New Orleans Times-Picayune


Advance claims digital ad growth will outpace print declines in 2015

Advance Publications’ much debated five-year-old strategy of discontinuing some days of daily print editions to devote added resources to digital is poised to achieve a critical crossover point in 2015: digital advertising gains will exceed print newspaper ad losses, the company claims.

In a bi-annual letter to employees today, Advance Local President Randy Siegel, writes:

Our local sales and marketing teams have leveraged their entrepreneurial abilities and expansive digital knowledge to prove they can grow digital ad revenue faster than we’re losing print ad revenue.  In 2015, our local leadership teams plan to generate higher total ad revenue in every one of our markets, reversing a longstanding trend of decline.

I asked Siegel by e-mail whether he was including national advertising in that calculation, and he said yes.  That would make for an even more noteworthy achievement since regional newspapers have typically been suffering deep losses in print national, in the range of 15 to 20 percent for the last several years.

The better digital sales and 2015 prospects mirror digital audience growth, said Siegel.  The Advance Local sites have averaged 55 percent traffic gains year-to-year as measured by comScore, he wrote. Two of the more recent conversions to the company’s digital emphasis — and (Staten Island) — more than doubled their audiences year-to-year in November, he added.

Since Advance is privately-held by the Newhouse family, it does not disclose revenue and earnings figures in dollars, as is required of publicly-traded counterparts like Gannett or The New York Times Co.  Generally the industry has been reporting progress year-to-year in plugging print ad shortfalls with digital ad growth, higher circulation revenues and other revenue streams like digital marketing services or events.

However based on results through three quarters, 2014 is expected to show total revenue at most companies and the entire industry down again — a significant negative to investors even at companies with a strong story of operating profit margins and innovation.

Other newspaper/digital companies may also be able to achieve revenue growth in 2015, though to my knowledge, Advance is first to make that promise.

There’s an important qualifier.  Siegel’s letter makes no mention of circulation revenue.  Advance’s main websites are all free — hence no digital subscriptions or print + digital revenue gains.

And with the lesser frequency of publication (or in some markets cuts in home delivery days), Advance doesn’t have the same leverage for print or bundled subscription price increases as most of the rest of the industry.  So it did not benefit from the successive 5 percent industry increases in circulation revenue recorded in 2012 and 2013 (2014 totals are not yet available).

On the other hand, Advance has been clear about its strategic goals since it began revamping and emphasizing websites while reducing print at Ann Arbor and other Michigan properties in 2009.  The bet was that digital ad revenues could grow from a small base, and that print declines were irreversible.

Advance has been proven right on both points.  And in theory, it now has leaner operations well-positioned for growth into the future. More expense cuts are coming, Siegel’s letter says:

It’s clear we’re on the right path to building sustainable, thriving media organizations. But this journey will take a little longer and be a little harder than we originally anticipated, which is why we continue to need to recalibrate our expenses

Read the full Siegel letter

The Advance way provoked a wave of protests from journalists and local readers when It cut frequency of the New Orleans Times Picayune and made its lead news product.  The Advocate, based in Baton-Rouge has launched a daily New Orleans edition, and an old-fashioned  newspaper war is in progress — with fresh shots being fired as the New Year begins.

The changes have now been introduced in all of Advance’s 25 markets.  None drew the same level of resistance as in New Orleans, but journalists and some citizens in Cleveland and Portland have complained of mass dismissals of print veterans with a few hired back and others replaced by younger staffers on the expanded websites. and the others Advance sites post frequent news updates in a blog-like format through the day, rarely holding stories for the print paper.

Few companies have followed Advance’s lead to date, but many industry analysts think print frequency cutbacks may be coming, especially if the strategy is a demonstrable financial success Read more


Times-Picayune will close New Orleans print facility, print in Alabama

The Times-Picayune

The Times-Picayune will close its New Orleans print facility and print in Alabama, it announced Tuesday. About 100 production jobs will be lost, but none from the newsroom, the Advance-owned paper says.

Ray Massett, the general manager of Advance Central Services Louisiana, says Advance Central Services Alabama will print the Picayune in Mobile, Alabama. The move “will reduce print-related costs, improve efficiencies and allow for greater use of color in the pages of The Times-Picayune,” the report says.

ACS Alabama handles printing and packaging for The Times-Picayune’s sister paper, The Press-Register. Massett added that printing remotely is commonplace at many newspapers that formerly housed their presses near their newsrooms.

Masset also said the building housing the current print facilities “may be donated to a nonprofit institution in the community.” Read more

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Medical Marijuana Ads

NYT runs a pot ad

mediawiremorningGood morning. Here are 10 media stories.

  1. NYT runs a pot ad: Sunday’s paper had a full page ad on page 19 of the A-section from Leafly, which connects marijuana users to dispensaries and reviews weed strains. After the paper’s editorial board endorsed legalizing pot, “it just seemed like the right time,” a brand manager at the company that backs Leafly told Lucia Moses (Digiday) | “We accept ads for products and services that are legal and if the ad has met our acceptability standards,” Times spokesperson Linda Zebian says. (WSJ)
  2. Tribune Publishing is on its own as of tomorrow: “For now, plans to sell the Tribune newspapers, once widely reported, are off the table,” Christine Haughney reports. (NYT) | Expect a replacement for L.A. Times Publisher Eddy Hartenstein “to be named within weeks.” He’s Tribune Publishing’s Non-executive Chairman of the Board now. (LAT)
  3. A bright spot in a rough summer for Canadian journalists? Maybe all the recent layoffs mean big publishers in the True North finally have a plan. (Craig Silverman)
  4. Why did ESPN move “Outside the Lines” to ESPN2? The show’s ratings plunge when it shifts, “a curious move for a show that ESPN pitches heavy when it wants to sell its journalistic imprint,” Richard Deitsch writes. ESPN exec Norby Williamson tells Deitsch you gotta look at ratings for everything overall. (SI) | OTL’s piece on how Jim Kelly is dealing with cancer. (ESPN)
  5. Why Glenn Greenwald made his own pie charts: David Carr “mentioned that he now works for a digital news site that has a $250 million endowment from Mr. Omidyar and some very talented data journalists and graphic artists.” Greenwald: “Yeah, I know, but I would have had to wait and I didn’t want to wait.” (NYT)
  6. Music journalists for sale: A business called Fluence lets you pay journalists to listen to your music. (The Fader) | Related: Ally Schweitzer on hip-hop artists paying bloggers. (WAMU)
  7. The Boston Globe plans buyouts: They’re “not meant as a cost-cutting exercise in the newsroom,” Globe Editor Brian McGrory tells the newsroom. (Poynter)
  8. The Marshall Project publishes first story: Maurice Possley‘s story about a Texas execution runs in partnership with The Washington Post. (The Marshall Project, The Washington Post) | “Please note – we’re still a work in progress. We plan to launch in full this fall,” MP EIC Bill Keller writes in a release. | More new news: Next Media Animation will set up staff in 10 U.S. cities. (CJR)
  9. Times-Picayune tweaks home-delivery schedule: During football season, if you subscribe to Sunday, Wednesday and Friday delivery, you’ll get “bonus papers” on Saturday and Monday. Tuesdays and Thursdays the Picayune will be newsstand-only, but those editions will be broadsheet, not tabloid. Nola Media Group’s James O’Byrne throws shade at competitor The Advocate in the comments. ( | Advocate Editor Peter Kovacs: “We don’t need 500 words to explain New Orleans Advocate home delivery schedule. Two words are sufficient: Seven Days.” (@PKovacs7)
  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin: Tom Johnson will be executive editor for the new politics vertical from Bloomberg News. Johnson was senior broadcast producer of “World News With Diane Sawyer”. Patrick King will be senior producer of the vertical. Formerly, he was a segment producer with “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” (Bloomberg) | Alex Postman has been named deputy editor for Self. Formerly, she was executive editor at Rodale Books. Maureen Dempsey will be site director for Self. Previously, she was executive digital editor at Martha Stewart Weddings ( | Job of the day: The Portland Mercury is looking for an arts editor. Get your résumés in! (The Portland Mercury) | Send Ben your job moves:

Suggestions? Corrections? Would like me to send you this roundup each morning? Please email me: Read more


Nate Silver: Pulitzer-winning newspapers aren’t immune to circulation losses


A newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize count has very little effect on its circulation losses, Nate Silver found after a spin through some data:

Does that mean that newspapers might as well forget about quality as an economic strategy? That’s not what this data says. There is a relationship between Pulitzer Prizes and circulation (the correlation is .53 among the 50 newspapers listed here). It’s just that this relationship hasn’t changed much from 10 years ago. The vast majority of newspapers have seen their circulations decline; the ones that win a lot of Pulitzers have suffered about as much as the ones that don’t. You could spin this result as a negative for high-quality journalism — newspapers that win Pulitzers are doing no better at retaining their readers — or as a positive — almost all newspapers are struggling, but the ones that win Pulitzers continue to have more readers.

Silver looked at daily circulation figures, which led to some strangeness: The Times-Picayune dropped 100 percent by his count, for example, because it no longer publishes daily.

Increasingly, though, it’s nearly impossible to wrest any meaning from the circulation figures publishers report to the Alliance for Audited Media. The data are, as Silver might say, very, very noisy.

Some papers count average daily circulation as Monday through Friday. Some do Monday through Saturday. Others, like the Times-Picayune, break out circulation data by individual day. At any rate, Sunday is “by far the most valuable audience for advertisers,” Rick Edmonds wrote in 2012.

Here’s what I wrote last October about circulation in Louisiana in September 2013: Read more


Judge acknowledges racist, sexist Web comments, withdraws from race

Arkansas Times | Blue Hog Report

Judge Mike Maggio withdrew from a race for the Arkansas Court of Appeals after acknowledging he’d posted sexist, racist and homophobic comments on a website, Max Brantley reported Wednesday.

Maggio posted under the name “geauxjudge” on a message board called, sharing musings on topics like “rodeo sex,” someone who was “black by injection” and “Why do two men get their weiners cut off to them date each other.”

Matt Campbell compiled a dossier of Maggio’s postings, triangulating personal information he mentioned in his comments with facts about Maggio. In his statement acknowledging the postings, Maggio decried “the politics of personal destruction.” 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

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


Long Beach Register, New Orleans Advocate debut

The Long Beach (Calif.) Register debuted Monday. “We’re not going to let a competitor come into our city and take it,” Los Angeles News Group’s Michael A. Anastasi told the Associated Press. His company produces the (Long Beach) Press-Telegram.

In other newspaper war news, The (Baton Rouge) Advocate launched its redesigned New Orleans edition Sunday. It will compete with The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, which does not publish a traditional home-delivered edition on Monday but does produce a “street” edition. To the front pages!

Courtesy the Newseum
Read more

Play about ‘corporate dismantlement’ of a newspaper to open in New Orleans

NOLA Project

Jim Fitzmorris’ play “A Truckload of Ink” will open next month in New Orleans. The play is “about the sudden upheaval at the city’s most established newspaper,” the company says. The production “vividly brings to life the human relationships, history, politics, back-room deals, and righteous fight to save a cultural institution from an out-of-state corporate dismantlement.”

Any ideas which newspaper Fitzmorris is thinking of?


Last year, former New York Times news assistant Gabe McKinley’s play about Jayson Blair, “CQ/CX,” opened off-broadway. The play received mixed reviews, but McKinley told The New York Observer “The entire masthead has seen the play, past and present.” Read more


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