Thursday, May 24, 2012

Not Such a Big Shocker in the Big Easy

As Times-Picayune, Alabama Papers Go to Three Times a Week, Could Open the Floodgates for Others to Follow Suit

Somebody had to do it. But what's now an exception could become a trend.

The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, along with three Alabama dailies, will only print three times a week--Wednesday, Friday and Sunday--starting in the fall. The papers, all of which are owned by Newhouse's Advance Publications, will allegedly beef up their digital presence.

The news is sad, especially for those of us who still desperately want to turn the pages of a newspaper rather than click to the next story. But it's no longer news that circulation has fallen off a cliff, along with ad dough-re-mi. The Birmingham News, for instance, has seen circulation crater by 29 percent in just five years. With numbers like that you rethink your business model pronto.

As the T-P's noted in its story about the reduction: "the changes coming in the fall were necessitated by revolutionary upheaval in the newspaper industry. These changes made it essential for the news-gathering operation to evolve and become digitally focused..."

Ah, digitally focused. Makes all the sense in the world, right? So, why aren't advertisers convinced? At many newspapers, online ads account for only 10 to 20 percent of revenue. The rest comes from print ads, subscriptions and newsstand sales. It really is an open question of whether you don't print it, they will follow you to the web.

Nonetheless, it's a safe bet that more newspapers will head down this sorry path. They've cut page widths, head counts, news holes while increasing newsstand prices. And yet they still wonder why they're losing readers. If your audience only wants a paper three days a week and your advertisers feel the same, who are you to say no? It does save a lot of trees. Trims payroll too.

Still, it'll be weird for Saints fans not to be able to read about Sunday's game the next day in the paper. Then again, if you're to believe Advance, they've pretty much stopped doing that anyway.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sinful Stupidity at Reno TV Station

Promo at KOLO Implies Gay Marriage is a Sin, Then Says Sorry

The TV Spy blog has an item about a promo run amok at KOLO-TV in Reno, which intoned "Historically, Nevada has made a living off of sin — quickie divorces, prostitution, gambling. What’s one more sin added to the list if it will improve our economy?”

No surprise, the outrage flowed fast and furious. Later, the station apologized for the "poorly written play on words."

Fair enough, but how is it that no one at the station realized it was a dumb thing to say, unless they truly believed it was true? There was a producer of the spot, apparently clueless anchor Sarah Johns, not to mention a news director and other station management.

Really? The spot was a Re-no-no.

The Good and Not as Good in Buffett's Media General Purchase

At Least There's a Newspaper Still Standing in Richmond and Beyond

That Berkshire Hathaway bought Media General's newspaper division, with the exception of the Tampa Tribune, has to be viewed as nothing but a positive for the remaining employees, who have been blistered by layoffs, furloughs, benefit cuts and pay freezes over the years. In that regard, Media General is no different from every other newspaper company, battered, belaguered and waxing nostalgic for better days that will never return.

So, along comes Uncle Warren to the rescue. The Oracle already owns newspaper properties, including his hometown Omaha World-Herald and the Buffalo News. He also owns a significant minority stake in The Washington Post Co. Buffett likes to make a profit as much as the next billionaire, but his management approach is fairly hands off. Install the best managers who know how to hit their targets and watch the money grow.

That's a much taller order nowadays in the newspaper business, which is why the division went for a mere $142 million plus a $400 million term loan to pay down debt and a $25 million revolving credit line. That's for 63 daily and weekly newspapers. But Media General has fallen far and fast. Ten years ago, it would have cost you $54.50 to buy a share of the company stock. It closed today at $4.18, and that includes a $1.04 bump after the purchase was announced.

Buffett again professed his love for newspapers today, warming the cockles of this ink-stained wretch's heart.  Clearly, he's not doing this to lose money, but he's certainly not expecting to make a mint either. Been there, done that.

The Big World Beyond the Big Apple

Geography Lessons Needed at WNYC

There's many a story of born-and-bred Manhattanites who have little conception of the world around them. If it's a question of how to get to there from here and you can't get there on the 4 train, then why bother?
This became apparent yesterday while listening to Janet Babbin do the local news at 7 p.m. on public radio station WNYC. Babbin read an item about what was the apparent suicide of Mary Kennedy, RFK Jr.'s estranged wife. We were told that Kennedy's body was found at the family home upstate.
Turns out upstate was in the hamlet of Bedford in Westchester County, which is immediately north of the city after you leave the Bronx. Upstate? Well, yes, as it's up from WNYC's studios in West Soho.
But nobody who lives in Westcheser, including me, thinks they live in upstate, even those in the county's northern reaches, which includes comparatively bucolic Bedford. If you can get to midtown in an hour with no traffic than you're not upstate. You're merely in the suburbs, where many WNYC members reside.
If I truly lived upstate, then I wouldn't have been able to hear Babbin tell me where I don't live. But she should come visit, especially during the summer when everybody escapes the city, er, Manhattan.