Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Black Wednesday in Tribune Land

Axe Swinging Hard at The Hartford Courant and The Baltimore Sun. Thanks a Lot, Sam Zell

All Tribune newspapers have already been trimming, slicing, dicing and disemboweling their staff count to help Sam Zell with his crushing debt, and confront the perfect storm of declining advertising and diminished circulation.
But the cuts announced today by The Hartford Courant and The Sun in Baltimore are truly scary, especially if they presage similar cuts at Tribune's larger properties.
The Courant is slashing its weekly news page count by about 25 percent, and cutting 60 people from an already-emaciated news staff.
Which makes the spin in the memo from editor Cliff Teutsch all the more empty:

Those who remain will still be by far the largest news staff in Connecticut, and comparable in size to many papers of our circulation volume across the country. We will continue to be - we must continue to be -- a journalistic force. Our readers deserve that. That has been true for 243 years, and never more so than now.

Teutsch is right, readers do deserve that. What he doesn't reveal is how the Courant will remain a "journalistic force" with a shrunken news hole and a staff to match.
I think we all know how this will eventually turn out.
In Baltimore, publisher Tim Ryan is toeing a similar party line:

We are, by far, Baltimore’s media leader, and through ongoing innovation to introduce new and exciting media for our marketplace, we will maintain our competitive position.

You so want to believe them because you want the Courant, the Sun and every other newspaper beset by ownership that wants to kill the newspaper in order to save it to succeed and do the kind of work their employees bust their butts to be proud of and serve readers well.
But in Zell, Tribune has an owner who is in way over his head and will demand more from his newspapers, which for readers will inevitably mean less.
And no self-serving memo is going to do a damn thing to change that.

Orange County Register Embarrassed By Its Outsourcing to India

Sending Some of Its Copy Editing Overseas Apparently Too Much for City Desk to Bear

Like many of its California cousins, The Orange County Register is rapidly becoming a shell of its former self.
Latest evidence on exhibit for your disapproval is word that it'll outsource some copy editing and design work to an Indian firm for a community newspaper owned by the Register as well as for the flagship paper.
It's said to be a month-long trial run. But you know management would desperately love for it to become a permanent gig, ostensibly so they can expand the program pronto.
And at a paper that's had three rounds of layoffs this year alone, calling the outsourcing an experiment is hardly cause for comfort.
Maybe the newsroom has been decimated. Maybe the sense of irony was too overwhelming. Either way, the Register posted an AP story on its Web site, rather than commission a staff-written piece.
That alone tells you a lot more than you need to know.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Time for Newspapers to Prepare for the Inevitable

With Publishers Out of Good Ideas, Maybe It's Time to Kiss The Saturday Paper Goodbye

We all know the newspaper business is bad, but The New York Times today gives us the macro view of just how bad.
Dismal as in ad revenues off about 12 percent this year from 2007's lousy numbers, which themselves were justifiable causes for depression in publishers' suites. And the numbers for May may be off as much as 15 percent.
Meanwhile, it will get harder to make the argument that newspapers are still making money, only less than they used to. The San Francisco Chronicle has long wished it could say that. But the Times reports it's losing about $1 million a week, even though the paper is being put out by a near-skeletal staff that's already made big sacrifices in pay and benefits.
So, where do we go from here? Bankruptcy and defaults are certainly a possibility at some companies. But will they instead go for the nuclear option, and jettison some papers instead?
It's hard to fathom San Francisco being without a major daily paper. But Hearst is not a charity and didn't become a media behemoth bleeding red ink the way Rupert Murdoch does for sport at The New York Post.
Nonetheless, the ripples from the impact of shutting the Chronicle could turn into a media tsunami.
No major publisher wants to be the first to blink and throw in the towel for their print edition. But if Hearst, MediaNews, Tribune or some other company in trouble went that route, others would be less hesitant to follow, regardless of the precedent.
However, I don't think Big Newspaper is ready for that fallout just yet. What you'll likely see first, though, is the end of the daily paper. Saturday print editions could -- and in some markets, should -- become a thing of the past. They're the thinnest and least-read editions of the week. It's one way to trim without turning out the lights in the newsroom.
When I started at The Record in Hackensack, N.J. in 1989, the paper did not publish on Saturdays. That soon changed, however, though the end result was a perfunctory product with shorter, superficial articles to account for a lesser interest in Saturday reading. The Record felt six-day publishing was an anachronism that needed to be eradicated. But if readers were clamoring for a The Record on Saturday, what they got might have prompted them to reconsider.
That was 18 years ago. Now, with readership and profits in sharp decline, maybe it's tiome to revisit that six-day model, not only in New Jersey but the other 49 states as well.
Newspapers with a strong web presence can keep the bulk of their report out there on Saturdays without having to kill any trees or spend a fortune gassing up delivery trucks on a day that offers little R.O.I.
As for those papers that fatten up the Saturday delivery with circulars, those can be moved up to Friday or even back to Sundays, now that those editions -- the supposed cash cows -- have become more gaunt.
It's not that I want newspapers publishing one less day. But it could be the first painful, but necessary step toward ensuring that some newspapers continue to publish at all.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Tomorrow" Sounds Better Than "It's a Hard Knock Life" To McClatchy Editors, Publishers

Newspaper Bigwigs Drink Their Kool-Aid From Glasses That Are Always Half-Full

The sun will come out tomorrow.....

The daily forecast inside most newspapers nowadays is doom and gloom. Yet, some executives are pulling out the stops to whistle a happy tune.
Among them are editors and publishers at McClatchy newspapers, who are either severely delusional or they know something we don't know.
Based on some recent public pronouncements and industry trends, I'll bank on the former.
What else to make of the comments of John Drescher, executive editor of The News and Observer in Raleigh, where 70 people are losing their jobs by the end of the month, including 16 in the newsroom.
In a memo to staff, he wrote in part: "We will be saying goodbye to some colleagues, then embarking upon more change than we've ever seen before. If we pull together, which I know we will, we can continue to gain readership and serve this community and state with the kind of public service journalism we have done for more than 100 years."
Gain readership? Isn't the loss of readers, not to mention advertisers, a big reason why the N&O is cutting circulation, merging its sports department and state government reporting with The Charlotte Observer, and teaming up with that paper to produce several feature sections?
Sounds like the N&O will have fewer reporters doing more than ever, resulting in wide coverage gaps and making the product even less compelling that it is now. And yet somehow Drescher expects the number of readers to grow.
Elsewhere in McClatchy land, The Miami Herald is slashing its headcount by 17 percent because publisher David Landsberg told employees "we're operating in a time of great change and challenge for our operations.''
But even as he concedes that revenue, such as ads for jobs, cars and homes migrates permanently to the Web, he sees signs of a turnaround, because viewership of the Herald's Web site, is up 35 percent, as is circulation of the Spanish-language El Nuevo Herald.
All well and good, except page views don't translate -- yet -- into corresponding increases in ad revenue. And most of those vanished classifieds have found a home on other sites -- namely those not owned by McClatchy.
Landsberg must know that. Similarly, any McClatchy employee would know that the 10 percent company-wide staff reduction likely won't be the only round of downsizing this year. It's all about the debt, as Editor & Publisher sagely notes, and McClatchy, has gobs of it.
That's not changing anytime soon. Which means more staff reductions, bureau closings, and trimming of newsholes loom, if only because newspaper executives have come up with few ideas to stave off red ink other than to reduce staff and chip away at the features that make their newspapers must reading.
As for Drescher and Landsberg, they're fooling no one except, possibly, themselves.

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I'll love 'ya tomorrow...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Yes, Lee Abrams Has Lots of Ideas. Good Ideas? Not So Fast

Tribune's Chief Innovation Officer Offers A Blueprint For Resuscitating Newspapers That's Fused With Vision -- And Ignorance

It'd be terribly easy to say that as a newspaper executive, Lee Abrams is a brilliant radio programmer.
That may indeed be the case. But at least give him credit, as Tribune's chief innovation officer, to stick a fork in conventional wisdom and offer up an outsider's perspective.

Now that Sam Zell gave him a challenge to help re-invent newspapers the same way Abrams transformed the FM dial, he's unleashed some observations about what newspapers could and should do better.
Some are intriguing. Others prompt head-scratching. Still more are just plain dumb.

Let's take at 10 of the 15 points from Abrams to see if he is on to something, or merely on something. Some of what Abrams wrote is edited here for space, but can be read in whole via the above link.

1. COMPARTMENTALIZING: Want baseball scores? It's all there on the baseball pages of the Sports section. Market report? It's all there on the stock market page. But why aren't other important categories compartmentalized?? [T]hink 10pm News on TV. It's organized. It's consistent. Newspapers are not--or at least not to the point they NEED to be in 2008. If grocery stores were organized like newspapers, you'd wear out your shoes looking for vegetables, as carrots would be in aisle 6, tomatoes in aisle 8, etc...

All well and good, but a lot easier said than done when newspapers keep trimming their news hole, which will have to happen if Zell succeeds in achieving his goal of a 50-50 editorial-ad mix in his newspaper. Soon Tribune properties will be compartmentalizing a whole lot of nothing.

2. ASSUMPTIONS: Possibly the biggest problem. Assuming. I met a reporter who spent 4 years in Baghdad. Dodging bullets...staying in Hotels protected by the Marines. Yet, I'll bet NO-one outside of the building knew this person was risking their life in Iraq to get YOU the news. If it were CNN, you'd see rockets and RPG's in the background as the reporter ducks shrapnel. In the paper, it's usually a small byline.

If Abrams wants reporters to have a higher profile, power to him, but I'm sure Tribune editors are chortling over this one. And while the CNN Iraq crew and others on the ground there are no doubt courageous and to be admired for their work, when's the last time you saw one of them ducking shrapnel or much of anything else?

3. THE NPR FEEL? Newspapers strike me as being a little TOO NPR. I like NPR, and their shows like Morning Edition do well. But NPR can also be a bit elitist ... It's all about being INTELLIGENT...not intellectual. We are in the mainstream business. The 2008 Mainstream business. SMART...but not elite....and we DO get a little NPR at times. (And I DO like NPR...)

Abrams would have done better here if he actually gave an example or two. My guess is he's referring to The Los Angeles Times, and its dogged insistence on maintaining a full international report, not to mention enterprise pieces that might actually require readers to turn a page to finish reading. Real elitist stuff, that.

4. BRAGGING RIGHTS: Ever watch ESPN? They OWN sports. Tiger Woods has a hangnail and they will have the exclusive report. Newspapers need to live in that world a little more.... The thing is---The content is there...but it's SO weakly packaged that the other guys are running right over the papers...we look tired next to 21st Century media...

Frankly, I have no idea what he's talking about. Does he? Sounds like, though, he's preaching more sizzle. But that's all for naught if there's no budget or staff to cook the steak.

5. LIBERATE THE DESIGNERS. I heard one paper had sections "off limits" to designers. Huh???!!! That makes NO sense... Eye power!! THE ENGAGEMENT IS NOT THE HEADLINE AS MUCH AS THE LOOK. The right headline AND an amazing look and you WILL get engagement into the content.

If the above statement rises above hearsay, then Abrams is right on target. I find it hard to believe, however. Any executive editor at Tribune who would sign off on that should be shown the door pronto.

6. THROWAWAYS: In 1958 maybe people had time to discover what's they don't. Or how about "For More...go to" More what??? ... In one re-design I saw an article followed by three web comments with a pointer to the website. That was great. Gave you a TASTE. A generic "For More..." is a waste of ink.

Here, Abrams correctly points out that despite all the improvements newspapers have made to their Web sites in recent years, many are still very much a work in progress.

7. CONSISTENCY: At most papers, the folks show me their greatest hits. Great pages they've done. Then--I'll look at the date and it was 2004 ... We need to do that every page...every day. Why?a) That's the ONLY way it'll get noticed.b) You HAVE survive...and grow. Difficult? Yes...I know. But a reality of competing in 2008....

Surely, Tribune is paying Abrams for more than just truisms.

8. LIVING IN THE NEWSPAPER WORLD: Being satisfied with a good traditional looking newspaper isn't going to do it. Gotta break free ... Don't look to other papers. (except foreign ones) YOU are in the position to re-invent. If you look at other'll continue to live in the past.

Sounds good on paper, but if the impending redesigns at the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun-Sentinel are any indication, re-invention isn't always a good thing when what emerges is an incoherent mess.

9. GETTING NOTICED: An ongoing theme. Papers DO things that'll get noticed, but package it so it's a mystery. I already said this, but it warrants a repeat. The look...the intelligence...the in and day out. Tweaking will kill you. Aggressively and NOTICABLY [sic] changing the look and feel can and most likely WILL grow you.

It can't hurt, but will it help? Abrams seems to believe you can get people to read a newspaper who have never have done so. Such a task is next to impossible. You need to grab readers when they're young. If their parents didn't read a paper, chances are neither will they. Online doesn't count, given that Web revenues remain a small fraction of what newspapers gross and likely won't grow at rates newspapers want and need for some time, if ever.

10. MANANA: Urgency! It's a media war out there that is NOT being won...but CAN. Recipe for failure: Focus Group...evaluate the focusgroup...have a committee meeting to evaluate...more focus groups.

Abrams is right that companies use focus groups as excuses for not making the tough choices. Newspaper publishers have no time for that.

Abrams may not be on target with all of his thinking, but at least he's thinking. Whether Zell will let that translate into meaningful action is a very different matter.

Jemele Hill "Relieved" Over Hitler Comment

Just as Bad as Imus, But At Least She Still Has a Job

The Big Lead is among those with word that ESPN came to its senses and realized that columnist Jemele Hill needed a time out so she can shake a bad case of the stupids.
"We’ve spoken with Jemele, and she understands that she exercised poor judgment," intones a statement from Bristol HQ. "She’s been relieved of her responsibilities for a period of time to reflect on the impact of her words."
Hill wrote in a column Saturday night that “Rooting for the Celtics is like saying Hitler was a victim. It’s like hoping Gorbachev would get to the blinking red button before Reagan.”
Oy, vey.
Fear not, for those of you in a forgiving mood. Hill still has a blog and she uses it to give the appearance of being contrite.
In case you missed her apology, and I did, it reads in part:

"I pride myself on an understanding of, and appreciation for, diversity-- and there is no excuse for the appalling lack of sensitivity in my comments. It in no way reflects the person I am. I apologize to all my readers and I thank them for holding me accountable. This has been an important life lesson for me and illustrates that, like many people, I still have a lot of growing and learning to do."


OK, we get it, she's sorry. Left unanswered is how she could have possibly fathomed that referencing Hitler in any context would have been acceptable in any sports story. Maybe she'll get around to that someday. As she promises on the blog: "I have more to say on this issue. That will come later."
Can't wait.
As she promises on the blog: "I have more to say on this issue. That will come later."

If any of this gets you thinking about Don "Nappy-Headed Ho" Imus, you may have Hill to thank. She used her column last year to jump on the bandwagon to get the I-Man off the air.

"Imus has become a Hall of Fame broadcaster using race-baiting, offensive tactics. He is routinely offensive to people of color and women, and if he needs to lose his job to understand that there is no place for that, so be it.
As a society, there are times when we need to stand together against indecency and cruelty."

As to how what Hill wrote differs from what Imus said, the only distinction is Hill gets to keep her job, at least for now.

Slices of Life Are What Newspapers Do Best, But Can They Resonate The Same Way Online?

It's a Problem Newspapers Like The Chicago Tribune Face as More Readers Turn Away From Print

Beyond the obvious difficulties inherent when not enough readers are plunking down 50 cents for a newspaper and instead read it online, comes one issue that has still not been fully considered: can readers truly appreciate the content if it's merely displayed on a computer screen, instead of being discovered by readers turning a printed page?
I'm not sure there's a ready answer yet. My concern is that if editors don't address that question soon, some quality articles could be pushed aside or simply not pursued.
Case in point are two articles from today's Chicago Tribune.
The first is a feature from the Midwest flood coverage, about an Iowa farmer who made the difficult choice of leaving 800 hogs behind as flood waters engulfed his farm.
David Greising's dispatch is written in a way that it resonates with anyone looking for a fresh take on a still-unfolding story. You don't have to be a farmer, or even smelled a farm to know the decisions Ron Lanz had to make about his pigs weren't made lightly. You can both relate to his plight and feel his loss.
The second article is a column from Mary Schmich (above) that focuses on Robert Aquileo, an attendant at a Chicago gas station where the price for full-serve gas is now five bucks a gallon.

"The fact that customers still come means he has a job for all seasons, unlike, say, gardeners, who don't have winter work. But he used to make $30 or $40 a day in tips. Now he's lucky to make $10. Even people who will spend $5 on gas won't spend $6.
"I'm thinking of finding another job," he said.

Schmich's column was a great idea, plain and simple. Just a little shoe leather turned up a compelling slice of life, one you may not have thought of but are glad you read about.
The point? Articles and columns like these are more easily found and digested when someone actually sits down and reads the paper, be it on the El or over morning coffee. They don't lend themselves as well to online readers with short attention spans who invariably don't have the time to read a news feature, regardless of how compelling that might be.
All the blogs, video, podcasts and other bells and whistles on a Web site won't change that.
So, as more readers migrate to the Web, I fear that editors -- and, by extension, their publishers -- will deem such content superfluous to a newspaper's revised mission or too expensive to justify.
And as newspapers like the Trib find their coffers ever more parched, don't think for minute they will have online-only content that would be remotely comparable.
Which is a shame. For now, the print version still stirs the drink of what appears on the Web. But maybe not for much longer. The key then will be ensuring that what's left is worth reading.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Behind The Mets' Willie Randolph Debacle Lies an Organization That Despises the Media

Big-Time PR Boner by Mets Shows Front Office Dripping With Contempt, Devoid of Ideas

The sports stations and newspaper Web sites in New York have been dripping with bile all day over the classless, cowardly way the Mets fired manager Willie Randolph and two coaches.
While many agree it was the right decision, it was one made at the completely wrong time. But the Mets front office is good at breeding cynicism and outright scorn, a dumb move given the team's desultory performance since last September's epic late-season collapse.
First, the team does a mass email to reporters at 3:11 a.m. ET, just late enough to ensure it wouldn't make its way into the morning papers. Somehow, management forgot about that pesky Internet to get the story out.
Not that reporters weren't wary about something happening, even though the Mets had won three out of four games after last night's 9-6 win over the Angels in Anaheim.
WFAN Mets beat reporter Ed Coleman told Mike and the Mad Dog how Steve Popper of The Record asked Assistant General Manager Tony Bernazard at 11l30 p.m. Pacific time whether anyone would be fired that night. Bernazard replied in the negative.
About 40 minutes later, Randolph was gone. Later, Popper confronted Bernazard in the hotel lobby about his earlier statement, Coleman said.
Bernazard blithely replied: "Nobody got fired last night. They were fired today."
No doubt Bernazard, known to dislike Randolph, got a chuckle out of that. No doubt Popper was not amused.
But that's emblematic of the team's arrogance and lack of accountability to its players, its fans and the beat writers who day after day have trudged into a locker room that SNY's Kevin Burkhardt said recently was not a happy place to be.
By knowingly blundering Randolph's dismissal and not caring about the fallout, the Mets leadership -- GM Omar Minaya and owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon included -- will now find sharpened daggers confronting them in every sports section from here on out.
It's bad enough they did what they did when they did it. But when they messed with the media in the process, they entered a special kind of hell where even the thickest of skins are pierced. If Minaya thinks the heat is on now, just wait.
Somewhere, George Steinbrenner is having a good laugh.

Now Here's A Newspaper Promotion That Could Actually Work

Talk About Public Service

From Monday's Dallas Morning News comes this headline:

Bedford couple wins free fertility treatment from Southlake church

Something like this could be a great marketing tool for newspapers, not to mention a way to cultivate (literally) new subscribers.

ESPN Actually Fesses Up to a "Breakdown" in its Editorial Judgment in Jemele Hill "Hitler" Column

Why Blame Just the Writers When They Write Dumb Things? columnist Jemele Hill is either the beneficiary of a double standard. Or, she's just a dodo with clueless editors of like mind. Maybe both.
Jessica Heslam in The Boston Herald reports how Hill originally wrote in a column Saturday night that “Rooting for the Celtics is like saying Hitler was a victim. It’s like hoping Gorbachev would get to the blinking red button before Reagan.”
Suffice to say, the column was taken down a few hours later and now reads somewhat differently, even if she is no less reticent about her hatred of the Boston Celtics, one win away from an NBA title.
Hill isn't talking, but an abashed ESPN said she and the Web site were sorry and that "we are thoroughly reviewing the entire situation.”
And in a surprising moment of candor ESPN flack Paul Melvin told the Herald there was a "breakdown in the system of editorial checks and balances. “We’re normally quite proud of the editorial judgment exercised here, but this was clearly an exception to that.”
Kudos for at least stating the obvious, which thin-skinned media organizations, devoid of any hubris, often refuse to do.
What's left unsaid is what to do about Hill. You could argue this is not a black version of Imus' "nappy-headed ho" routine. True, she didn't come right out and insult an ethnic group, but inserting any mention of Hitler in a sports story that's not about the 1936 Olympics shows gross insensitivity at the very least -- and a level of ignorance that's startling for a high-profile columnist on the leading sports Web site.
Imus was hung out to dry because CBS chief Les Moonves lost his spine and caved into the Al Sharptons and Jemele Hills (she called for Imus' ouster in a 2007 column) of this world and over-reacted by firing Imus -- for doing what he's paid to do -- instead of merely suspending him for a remark, that even for him, was out of character.
So far, ESPN's given Hill the mildest of wrist slaps. Is it because she's a woman, a black woman no less? There's no excuse for something this, so a mere apology cannot suffice.
But let's work from the assumption that she's genuinely sorry. My vote is to let Hill keep her column, but only after a healthy suspension so she can properly reflect on the hurt she inflicted. And put her editor on the shelf too.
While they're gone, make them read a few history books during their exile. They might come back as better journalists as a result. They might also return as better human beings.

Gary Pruitt: At Least He's Honest

Of Course, That Doesn't Make The Situation at McClatchy Any Better

We've been taking dumps on MediaNews and Tribune for all the bad news they've ladled up as of late.
Now, it's McClatchy's turn to slash and burn, with a 10 percent reduction company-wide, although some properties will be squealing like a pig that much harder, namely The Miami Herald, whose staff will be slashed 17 percent. That's 250 positions that will be going away.
Why is the Herald -- that former Knight-Ridder flagship -- getting a bigger pimp slap from corporate?
"The Miami Herald's performance has been worse than most, if not all, of the newspapers, and . . . there were some opportunities for greater efficiencies,'' intoned McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt.
Greater efficiencies? You might get a good argument about that in the shrunken Herald newsroom. But when your real estate market implodes and other ads, like help wanted and auto migrate permanently to the Web -- and generally not to -- it's time to get out the scythe.
The scary part? If you think it's bad now, just wait. Pruitt told The Sacramento Bee "I'm hopeful that we'll see some improvement as the year goes on; to date, we have not seen that."
And Pruitt and any realist at McClatchy knows that they won't.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Lou Reed Doesn't Want To Take A Walk on the Wild Side of Satellite Radio

Apparently, It Really Is All About The Music

When you're a 66-year-old rock icon/influencer/elder statesman/cool guy, I guess you can be a surly crank in public and not have to apologize for it later.
Lou Reed is that guy, judging by a short -- probably shorter than anticipated -- interview he gave to New York magazine about his new show "New York Shuffle" he co-hosts on Sirius satellite radio.
It's obvious in the interview Reed's all about the music. After all, the show is kind of like a freeform college radio show for grown-ups, where Ornette Coleman and The Animal Collective might be heard on the same program.
However, interviewer Andrew M. Goldstein didn't realize how obvious it was when he asked:

Sirius's impending merger with XM is anticipated to boost earnings. Do you own any stock in the company?

What are you, a fucking asshole? I'm here telling you the truth about music and you want to know if I have stock in the fucking radio? You fucking piece of shit. What did I do to deserve that?

The interview ended soon after.

Think it's time for Lou to switch to decaf.

Now That The Smoke and Mirrors Have Been Hauled Away, We Can Finally See Sam Zell Sweat

Having $12.8 Billion in Debt Will Suck The Bravado Right Out of You

Like many in the media business, I've been pondering last week's pronouncements from Tribune big cheese Sam Zell and his Right-Hand Man/COO Randy Michaels about how the newspaper model was broken and, by cracky, they were going to fix it pronto.
The talking points: less news, fewer reporters, smaller papers, better Web sites. And they'll be a lot more maps and graphics so customers won't have to bother with such things as actually reading articles.
Nobody disagrees that Tribune has to do something to pay down its voluminous debt. Selling the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field (and kudos if they can seal the deal while the Cubbies still have the best record in baseball) will be one Band-Aid to a long-term problem for the company.
Before you rush off to vilify Michaels and Zell, they deliver up some hard truths that journalists have no choice but to swallow hard and accept. However, too many of their conclusions and what they're proposing smacks more of desperation than true vision.
The biggie in my book is Michaels' view of productivity as measured by counting bylines. "We can eliminate a fair amount of people, while eliminating not much copy," Michaels told the Chicago Tribune.
Spoken like the radio guy he is, not someone who's ever worked in a newsroom, which he hasn't.
Of course, any newsroom has its share of dead weight, but with the abundance of recent layoffs and buyouts, there can't be that much left. Michaels begs to differ. The end result will be even fewer bodies covering the news. But that's OK, the newshole will be smaller too.
Zell's going to impose a 50-50 ad/editorial ratio, excepting classifieds and preprints. Given the dropoff in ad spending, that'll inevitably mean less room for copy. And, ostensibly, even less of a reason to buy the paper.
Zell all but develops hives when he thinks about what a paper like The Los Angeles Times spends on national and foreign coverage. Suffice to say, he'd like to spend a lot less and get a better ROI on the millions the paper doles out to the A.P. and Reuters.
Bad move. Then again, so was wagering billions of other people's money that you could resurrect a media company just as the core of its business model was cratering.

And You Thought The Newspaper Business Was Doing Lousy

Quick, Somebody Throw Magazine Publishers A Pity Party

The trials and tribulations that have beset the newspaper business -- highlighted by the perfect storm of simultaneous, precipitous declines in circulation and advertising -- have been well-documented here and many other sources.
Less visible, but no less dramatic, have been the maladies that have overtaken Magazine World, which is often a perilous place to reside even in an up economy.
The ax has been swinging far and wide, especially in trade and B2B pubs. Folio has done yeoman's work keeping track of all of them, including today's announcement of 42 people canned from Penton Media and the 41 no longer collecting paychecks at Reed Business Information, with 10 more out the door at UBM Group, which may now be part of a possible merger (full disclosure: I currently work for another UBM company).
They're among many B2B magazine groups that have either gotten rid of staff or of titles altogether to avoid wading into the Magazine Death Pool.
There is another way to avoid obsolesence or irrelevance, or so U.S. News and World Report hopes. It's going biweekly, conceding as if it really needed to be conceded, that nobody needs them for another take on national and world events.
The magazine was already down to 36 issues, off from 46 issues last year. So what's another 10 editions between friends?
Nowadays, U.S. News has staked its reputation on its lists, best colleges, law schools, hospitals, etc. to gain any traction with the outside world. And those rankings might actually put it in an enviable perch above its newsweekly brethren, which can't claim any such pedigree.
Indeed, both Time and Newsweek have taken some big-time tumbles in circulation this year -- on average about 25 percent -- and now they're in the process of figuring out how to be must-reads rather than merely take up space in waiting rooms.
Good luck with that.