Rick Edmonds

Researcher and writer for Poynter Institute on business and journalism issues. Co author, State of the News Media 2006. ExSP Times and Phil Inquirer


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Advance digital makeover of its newspapers — five years in and no turning back

It seems like only yesterday, but we are closing in on five years since Advance Publications shook up the newspaper business by stopping daily publication of the Ann Arbor News, dissolving the company and reincorporating as a web-dominant enterprise.

I was reminded to take a look back at the relentless, if controversial, strategy when Advance Local president Randy Siegel released one of his regular six-month progress reports to senior executives Friday and e-mailed me a copy.  (The full text follows at the end of this post).

In the manner of such communiques at Advance and other newspaper chains, the report was upbeat, noting big increases in web traffic and digital ad sales, spiced with mentions of journalism of note and editorial prizes.

As measured by comScore, Advance’s 31 properties were up 43 percent in visits year-to-year in April and 37 percent in May, Siegel wrote, and collectively comScore ranks the sites ninth among general news sites nationally. Read more

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Naysayers are swarming on Clayton Christensen and his “gospel of innovation”

Clayton Christensen

Updated 6-24.

If business school professors were pop stars, Clayton Christensen would be Beyonce. His 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, is wildly influential — in particular, it has been both the theoretical underpinning and rallying banner for would-be digital disruptors of legacy media.

Most recently, Christensen’s thinking is central (and repeatedly cited) in the leaked 2014 Innovation Report young digital staffers of the New York Times produced this spring.  They argue that the print newspaper on which the company built its reputation needs to be de-emphasized and that, borrowing from upstarts like BuzzFeed, the Times should embrace a newsroom culture of aggressive digital development.

This month, however, Christensen has begun to gather some formidable detractors as well as acolytes.  The lead critic is fellow Harvard professor Jill Lepore who unloads a long debunking article in the current issue of The New Yorker.

The core of Christensen’s view is that big and established companies often go wrong trying to improve their dominant premium-priced product as nimble challengers whittle away at market share with much cheaper alternatives. Read more

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Bowe Bergdahl

How non-stop Bowe Bergdahl coverage hit its expiration date at CNN

FILE – This undated photo provided by the U.S. Army shows Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl. His complicated story does not seem to have caught the attention of CNN like the missing Malaysian airliner story. (AP Photo/U.S. Army)

Hard on the heels of its critically slammed, but ratings friendly, wall-to-wall coverage of missing Malaysian Flight 370, CNN appeared last week to have found another big story to play big around the clock: the Bowe Bergdahl rescue.

CNN’s in-house media critic/reporter, Brian Stelter, opened his Reliable Sources show Sunday with a Bergdahl segment, saying that in the news-about-news arena “it is (the) one obvious lead story.”

But a funny thing happened Monday and Tuesday. The political storm over Bergdahl’s release in exchange for five Taliban detainees and questions over whether he deserted his unit suddenly faded to a middle-of-the-hour topic.

The Bergdahl affair did rally Wednesday with live coverage of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s two-hour appearance before a congressional committee.However, it appears, going forward, that CNN’s coverage will be episodic rather than continuous. Read more

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Pierre Moscovici

Digital disruption is now in full bloom at European, Australian newspapers

Traveling periodically to Europe and Latin America in the 2000s to speak at news business events, I got a consistent impression: international newspapers were better off than ours, but executives could see U.S.-style decline on the horizon within a few years.

Statistics released yesterday by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) suggest that digital disruption is now in full bloom in Europe and Australia. Latin American newspapers are still showing moderate circulation and advertising growth. The picture is mixed in Asia and Africa.

The summary picture now matches the United States fairly exactly:  some growth in combined digital and print audience, digital ad revenues not keeping pace and both print circulation and print advertising declining sharply.

And Larry Kilman, secretary general of the association, sees a familiar implication.  “Unless we crack the revenue issue,” he wrote in a release summarizing the findings,  “and provide sufficient funds so that newspapers can fulfill their societal role, democracy will inevitably be weakened.”

Former French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici reads a newspaper during the EU Finance Ministers meeting, at the European Council building in Brussels in 2013.
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Expansionary Halifax Media looks beyond its Southeast base for next buy

The Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette, long up for sale, reported Thursday that an executive team from Halifax Media Group had been in the building for several days of talks with management — a signal that the company is a likely buyer.

Halifax who? The Florida-based company, barely four years old, now has 35 dailies. With a billionaire backer, Warren Stephens of Arkansas, Halifax is pushing to the front of the line as mid-sized and smaller papers come up for sale. It bought the 16-paper New York Times Regional group for $143 million in December 2011 and 19 Florida and North Carolina dailies and weeklies from Freedom Communications six months later.

Halifax is little-known by design. Except for the occasional letter to readers, CEO Michael Redding typically does not do interviews (and I got no response to an email request that he discuss the company’s growth). But Halifax is exemplary of an acquisition boom in recent years. Read more

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Newspaper industry narrowed revenue loss in 2013 as paywall plans increased

The newspaper industry narrowed its total revenue loss in 2013 to 2.6 percent, the best performance since 2006, according to figures released today by the Newspaper Association of America.

As suggested by earlier year-end reports from public companies, daily and Sunday print advertising revenues were down 8.6 percent and total advertising revenues down 6.5 percent.

However, circulation revenues grew for the second consecutive year, up 3.7 percent in 2013 compared to a 5 percent increase in 2012. That was driven by continued adoption of paywall plans, now at more than 500 of the roughly 1,400 dailies.

Revenue from digital-only subscriptions was up 47 percent, and print + digital bundled subscription revenue grew 108 percent. With many newspapers now offering all print subscribers a free digital access bundle, revenue from print-only subs and single-copy sales was down 20 percent.

Besides the circulation gain, the industry had 2.4 percent growth in digital marketing services offered to local businesses and showed some growth in newer activities like events and conferences. Read more

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Anchorage Daily News homepage _ via Newseum.

Alaska newspaper sale: a second look at money, logic behind purchase

The news out of Anchorage Tuesday afternoon had one of those story lines too good to check — plucky little digital upstart Alaska Dispatch is buying the legacy Anchorage Daily News for $34 million from The McClatchy Co.

Well, yes. But several accounts, including those of The Associated Press and Reuters, neglected to mention that Alaska Dispatch owner Alice Rogoff is married to multi-billionaire David Rubenstein, co-founder of The Carlyle Group private equity firm. The Dispatch, in its thorough takeout on Rogoff, noted that she is wealthy in her own right. Her father was an engineer and businessman who invented a key component of GPS systems and cell phones.

So the financial story is that another rich person has bought another hometown paper.  A little twist was that the Anchorage Daily News was not for sale until Rogoff made her offer. McClatchy shares took a modest bump up the morning after the sale, indicating the stock market is good with this kind of sell-off. Read more

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Technology background, News text in perspective

What went wrong at Digital First Media — and what’s next?

The announced shutdown of Digital First Media’s national newsroom Wednesday and the probable sale of its 75 daily newspapers later this year is a significant jolt to those who believe a viable business model for rapid transformation of legacy operations is close at hand.

CEO John Paton’s explanation in his blog that the company has decided to dismantle Project Thunderdome “to go in a new direction” barely hints at the converging economic troubles.

Most basically, the very able editor Jim Brady (a Poynter National Advisory Board member) and his lieutenants were like a crack auto racing team trying to succeed in a highly competitive field driving Chevy Cobalts.

The two companies that were merged into Digital First, Journal Register and MediaNews, have both been through bankruptcies, Journal Register twice. Both had been under-invested for years in content management systems and other essential technology.

Steve Buttry, who was just months into “Project Unbolt” to hasten the break from print habits to digital, told me the four pilot papers for that project all had different CMSes, none of them especially good. Read more

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Oregonian Digital Shift

Advance defends bonuses for reporters who post frequently and join comment chains

Advance’s quota and bonus system at The Oregonian came in for heavy criticism last week, prompting a rejoinder from the typically close-mouthed private company.

In a note to senior executives shared with Poynter, Advance Local’s President Randy Siegel says that each newsroom “decides how to structure its own bonus program and what qualitative and quantitative criteria will be used.” He adds “every one of our local plans is different and will doubtless evolve over time.”

Siegel also includes recommendations on rewards from “an internal committee of Advance journalists.” It puts quality at the top of the list, and says prolific digital posters should not be considered “exemplary” unless their work rates high on that dimension too.

The Oregonian is in the middle of a switch having reduced print delivery to four days a week and giving higher priority to breaking news on the Oregon Live website. Willamette Week obtained a leaked internal memo establishing targets for daily posts by reporters and asking them to be first commenters on their stories. Read more

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Pew finds embattled newspaper industry still pulls in more than half of all news revenue

Pew’s 11th annual State of the News Media report, out this morning, offers fresh measures of news media revenue and news staffing at digital-only start-ups. Both findings are arresting for those of us in the news-about-news business but also shed light on the well-being of the industry as a whole.

Among the highlights:

  • The Pew research team attempted a revenue estimate for all the branches of the United States news industry it has covered in past reports. The surprising conclusion: Even though newspaper advertising revenue has fallen by half over the last decade, including subscriptions and other revenue, the industry still accounts for $38.6 billion of $63.6 billion in news revenue per year. That is roughly 61 percent of the total.
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