Advance Publications

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

1 Comment
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 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. 

That prompted critical coverage from The New York Tmes’ David Carr and others, summarized well by Nieman Lab’s Mark Coddington (second item). A number of commentators including Poynter’s Sam Kirkland noted that even hot digital-native sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy do not offer incentives rewarding journalists for traffic or number of posts.

Siegel’s note underlines a bit of a paradox in Advance’s operation. The digital emphasis is a top-down initiative that has been phased in the last five years at most of the company’s 33 papers. But tradition at the company had been to let individual properties operate in a very decentralized way with infrequent visits from corporate bosses and only an informal budget.

The Advance pattern of reorganizing as a digital company and dismissing some senior print journalists in favor of new hires for the digital sites came last week to The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger. Unlike most properties that have made the shift, Newark will have no reduction in print frequency or home delivery for now.

While almost no other companies have made as drastic a print-to-digital shift, Advance has argued that scaling up digital and reorienting newsrooms to primarily focus on generating content for the digital sites is necessary. Siegel’s note says moves to accelerate digital growth are necessary “to offset the inexorable decline of our newspaper circulation and ad revenue.”

The full text of the note follows: 

The Oregonian Media Group in Portland, one of eleven Advance Local digitally focused news and information companies, received a lot of attention recently for a document its editors used to describe a new year-end bonus program that rewards journalists who do good work and engage with readers in meaningful ways.

Since the Oregonian program has stirred up some debate, here is some additional context:

Each Advance Local newsroom decides how to structure its own bonus program and what qualitative and quantitative criteria will be used. There is no corporate plan and every one of our local plans is different and will undoubtedly evolve over time.

Several months ago, an internal committee of Advance journalists put together these thought-starters on how to reward individuals who are excellent performers:

• QUALITY: Quality is an embedded, core competency. Quality is bedrock. As content staff adopts new forms of engagement and storytelling, a focus on quality should guide all work, whether it is live reporting on breaking news, smart aggregation of social media activity or longer-term enterprise projects. Quality is baked into the objectives, so simply hitting a number will not be considered exemplary performance.
• PRODUCTIVITY: How often does the employee post? And how often should that employee be posting? Those two questions begin a process of determining a productivity goal. A couple important points to consider:
» “Post” does not mean traditional inverted pyramid story. A post can be a video, an aggregation of links on a beat, etc.
» Consider how to set posting goals. The recommendation is to assign posting totals that relate to the expected productivity for a beat. They need a different posting goal. Peer groups and like beats – public safety, Tier 1 sports, entertainment, etc. – need goals appropriate for that group. Some will likely be higher than others.
• ENGAGEMENT: Engagement refers to the interaction an employee has with the public. For reporters, this can be how many comments they contribute, it can be how many comments their stories generate, or it can be how many times they participated in a public event. It might include social media activity. The key here is an audience focus: Listening and responding to what the audience wants leads to a more relevant report.

IS THIS ONLY ABOUT THE NUMBERS? Absolutely not. The primary goal always will be quality and impact in our journalism, and that is a topic built into competencies and objectives. At the same time, our ability to grow audience and engagement is directly related to our success as a business, and we need to build a culture that embraces growth and accountability.
We are fortunate that our newsrooms have the largest and most accomplished staffs in each of the communities we serve. Thanks to their commitment to quality journalism, five of the top 10 newspaper-affiliated websites in the U.S. for local market penetration are Advance Local websites, according to the latest Scarborough research. And our combined sites, which now reach 33 million readers each month, currently rank #8 nationally in comScore’s General News category, which includes sites such as Yahoo News, CNN and NBC.
As we scale our digital operations and accelerate our digital growth to offset the inexorable declines in our newspaper circulation and ad revenue, we will continue to hire more journalists and expand our news-gathering capabilities, including significant investments in the mobile and video platforms we need to succeed.  And our newsrooms will continue to measure their successes in a multitude of ways while rewarding the many talented individuals who are doing outstanding work and engaging more than ever with our rapidly growing audiences.

Longtime Oregonian editor Peter Bhatia announced earlier this month he is leaving for a teaching job at Arizona State University.

At a number of Advance papers including The Oregonian, the emphasis on digital has been accompanied by moving most of the newsroom to new, generic office space. That is meant to jolt reporters and editors from a print-first mentality that might persist in the cozy and familiar old quarters.

Whether the moves are working for readers or as a business remains an open question. On the one hand, the sites ( is a good example) post breaking local news much more frequently and have seen audience growth and a younger demographic.

But for readers who prefer their local news report in print – still more than half according to a recent Newspaper Association of America analysis -- they have lesser frequency or convenience and may be pushed to the alternative of a digital replica edition online.

Growth of digital advertising generally has been disappointing for newspaper sites the last several years, with average rates continuing to fall.  Advance has not been specific about how digital ad gains compare with print revenue losses. There is no digital audience revenue because the sites remain free.

That may not be a huge issue. The real test will be whether Advance’s early swing to digital leaves the company’s sites and papers better positioned and more profitable several years hence.

Correction: The Oregonian’s print delivery is provided four days a week. An earlier version of this story included a different number. 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.

Read more

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


Forbes: Newhouses’ fortune increases

Advance Publications owners Donald and Samuel “Si” Newhouse added to their fortunes last year, Forbes reports in its annual list of America’s richest people. Forbes estimates Donald Newhouse’s net worth as $8.2 billion. It was $6.6 billion in the previous year’s list.

Si Newhouse placed a little higher, with a net worth of $8.9 billion. It placed him at $7.4 billion last year. Donald is the nation’s 52nd richest person, Forbes says (he was 51 last year) and Si is No. 46, the same spot he had the year before.

Other media types on the list: Read more


Get the latest media news delivered to your inbox.

Select the newsletter(s) you'd like to receive:
Page 1 of 512345