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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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Thursday, June 19, 2014

innovators-delemma copy

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.… Read more

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

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.… Read more

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Monday, June 09, 2014

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. … Read more

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Monday, Apr. 21, 2014

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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).… Read more

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Monday, Apr. 14, 2014

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.… Read more

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Monday, Mar. 24, 2014

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At Newspaper Association of America conference, content — and passion — make a surprise appearance

I went to last week’s NAA mediaXchange conference in Denver anticipating I would hear plenty of talk of big data, native advertising, mobile apps and social media. And I did. A less expected discovery: the concept of focusing coverage in a given paper’s print editions and website on a handful of “passion topics” particular to that community is picking up steam.

Make no mistake. Advertising sales and revenue are still the main event when 1,000 business side execs and vendors gather. But having attended many an NAA or investors conference where news and journalism made only a cameo appearance, I am heartened to see distinctive content given its due as a strategic investment in the industry’s future.… Read more

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Monday, Mar. 17, 2014

Young woman in office working on desktop

Time to ditch uniques and page views for engagement in measuring digital audiences

When Nieman Lab’s Josh Benton asked me in December for a New Year’s prediction, I leaned toward the bombastic and led my wish list for 2014 as follows:

Ditch uniques and develop a better metric. Then-Newspaper Association of America president Mark Contreras was right when he made this case four years ago. It still hasn’t happened. One- or two-time visitors are not a business opportunity — they are an accident.

So we are two-and-a-half months into the year, and I am sorry to report that uniques and its evil twin, page views, are still with us — offered as the basic yardstick for digital audience for both individual sites and whole industries.

But I took cheer last week when three separate sources made the case that attention and engagement matter more.… Read more

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Friday, Mar. 07, 2014

A USA Today newspaper box is shown in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

USA Today’s two-year strategic overhaul gains traction

(This case study, the fourth in an occasional series, was underwritten by a grant from the Stibo Foundation.)

USA Today has probably changed more in the last two years than in its previous 30.

Always a circulation-driven enterprise, the paper now has a radically different audience strategy, substituting mobile app traffic for the rapidly falling readership of its legacy print edition and folding a new condensed USA Today section into the largest 35 of Gannett’s 81 community newspapers.

Publisher Larry Kramer and his hand-picked editor, David Callaway, brought several decades of digital experience to the formidable task of finally breaking away from a print-first culture in the USA Today newsroom.

That these things happened has been reported by the company in recent presentations to investors, in two stories by the Wrap’s Sharon Waxman and in a nice summary piece this week by David Cay Johnston at CJR.com.… Read more

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Monday, Mar. 03, 2014

Marc Andreessen (AP photo)

What Marc Andreessen got right and got wrong in his future of news manifesto

When the history of journalism’s turnaround is written some years hence, I think 2013 and 2014 will go down as years when Internet billionaires, the new Carnegies and Rockefellers, stepped into the fray in a big way — Jeff Bezos, Pierre Omidyar (and let’s not forget more traditional rich guys John Henry and Warren Buffett).

Now comes Marc Andreessen, Netscape founder and venture capitalist, with a take on the future of the business that is wildly optimistic, dare we say, irrationally exuberant.

His essay last week on where news is headed, well summarized in a Wired piece and readable itself, projects exponential growth in market demand. Andreessen sees solid Internet businesses with strong financial backing coming into their own even as legacy platforms continue to falter.… Read more

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