Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Slicing and Dicing the New York Radio Airwaves

Stations Trying to Feast on Increasingly Smaller Slices of the Pie

Given the money that's at stake, it's no surprise that the New York radio market is cutthroat on a good day. Unfortunately, that has often meant programming that's safe, staid and just plain boring.
But that's radio biz nowadays. It's hard to innovate when stations are owned by publicly traded companies leveraged to the hilt and can't wait for a new format to take hold.
Listeners are voting with their ears. The spring Arbitron book is out, and it reveals the audience is roaming the dial more looking for something to listen to.
At the top of the heap in the ratings that measure listeners 12 years old and up is urban WRKS, which jumped from a 3.9 rating to a 4.9. Which is very telling, in that it means no station in New York can claim at least 5 percent of the audience -- a first.
In second place are two Clear Channel stations, WHTZ (Z100), at 4.8 and adult contemporary WLTW (Lite FM), which is usually number one, but some format tweaks apparently drove some (but not many) listeners to rivals in the city and suburbs, resulting in a 4.4 rating.
More telling, and of more interest to station management, is that the numbers mostly hold true to form in the 25-54 demographic coveted by advertisers. Interestingly, Z100 nabbed second in that category, even though its hits format skews younger, while Lite FM (the quintessential listen-while-you-work station) only managed sixth.
In the 12+ book, other urban and Latin stations dominate the top 10, which may finally put to rest the argument about whether New York can support the three rock stations it now has (probably not).
That doesn't bode well for WRXP, which hit the airwaves in February as a Triple-A station that was supposed to be a loosely formatted station that played a wide variety of rock. However, the station has too often failed to deliver on its musical mission. Hell, it took five months for the station to even have its airstaff fully in place.
WRXP has tried to be something for everyone, rather than programming to a core adult demographic disenfranchised by other rock stations that play only the classics or head-thumping alternative tunes. It's derivative of everything and nothing at the same time.
The ratings indicate listeners are perplexed or just not interested, as WRXP finished with a miniscule 1.0.
Granted, new stations can take time to build an audience. But 'RXP is starting from a very deep hole that, given the fragmented market it finds itself in, will likely find the climb to daylight to be very perilous indeed.

Product Placement on the News? Soon, That Won't Be News

What It Feels Like Before You Throw In The Towel and Let the Ad Department Run the News

This is the sound of a man whose soul is being sucked out of him.
"I stress the fact that it is being done on a program that is a combination of news entertainment and lifestyle programming.”
Those words emanated from the lips of one Adam Bradshaw, news director at KVVU, the Fox station in Las Vegas.
Bradshaw green-lit having two cups of McDonald's iced coffee in a prominent position on the news desk. To make matters even more interesting, the Las Vegas Sun reports that the cups don't actually contain real coffee.
The way Bradshaw rationalizes pimping out his morning show is that the cups only appear after 7 a.m., when the program shifts from harder news to frothier feature spots, you know, the kind that just want to make you run out to McDonald's and get, hmmm... hey, how about some iced coffee? And while you're at it, pick up a Sausage McMuffin too? This way, you'll be fortified enough to spend a full morning dropping nickels into the slot machines.
Bradshaw digs out a nifty euphemism by calling this a "nontraditional revenue source."
By the way, Mark, the fact that stations in Chicago, Seattle and New York have also tried something like this doesn't make it OK.

Monday, July 07, 2008

One Hand Clapping at MediaNews

Empty Rhetoric Fills Memo Aimed at Calming Jittery Few Left in the Newsrooms

Maybe Lean Dean Singleton has feelings after all.
A memo put out on Romenesko seeks to soothe the ruffled feathers for MediaNews employees, who lately have been watching what's left of their company implode around them.
For those of you new to the dance, that includes the Los Angeles Daily News, the San Jose Mercury-News, and virtually every daily paper in the Bay Area except for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Singleton's preferred method of addressing revenue shortfalls at his California papers has been to eviscerate staff and attempt to break unions.
That hasn't been enough, as the below memo shows. Singleton wants his minions to know that he feels their pain. Sort of.
The memo is actually attributed to him and MediaNews prexy Jody Lodovic. But it's Singleton as CEO who's calling most of the shots even if Lodovic is pressed to act as the hatchet man, so we'll address him head on.
For your edification, a few portions of the memo, with my comments thrown in for good measure in bold:

Is MediaNews Group meeting financial commitments under the terms of its various debt agreements?
Yes, MediaNews is in compliance with the terms of its bank agreements and continues to take steps to reduce its total debt and expect to remain in compliance in the future. As has been the case in the past, MediaNews may from time to time seek amendments of its debt agreements as necessary to provide maximum flexibility. (Uh. oh. "Seek amendments" can be loosely translated to "Renegotiate or else we'll default, declare chapter 11 and you'll get squat." Which may wind up happening in any event).

Is MediaNews concerned about the level of its debt?Certainly, given the economic environment we are in, we would rather have less debt. But, this is not our first rodeo. (Ride, em, Cowboy Dean! Yee ha!).
In the last newspaper recession (in the early nineties), we operated with higher relative levels of debt. We came out well positioned and led the industry in growth for much of the next decade. With our collective efforts, we will lead the charge again! (Don't be so quick to sing hosannas to Singleton's business acumen. At the end of the last recession, the Interent was a virtual nonentity. The car, help wanted and real estate ads came back because they had no place to go. No more. Now they're gone again. For good).

Is MediaNews looking to buy more newspapers in the near term? (With what? Singleton's galleons he's hoarding at Gringotts?)
While MediaNews believes the future of newspapers is bright, MediaNews is not currently looking to acquire more newspapers. We believe our resources should be more internally focused on reinventing our current newspaper model to support future growth plans. (on what planet?)
That said, we believe that consolidation within the industry is inevitable and will help facilitate the change necessary for newspapers to thrive well into the future. (In other words, he just contradicted himself).
MediaNews expects to be a leader in that consolidation effort (We wouldn't expect anything less).

MediaNews has always been focused on cutting costs. Is there a different strategy for the future?
The recent necessary downsizing at some of our newspapers was a difficult decision, from both a personal and professional perspective, and we will certainly miss our cohorts (used more or less correctly, but still weird). Each played an important role in the company, and there [sic] departure, through no fault of their own, leaves a whole that the rest of our employees will have to find a way to fill.....

Unfortunately, gone are the days where we can operate as a collection of standalone newspapers. We must leverage our collective resources and position ourselves to reinvest in our business going forward in order to provide the tools and resources to ensure success in the future. And, we are starting to do just that, with significant investments in the sales, marketing and research arenas (Notice how he says nothing about editorial. Given the layoffs and consolidation of news desks, especially in California, that wasn't by accident).

We recognize and appreciate your efforts and dedication during this challenging time. Remember together we can! (Yeah, I'm sure all of you MediaNews acolytes have that warm and fuzzy feeling right about now).

All of this may have come a little too late for some of Singleton's titles, like The Argus in Fremont, from where reporter Todd R. Brown lost his job last week. Which means his paper is down to two metro reporters. As he wrote on John Bowman's Spinditties blog: "God help the people of the community now -- how will the paper ever be able to cover the news with a nearly invisible staff?"

Great question. Too bad Singleton doesn't have an answer.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Tampa Tribune Editor Dares To Speak The Truth

Janet Coats Gets It, Even Though What She Has Is Pretty Grim

You can ponder the merits of a newspaper intern blogging about her summer job (probably not a good idea when you think about it though her employers seem cool with it), but thanks to Jessica DaSilva we get a window into the desultory world of the Tampa Tribune.
The Trib laid off 70 people last year, and this week announced plans to cut another 21. That's on top of 29 staffers who took buyouts. Cue the tumbleweeds.
DaSilva writes about a meeting Coats had with her charges, when she threw a wet blanket on whatever idealism her reporters had left.

“People need to stop looking at TBO.com as an add on to The Tampa Tribune,” she said. “The truth is that The Tampa Tribune is an add on to TBO.”
Wow. Someone said that? And that someone was the editor in chief? But wait… there’s more.
She continued from this point, saying she wasn’t sure, but that this had to be a step in the right direction. If we don’t move, she said, newspapers will continue their “death spiral - because that’s what this is.”

This is telling, in that this may be the first time an editor of a major metropolitan newspaper is effectively throwing in the towel and conceding that the print edition can no longer be relied on as a revenue source.
Indeed, Coats told her deflated minions that the Tribune hasn't "been bringing in profits for a long time."
But before anyone from the newsroom could crawl out onto a ledge, Coats, DaSilva wrote, reached out for a Kennedyesque moment.

News organizations offer society so much, and that is why she cannot take another job - because journalism is her calling, and she knows there is nothing else she could ever imagine herself doing.
“It’s worth fighting for,” Janet said.

Okay, then. We'll see how Coats feels in six months when Media General asks her to get rid of another 50 editors, photographers and reporters.

As for those who've responded rather nastily to DaSilva's post, let's cut her a little slack. Even if she comes off a little too bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (don't dis features, Jessica, you'd be surprised how many people read them and not the A section), at least she's showing an interest in a newspaper career.
The industry will need people like her when the geezers now taking up space burn out, are forced out or drop dead when their heart is broken over what has happened to the business they once loved with a passion that has gone unrequited for too long.

Maybe Steve Doocy Could Use a Makeover

Attacking Media Enemies With a Photoshop Hatchet Job Just Another Day at the Office at Cretinuous Fox & Friends

Yellow teeth. Yellow journalism.
Fox & Friends was more than its usual odious self yesterday, when, as Media Matters exposed, it digitally altered the photos of two New York Times journalists as part of a comment about a June 28 pTimes piece about the precarious state of Fox News Channel's ratings.
Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade were all in a lather about the Jacques Steinberg article, which they say was ordered up by his editor Steven Reddicliffe, who once worked for News Corp. as editor of TV Guide and left acrimoniously.

Hence, Doocy says, a continual axe to grind against FNC.
"So, he essentially is his attack dog. His -- his poodle, if you will," whined Doocy, as they showed a photo of Steinberg's face on top of a poodle's body, with Reddicliffe's face superimposed on a man holding a leash.
But we first see larger versions of those photos, complete with yellow teeth, protruding ears and dark circles under the eyes. The actual photos have none of those.
OK, it's Fox & Friends, so maybe having fun with Photoshop and toying with the truth is both understandable and hardly surprising. But at least the idiocy that regularly emerges as discourse on that program should at least be based on some semblance of reality.
Too often, Fox has proven that's too much to ask.

The Clueless Remain That Way at Tribune

With Los Angeles Times Gutting One-Sixth of Newsroom, Sam Zell & Co. Show How Desperation Trumps Innovation

Don't be fooled.

Yesterday's announcement that The Los Angeles Times would cut 250 jobs, including 150 from the newsroom was even worse than the reductions expected after ad revenue plunged 15 percent in the first quarter.
While editor Russ Stanton readily conceded the cuts suck and that newsroom morale is next to nonexistent, he still chirped about still having one of the largest corps of journalists in the country.
Just like the Hartford Courant's brass tried put on a happy face earlier in the week, despite the shedding of about 60 newsroom jobs. The party line: the Courant would still have the largest newsroom in Connecticut. Which tells you a lot about journalism in the Nutmeg State.
This is not the end for those papers or any other Tribune property. This is not "right-sizing," to better reflect the new reality of circulation and advertising. This is a Band-Aid, plain and simple. And it's going to fall off real soon.
Instead of nip-and-tuck, we get slash-and-burn, and not because the economy is so horrid, or readers prefer to get their news fix on the Internet.
For Tribune, it's $12.8 billion in debt. The bankers are calling the shots. They don't give a squat about good journalism, they just want their dough. As The New York Times points out:

"[Tribune] reported operating cash flow in 2007 of just under $1 billion, barely more than the annual debt service payments it now faces, and revenues are dropping fast. In addition, the company faces $1.4 billion in payments over the next year.

The L.A. Times plans to cut 500 pages a week, a 12 percent reduction. That could be viewed as a start toward solvency. But there's a long road ahead, and Sam Zell is having trouble seeing over the steering wheel.
For those employees left, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Will "Hitler" Comments Dog Jemele Hill and Keep Her In Chateau Bow-Wow?

Sure She's Sorry, Just Don't Call Her Black Imus

Jemele Hill was suspended on June 17 for using her Page 2 column on ESPN.com to intone 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.”
ESPN moved relatively quickly to put her on the shelf. But she was gone all of six days. The column's back, and now she'll also be appearing on "First Take" on The Deuce on July 17-18, during the "First and Ten" segment with fellow motormouth Skip Bayless.
Hill used her June 23 column to more profusely apologize than she had before.

Real apologies don't mix with rationalizations, so I won't insult your intelligence by offering you any.

This isn't about my editors because even if the word "Hitler" never appeared in the posted column last Saturday, that doesn't change the fact that I wrote it and, at the time, found humor in making a moronic comparison between a man who was responsible for killing millions to Detroiters who root for the Boston Celtics.
This is about my living up to a standard I expect of everyone else -- respect, awareness, honesty and accountability.

Fair enough. But still. I've previously written that Hill should have been suspended and not fired, though only five days away is more than a bit mild in light of Don Imus being sacked for "Nappy-Headed Hos" and Kelly Tilghman's two-week suspension for her Tiger Woods lynching remark.

In reading her column, and an interview she did with AOL, there's still a part of me that believes Hill feels she's not in the same league as the others and therefore merits less of a sanction. This, even though she freely fesses up that what she did was wrong and hurtful to many.
As she told AOL when asked about Imus: "I know some people were putting me in that category and it's certainly their right to do so. I feel differently and I think pulling Imus into this is kind of a distraction."
A distraction? That's a cop-out, to put it extremely kindly. And it's one she's intent on sticking to, based on a testy reply to a frequent and caustic commenter on her blog.
"[T]here are very important reasons I refuse to get roped into explaining myself in light of Don Imus. Just know it's bigger than you."

But bigger than you, Jemele?

Reporters See Their Pay Vanish While Doing Their Jobs

IRS Raises Its Mileage Reimbursement Rate; Gannett Newspapers Among The Many That Nickel and Dime Reporters Squeezed at the Pump

Most newspaper reporters have had to suffer the indignities of their diminished medium, assuming they still have a job.
Many toil off the clock because they are afraid of retribution if they put in for the O.T. they're entitled to. Fewer bodies in the newsroom mean an increased story count for those who remain. Meanwhile, pay increases are miniscule if there are any at all.
Adding to that misery is gasoline north of four bucks a gallon. If you do your job right, you have to get out and cover your beat. That means getting into a car -- your own car. The IRS, at least conceptually, feels that pain. It recently bumped its mileage rate -- for those who itemize and don't get reimbursed -- to 58.5 cents a mile, a whopping eight-cent increase.
But it appears not only will most newspapers not match that for its employees, they haven't even come close to paying the old rates, at least based on comments left on the excellent Gannett Blog, which assiduously documents the underachieving, mediocrity and downright lunacy that is the hallmark of the USA's largest newspaper company.
Most of the anonymous correspondents in Gannettland say they're getting anywhere from 23 to 34 cents a mile. And some of them got increases only in the last few weeks. That's all the more shocking, given I was getting 21 cents a mile at Gannett's Rockland Journal-News --- in 1989.
At those prices in many parts of the country, reporters are effectively losing money every time they leave the office to do a story, when you factor in gas, not to mention wear and tear on the car.
Of course the company doesn't care.
They know you'll go out and do your job regardless of what you get back. What are you going to do, quit because you have to dip into your pocket to cover the tab for a visit to the pump? Where are you going to go? (their attitude, not mine, in case you're wondering).
So, if reporters don't have to absolutely, positively be there then they won't. Reporters will work the story by phone and possibly miss out on some juicy details that only somebody on the scene would spot.
Of course the company doesn't care.
All that matters is you filled some space between the ads. Doesn't matter what you wrote. It's the Gannett way.

The Bluths Will Visit The Multiplex: "Arrested Development" Movie Gets Green Light

Never-Nudes, Analrapists and Bob Loblaw Rejoice!

Arrested Development is easily the funniest show most of you never saw, which is a big reason why it's no longer on the air.
To call its cult following rabid would be a vast understatement, and was likely the reason "AD" even managed to last two-and-a-half season despite Fox programmers doing everything they could to ensure no one would watch (the last four episodes dumped to go up against the opening of the 2006 Winter Olympics? C'mon).
But now George Bluth himself, Jeffrey Tambor, has confirmed there will be a movie version of "AD." No date as to when, given that they don't have a script or shooting date yet. But hey, it does have a Facebook page!
Others from the show have mentioned a desire to do a movie, or that one has been talked about, but this is the closest confirmation yet that a movie is in the works, however preliminarily that may be the case.
Now, you could ask why anyone would make a movie based on a program that was down to about 4 million viewers when it met its untimely demise. A good answer can come by getting the series DVDs, or merely reading a synopsis of the episodes, like the classic "Afternoon Delight," on Wikipedia.
After you're done pissing your pants you should have a pretty good answer.

XM-Sirius Merger a Real Nail-Biter

Senate Democrats Weigh In With Objections, Concerns -- May Be More Than Just Election-Year Posturing

The Justice Department has given its blessing to the merger of XM and Sirius to create a satellite-radio hegemony.
The companies have done their cross-my-heart-hope-to-die routine to try and get the FCC to follow suit, in the face of opposition from the NAB and Consumers Union, among others. By all indications, the FCC vote, if and when it comes, will be close.
But now come more voices from inside the Beltway who could sway the outcome. Those would be Senate Democrats, in the form of John Kerry, Clare McCaskill and Ben Cardin. None are impressed by the XM-Sirius offer to set aside 12 channels for minority programmers and another 12 channels for noncommercial informational programming.
That comes out to about 8 percent of their total spectrum. The senators want the companies to cough up 50 channels, or about 20 percent to ensure competition. And while they're at it, they want XM-Sirius to make their receivers HD-radio compatible.
Not that very many of us are listening to HD radio, but apparently our elected officials -- many of whom presumably receive donations from broadcasters who are doing everything they can to get a piece of the digital radio pie -- want to change that.
All of this could mean a longer delay on an FCC vote, just what the companies don't want in an election year when a presumptively consumer-friendly Democrat could occupy the White House.