Advance Internet

Jennifer Conlin writes about independent student publication The Michigan Daily, which beat local daily The Ann Arbor News on a major story. Since the News underwent several repositionings in the local market, the Daily has been “the only Monday-through-Friday print publication in town”:

The constant changes have muddled The Ann Arbor News’s identity and, according to some residents, eroded its standing as the go-to source of news in the community. That sense was reinforced by the football article, on which The Ann Arbor News played catch-up after student reporters broke the story.

“I feel The Michigan Daily fills an important niche in Ann Arbor and a need that is unmet by our regional newspapers in an era of constrained resources,” said the student paper’s editor in chief, Peter Shahin, sitting with the two reporters who broke the football scandal story, Adam Rubenfire and Matt Slovin, in the Daily’s conference room. …

“We have 200 to 250 staff, and though we are a trade publication first covering the university, we are also trying to fill a void in other areas here, like the arts,” Mr. Shahin said. “I think we truly have the pulse of the town.”

Jennifer Conlin, The New York Times

A reserved sign and flowers are seen on a table at Holsten's ice cream parlor Thursday, June 20, 2013, in Bloomfield, N.J., with a newspaper announcing the death of actor James Gandolfini. Gandolfini was mourned in the northern New Jersey towns where his TV character Tony Soprano lived, loved and whacked people. The star died Wednesday night in Italy of an apparent heart attack. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Advance laid off more than 300 people in N.J.

The Star-Ledger | The New York Times | The Daily Beast |

Some 306 people lost jobs at Advance’s New Jersey properties Thursday, Mark Mueller and Ted Sherman report in The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger. At the Star-Ledger, 167 staffers, 40 of them from the newsroom, were laid off as Advance tries to reposition its newsgathering operations for digital readership.

“Another 124 full- and part-time jobs were eliminated at the company’s weekly newspapers and at the dailies in Trenton, Easton, and South Jersey,” Mueller and Sherman write. “At, 15 of 77 employees were let go.”

Matt Kraner, the president of NJ Advance Media, the new company that will provide content and other services to the papers, told The New York Times the group “will be adding 27 editorial positions to increase the numbers of reporters and photographers on the street.” The cuts will nevertheless present “a net reduction in editorial staff,” Ravi Somaiya reports.

When asked whether the moves diminished The Star-Ledger, its publisher, Richard Vezza, said in a phone interview: “I don’t look at it that way. I look at it as a transition to an organization for the future.”

NJ Advance Media will be based in Woodbridge, N.J., Mueller and Sherman report. The Star-Ledger will “remain a presence in Newark, though a vastly diminished one”: Read more

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James Gandolfini Reaction New Jersey_AP

Star-Ledger lays off 167

The Star-Ledger

The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger will cut about 25 percent of its newsroom today, Ted Sherman and Mark Mueller report. Of the 167 cuts total at the paper, about 40 will come from the newsroom. is also being hit.

The Advance-owned paper last week announced the creation of a new company called NJ Advance Media. Following the script set at other Advance properties, the new company will publish the Star-Ledger, and other newspapers.

The cuts aren’t necessarily immediate, Sherman and Mueller report:

In packets that were being handed out this morning, those being told their jobs were being eliminated were offered severance packages if they agreed to stay with the newspaper until NJ Advance Media, new media company being formed, is up and running.

Read more

Oregonian goes to smaller print format

The Oregonian

The Oregonian will go from a “broadsheet size to a compact format,” the paper announced Tuesday. The new paper will be “about 15 inches tall by 11 inches wide.” The paper expects to complete its transition to the new format by April 2.

The type size will not change. Local, national and international news will be combined into the main news section. Sports will remain as a stand-alone section, as will Business on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. On Wednesday, Foodday + Living and health news will be combined into a single features section. On Sundays, the features sections also combine into a single A&E, Living and Travel section.

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Study says quality of content is down at


A Tulane University study says the quality of content has declined at since the Times-Picayune decreased print frequency, Dean Starkman writes. The study, on which Starkman consulted, looked at “hard” and “soft” news (including opinion pieces) in the printed paper and online.

While “the 2013 version of the printed Times-Picayune is not terribly different from its predecessor in terms of the type of stories covered,” Starkman writes, the stuff on its digital products “was more likely to be about lighter subjects such as sports and entertainment, as opposed to politics, education, courts and other traditional core newspaper beats.”

Nola Media Group Editor and Vice-President for Content Jim Amoss told Starkman the study’s methodology “doesn’t begin to provide a statistically valid measure of ‘soft’ versus ‘hard’ news” online. The study also found the news organization’s stories are more thinly sourced. Amoss told Starkman stories are often iterative, and an “early, quick dispatch about a trial or a city council meeting will necessarily have fewer sources than its full-fledged version at the end of the day.” Read more


Advance Local president: ‘signs of success are everywhere’

Privately held Advance has been mostly mum on the results of its cutback of print editions in most markets and the relaunch of its newspapers as digital media companies. But in a year-end letter to employees, Advance Local President Randy Siegel partly answers one key questions skeptics like me have been posing:

Most of our new organizations are rapidly increasing their digital revenue and approaching the point where digital ad revenue growth will be larger than print ad revenue declines. This positions us well for the future given the inexorable shift of print advertising dollars to digital. When we started launching our new companies, growing digital ad revenue faster than losing print ad revenue was one of our preeminent goals and we are getting there sooner than expected. A special shout-out to our sales teams in Michigan, New Orleans and Syracuse where 25-30 percent year-over-year digital gains now seem par for the course.

Siegel also confirms that the print-to-digital strategy is coming to its New Jersey, Massachusetts, Staten Island and  Pennsylvania titles in the New Year. Read more


Advance considers consolidating operations in N.J. papers

The Star-Ledger

Advance’s New Jersey papers have some “channel conflict,” (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger Publisher Richard Vezza tells his paper. So while Vezza stresses that Advance is not thinking about the changes it’s implemented in other markets, like reducing print frequency or home-delivery days, he said “the company is looking at everything, from combining sales forces to how to organize its news operations,” Ted Sherman reports.

This fall, Vezza said he would consider shutting down The Star-Ledger if it couldn’t come to an accommodation with its unions. Read more

Newspaper War

A year after daily publication ceased in Alabama and New Orleans, media market is ‘fractured’

B.E. Mintz is attuned to the irony: After the 176-year-old New Orleans Times-Picayune ceased daily publication a year ago this week, “people took the position, ‘I’m so angry that I have to read the newspaper online, that I’m going to go read my news somewhere else online,’” he said.

Mintz is editor and publisher of NOLA Defender, a 3-year-old news and arts website. Not coincidentally, he said, the site’s readership has doubled and its advertising revenue has increased by more than 50 percent since the T-P’s cutbacks were announced.

Besides New Orleans, the communities of Huntsville, Birmingham, and Mobile, Ala., and Pascagoula, Miss., also lost their daily newspapers on Oct 1, 2012, as part of a radical “digital-first” restructuring by Advance Publications, the nation’s second-largest privately held media company. After publishing daily for a combined total of more than 500 years, the papers became primarily digital operations augmented by less frequent print papers. (Since those restructurings, Advance rolled out similar changes at its newspapers in Syracuse, N.Y., Harrisburg, Penn., Cleveland and Portland, Ore.)

The Advocate’s New Orleans edition next to the Times-Picayune on a newsstand in Metairie, La., last September (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

I’m a former reporter with The Times-Picayune and last year became deeply involved in the unsuccessful effort to save the daily newspaper. I subsequently wrote a book, being published this month, about that battle and the dynamics roiling the newspaper industry that provoked those changes.

For this report, I interviewed 17 residents, journalists, businesspeople and academicians living and working in New Orleans and the three Alabama communities.

All but one — a Times-Picayune reporter — said their communities now receive print products with a marked reduction in enterprise and investigative reporting.

“On a day-to-day basis, you can tell a difference in what’s not getting covered,” said Chris Roberts, a former editor and reporter at newspapers in Alabama and South Carolina, who now is a journalism professor at the University of Alabama and wrote a chapter about the Alabama component of Advance’s digital-first initiative for a forthcoming book edited by mass communications faculty at Louisiana State University.

The past year has been “a black hole for news in this city,” says Doug Jones, a Birmingham attorney who rose to national prominence for reopening and successfully prosecuting the infamous 1963 16th Street Church bombing case while serving as U.S. Attorney for the Northern Alabama district.

Jones said he and his wife are contemplating dropping their Birmingham News subscription in favor of the still-daily Tuscaloosa News, based some 60 miles south, which is testing the competitive waters by offering subscriptions in some Birmingham neighborhoods.

“We’ve got some good journalists who still write for, and on occasion, they’ll come up with some great coverage and analysis, but I think they’re probably more frustrated than the readers at what all has transpired,” he added. “All is not completely lost, but it’s getting there, if they don’t watch out.”

“It’s been a rough year on all fronts,” said Times-Picayune environmental reporter Mark Schleifstein, the only person still employed with either Advance or The Times-Picayune’s newly constituted parent company, NOLA Media Group, to speak to me on-the-record for either the book or this report. (As in the past, neither Editor Jim Amoss, who I worked under during my tenure there, nor Publisher Ricky Mathews responded to my requests for interviews.)

“As one of the remaining reporters of what was The Times-Picayune, I can say it’s now a completely different newsroom,” he added. “I think we’re holding our own in terms of our coverage, with some minor slots that need to be filled. In terms of what we hear, we’re holding our own on the circulation front, and we’re more than holding our own on the electronic front. And we’re beating the hell out of the competition.”

Competition was something Advance once rarely worried about – the late S.I. “Sam” Newhouse, the company’s founder, targeted monopoly markets for his newspaper acquisitions and most have remained the top outlets in their communities. But the disastrous way the T-P’s employees, readers and advertisers learned of the changes in May 2012 — courtesy of The New York Times — led to outrage that fueled and emboldened other media outlets.

Since then, New Orleans billionaire John Georges acquired the Baton Rouge-based Advocate and aggressively expanded the New Orleans edition that its previous owners had launched in response to The Times-Picayune’s cutbacks.

Other New Orleans news organizations, like alternative weekly The Gambit, nonprofit investigative and public policy site The Lens, public radio station WWNO and hyperlocal sites Uptown Messenger and Mid-City Messenger report moderately-to-substantially larger audiences since the Picayune went to a reduced print publishing schedule.

“Because the news environment here is in transition and is still sorting itself out, people are willing to look at all kinds and different news sources, and that benefits us,” said WWNO General Manager Paul Maassen.

The communities’ alternative newspapers report significant growth and have either expanded or plan to do so in 2014. “We’ve definitely seen a big uptick in the past two quarters, and I think some of that is attributable to the fact that the daily is gone,” said Rob Holbert, co-publisher and managing editor of Mobile’s biweekly Lagniappe, which plans to go weekly in 2014. “It’s just changed the landscape around here, and the market has really expanded for us. If [the Press-Register] is abandoning the print market, we’re certainly willing to take it.”

The changes in the daily newspapers’ operations have also spawned media alliances. WWL-TV, New Orleans’ dominant station, has partnerships with The Advocate and the Messengers, while WVUE-TV, the region’s Fox affiliate, is allied with, and The Lens with WWNO. In addition, The Lens makes its reports available for free to outlets that publish them with attribution, and its work has appeared in the pages of both The Advocate and The Times-Picayune.

In Birmingham, has an alliance with Alabama Public Radio, while alt-weekly Weld for Birmingham has a distribution partnership with the Tuscaloosa News and content partnerships with the region’s CBS TV affiliate and Birmingham Mountain Radio.

Advance’s experiment came in response to declining subscriber and ad revenues that U.S. newspapers have experienced for at least a decade. The most recent report it filed with industry group Alliance for Audited Media showed the newspaper’s average Sunday print circulation declined 9 percent, to 140,243, year over year. However, combined print and “digital non-replica” circulation – the latter which publisher Mathews told Poynter “represents average unique users of our digital apps” – climbed 13 percent, to 175,097 over the same period.

Combined average Sunday circulation at Advance’s three Alabama newspapers declined about 8 percent during the same period, with then-nascent digital edition circulation having little effect there.

Although The Times-Picayune made a number of new editorial hires, more than half of its old newsroom was laid off in the changes, while a total of more than 600 employees were cut across the three states. Those reductions are reflected in the quality of the news product both online and in print, most of those interviewed said.

“What I’ve seen, at least in this first year, is because of the reduction in resources committed to local reporting, we’ve experienced a dramatic decrease in quality news available to the community,” said Jim Aucoin, professor and chair of the Communications Department at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. “Investigative and enterprise coverage just isn’t there anymore.”

Birmingham lawyer Jones specifically criticized and what he characterized as its generally superficial coverage. “You go online and there are all these teasers, but when you click on them, there are just two or three paragraphs,” he said. “And there’s no decent national coverage. Hell, we can’t even get good coverage of University of Alabama football anymore.”

Readers in highly technologically savvy Huntsville may be less troubled. “I think has responded reasonably well to the increased [digital] demand by providing convenient and free online access to the state’s major newspapers,” said Eletra Gilchrist-Petty, associate professor of Communication Studies at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. “Overall, there do appear to be more strengths than limitations associated with”

Since the change, Amoss has insisted the outlet has a reporting staff comparable in size to before the change. Pew’s State of the Media report for 2013 said the paper laid off 84 of its 171 people in the newsroom, and that “ultimately the staff, including 8 people already working at NOLA, grew back to roughly 150. So the staffing loss was 20 to 30 positions together with some changes in the mix of job status and duties.” Amoss wrote in January that the staff stood at 155, a figure at odds with both my reporting for the book and Ryan Chittum’s reporting in CJR.

In that same piece, Amoss detailed six major investigative and enterprise reports had recently produced, and highlighted its state capital, arts, dining, entertainment, sports and community coverage. “Readers had to accept on faith our assurances that we would maintain the journalistic excellence they have come to expect from us. … Now that we have more than three months under our belt, you have a basis for judging our performance.”

New Advocate owner Georges has launched the country’s most aggressive response to Advance’s changes. He has hired some 30 former Times-Picayune employees since acquiring the newspaper in late April, and recently launched a marketing campaign featuring TV advertising, along with alliances with the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans, and LSU’s sports teams.

“Maybe I win, and maybe I don’t, but I can tell you that I have a very long-term outlook and a very high threshold for pain,” Georges told me in a May interview for the book. But even if he achieves his home subscription circulation goal of 30,000 by year’s end, The Advocate will still have roughly one-quarter of The Times-Picayune’s current average print circulation.

“In terms of reaching the audience I felt it was important for me to stick around for, this is still the place to be,” Schleifstein said about NOLA Media Group and its far higher circulation.

Within a week on either side of Georges’ acquisition of The Advocate, NOLA Media Group launched BR, a free weekly tabloid circulated in Baton Rouge, and a newsstand tabloid available the three weekdays on which The Times-Picayune no longer publishes.

Even among fellow privately held companies, Advance is particularly secretive, so any financial analysis of digital first’s early success is speculative.

Ken Doctor, consumer news industry analyst for global research and advisory firm Outsell, has estimated that Advance has slashed 25 percent of its expenses and retained 90 percent of its advertising revenue. This “means that strategy is working pretty well” from a financial perspective, he told me in a May interview for the book, and affirmed this week.

However, “a year out is probably a little too soon to tell” anything meaningful, said Poynter business analyst Rick Edmonds. “This is not something that was done for an immediate payoff.”

Thus, the big question remains: Will New Orleans’ advertisers migrate online with, and support two newspapers and numerous online and broadcast outlets?

“The immutable fact is that if there wasn’t enough print advertising for one daily newspaper a year ago, that’s even truer today,” Gambit Editor Kevin Allman said. “So now, we have two newspapers competing for the same pot of advertising money and the same diminishing subscriber base. The next big battle will be the ground war for advertisers and subscribers.”

Gambit publisher Margo Dubos observed that The Times-Picayune has so far held on to the lucrative preprint advertising supplements. But interviews I conducted for the book showed that the reduction of print editions has prompted at least four major advertisers to significantly reduce overall advertising spending with NOLA Media Group, or to stop advertising in the company’s products altogether.

“The actions they have taken over the past months are driving us away from their print publication,” Rick Haase, president of New Orleans-headquartered Latter & Blum, Inc., the largest real estate agency in the Gulf South and The Times-Picayune’s largest advertiser in the real estate category, told me for the book.

“We have always supported local businesses and will continue to do so, but if [NOLA Media Group] thought cutting its number of print editions was going to drive our print spend into the digital space, they made a serious error. We think they are really hurting themselves.”

Executives with three other formerly major advertisers offered similar assessments.

But if local advertisers embrace digital advertising, another irony may arise.

NOLA Media Group “legitimized online news overnight,” said Robert Morris, founder of the Messengers, which he said have doubled both unique visitors and ad revenues since The Times-Picayune announcement in the spring of 2012. “They had a monopoly on print newspapers, and then all of the sudden, directly because of the action they took, we now have two newspapers in the city.

“The market was impenetrable, but now it’s completely and utterly fractured.”

Rebecca Theim grew up in Huntsville and was a Times-Picayune reporter from 1988-94. Her book, Hell and High Water: The Battle to Save the Daily New Orleans Times-Picayune, published by Pelican Publishing Co., will be in bookstores later this month. Read more


Plain Dealer plans special print section to explain shift to digital

Crain’s Cleveland Business | Associated Press | CJR | CJR | Cleveland Magazine | Cleveland Leader | Creators Syndicate |

The Plain Dealer, which laid off about 50 employees Wednesday, “plans a six-page special section in Sunday’s paper to further explain the changes ahead,” Jay Miller reports.

The laid-off employees “are eligible to apply for jobs at the Northeast Ohio Media Group, a new company that will produce digital content for,” Miller reports.

The paper’s guild expects “about 110 guild-covered employees to remain in the newsroom following the layoffs,” the Associated Press reports.

But in CJR, Dean Starkman writes that Publisher Terry Eggers “sent an answer that was non-responsive” when asked how many positions would remain. Read more

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Stack of newspapers

Plain Dealer ‘eliminated the jobs of approximately 50 journalists’

Save The Plain Dealer

The Plain Dealer’s promised layoffs took place Wednesday morning. About 50 people lost their jobs, one report says.

“Many of those let go will be familiar names to readers – reporters, columnists, photographers and artists whose bylines have accompanied some of the paper’s finest content, and whose expertise touches virtually every subject the paper covers, from transportation and investigative reporting to education and sports coverage,” a post on the Save The Plain Dealer Facebook page says. “Many others, though less well-known publicly, have been every bit as essential to the quality of The Plain Dealer. They are editors, page designers and others whose skills have ensured a high-quality daily newspaper.”

You can buy them a drink:

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