July 21, 2017

As expected, McClatchy today reported some encouraging gains in several of its digital businesses but a big second quarter loss – $37.4 million on revenues of $225 million.

The report also included an ominous forecast with implications for the rest of the industry – deep print advertising losses are not expected to ease in the second half of this year.

For McClatchy in the quarter, print advertising was off 15.6 percent compared the same period in 2016. That was helped by including results of a stable direct marketing business, which constitutes nearly a third of the total.

Major print categories were down by a bigger percentage – retail (-22 percent), national (-31 percent) and classified (-14.5 percent). McClatchy is the first of the publicly traded news companies to report, so I would look for more of the same as others deliver their quarterly results in coming weeks.

The big loss was attributable to a non-cash “impairment charge” of $46 million, marking down McClatchy’s stake in the industry’s digital job site CareerBuilder. It also incurred $20 million in interest expense on its debt for the quarter.

CEO Craig Forman described CareerBuilder as “a wonderful internet 1.0 investment” that, after a decade has run its course. McClatchy and co-investors, TEGNA and Tribune Media, sold most of their stake to an investment group in June.

Forman said that the company will drop CareerBuilder as a partner in selling employment ads.

“This frees us up dramatically to explore new ways to maximize employment revenues,” he said in a conference call with analysts.

A month ago, Forman and Vice President News Tim Grieve described in lengthy interviews with me the company’s ambitious plans for digital reinvention in its 31 newsrooms. The initiative is yielding strong digital audience growth at pilot sites, Grieve said, but bringing it to all properties will extend into the early part of 2018.

With parallel business side digital improvements in motion, Forman told me then (and repeated in today’s call), meaningful financial improvement will take at least several more quarters.

McClatchy stock has been slumping badly for some time, even after Forman replaced Pat Talamantes as CEO in January, promising to pick up the pace of digital transformation. In just the last month it declined more than 15 percent.

Shares in early afternoon were trading at $8.38, down 3.3 percent for the day.

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Rick Edmonds is media business analyst for the Poynter Institute where he has done research and writing for the last fifteen years. His commentary on…
Rick Edmonds

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