Biz Blog: Rick Edmonds analyzes the latest media business developments.

Jill Abramson

Jill Abramson startup to advance writers up to $100k for longform work

Former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson shed light this weekend on her plans with Steven Brill to grow a start up.

Writers will be paid advances around $100,000 to produce stories that will be longer than long magazine articles but shorter than books, she said. There will be “one perfect whale of a story” each month and it will be available by subscription.

She discussed her plans during an hour-long keynote interview at Journalism & Women Symposium’s annual Conference and Mentoring Project. She declined to name any funders. She and Brill haven’t settled on a name yet.

She first talked about this venture two weeks ago during a WBUR event with David Carr. Brill is an award-winning long-form journalist who created Court TV, and is most recently known for his 26,000 word investigation on health care billing that became the longest piece by a single author ever run by Time Magazine. Read more

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Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014

Changes ahead daily newspaper headline

Why the newspaper industry is leaving six-month circulation reports behind

For several years now, the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) has been reporting more and more detail on print and digital audience numbers for individual newspaper organizations while saying less and less about the industry as a whole.

That progression reaches its conclusion today with AAM’s final six-month report, to be supplanted by required quarterly updates and monthly digital numbers too if a company chooses.

Related: USA Today, WSJ, NYT top U.S. newspapers by circulation

The current six-month reporting format, now called Snapshot and previously FAS-FAX, has been in place since 1968, AAM spokeswoman Rachael Battista told me.  But audited newspapers have been compiling six-month averages, she added, since the organization (formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations) was formed in 1914.

The changes aim for greater timeliness, AAM executive vice president Neal Lulofs said in a phone interview, and need regular adjustment as organizations explore varied and more complex audience strategies. Read more

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Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

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The politics of reforming digital audience metrics — don’t underestimate the status quo

Long-time critics of imprecise unique visitor and page view metrics like me have had reason to cheer in recent months.

Both the Financial Times and Economist have started to offer advertisers the alternative of rates based on time spent rather than raw traffic numbers.

Chartbeat corrected a major flaw in existing measures of time spent, then got its system “accredited” by the influential Media Ratings Council. And Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile has been an effective evangelist in interviews and speeches for a more sophisticated way of looking at the attention of digital audiences.

That’s real progress. But plowing through dozens of articles and interviewing a few key sources, I have concluded that it is way early to declare victory and a new day dawning in digital measurement.

Oddly, although we like to think of the digital world as fast-moving and progressive, there is an established status quo for counting digital audiences backed by powerful vested interests who remain mostly happy with the unholy triad of uniques, page views and clickthroughs. Read more

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Monday, Oct. 13, 2014

As newspaper renewal scam widens, NYT offers affected subscribers a refund

Sunday subscribers to the New York Times found something unusual tucked among the sections October 12 — a legalistic form offering a refund if they had paid an inflated renewal price to an unauthorized third-party.

That marked two bits of news in the developing story of a scam that has now been noted by dozens of newspapers over the last month. It was the first indication that the New York Times was among the targets. And it appears to be the first time a publication has offered refunds rather than just a warning.

Caroline Little, president of the Newspaper Association of America, said that the organization is investigating but “hasn’t gotten to the point yet” of recommending a remedy.

This kind of solicitation, long a staple in magazine subscription sales, comes in the form of an apparent billing notice from Customer Billing Service or various other trade names. It states the payment can be used either for a renewal or a new subscription. Read more

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Monday, Aug. 11, 2014

Newspaper vendor

Death of newspapers announced prematurely (yet again)

I woke up thinking today was much like any other on the news-about-news beat, that is until I learned from David Carr and the New York Times that “Print is Down, and Now Out.”

Really? Let me beg to differ.

For starters, Carr is, as the country song goes, looking for love in all the wrong places if he wants validation from Wall Street. The financial prospects of newspaper organizations are not comparable right now to those of local broadcast or growing digital classified brands.

So investors are performing their role and corporate execs responding logically with the wave of spinoffs completed last week with Gannett’s announcement it will split its community newspaper division and USA Today into a new company early next year. We shouldn’t look to the money guys for a ringing vote of confidence in the public service mission and democratic role of print journalism.

Carr equates the spinoff to being “kicked to the curb.” Kindred spirits like Michael Wolff are also pretty sure life as an independent company is a way station to print’s doom — and sooner rather than later. Read more

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

New York Times Sales

NYT’s new digital apps and subscriptions are off to a bumpy start

On the surface, the New York Times Co. had a very positive headline number as part of its second quarter earnings report today — a 32,000 digital circulation increase, driven by three newly introduced digital services.

But in a subsequent conference call with analysts, executives were quick to concede that the launch of NYT Now, NYT Opinion and Times Premier has been anything but smooth.

Several months in, the Times is still trying to get offers, terms and audience targeting right, especially with the NYT Now app aimed at smartphone users, said Denise Warren, who directs digital products for the company. As result, the company fell short of its initial goals for new subscribers and revenues. NYT Opinion is also a smartphone app with a separate subscription tier.

Times Premier offers extra helpings of content, seemingly aimed at upselling to existing subscribers. It includes several features — including Times Insider reports on stories behind the journalism — that have been marketing separately.  Read more

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newspapersfeatured

Newspaper industry lost another 1,300 full-time editorial professionals in 2013

The American Society of News Editors annual newsroom census, released today, found a net loss of another 1,300 full-time professionals last year.

That was better than the 2,600 net job loss in 2012 but brings total newsroom employment at newspaper organizations to roughly 36,700, a decline of 3.2 percent from the 38,000 counted in last year’s census.

Newsroom employment has fallen 33 percent from a pre-recession peak of 55,000 in 2006 and is down 35 percent from its all-time high of 56,900 in 1989.

Asked for reaction to the 2013 census total, ASNE president David Boardman, dean of the Temple University School of Media and Communications,  told me by phone, “Well, here we go again….Obviously we should all continue to be concerned about the losses.”

The census has been conducted since 1978 to measure progress in newsroom diversity.  On that front, the news was better, with a small gain of 200 minority employees last year. Read more

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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Rupert Murdoch

News Corp. rumored to be putting together a new bid for Tribune newspapers

Rumor has it that News Corp — with a $2.5 billion cash kitty for acquisitions — may be mounting a new bid for the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the six other Tribune newspapers.

Rupert Murdoch and his company were first reported interested in the acquisition (in a story in the L.A. Times and elsewhere) when the papers were being shopped in late 2012 and early 2013.

No deal was struck, and last July Tribune announced that it would instead spin off the papers into a new publicly-traded company, Tribune Publishing. Tribune Publishing has recently hired a CEO and other staff, and the split is now scheduled to happen as soon as Aug. 4, but at least within the next several months.

I would not typically report a publishing rumor. This one could prove dead wrong. But a confidential tip that started this inquiry was more substantive than gossip on the street.  Read more

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Thursday, July 03, 2014

usatoday-small

Case Study: Gannett’s monumental task — A content management system for all

(This case study, the fifth in an occasional series, was underwritten by a grant from the Stibo-Foundation.) Note: CCI Europe is a subsidiary of Stibo, whose foundation made a grant for this series. The funder had no editorial input on the study.

In 2011, Gannett Co. owned more than a hundred newspapers and television stations – each with its own website. To publish its online material, the company was supporting about a half dozen content management systems.

Journalists in most of the company’s broadcast newsrooms wrote and published their digital stories through a homegrown CMS called Newsmaker, while almost all of Gannett’s newspaper websites were powered with Saxotech. But the Arizona Republic had its own system known as Enigma, and the Des Moines Register posted some of its content through WordPress.

Meanwhile, Gannett’s flagship publication, USA Today, maintained its site with a proprietary system it simply called “CMS.”

The assortment of software left Gannett no easy way to share web content among its properties, and some systems lacked basic functions such as the ability to embed hyperlinks or multimedia into articles. 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.

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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