Thursday, October 30, 2008

Going Down

The newspaper industry reported circulation numbers for the six months ended September, and the figures are dressed in red.

Here are the daily circulation numbers for Tribune papers, as reported by the Audit Bureau of Circulation:

Los Angeles Times, down 5.2 percent, to 739,147. LA Observed reported that 75 more staffers got the given pink slip this week at the Times. Sunday circulation fell 5 percent.

Chicago Tribune, down 7.7 percent, to 516,032. Sunday circulation was also down by 6 percent.

Baltimore Sun, down 6 percent, to 218,923. Sunday is off by 4 percent. This is pretty dismal.

Orlando Sentinel, down 3.3 percent, to 206,363. The Sentinel didn’t even report its numbers. It ran an Associated Press story that didn’t include the dismal outlook for a paper whose circulation was once more than 250,000. At this rate, the next time the ABC circulation figures are reported, the Sentinel’s daily circulation may fall below 200,000.

The Sun-Sentinel is already under 200,000. It slid 9 percent to 183,562, as reported by the Miami Herald. The Sun-Sentinel also didn’t report the latest newspaper circulation, according to a search of its online archive.

By the way, the Washington Post and the New York Times are reporting that Tribune’s Washington bureau will undergo a consolidation after the election. Read more pink slips.

Elsewhere in Florida:

St. Pete Times continues to reign supreme in Florida with circulation of 268, 935, but that too was down by 7 percent. It was the only Florida newspaper to run its own bylined story of the circulation decline.

Miami Herald, down nearly 12 percent, to 210,884. That’s a daily loss of nearly 30,000. The paper reported some of its numbers online in a three-paragraph brief. It also ran the Associated Press Story, which didn’t reflect the Herald’s substantial circulation decline.

Tampa Tribune, edged down 2.4 percent, to 187,582 daily circ., as reported by the St. Pete Times.

Palm Beach Post didn’t report anything, according to a search of its online archive.

Jacksonville Times-Union also mum.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Has Tribune Been Freed from McCormick?

Tribune papers across the country have been endorsing Barack Obama for president. The LA Times, Orlando Sentinel and even -- even -- the Chicago Tribune have editorialized in favor of Obama. Colonel Robert McCormick, the arch conservative who ruled the Tribune roost in the 20th century, must be fit to be tied, in purgatory, of course. The Chicago Tribune has never endorsed a Democrat for president.

Having been an editorial writer at three different newspapers, I understand how these things work. You would think that it's all to do with interviewing the candidates and learning more about their positions and experience. Ah, but there's more. Much more.

After the editorial writers have made their best arguments pro and con, we start worrying about what the paper's position is really going to be. The editor and/or publisher can change the whole thing by making a decision that doesn't reflect any kind of consensus. The head of a newspaper chain can also hand down an edict. In addition, it can also get personal, as in "I don't like this person." That's just the way it is, because some members of an editorial board are more equal than others. It's a faux democracy.

In the 2004 presidential election, the Orlando Sentinel editorial page editor spent a good deal of time massaging the publisher (and who knows who else) in order to endorse John Kerry. It was the Sentinel's first Democratic endorsement in a very long time. I think 40 years, if I'm not mistaken.

(Kerry, by the way, was very knowledgeable and likeable in private, devoting lots of time to the editorial board interview. His public persona was another matter.)

All of which is to say that newspaper editorial endorsements are not really the above-board, what's in the best interest of the community kind of opinion. Sometimes it ain't got nothing to do with the community.

To have newspapers like the Sentinel, LA Times and, of course, the Trib endorse Obama signals that Sam Zell really allowed the papers to make their own choices. He may not care very much about the part of the job that people like Col. McCormick lusted after: Kingmaker! All editorial page editors want to be kingmakers, every single last one of them.

However, if it's true that Zell didn't play his hand -- a hand that he had every right to play as owner -- that makes him a very unusual person indeed.

Gimme Cash

Tribune is hoarding cash in the event credit markets tighten further, the Chicago Tribune reported this week. The company drew down an additional $250 million of revolving credit. The just-in-case-we-need-it money represents about half of Tribune's revolving credit line.

Revolving lines of credit are often used for things such as payroll, etc. Even well capitalized companies are reporting problems accessing cash. I read the other day that hotel chain Marriott was having issues, although it's financially sound.

With its finances on shaky footing and a credit market that has dried up, I guess Tribune is not taking any chances. Their motto seems to be let's hold onto cash. It doesn't seem like an unreasonable thing to do right now, but it also makes you wonder how much Tribune's financial situation has worsened.

Take the AJR Challenge

Robert Hodierne, a journalism professor at the University of Richmond, writes that he's been commissioned by the American Journalism Review to do a study of ex journos who left newspapers under "less than voluntary circumstances." The survey asks about the circumstances of your departure, size of severance package, etc.

If you'd like to participate, go to

LA Times Re-duh-sign

The LA Times unveiled its redesign, but I don't see much of a change. I'm not a great fan of redesigns, but the LA Times has always been graphically unappealing and unwieldy to me. And they were rather proud of it, because they are a "serious" paper. I guess serious and ugly go hand in hand. Of all the Tribune papers, this one could have used an image boost.

The paper appears slightly less text heavy than before and has more white space. Other than that, I really don't see much of a difference between the old and the new. Take a look at

Sun-Sentinel to print PB Post

As if declining circulation and plumetting profit weren't bad enough, now newspaper folks also have to worry about other newspapers taking over parts of their business and eliminating good jobs.

That's what is going to happen in South Florida when the Sun-Sentinel begins printing the Palm
Beach Post, the Palm Beach Daily News and the Spanish-language paper La Palma in December.

The move eliminates 300 jobs in the Post's prouduction, mailroom and transportation areas. Apparently, the Post's presses are very old and need to be replaced. It sounds as if the arrangement may be temporary, until new equipment comes on line. But it doesn't seem as if this sort of expansion is prudent at this time or is in the offing.

This further strengthens the cozy relationship newspapers in South Florida are developing. If you recall, the Sun-Sentinel, Post and the Herald agreed earlier to share certain content.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Life After the Sentinel Event

The folks at Wragg & Casas have asked me to post this event in case you all are interested in attending, and considering the current state of newspaper affairs, it may not be a bad idea.

Event: Crossing the Great Divide
When: Thurs., November 6
Time: 6-8 pm
Where: Citrus Restaurant
821 N. Orange Ave.
Hosted by: Orlando chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association
Who should attend: Current and former journalists thinking about making a transition from journalism to ...

Information: Jamie Floer, 407.244.3685/ email:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Newspaper Web Sites Hit Neutral

If online was supposed to save newspapers, somebody forgot to tell online advertisers. The New York Times reported today that newspaper web revenue is stagnant or falling. It's the first decline in newspaper online revenue since 2003, the Times reported.

Newspapers have been experimenting with coverage and stories on their Web sites to make them more attractive to readers and advertisers. In Orlando, we have seen an increased focus on the titillation and sensational crime coverage on the Sentinel's Web page.

It's obviously attracting readers, based on higher online traffic reported here in an earlier post. Whether it's making money is another matter. Online revenue fell 4 percent at Tribune in the second quarter ended June 30, the Times reported. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that the Sentinel is down, since that is a companywide figure. The figure could be up in Orlando and down in other markets.

Online readers need to consider whether they want to reward the Sentinel's and other newspaper's tawdry online coverage. If not, they can let their mouseclicks do the walking.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Casey Anthony Saga

Several readers have asked me to weigh in on the Casey-Caylee Anthony story and the media's coverage of it. I have been reluctant to step in because I dislike this type of story and tend not to pay close attention. Neither my life nor your's will rise or fall because of Caylee's disappearance or Casey's alleged involvement in her child's disappearance or possible death. As a mother I know this sounds harsh, but it needs to be said. There are other stories, such as the Wall Street fiasco, that do indeed affect every man, woman and child in this country. But that is a much more complex story to cover.

We have witnessed a number of cases like this in Florida. Trenton Duckett is another local-child-goes-missing case that fell under a 24-hour media watch, as did the Terry Schiavo case (which some people considered a crime, although I disagree). And who can forget Elian Gonzalez, who got the same media treatment? There are a number of others on the national scene, such as Jon Benet Ramsey, OJ Simpson and Natalee Holloway. Seeing a pattern here?

These are all crime cases, and crime is one of the easiest beats to cover. Put a police scanner, a reporter and crime tape together, and you have a story on the 5, 10 and 11 o'clock news cycles -- often with just a bit of new info added, if that. (Note that crime reporting has not suffered in the past 10 years or so, although crime rates fell significantly. This had the effect of distorting the role or rate of crime in communities. However, crime rates are beginning to rise again.)

In print, the Orlando Sentinel practically ignores the Anthony case, but splatters it all over its Web site, where it's all-Cayley-Casey-all-the-time. There's a reason for this: The Anthony case drives visitors to the site. In an earlier post, I wrote that in August the Sentinel landed on Nielsen Online's list of Top 30 online newspaper sites (it was No. 30), as reported by Editor & Publisher.

There's nothing to account for it, except the Anthony case. The Sentinel has not reported anything spectacular or breathtaking lately. The Central Florida area has not had a major disaster, such as shuttle going kaput. Tourism traffic is down, so it can be that. It's got to be the Anthony case, which has gone national in broadcast and print. The Sentinel and other local media have latched onto the story and are are milking it dry. In these lean advertising times, an increase in Web visitors or TV viewers is a boost to the bottom line.

The media -- print and broadcast -- whip up a public frenzy with these cases that is unconscionable. Do we really need to know that Casey Anthony visited her lawyer on any given day? No. If TV vans and reporters were not permanently parked outside the Anthony home, would the vigilante crowds disperse? I think so. All the world's a stage, and when when you take away the platform the actors scamper, looking for their next close-up.

Time and time again, this type of coverage has created a downward spiral that has contributed to a miscarriage of justice. The magnification of the crimes is so huge and out of proportion to reality that it results in spontaneous combustion. Law enforcement, under extreme pressure to resolve a case, screws up procedurally, tactically and in other ways. The defendants, under the glare of enormous spotlights, attract shady characters looking for publicity. That was the role played by the Padilla (no relation) bounty hunters in the Anthony case.

I am no Casey Anthony fan (no mother waits 30 days to report her missing child), but can she get a fair trail here? If Casey Anthony were ugly, would the media be following her around? Probably not.

The Jon Benet Ramsey, Natalee Holloway and Trenton Duckett cases have all led to dead ends. In the Duckett case, the mother, considered suspicious, committed suicide. The Ramseys had to move from Colorado and were cleared of suspicion only recently. Elian Gonzalez appeared as if he were about to have a nervous breakdown and the FBI had to use armored vehicles to break down doors to get Gonzalez out of Miami. The media frenzy had a lot to do with it. (I covered part of Gonzalez story, and have never experienced anything like it.)

And don't forget that the Atlanta Journal Constitution had to pay out a nice chunk of change to security guard Richard Jewell because of its faulty coverage of the Atlanta Olympics bombing case. I could go on -- how about the New York Times and scientist Wen Ho Lee? -- but I think I've made my point.

We are likely to see a non conclusion to the Anthony case. Of course, the Sentinel and local TV will pretend they had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Going Digital

A reader suggested I read a PBS interview with Gannett's digital guru Jennifer Carroll. It's certainly an intriguing look at where newspapers are headed, and one newspaper chain's attempt to keep from getting its brain blown out.

I don't agree with everything in the story. For instance, Carroll seemed enthralled when an reporter told her that when a story breaks she can update her blog from her desk.


When a story breaks, you shouldn't be at your desk. Not even high flying technology changes that. And, second, let's face it, you can update a blog from the toilet. I don't get what impressed Carroll about the reporter's comment.

But it's a good interview. Take a look at

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Zell Brandishes the Ax - Again

With a whack-whack here and a whack-whack there, the LA Times is losing another 75 editorial positions, according to a story in Editor & Publisher. And that probably begins another round of layoffs to be completed in the fourth quarter. It's big possibility that other newspapers will get their turn. The fourth quarter is shaping up to be brutal.

Things have turned e chilly at the LA Times, and not just because of the staff cuts. Seems that top editors are spending a lot of time trying to figure out who writes Tell Zell. com, according to LA Observed. That explains why there hasn't been a new post on Tell Zell since September 19.

There's nothing like the defenders of free speech clamping down on free speech. We have known for a while now that newspapers believe free speech applies only to them, because they are "special."

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Special Features Coming Soon

And now this from Lee Abrams, Tribune's chief innovation officer: Let's not call an advertising section an advertising section because people won't read it. Let's call it something else, say Special Feature Section, in the hopes readers won't notice that this is really advertising.

When newspapers start lying to readers about what they are publishing by using euphemisms instead of straight talk, you may as well throw away the printing presses. You cannot be trusted to tell us what is fact and what is advertising. The blurring of this line will render newspapers worthless.

This came up apparently because the Baltimore Sun labeled a special advertising section -- what else? -- a "Special Advertising Section." Abrams then wondered, who's going to read it if you call it advertising?

Who's going to read it if you lie to readers and mislabel your ads?

I can think of a local example in the Orlando Sentinel. Has anyone taken a look at the Seminole Extra section lately? There's no there there. Not even a half-hearted story on the cover. Nada.

The 8-page section is about 6-1/2 pages of ads. Whatever happened to the 50-50 ratio of news to ads? The remaining 1-1/2 pages are taken up by listings. Nobody is calling this a "Special Advertising Section," but that's what it is.

Advertisers ought to be asking questions because they're not getting their money's worth. There is no content to lure readers. In the old days, there were stories that weren't exactly a 'fit" in the main paper, which was higher and mightier than the Extras. If somebody thought a story wasn't meaty enough for Local/State, it would wind up in the Extras. Right off the bat, there was never a lot of respect for the regional reader.

This version is worse. This is a let's-hope-people-don't-notice strategy. The Sentinel is not willing to cut off the Extras entirely because of the ad revenue. It's always been said that the Extras are where the "little advertisers" can afford to place their ads.

Abrams need look no further than the Sentinel to see the new Special Feature come to life.

The Newspaper Fundamentals Remain Sound - Not

The air is getting thinner and thinner for newspapers in the economic debacle we are living, or I should say trying to survive. As if we hadn't already guessed this, Wall Street is saying that the downturn (now there's a euphemism) has further weakened newspapers. Hey, join the club. My financials are so weak, I can barely get out of bed.

Gannett had to tap its credit line of about $4 billion because short-term financing has dried up. Standard and Poor's credit rating agency put Gannett on its credit watch list for a potential downgrade, even though Gannett said it still had a substantial sum left on the $4 billion credit line. Then Gannett Chairman, President and CEO Craig Dubow said in a statement one of the most tone deaf things you can possibly say in these economic times, "Our underlying fundamentals remain strong..."

Geez. Where have we heard that before? And how much credibility do the orignal folks who uttered these infamous words have left? Just asking.

Star Tribune, owners of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, skipped its quarterly $9 million debt payment recently because it needed to conserve cash. (I'd like to try that trick some day.) It missed a debt payment in June as well. Bankruptcy may be waiting in the wings.

McClatchy, who bought out Knight Ridder and now publishes the Miami Herald, got ahead of everybody last week and renegotiated its $1.75 billion in bank loans (its total debt is higher). The price? Higher interest rates on the loans and a potential scaling back of its credit line. The company also has to cap its dividend payout, which will help it conserve cash. McClatchy could pay anywhere from $3 million to $11 million more a year in interest. Not quite sure which is better: paying the quarterly debt payment or paying higher interest?

That brings us to Tribune, which has been quiet lately. However, rising interest rates on its debt could cost Tribune as much as an extra $100 million more a year. That's what Wall Streeters are saying. Tribune also is getting closer to violating a requirement that it keep its debt under nine times its cash flow. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the ratio was 8.3 at the end of June. Tribune is betting that the sale of its Chicago Cubs will help it meet the next debt payment of $1.4 billion next summer.

But in a way newspapers are actually fortunate. Yes, lucky. Newspapers prospects stink so badly that no bank is likely to be so foolish as to step in and take over a newspaper. That would be like shooting itself in the head. Who would buy a newspaper these days?

Those of you who still earn a paycheck from newspapers can sleep a tad -- but only a tad -- more soundly, knowing that there's little risk that you'll show up one morning and find that a bank has taken your computer.
However, it's still possible you may show up to work one day soon and find a pink slip attached to your monitor.