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.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cashing In

In case you missed it, this little nugget was buried in Tribune's bonus news as reported by the Chicago Tribune: "The Tribune Co.’s publishing division generated $461 million in operating cash flow last year, a margin of 16.7 percent 'during one of the worst years in newspaper advertising history.' ”

Sounds like that's a very respectable figure--considering. Cash flow measures the money or cash companies generate in relation to their sales or revenue to pay expenses. If that's the kind of cash flow margin Tribune's publishing division can generate in a bad year, imagine what it must have been in a good year--20 percent, 25 percent, 30 percent?

Of course, the amount of cash generated is not enough to pay off Tribune's billions of dollars in debt. And we all know that Tribune achieved the nearly 17 percent cash flow margin by rolling lots of heads down the aisle, which freed up cash by reducing expenses.

Considering all the heads that are still being axed, perhaps the cash flow margin for 2009 will hit 20 percent or better?? Banks and creditors are going to love it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tribune Asks Court for $13M in Bonus Money

Tribune Co. has asked the bankruptcy court for permission to award $13 million in bonuses to certain employees, even as more newspaper employees are being shown the door across the country, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune.

About 670 managerial employees are to benefit for doing such a great job of escorting people to their cars, with average payments of $18,000.

Payments are expected to total $12.2 million, while another $1 million in bonuses appears to be up in the air.

Meanwhile, another 70 employees may get about $2.5 million in severance payments that is owed to them, which sounds like a decent move.

The Delaware bankruptcy court is expected to rule on the motions during a May 12 court hearing.

I've been thinking more and more that the real pirates are not in Somalia, but here in the United States running the free (hah!) enterprise system.

Read the full post here:

Sunday, April 19, 2009


I am heartened by the response to my last meager post. I think many of you may already know who was on the hit list (see below). From what I understand, there is more to come later this year as well.

Writing this blog is getting harder. The bloodletting is huge, and folks can't blame Sam Zell any longer. Zell 'fessed up in an interview posted on Romanesko ( last week that he clearly underestimated the extent of the rot in the newspaper business and that the Tribune buyout has been a failure. It's not all Zell's fault. The people running this and many other newspapers are like the captain of the Titanic. Full speed ahead, into the iceberg.

I can no longer abide the "solutions" many news people still cling to, such as charging for content. Forget it, folks. The newspaper industry had a chance years ago to pool resources and aggregate content and it chose not to. How's that for vision? Google is not a monster. Google is simply filling a vacuum that new people created.

If newspapers put up a pay wall now, they will get some minor revenue but lose a lot of readers. It's time to come up with something a little more creative and 21st century. Hello! Free is not a bad business model. Many newspapers are free, especially weeklies. They are advertising supported and can be audited like paid subscription. Newspapers have to make "free" work.

Dearly Departed
Jerry Jackson, business reporter
Dave Darling, sports copy editor
Yoon Om, layout editor
Eric Palm, layout editor
Joan Andrews, layout editor
Angelisa Pinkston, layout editor
Karen Saunders, copy editor
Joy Dickinson, copy editor, to continue Flashback column
Geoff Nordhoff, wire and copy editor
Andy Goodwin, copy editor
Mary Tindall, copy editor, reporter
Dave Swiderski, copy and wire editor
Steven Ford, copy editor
Kim Calhoun, copy editor
Bonny Shonkwiler, copy editor
David Srinivasan, copy editor
A copy editor who doesn't wish to be named.
Elayne David, copy editor
Terry Godbey, copy editor, 26 years
Nicole Bogdas, layout editor
Helen Eckinger, Lake County reporter
Greg Gammonley, data desk, nice guy
Jay Hamburg, GA and religion reporter
Eleanor Trouse, from library, after 43 years of service
Bill Speros, deputy sports editor
Adam Shiver, sports copy editor
Pete Schreiber, sports copy editor
Robyn Shelton, medical writer, leaving for law school
Jerry Greene, sports columnis, wrote last column last week, after 33 years
David Whitley, sports columnist moving on to
Lynn Hoppes, associate M.E. in sports, moving to
Mike Berry, copy editor

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Days of Thunder

Folks, there's a lot of chatter taking place over the social airwaves about heads rolling at the Orlando Sentinel this week. One source put the figure at 20 job cuts affecting the copy desk. Frankly, I didn't know there were more than 20 people on the copy desk left. Seems very high, but also somewhat plausible. The Chicago Tribune is cutting about 20 percent of its staff.

Definitely a red letter day for many people at the Sentinel. Best of luck to all.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Heads Roll at the Sentinel

Don't know all the particulars just yet, but I've received several emails stating the Orlando Sentinel has cut more positions. I know that some newsroom veterans have left or are about to leave. Other folks say the copy desk is the target of this round of staff cuts.

Just letting you know the ranks at your hometown paper are getting thinner by the day.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Back to Basics

Chastened by the embarrassing massive layoffs, cutbacks and bankruptcy of the Tribune Co., Sam Zell is returning to his roots--real estate. So states the article in the Wall Street Journal, "Sam Zell Looks to Brazil to Change His Luck."

Zell is poised to become a big player in the affordable housing market in --Brazil. Yes, you read correctly. Brazil. Zell's private equity real estate firm owns a 19 percent stake in Gafisa SA, a Brazilian home builder. Brazil, whose President Inacio Lula da Silva recently blamed the worldwide financial meltdown on "white, blue-eyed people," is banking on white-skinned, white-haired gnome-like Zell to help build 1 million new homes for the country's low-income families.

Zell's Equity International Properties has $1.5 billion invested in warehouses in China and retirement villages in New Zealand. Who knew? However, the company is betting big on Brazil, where it has invested half of its capital. Equity International, which also owns apartments in the United States, has lost more than half its stock value in the past year, which is no surprise considering the real estate funk.

Zell, himself, has lost half of his net worth in the past year. He's down to a mere $3 billion. Everything that Zell touches no longer turns to gold, so we'll have to watch Zell's samba in Brazil to see whether he's lost his touch entirely.

But it sure must make the folks at Tribune feel real secure knowing that the guy who bought the company on a whim, investing just $300 million or so in the $8 billion buyout, has lost interest in his newspaper venture.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Day of Reckoning

Heard there were some more staff cuts at the Orlando Sentinel, but don't know the particulars. It wouldn't surprise me, given that so much has been happening of late in the newspaper industry.

The Miami Herald is about to slash about 19 percent of its staff, and those remaining will take a pay cut and a one-week furlough. Those making less than $50,000 will take a 5 percent cut, while those earning more will see their pay go down 10 percent. I guess it beats not having a job. Meanwhile, no candidate has stepped forward to buy the paper.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer published its last print edition Tuesday and converted to an online edition only. In the process about 90 percent of the staff was let go. That ought to make eyes pop. If online is about 10 percent of newspaper revenue, then I guess you need only 10 percent of the staff?

I can hear it now: You have to align the staff to the numbers, Maria.


Anybody have more info about how the Sentinel is aligning staff to revenue, please let the rest of us know.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

It's Mourning in America

A newspaper died this week. Will anyone notice? Will anybody care?

The Rocky Mountain News shut down Friday, about a month-and-a-half away from its 150th anniversary. It must have been wrenching for the staff. Newspaper people dedicate a lot of time and energy to their jobs. This is a great letdown.

Scripps owned the paper, and I predicted on this blog oh so many posts ago that the company would spike the entire paper, since it had ample precedent.

Scripps earlier closed the paper in its own home town of Cincinnati. What newspaper company does that? One that doesn't put a whole lot of stake in newspapers anymore. Scripps is now into HGTV, which it owns, than into breaking news.

So we can't say we didn't see this one coming. It was in the making for some time, considering the Rocky was in a joint operating agreement before it closed. The JOA often is a prelude to death.

We have another chronicle of a death foretold: It appears the SF Chronicle also is gasping for air, and may close any day now. It's shocking to see the newspaper industry down on its knees like this. The industry was so utterly unprepared for technological changes in news gathering and delivery. We are a long way from Kansas now--and boy do we know it.

This week the American Society of Newspaper Editors canceled its annual conference due to little interest. I'd say this is a good move. It would be hard to justify a junket to (fill in the blank) while editors everywhere are mercilessly axing staff and newspaper content and pages. Why that would have been the newspaper equivalent of auto industry honchos flying to Washington on private jets to beg Congress for money. Only in this case, editors would be wringing their bloody hands over cocktails.

Speaking of which, begging for money--either directly to Congress or in the form of sponsored stories or investigative series-- is what some newspaper companies are weighing.

Bad idea.

I realize these are desperate times, but newspapers are supposed to be free of any outside influence. If newspapers want to have freedom of the press, they have to take it on the chin and find a new business model, one that doesn't depend on sponsorship or government loans of any kind.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

What Ever Happened to Shame?

It used to be that when alleged bad people did alleged bad things, you could detect a teensy-weensy bit of shame in their attitude or that of their families: The head held low, the biting of the lips, the inability to look you in the eye.

Oh, how that has changed.

Now, when alleged bad people do alleged bad things they get the 15 minutes of fame (maybe even wealth) that Andy Warhol predicted would be every one's due. Instead of the perp walk, you get the cat walk. Instead of a jail sentence, you get a book contract that, hopefully, will turn into a television movie of the week. And it's not just the alleged perp who's strutting his or her stuff before the world's stage. It's the whole dang family.

I am referring, of course, to the Casey Anthony case. Casey's parents have appeared on major television shows, including "Larry King." We now know that when Caylee's remains were found they stayed at the Ritz Hotel, courtesy of ABC television. Casey's dad cannot even try to commit suicide in private.

And now there's also Haleigh Cummings' father's girlfriend, who didn't waste time appearing on the "Today" show, ostensibly to defend herself or her relatives. When it was announced the little girl was missing, Casey's dad -- all better now -- made a beeline to Satsuma in Putnam County in a show of solidarity.

I have wondered throughout all of this: Doesn't anybody agonize in private anymore? Doesn't anybody close the door and say they would like to be left alone? (This is valid only if attempted before the big-publicity cry for help, before the big-publicity search and rescue effort, before the big-publicity help-me-find-my-missing-child poster and before the daily press conference updates.)

Must the press and television pull back the curtain a la Wizard of Oz each and every time to show the family mayhem and dysfunction? Shouldn't the media do a little pulling back of their own?

Does the press and television always have to work itself into a tizzy about one more missing child, as if other nameless, faceless children do not go missing everyday that are never found and that we never hear about. Why Caylee and not the others? Why Haleigh and not the others? Is anybody still looking for or writing about Trenton Duckett? And why does it seem that these things are happening only in Florida?

The glare of television lights and scribblings in reporter's notebooks have greatly diminished the sense of private agony and sometimes shame that, to my mind, was a lot healthier for the family and the community. It has also diminished the media's sense of credibility.

We are all now under siege from the mutual exploitation society that exists between the parents/relatives of the chosen few missing children and the press and television. Once on the stage, you can't yank these folks off. Once the television ratings, newspaper circulation or online "uniques" soar, you can't get the media to retrench.

We will hear and read about the Casey Anthony case everyday whether there is news to report or not. We will get the daily videotape or photo of the family, lawyers or other folks who weasel their way into the spotlight.

Now, to the delight of the media, we have two such cases. I can see the headline: Haleigh and Caley: What Went Wrong? It's a great stroke of luck for the media that the names happen to rhyme.

I am not unsympathetic to the cause of missing children. I am a mom and I know what I would do if someone tried to harm my child. But I am unsympathetic to the hoopla, hullabaloo and carnival sideshow that has little to do with the cause of missing children.

For the sake of decency and credibility, someone please draw the curtain. Bring back a little shame and embarrassment for the good of the community.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Millions of Trees Saved

No, you didn't imagine that your paper is getting thinner and less newsy.

Newspapers in the United States consumed 16 percent less newsprint in 2008 than the year before. That's 5.2 million tonnes, down from 6.2 million tonnes -- or a clean 1 million tonne, according to an item in Editor and Publisher this week.

The decline in newsprint consumption is accelerating as papers move more content online and cut back on pages and page widths in the paper product. Things may get worse for newspapers, but better for the trees in 2009.

Newsprint use was down nearly 24 percent last December, according to E&P, which cited the Pulp and Paper Products Council. Newsprint companies are reducing output to meet lower demand, which is also good for trees. U.S. paper mills are running at only 80 percent of capacity. Naturally, prices are falling too.

Although the decline of the traditional newspaper business and business model is lamentable, there is always and upside and this is it. Fewer trees will be sacrificed to print newspapers that fewer and fewer people are reading.

That's newspapers 0, Earth 1.

So That's Where the Money Went

A Tampa Tribune credit manager and his wife allegedly swindled the newspaper out of $1 million by creating a private credit collection company and diverting checks to a private account.

The couple, Lynda and Charles T. Wilson, were arrested Thursday in Tampa. The scheme took place over a 10-year period, indicating folks at the Tampa Trib weren't minding the store. Newspaper executives said it recovered most of the money from insurance. So I guess that means, what the hey! The wife may negotiate a plea deal, which presumably includes ratting out on her husband.

And we wonder how the newspaper business got to this state.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Incredibly Shrinking Severance

Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda.

Right about now, scores of Sentinels are wishing they had volunteered to take the earlier Tribune buyouts. That's because Tribune's bankruptcy judge this week approved the company's motion to significantly reduce the severance offered to employees in any future buyout/firings.

Instead of getting two weeks of pay for every year at the Sentinel, as many former Sentinels did, future ex-Sentinels will get only two weeks for the first year of work and one week for every year thereafter. That's equivalent to about half the severance offered in earlier buyouts.

It used to be that a Sentinel who spent 20 years at the Orange Avenue lockup, would get 40 weeks of severance pay when he/she walked out the facility for good. Now, that's down to 21 weeks of pay. Basically, nearly a year of pay was reduced to about six months of pay.

Severance is severance, and I'm sure folks are glad to get it. But what a difference that five to six months is going to make. The economy being what it is means people are likelier to be unemployed for a longer period of time.

And don't count on cashing out your pension plan in a lump-sum payment. Tribune just sent out a notice stating that for the time being, "The plan is prevented from offering eligible participants the option of receiving a lump sum ...".

These moves are a strong indication that Tribune is sharpening its ax again. Why else put this motion before the bankruptcy judge? The LA Times already got its notice. About 300 people are out. Watch out for rolling heads at other newspapers, including the Sentinel.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Tribune's Major Creditors Owed Big Bucks

The Fort Lauderdale folks who got left out in the cold by Tribune banktruptcy got me thinking about the company's other creditors. So I looked it up. Some of this information has appeared in print and online, although I don't think in its complete form.

So here are Tribune's 30 largest creditors, as disclosed in Tribune's bankruptcy papers, in ascending order. Drum roll, please:

30. Paramount Pictures, $1.6 million
29. Nielsen Media Research, 1.8 m
28. Sony Pictures Television, 2.1 m
27. Tower PT, LLC (an equity investment company), 2.2 m
26. Tower DC, LLC, 2.3 m
25. Tower EH, LLC, 2.6 m
24. Horst Bergman (former executive owed retirement and deferred compensation), 2.6 m
23. Bowater Inc., 2.7 m
22. Raymond Jansen Jr. (former executive), 2.8 m
21. Tower MS, LLC, 2.8 m
20. Tower JK, LLC, 3.3 m
19. Abitibi Consolidated, 4.1 m
18. Robert Erburu (former executive), 4.3 million
17. NBC Universal Domestic TV Distribution, 4.9 m
16. SP Newsprint Co., 5.1 m
15. Buena Vista Entertainment (Disney), 6.2 m
14. Twentieth Television, 8 m
13. Mark Willes (former LA Times executive dubbed the "Cereal Killer"), 11.2 m
12. Warner Bros. Television, 23.7 m
11. Deutsche Bank National Trust (notes), 69.5m
10. Deutsche Bank (debentures), 82 m
9. Deutsche Bank (more debentures), 84.9 m
8. Deutsche Bank (more, more debentures), 98.7 m
7. Barclays Capital, 142.9 m
6. Deutsche Bank (more, more, more debentures), 148 m
5. Deutsche Bank (unsecured notes), 330 m
4. Deutsche Bank (more unsecured notes), 450 m
3. Deutsche Bank (subordinated debentures), 900 m
2. Merrill Lynch Capital (bridge loan), $1.6 billion

And the No. 1 creditor is .....

1. JP Morgan Chase Bank, NA ... $8.57 billion

Now we know why Wall Street is in such a funk, lending big chunks of money to companies (and individuals) that can't afford to pay their debt.

The off-duty cops and the city of Fort Lauderdale, with $800 owed (see earlier post), are so way down the list that they're invisible. But what happens at the local level matters.

Wouldn't you like to know what Central Florida companies are owed money by the Orlando Sentinel?

Left Out in the Cold

The New Times of Broward-Palm Beach posted an item Monday that shows the ripple effect of a bankruptcy filing (see it here Tribune apparently owes some off duty police officers and the city of Fort Lauderdale more than $800 for past services related to last year's Sun-Sentinel-sponsored CityLink Beer Fest.

In the big picture scheme of things, 800 bucks is nothing. But you have to put this in the context of thousands of what Queen of Mean Leona Helmsley called "the little people" getting stiffed because of Tribune's bankruptcy filing last December.

$800 here and $800 there -- Fort Lauderdale today, Hartford tomorrow -- and pretty soon you've got big money. The city of Fort Lauderdale and the off-duty officers have no recourse but to go to the back of the line, along with hundreds of other unsecured creditors, and hope they will someday get paid -- pennies on the dollar.

It's not right, but we all know life ain't fair.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Orlando Sentinel Job Cuts Likely

Based on an Orlando Sentinel staff meeting held Friday, it looks like:
  • Jobs will be cut in stages. How many people will be affected is unclear. Bankruptcy court will have to weigh in on whether next set of ex-staffers get severance payments, as others have.
  • Earlier deadlines will be established for Sunday paper so it can be printed in two press runs, instead of three.
  • No more movie listings in the tv guide.
  • Lots more content sharing to take place with other Tribune papers. Lots more templating of pages and ads.
  • News will be written and assembled for the Web and then plopped into the next day's paper.
  • Redesign of the Web site may be in the works; professional design team may be involved.

According to Editor Charlotte Hall, all of these changes will happen on "steroids," meaning very quickly.

Sounds like the digital newsroom will arrive sooner rather than later. The paper product will be an afterthought.

More Cutbacks at LA Times

Tribune is at it again. The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that the LA Times will get rid of as many as 300 positions. Of those, maybe 70 are newsroom staffers, or 11 percent of the newsroom. Plus, the paper is folding its local section into the main A section. Could you imagine? Local news is disappearing from view not only at the LA Times but in newspapers nationwide.

This may be the beginning a new round of cubacks at Tribune newspapers, following very dismal profit/loss numbers newspapers are reporting across the country. Just a sample:

  • Gannett's profit fell 36 percent in the fourth quarter. The company is writing off $5 billion in good will. That means Gannett thinks its newspapers are worth $5 billion less today. If that's true of Gannett, other newspaper chains may soon engage in a second round of good will slashing. Mercifully, Gannett is hinting it may cut its dividend. Gannett pays about $365 million a year in dividends. Cutting the dividend may save some jobs.
  • A.H. Belo, publishers of the Dallas Morning News, is letting go 500 workers.
  • New York Times' fourth-quarter net plummeted 47 percent. It is looking to sell the Boston Red Sox, borrow against its new headquarters and recently borrowed $250 million from Mexican media mogul Carlos Slim, who already owns Times stock. Maybe the paper should change its name to El Tiempo de Nueva York.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Gannett Stuns Industry with Furlough

Gannett's decision to furlough all of its workers for one week without pay during the first quarter is stunning news. It is one of an increasingly common number of instances in which newspapers behave like manufacturers of widgets. Closing a bureau is the equivalent of closing a plant. Furloughing workers is what manufacturers do when there's not enough work (orders) to go around, too much inventory and diminishing cash flow. Come to think of it, that's General Motors' MO. I guess producing the news is not so different from producing cars after all.

The newspaper company announced that every employee is affected. That's more than 40,000 people. News staff can't show up for work, can't email and can't make calls to sources. No work. Period. Labor laws/regulations apparently require it. Nothing left to do but figure out how to stagger the time off. Gannett has already frozen salaries and last year cut its workforce by more than 15 percent.

Gannett is an egregiously poor caretaker among newspaper companies. It was Gannett, after all, that pushed for ever higher profit margins that competitors felt they had to follow. Even now, the company pays a hefty annual dividend of $1.60 a share. With 228 million shares outstanding, that comes to $365 million a year, or $1 million for each day of the year.

Shouldn't Gannett cut its dividend to conserve cash? Maybe suspend it for a time? And let's not forget that even now Gannett's operating margin is still a solid 21.5 percent, probably the leader among newspapers.

A one-week furlough is better than no job at all. If it staves off more layoffs, then reporters and editors will embrace it. Perhaps other newspaper chains are calculating how much they would save by following Gannett's example, as so many newspaper companies have done and continue to do.

Several years ago, who would have thought of a furlough for newspaper reporters and editors? Welcome to 2009.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Orlando Sentinel and Florida Today Share Content

The Orlando Sentinel this week began a trial run of a content-sharing venture with former rival Florida Today. This reduces newspaper competition in the Central Florida area, which is already a one-newspaper town. Only the Daytona Beach News-Journal and Florida Today provided some level of competition to the Sentinel. It raises the legitimate question, why buy a paper if they are all going to contain the same, exact news written from the same, exact perspective?

Although content sharing may not do much for readers, it is the wave of the future. It helps newspapers cut costs by not having to staff and maintain bureaus in certain areas. The potential to pool reports also cuts costs. The Miami Herald has already entered a similar pact with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post. Other newspapers around the country are also taking this route.

However, the Orlando Sentinel and Florida Today won't share all content, since enterprise and investigative reporting will remain exclusive -- at least for now.

Get the details from the memo below:

From: Hall, Charlotte HSent: Monday, January 12, 2009 10:25 AMTo: OSC DL EditorialCc: Anderson, Julie; Benson, Kelly; Burke, Dyana; D'Orlando, John; Greenberg, Howard; Hall, Charlotte H; Khahaifa, Avido; Lafferty, Mike T; Motley, Robyn; Ortiz, Norbert; Schaible, Linda A

Subject: Florida Today Sharing Importance: High

Today we begin a test of a content-sharing partnership with Florida Today. Routine news stories and advances of events posted on our Web sites can be picked up by the other paper for publication in the next print cycle. Stories and photos will be attributed to the originating paper, and bylines will be used. Exempted from the sharing arrangement are columns, investigative stories and major enterprise stories.

Florida Today content will not appear on and vice versa, but the Web editors from the papers will pursue an aggregation strategy, including RSS feeds for some content.

During the test, the managing editors and team leaders will also explore the possibility of pooled coverage or team coverage of events on a case by case basis. The test will run three months, and the arrangement could be made permanent or expanded at the end of that period. Mark Russell and Roger Simmons are the point people in our newsroom. If you have questions, you can direct them to Russ, Roger or me.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

One More Trend

One newspaper move that is becoming trendy of late is freezing salaries or salary/wage give-backs in order to reduce costs.
  • Dow Jones, publishers of the Wall Street Journal, just announced a salary freeze. They also plan to negotiate with their unions to implement a similar freeze among members.
  • The Chicago Sun-Times is asking its unions for a 7 percent cut in members' salaries.

This puts newspaper folks in a bind. On the one hand, you want to keep your job. However, the only way to do that may be to surrender some of your salary, or accept a freeze in salary. Considering the alternative, which is no job at all, this may not be too hard to swallow. More newspapers may go this route, especially if they've cut staff to the bone.

Look out for other ways that effectively "reduce" salaries, including:

  • hike in health insurance costs
  • reduction or elimination of 401k contributions

Some newspapers deliver the newspaper free or at reduced cost to employees. You'll know you're really in trouble if you lose this benefit.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Five Big Newspaper Predictions

The newspaper landscape has never looked bleaker, at least in my years of experience. One company has declared bankruptcy (Tribune), and at least one other may may follow suit in 2009. Advertising revenue is in a tailspin, declining much faster than anybody anticipated. This year may prove to be even worse than 2008, and last year was pretty bad.

Many economic forecasts are very pessimistic about 2009, and I happen to agree with them. There's not a whole lot of light in this tunnel, especially with consumer spending way down. This downturn is going to force a lot of publishers' hands to produce more cost-saving cuts, bolder ideas or otherwise engage in desperate Darwinism.

Here are my Five Big Newspaper Predictions for 2009:

1. More layoffs
With ad revenue in a severe downward spiral, newspapers will need to significantly reduce costs and that means staff. I predict it will be brutal. Newspapers have no choice: labor and newsprint costs are the two largest newspaper expenses. Newsprint prices are going down, in part because demand has fallen. Many newspapers have already reduced page widths, number of sections, etc., which means they are buying less paper. They have also reduced staff. But I predict more staff will have to go in order to align revenue with expenses.

2. More newspaper sales
Look for media companies to unload some newspapers at bargain-basement prices. Maybe the Miami Herald is one; the Boston Globe is another. I predict that newspaper companies would rather sell for pennies on the dollar than continue to carry a newspaper that is a financial drag on their profit and loss statements and balance sheets.

3. At least another bankruptcy
Tribune's bankruptcy last year was no surprise to many who have been watching the company struggle. But Tribune by no means will be the only one. Lee Enterprises, publishers of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, is looking more and more like a candidate for bankruptcy. Last week, its auditor warned of the company's ability to remain a going concern due to its inability to pay down debt. Do the math. If you have to tap a credit line to pay off loans, it means you have little or no cash flow. Tribune did this last year, and look what happened. Lee has about $4 million in cash and $1 billion in debt. The company is also in the net loss column, and its stock has plummeted about 95 percent.

3. More newspapers will halt home delivery
Newspapers will cut back on home delivery on certain days of the week to shave costs. Home delivery is part of a newspaper model that flourished with increasing suburbanization in the 1940s and beyond. It helped boost circulation by allowing newspapers to follow the population migration to the 'burbs. (This, by the way, is how the neglect in coverage of urban population groups accelerated.) Plus, more workers began driving to work instead of commuting, making home delivery a viable alternative. However, as a financial model, home delivery never made much sense. Single copy sales are a much less expensive and efficient way to sell newspapers.

4. More newspapers will cease publishing 7 days a week
Not everybody can get away with this, but some newspapers can or may have to in order to remain viable. The Wall Street Journal only publishes 6 days a week (up from 5). The Christian Science Monitor is available only on the Web now. Certain days of the week are loss leaders for newspapers, including Saturdays and Mondays. Readership is low on those days. (As a reporter, I always protested having my stories published on those days.) The next best alternative is a very thin newspaper on loss-leader days, kind of like a digest of what's coming up the rest of the week. Or a combination of a digest and no home delivery.

5. More graphic-heavy design
Some wags may call this the triumph of design over content, and they would be right. At certain newspapers, design folks have catapulted in stature. It's already happened in Baltimore, where graphics guru Monty Cook took over as editor of the Baltimore Sun. Can Bonita Burton be far behind at the Orlando Sentinel? She's already been elevated to deputy managing editor for presentation. Both the Sun and the Sentinel are Tribune papers. More appealing graphics do not necessarily boost circulation, but graphics do make newspapers appear more in step with the Web, and that is increasingly important. Essentially, this means the traditional newspaper reader -- who is over age 50, educated and has a deep newspaper habit (in fact, they are keeping newspapers afloat) -- will continue to get shafted.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Year End Jobless

Lots of newspaper folks felt the sharp edge of the ax in 2008. Tallying up the numbers, however, is not easy. One source puts it at more than 15,586 nationwide ( . But the numbers are not attributed so they can't be verified.

For more reliable numbers, I turned to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which breaks down its stats by industry. A fascinating picture began to emerge. The figures include magazines and other publications, but not the Internet.

Layoffs began rising sharply in June and have been on a steady climb since August. I predict the numbers will accelerate in 2009, based on awful year-end newspaper numbers (see posting below).

The country has been in a recession for more than a year. Newspaper advertising is tumbling rapidly, circulation continues its decline and most newspaper chains are burdened with lots of debt, which they have a decreasing ability to pay. Tribune was the first newspaper chain to file for bankruptcy, but there very likely will be others.

Of the big publishers, I'd watch McClatchy, publisher of the Miami Herald, whose Florida and California markets are hard hit. McClatchy also is struggling with $2 billion in debt. Media General, publisher of the Tampa Tribune, also is in bad shape, with the company's worth of $777 million just slightly ahead of its debt of $750 million.

Here's an industry snapshot:

Number of announced layoffs in 2008: 93
The largest number reported was 14 for the month of November, and the figure has been climbing since August, when there were 9 layoff announcements. The last time the numbers approached or surpassed 100 was in 2001 and 2002.

Publishing unemployment rate: 4.4 percent vs. 6.7 percent for all workers for November 2008. Publishing unemployment has spiked and dipped for the last several months, indicating a lot of industry volatility. It jumped to 4.6 percent in September, but went down in October to 2.7 percent, only to rise again in November.

Number of reporters: 39,230
Unfortunately, this number is for 2007, the latest available. We'll be able to calculate the hit when new numbers come out.

Number of editors: 63,930
Above rule applies.