee all the time!

The Sun-Sentinel was down by about 29 seconds, to 6 minutes and 25 seconds. The Baltimore Sun also fell to 6 minutes and 37 seconds, from 7 minutes, 16 seconds. The Chicago Tribune was posted 7 min., 33 seconds, less than the from 10 minutes, 20 seconds, of the year before. And the LA Times was down 6 minutes, 48 seconds from 8 minutes, 10 seconds.

The mostly lower numbers were blamed on a surge of unique visitors. Apparently, there is an inverse relationship between unique visitors and time spent online. The higher the unique visitors, the lower the time spent online.

In August, the Orlando Sentinel posted 1.65 million unique visitors, up 10 percent. Decent numbers, to be sure, but not among the best.

The Sun-Sentinel soared 26 percent to 1.67 million unique vistors. The Baltimore Sun jumed 127 percent to 2.5 million due to hometown guy and Olympic favorite Phelps. The Chicago Tribune was up 56 percent to 4.7 million, while the LA Times climbed 66 percent to 8.9 million.

Before folks start breaking out the champagne, however, bear in mind that these numbers shift quite a bit. With the exception of the nation's top newspapers, such as the NY Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, the papers at the bottom of the list cycle in and out.

In July, for instance, neither the Sun-Sentinel nor the Orlando Sentinel were on the time spent online or the unique visitors lists at all.

Is their appearance on both lists a fluke or a sign of something more solid?

De Luzuriaga Resigns from the Globe

Sorry to read that former Orlando Sentinel reporter Tania de Luzuriaga has resigned from the Boston Globe over emails she sent to a Miami-Dade school official that suggested they were having an affair while she was covering education for the Miami Herald.

Before then, the Globe had stated it would conduct a review of de Luzuriaga's stories for any potential conflicts of interest. I thought it would be a good idea for the Orlando Sentinel to do the same so that it could assure readers of the integrity of Sentinel reporters and stories.

Have not heard anything about this, however. Seems like the Sentinel is doing its best to ignore the sad and sordid episode as well as the potential local implications.

I don't claim to know what would prompt a reporter to allegedly commit such a major breach. I will chalk it up to youth, immaturity and obviously lack of judgment.

She seemed like a such a nice person. I wish her the best.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Zell to LA Times: Frivolous!

The Wall Street Journal reported today that Tribune's Sam Zell "won't be distracted from the 'tremendous progress' " being made under his watch, in response to a federal suit filed by LA Times staffers.

LA Times staffers are seeking class action status, but Zell is pushing to dismiss the case.

In a moment of hypocrisy, Zell said maligning the company in public does no one any good.


Haven't Zell and his honchos been badmouthing Tribune since he bought the company for a dime of your money at the end of 2007?

Hyprocrisy and doublespeak seem to be de rigueur these days.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tell Zell, See Ya' in Court

Some current and former LA Times staffers are suing Sam Zell, alleging he diminished the value of the paper to benefit himself through comments and actions since taking over Tribune at the end of 2007.

The news release about the suit calls Zell's takeover of Tribune "a scam," which has put the employee retirement fund at great risk. The suit alleges that Zell has raided the employee pension fund to the tune of $400 million. Read the story published by LA Observed here

The suit is not asking for monetary damages, which leads me to believe that the LA Times staffers are angling for a seat on the board of directors of the supposedly employee-owned company.

When Zell bought Tribune for $8 billion, he converted it into an employee-owned company. An employee-owned company does not pay corporate taxes, meaning Zell saves him tens of millions of dollars a year in taxes. What a deal.

Earlier on, Zell mentioned that employees may be represented on the board. But has not made a move to make it happen.

Whatever you may think of the merits of the lawsuit, you have to tip your hat to the folks at the LA Times. They are not passive; they are not meek reporters and editors who are going to go down quietly. You can see the activism and hyper smarts in reporters and editors who think up stuff like this, including hanging a banner from a parking garage that reads: "Zell Hell: Take Back the LA Times."

The staffers have a passion for the LA Times and a fervor they bring to their work that is admirable. Guess that's the difference between a first tier and a fourth tier paper.

Can't imagine that happening here. ...

Hot Stuff at the Miami Herald

I accidentally ran across an item in a New Times blog about former Orlando Sentinel reporter Tania de Luziaraga having (or had) an affair with the man who was offered the job of Miami-Dade superintendent of schools.

The affair allegedly took place in 2007 while de Luzuriaga was an education reporter for the Miami Herald. The paper broke the story Sept. 12, but it did not quote from emails they may have sent to each other.

But the New Times got down and dirty with the salacious stuff that has come out in emails, which seem as if they all came from de Luzuriaga. Makes you wonder, who released these emails?

The superintendent of schools to be Alberto Carvalho has denied that an affair took place, adding that the emails are invented or doctored. De Luzuriaga, who now works for the Boston Globe, is not commenting.


Don't know whether this story is true, but for a reporter to get in bed with a source is a huge faux pas. It's unethical, a conflict of interest and grounds for firing. In one of the emails, de Luzuriaga alludes to how they should help each other professionally. The Herald is reviewing the reporter's coverage of the school district. No kidding.


If you want to read all about it, follow this link to Bob Norman's blog, "The Daily Pulp" at New Times:

There's a link on the blog to a PDF with about 11 pages of emails.


No Light in August

McClatchy, owners of the Miami Herald, is cutting its staff by an additional 10 percent or 1,150 jobs. That's on top of the 1,400 people it laid off earlier this summer.

The hit at the Miami Herald totals 119 jobs. Back in June, about 250 positions were elminated.

McClatchy blamed poor August ad revenue, which declined about 18 percent. It slashed its dividend by half to 9 cents a share in order to retain cash for operations. Over the next year, McClatchy will retain about $100 million in cash that would have gone to dividends. McClatchy is trading at about $3 a share. I never thought I'd see the day this would happen, but here it is in all its weary glory.

And I'm sure there is plenty more to come from other newspaper companies.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Monday, Monday

The stock market swooned Monday, plummeting more than 500 points due to the crumbling of Wall Street titans -- now midgets -- Lehman Bros. and Merrill Lynch.

The thundering herd heading for the exit was heard around the world as investors tried to limit their losses. And you might be wondering, what does this have to do with me? Plenty, buddy.

For starters, newspaper stocks were not exempt from the stampede. Gannett fell nearly 7 percent. Media General slid 20 percent, and is now trading at under $10 a share. The New York Times took a hit, falling 11.5 percent. And McClatchy also slumped 7 percent, closing at $3.38 a share. Talk about a come down.

The credit markets -- read money lenders -- are not in a giving mood. That's a reason Lehman entered bankruptcy and why Merrill Lynch rushed into the arms of Bank of America. Nobody would lend it money to keep going. An interesting side note to BofA: The bank flourished during the Depression by buying up the assets of companies and people in a world of hurt. It certainly seems as if BofA is poised to do the same in this go-round. Merrill Lynch is its second acquisition, after mortgage lender Countrywide.

Few, if any,lenders will be forking over cash to companies seeking to get into or conclude merger or buyout deals. That includes McClatchy, who is rumored to be considering going private. Unless McClatchy has all the cash on hand to buy its outstanding stock -- and that's possible considering the stock's bargain-basement price -- nobody is going to lend a newspaper money. A newspaper?!

Nobody is going to lend money to Tribune, for instance, to remain a going concern either. Nobody is going to lend a company money to buy the Daytona Beach News-Journal. I'm sure Carlos Slim is saying he could have bought his stake in the NY Times for 12.5 percent less, if he had only waited.

In addition, if you are on the prowl for money to upgrade or expand your home, buy a home, purchase a car or make any kind of major purchase, the money is drying up for you, too. Whatever money you have in your 401K also is rapidly shrinking.

We are taking a major drubbing. And it's only Monday.

Round Two of Layoffs

The Daytona Beach News-Journal just announced a second round of layoffs, bringing to 140 the number of staffers who have been eliminated this year. Earlier this summer, the paper dismissed 99 workers.

Another 41 people will be jobless due to a continuing decline in advertising revenue. "The company’s financial performance has taken a dramatic turn for the worse over the past few months," said Jim Hopson, chief executive manager.

The News-Journal is on the auction block as a result of a falling out with its long-time partner Cox. Just months ago, the paper predicted its sale would be complete by November. That sounded preposterous then, and seems even more so today.

The News-Journal is not alone in its turn for the worse. Gannett released its August advertising numbers, and they are not good. Gannett took in nearly 17 percent less revenue in its publishing division in August versus a year ago. Employment classified revenue alone fell nearly 34 percent.

Stay tuned as other newspaper companies post their August numbers.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Terrorism on Our Doorstep

Guess what I got with my Sunday paper? A terrorism DVD, thanks to the Orlando Sentinel.

The DVD, titled "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West," was delivered to millions of readers across the nation this Sunday, according to Editor & Publisher. Apparently, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel and other papers in Florida delivered the DVD to readers of the Sunday edition. In all, about 28 million copies will be delivered in September.

This smacks of yellow journalism to me, even if the paper(s) had no hand in the DVD production. Allowing these folks to piggyback on newspaper distribution systems puts them in bed with the creators of this movie. Seems rather exploitive of readers to me.

To paraphrase Sarah Palin, "Thanks, but no thanks." I don't want the paper to use me in this way. The creators of this DVD are all but in bed with one of the presidential candidates. The DVD is being used to incite our emotions.

I won't be opening this DVD. It's going straight to the trash.

If you'd like to complain call the Orlando Sentinel at 407.420.5000 or write to the editor at 633 N. Orange Ave., Orlando , FL 32801

Couldn't Pass This Up

It's a delicious development that Mexico's wealthiest man, Carlos Slim Helu, now owns 6.5 percent of the venerable New York Times, and holds the third largest stake in the newspaper company. No word yet on what Slim intends to do with his stake, but rest assured people must be nervous.

I guess America couldn't build the tortilla curtain fast enough!

Slim is worth $60 billion, and is considered the world's second richest man. He acquired his wealth through lucrative telephone and wireless market investments. In Mexico, if you want to make a phone call, Slim has a hand in it. Before Slim's purchase of NY Ttimes' shares, the newspaper said, "It’s hard for a Mexican to spend a day without handing him some money."

Now, each time we plunk down money on the NY Times, we'll be generating profit for Slim, too.

Lost Cause

The Orlando Sentinel is holding a town hall meeting with the Hispanic community Sept. 23 -- that is, if they can find any Hispanics to attend.

According to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which is part of the town hall, only 9 people have completed a brief and answered an anonymous 15-question online survey regarding the Orlando Sentinel’s coverage of Hispanics. In addition, about 16 people have RSVP’d for the town hall. Earlier in the week, only 10 people had RSVP'd to the town hall and 5 people had taken the online poll.

The low numbers are not surprising. The Sentinel has had a testy relationship with the Hispanic community for some time, dating to coverage in 1996 about drugs and the witness protection program that essentially maligned Hispanics in the Orlando area.

It's one thing to write about the Hispanic community, including the bad news, and another thing to generalize about its members in a way that stereotypes the community. In addition, the tone of the earlier stories also was sorely lacking.

The Hispanic community, to its credit, would have none of it. They marched in downtown Orlando against drugs and crime. However, the march originally was aimed against the Orlando Sentinel, until organizers switched gears. They shouldn't have.

The relationship between the newspaper and the Hispanic community never fully recovered. And the Sentinel has been tring to mop up the mess. But based on my reading and interaction with the Hispanic community, I've concluded that the community has moved on. They have found other media and news outlets, both in print and online, that they prefer. Consider that in 1996 the online world was in its infancy, which is to say the Sentinel had little competition.

Today, about 52 percent of Hispanics are online, according to emarketer. That number likely will grow rapidly as the population expands. Hispanics are very big into social networking sites and also in visiting sites that report news of their homelands, none of which is reflected in the Sentinel.

I'd say Hispanics don't care about the Orlando Sentinel, but the Sentinel has to care about Hispanics because it is the fastest-growing segment of the population. When you read about the expanding population of Central Florida, it's the Hispancs who are doing nearly all the expanding.

If the Sentinel doesn't re-engage this population, the future, in terms of circulation and revenue, looks dim. The Sentinel may hang on to its traditional readers - the educated, white suburbanites -- but don't expect much help from Hispanics. That train has left the station.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Grave Dancer Not Happy

Here's the Tribune letter complaining about the Business Week story that the magazine published last month. Sam Zell wants credit where credit is not yet due ...

Tribune Co.: We're Adapting to the Times
Your article about Tribune Co. and Sam Zell ("The 'Grave Dancer' Takes a Tumble," In Depth, Aug. 11) was a disappointing compilation of inaccuracies, half-truths, and incomplete reporting.

The article fails to provide any context to help readers understand the fundamental change the media industry is currently undergoing. Battered in the short term by a weak economy that has eroded real estate, employment, and automotive classified advertising and in the long term by advertising's migration to the Internet, newspapers are experiencing the worst downturn in decades.

As a result, Tribune and its peers have been forced to reduce expenses—and staff—inside and outside the newsroom. And yet, despite these reductions, Tribune still has the two largest local newsgathering organizations in the country—in Los Angeles and Chicago—and continues producing great journalism.
The story also didn't explain our strategy to fully leverage the content of our diverse media products—across print, broadcast, and the Internet—and to develop a new, sustainable business model for newspapers.
Finally, the article missed many of the positive things going on at Tribune.

We're building a streamlined, single-technology platform. It will ingest and process audio, video, photos, text, graphics, and other content and process it for dissemination to TV stations, printing plants, Web sites, PDAs, cell phones, and other devices.

Based on direct feedback from our readers, we are redesigning our papers to keep them relevant in a world of electronic consumption. We're also resizing them to better match user habits. We can't afford to print a two-hour read when consumers typically spend only 20 minutes with the paper.

In broadcasting, our local TV stations generally outperformed the industry in the first quarter (direct sales were up in almost all markets). We're launching or expanding local news in Chicago, Miami, San Diego, Denver, and elsewhere. Using inexpensive programming and unique promotions, we've relaunched our national cable channel, WGN America, which reaches 72 million homes and is getting record ratings.

Online, we're developing the platform and the creative programming to enable our Web sites to engage in more e-commerce and social networking. We're also moving into other methods of content delivery, such as the iPhone (AAPL) and the Kindle (AMZN).

There are many examples of change at Tribune—driven not just from the top, but from the thousands of employees who believe in this industry and, most importantly, in our company. We're moving more swiftly and transparently than others in the industry, so we're getting a disproportionate share of the media's attention. That's O.K., we can take it. But occasionally the claims are so egregious we have to set the record straight.

Gary Weitman
Senior Vice-President
Corporate Relations
Tribune Co.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Trib Sells Small Stake in Career Builder

Tribune continues selling assets to raise cash. Most recently it sold a 10 percent stake in Career Builder for $135 million to Gannett, which now holds 51 percent or a controlling interest in the Web site.

Tribune retians 31 percent ownership, while McClatchy has 14 percent and Microsoft owns 4 percent.

Crime Pays for Newsday Nine

A federal court in New York sentenced the nine individuals convicted of mail fraud in the Newsday/Hoy circulation scandal to five years' probation and fines of up to $125,000. The judge defended the sentencing, saying he couldn't punish these goodfellas knowing that higher ups had to be involved, including former Newsday publisher Raymond Jansen. But there was this little thing called insufficient evidence on which to base charges against the honchos.

If I robbed the 7-11 down the street, I would serve hard time. But the Enrons, WorldComs and the Adelphia Cables of the world notwithstanding, white collar crime still pays in the United States. These Newsday guys are held harmless for the enormous damage they inflicted on the company.

These nine fat cats significantly inflated circulation figures for Newsday and its Spanish-language offshoot Hoy in order to milk more dollars out of advertisers. When the truth came out, Tribune had to make restitution to advertisers to the tune of nearly $100 million. And that is nothing compared with the loss of its credibility.

One by one each Tribune newspaper was ordered to go over their circulation figures. A few others also reported inflated numbers -- but not like the thievery that took place at Newsday/Hoy.

Over a period of four years, between 2000 and 2004, Newsday miraculously added 100,000 copies to its daily circulation. That's the equivalent of the city of Gainesville. For Hoy, the figure was 45,000 per day -- merely a Titusville.

Louis Sito, who was former senior vice president of sales at Newsday, publisher of Hoy and vice president of Hispanic Media for Tribune, was judged "the most culpable." Still, he will pay only a $15,000 fine. Sito used to issue press releases boasting that Hoy had a daily circulation of 90,000, and was well on its way to 100,000. It was the biggest! The best!

Later, the former publisher of Orlando's El Sentinel, Anibal Torres, was sent to New York to mop up after Sito at Hoy.

The inflated Hoy circulation figures were nearly double that of its rival, El Diario La Prensa, the oldest Spanish daily in New York with a long history of covering New York's Latino community. Folks at El Diario complained about the circulation figures for years, saying the numbers didn't hold up. Finally, attention was paid.

Sito also is responsible for souring the relationship between Tribune and La Opinion in Los Angeles, which was 50 percent owned by Tribune. Once the folks at La Opinion got a whiff of Tribune's plan -- or I should say Sito's plan -- to start a Spanish-language daily in Los Angeles and create a national paper, they bought back Tribune's half ownership. Can't blame them. But it was a loss for Tribune, because in my opinion La Opinion is the best Spanish-language daily in the country. In a delicious bit of irony, La Opinion's parent company ImpreMedia later bought what was left of Hoy.

As for the Newsday Nine, so much for justice served. Not only was justice not served in this case, it was subverted.