Another newspaper in Minnesota is yielding to the economics of the newspaper industry and cutting back the number of days it issues a printed paper.
he Rochester Post Bulletin has announced it will no longer issue a printed Friday edition. It will publish only five days a week.
The paper’s publisher tried to portray the decision as a step ahead for quality journalism.
“Having a modern business model that fits today’s world will allow us to improve the paper overall, while protecting our readers from price increases for the foreseeable future” said Publisher Len R. Small. “Everybody knows the world is changing, and we intend to prepare for a better future.”
Is the business better off eliminating the printed product? Or is it the beginning of the end?
The Post Bulletin claims its analysis of other papers in the nation that have cut back print production shows it can be successful, although it didn’t say what constitutes “success.”
The New Orleans Times Picayune was one of the first large newspapers to give up on print when it made the move to three-days-a week in 2012. It cut the number of journalists while insisting the journalism would be even better, a neat trick.
A year later, another newspaper (The Advocate out of Baton Rouge) started a New Orleans edition to mixed success.
The Times Picayune’s online daily replacement — NOLA.com — is still going and when tornadoes struck the area earlier this year, it patted itself on the back for being better than the old method.
In the PB’s case, it will move content — obituaries, for example — to other days of the week while increasing content on its website.
“Plainly stated, quality local journalism comes at a cost, but is an investment for both our future and the community’s,” Kristy Mintz, the Post Bulletin’s marketing director, said in today’s notice. “Subscription fees only pay a small portion of the cost of delivering the news. Income from ad revenue is changing. A five-day press schedule is the most viable option for maintaining and improving our 24/7 news coverage and developing Postbulletin.com, one of the most visited news websites in Minnesota, with over 500,000 monthly readers.”
The Post Bulletin is the second paper in Minnesota to cut production this year. In April, the Globe of Worthington — formerly the Worthington Daily Globe — began publishing only two days a week, ending a streak of daily papers in the city that began in 1872.
It’s been a rather tumultuous year for magazine media, to say the least. With so many consumers reading content on digital platforms, it appears that many publishers are reducing print frequencies or altogether shuttering print editions of magazines to focus on digital initiatives and cut costs.
While most publishers seem to be drifting away from print, Bauer Media Group is doing just the opposite. In 2018, the media giant is not only continuing its print editions, but also increasing frequencies for four of its titles, with Life & Style slated to rise from 51 to 53 issues, and Closer, In Touch and Woman’s World from 52 to 53 issues.
“Bauer earns a positive margin on every issue from single copy sales,” Bauer CEO Steven Kotok (pictured) tells Folio:. “So the more issues we publish, the more money we earn, unlike an ad-dependent model in which fewer ads each year are spread over the same number of issues.”
Kotok explains that Bauer’s “absolute focus” on the reader is what sets its titles apart from other magazines on the newsstands.
“Counterintuitively, this drives an industry-leading level of reader engagement that sets Bauer apart with advertisers,” he says. “Also it’s an additive audience – because Bauer uniquely among publishers activates a majority of its readership at retail point of sale, our brands have very low duplication from all our competitors whose readers are overwhelmingly served subscriptions in their homes.”
In such a difficult print environment, Kotok emphasizes that Bauer’s recipe for success boils down to focus.
“Not only does Bauer lead the industry in total unit sales, we also lead the industry in percentage of our own revenue earned from reader purchase decisions at retail,” he explains. “The level of focus we have on satisfying that reader and activating that retail purchase is unparalleled and undiluted by other considerations.”
In addition to increasing print frequencies of four of its titles next year, Bauer is the only publisher up in ad pages this year, according to data from MediaRadar. Kotok says that generally, advertisers from consumer packaged goods and over the counter pharmaceuticals seeking retail sales are particularly good fits for the company’s magazines.
Hitting newsstands this week is a special holiday issue of Woman’s World. The title regularly limits its ad pages to seven per issue, however, for the special edition, Bauer decided to increase its page count and place two additional ads.
“Woman’s World zealously guards our reader-favorable ad/edit ratio by strictly limiting ad pages of every issue at just seven. We sell out all seven of those ad pages every single week, all year long,” says Kotok. “So with the extra edit pages providing additional reader value, it was a no-brainer to offer more opportunities for advertisers to reach our audience, when we could do so without diluting the ad/edit ratio that is key to the reader experience and drives industry-leading engagement with both the edit and the ads.”
As the company looks ahead to build upon the momentum it has seen this year, Kotok tells Folio: the Bauer team seeks to maintain and deliver on its promise and value proposition to its readers.
“As with the Hippocratic oath, Do No Harm, because what we are doing is working for our readers and in turn, what works for our readers directly benefits our bottom line,” he says. “But we have some other ideas on the drawing board to expand on the value we bring to both readers and advertisers.”
Thing you knew but should keep thinking about anyway: The big tech companies are very interested in streaming live sports to you.
Today’s reminder comes from Facebook, which wants to hire an exec to negotiate sports rights deals. The company has been interviewing candidates for a while, says Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand.
More interesting: Ourand’s sources say whoever gets the job will have a budget of a “few billion dollars” to spend on global rights deal. No comment from Facebook comms on his story, but John is a very good reporter, so let’s assume the number is correct until we hear otherwise.
Here is the thing about a “few billion dollars”: It is a lot of money! But it’s crucial to know what period of time that covers. And, in the context of sports rights deals, it may be less than you think.
In 2014, for instance, DirecTV agreed to pay the NFL a reported $1.5 billion a year for the rights to its “Sunday Ticket” ticket package. (That deal is up in 2022, by the way.) ESPN and Turner are paying the NBA a reported $2.66 billion a year for their current deal.
So: Unless the value of TV sports rights deals dramatically craters in the near future, Facebook won’t be buying any exclusive rights to any big-ticket sports anytime soon.
On the other hand, a “few billion dollars” could definitely go a long way when it comes to streaming-only deals, sold alongside traditional TV deals. That’s what the NFL has been doing with its Thursday night games for the last couple years: Last year, it sold the digital rights to Twitter for about $10 million; this year Amazon got them for about $50 million.
And Facebook itself just bid $600 million — $120 million a year for five years — to stream cricket matches in India. It didn’t get the deal — Star paid $2.6 billion for a combined TV-digital deal — but it was a good sign that Facebook is willing to spend significant money for sports. And now we have another.
In 1975, the Federal Communications Commission (during my tenure as chair) adopted rules that prohibited the common ownership of a daily print newspaper and a full-power broadcast station (radio or television) in the same market. It did so at a time when newspapers played a dominant role in this nation’s media landscape. And the agency’s regulations largely were based on concerns about that perceived dominance and the effect that it might have on viewpoint diversity.
Now, some 42 years later, the cross-ownership prohibitions remain substantially unchanged. And this is true despite dramatic changes that have taken place in the communications marketplace. Sadly, the strength of the daily newspaper industry has greatly declined. Many papers have struggled to prosper — and, in some cases, even survive – in what has become an increasingly Internet-driven environment. Moreover, there are now many more radio and television stations than in 1975. And today’s media universe features numerous highly diverse sources of local news, information and advertising (including independent digital-only news outlets that have no print or broadcast affiliation).
All of this has caused some major newspaper/broadcast groups to move their properties into separate organizations (dividing slower growth print operations from faster growing electronic businesses). Undoubtedly, they have done so for financial reasons but also, perhaps, in recognition of the Commission’s unwillingness to make any meaningful changes to its cross-ownership regimen.
Such regulatory inertia has been especially disconcerting because Congress, in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, directed the agency to examine its ownership rules every two (now four) years to determine whether they are still “necessary” in the public interest. Given the marketplace metamorphosis that has occurred since then, it would seem difficult, if not impossible, for the Commission to contend that the cross-ownership restrictions remain necessary or even justifiable.
Further, the FCC’s inaction on cross-ownership has seemed even more puzzling given expressions made by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. For more than 13 years, this panel (by a 2-1 majority) has maintained jurisdiction over the broadcast ownership rules and generally has resisted any deregulatory efforts. However, even it has questioned the need for a blanket proscription on newspaper/broadcast coalitions. Indeed, just last year, the judges observed that the ban’s continued operation has imposed “significant expense” on parties that otherwise might have been allowed “to engage in profitable combinations.”
Despite these Congressional and judicial nudges, the FCC to date has held firm not only on cross-ownership but on most of its other age-old broadcast ownership regulations as well. However, under the leadership of chair Ajit Pai, who long has lamented the “archaic” nature of these restrictions, the Commission now seems poised to take decisive action later this month.
The FCC’s draft Order – released to the public under a new Pai transparency initiative – would modify a number of rules (in particular, local television station ownership) and would eliminate entirely the agency’s cross-ownership regulations (including one that prohibits radio and TV station affiliations in the same market). If these actions are approved by the full five-member Commission, it would represent a deregulatory milestone. Nevertheless, it is regrettable that such welcomed relief did not come sooner in order to help remedy the ills that have afflicted the newspaper industry.
According to recent data, the number of daily papers has declined by nearly 25% since 1975 and total circulation has fallen by a third. Similarly, newspaper advertising has decreased dramatically. Over the past several decades, the general stability and profitability of elements of broadcasting might have helped to preserve at least some of the “lost” newspapers. While print journalist layoffs sadly have become all too common, staffing in local television newsrooms has steadily increased.
Concomitantly, the strength of local news reporting – always a hallmark of the “journalistic tradition” practiced by newspapers – could have been a valuable asset to many broadcasters, especially in sometimes hard-pressed smaller markets.
Still, the FCC’s planned action – better late than never – strikes me as very much in the public interest. After all, in removing restrictions that can no longer be justified, the Commission would recognize the realities of the media world as it is today, and not as it was in 1975, 1996 or perhaps even a decade or so ago.
The holidays are a time when many people adhere to the tradition of a courtesy “thank you” tip for the dedication of newspaper delivery staff who assure each day’s edition of the trusted local newspaper arrives to customers.
Just as there is an increased emphasis on the importance of credentialed journalists to report the fair and balanced facts and information of today’s news headlines, there is also the importance of how news is delivered to readers eager to be informed, educated and entertained.
The blockbuster Disney stage musical “Newsies” provides the reasons why all of the above is just as vital today as more than a century ago.
Now playing until Dec. 31 at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, this new production marks the first regional production after two Broadway tours have previously played Chicago in 2016 and 2014.
“Newsies” is inspired by the real-life Newsboy Strike of 1899, when newsboy Kid Blink led a band of orphan and runaway “newsies” on a two-week-long walk-out against the news moguls of the day, rivals Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph.
Pulitzer and Hearst ushered in what is now referred to as the “Period of Yellow Journalism” and the “Newspaper Circulation Wars,” which started in the late 1890s.
While Hearst was from a wealthy mining family, Pulitzer’s family history was the opposite.
Pulitzer got his start in this country as a poor immigrant who worked with way up the ranks to eventually transform the St. Louis Post-Dispatch into a financial success. He then expanded to New York City to purchase The New York World newspaper, applying his same publishing philosophy to showcase human interest stories, crusades for worthy causes and plenty of promotional fodder within the pages of his editions.
“Newsies” focuses on Pulitzer as a central character, with less attention given to Hearst. The Broadway musical is based on Disney’s 1992 film of the same name, which starred young actors Christian Bale and Christian Slater as the newsboys opposite Ann-Margret as nightclub singer, Bill Pullman as a determined newspaper reporter and Robert Duvall as Pulitzer.
The stage version introduces seven brand-new songs by the original team of Alan Menken and Jack Feldman while keeping many of the beloved songs from the film, including “Carrying the Banner,” “Seize the Day,” “King of New York” and “Santa Fe.”
The central storyline involves a newspaper industry business practice still used today. For stores and outlets selling newspapers, any unsold newspapers are returned by the businesses for a credit. In “Newsies,” media tycoons Pulitzer and Hearst team-up to raise the price of the newspaper bundles provided to the youths dubbed “newsies,” a common sight in the streets of major cities shouting out the enticing news headlines to sell the latest editions.
Actor Patrick Rooney shines in this Marriott run as Jack Kelly, the leader of the news carriers group who have banded together to strike against the unfair labor demands of the youth. Eliza Palasz plays Katherine, a young reporter who becomes Jack’s love interest. Kevin Gudahl is a powerhouse force playing determined Joseph Pulitzer, and Stephanie Pope sizzles on stage as nightclub singer “Medda Larkin,” who helps the newsies with their quest.
“Newsies” also stars Nick Graffagna as Davey, who teamed with his younger brother Les (played with alternating young actors Carter Graf and Zachary Uzarraga) to forge young careers as newsboys after their father was unable to work. Matthew Uzarraga plays the group’s pal Crutchie, who doesn’t let his physical challenges keep him from his delivery duties.
Since Marriott is a “theatre-in-the-round” space, Alex Sanchez uses numerous clever techniques to direct and choreograph the large and impressive dance numbers, including the now signature “leaps” of the “newsies” with their newspaper carrier shoulder bags clutched like shields. The musical direction is by Jeff Award winner Ryan T. Nelson.
“Newsies” boasts a Tony Award-winning score with music by eight-time Academy Award winner Menken and lyrics by Feldman and book by four-time Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein.
When the Broadway run of this musical opened on March 29, 2012, “Newsies” was intended for only 101 performances. But good news travels fast and instead, it had a run of 1,005 performances, attendance of more than 1 million, and a gross of over $100 million.
“I want to inspire audiences to not be afraid to take the courageous path and strive for the unreachable,” Director and Choreographer Sanchez says in his director’s note regarding the Marriott production.
The production’s set design is by Kevin Depinet with lighting design by Jesse Klug, sound design by Robert E. Gilmartin, properties design by Sally Weiss, and musical supervision and orchestra conducted by Patti Garwood. Tickets start at $50 at www.marriotttheatre.com or 847-634-0200.
A new study from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism looks in-depth at small newspapers, what’s working, what’s not and what needs to change.
“Local News in a Digital World: Small-Market Newspapers in the Digital Age,” was published Wednesday and it details ways small newspapers are making money, how journalism in those places is changing and how small local newsrooms need to do a better job of showing why they’re vital.
Times are tough for small-market newspapers, authors Damian Radcliffe and Christopher Ali write, “but they’re not dead yet. In fact, they continue to provide considerable value to communities and the wider news ecology. We need to do a better job of telling this story, so that the impact and successes of small-market newspapers is better understood and heard. If we want audiences and policymakers to realize this, and to invest in the sector’s future, then telling them the the industry is moribund will not help.”
The report is the latest look at local news from Radcliffe and Ali, who previously found that despite tough times, local journalists are still optimistic. The two also looked at how we define local news and what small newspapers need to do to survive. (Disclosure: The report got funding from the Knight Foundation, which also funds my coverage of local news.)
Today’s report comes from in-depth interviews with 53 people, including editors, publishers, owners, executives, advertisers, and associations. Poynter’s Rick Edmonds was among those interviewed.
The report notes that it seeks to offer some nuance in looking at small-market local news, which is defined as newsrooms with a circulation of 50,000 or less. From the report:
“There is a plurality of experience across the newspaper industry, not to mention across small-market newspapers operating in different towns across the United States. Overgeneralization about the newspaper sector loses important perspectives from smaller outlets.”
Want more on the transformation of local news? Join the conversation in our weekly newsletter, Local Edition.
Those smaller outlets, while still dealing with tough times, have some key advantages over their bigger counterparts, the report notes.
“Sizable audiences continue to buy and value local newspapers. As a result, it is incumbent that the sector begin to change its own narrative. Outlets need to be honest with their audiences about the challenges they face, but they can also do more to highlight their unique successes, continued community impact, and important news value.”
How can they do that? The report includes several answers:
Don’t just find problems, find solutions
In small markets, practicing solutions journalism can help set the newspaper apart and make it valuable for the community. Richland Source took this approach recently while reporting on infant mortality, as did Gannett’s Wisconsin papers in covering teen suicide.
Find new ways to make money
The report lists seven ways newsrooms are making money that aren’t traditional advertising. Those include membership, digital subscriptions and events. Paywalls are another the report mentions, and small newspapers are trying a variety of approaches.
“Our research also found clear evidence that paywalls and digital subscription models are not set in stone. There are plenty of opportunities to experiment with them,” the report notes. “The Dallas Morning News, for example, has deployed three different paywalls over the years, from a hard paywall, and later a mixed premium versus free site, to a metered model. The current paywall also distinguishes between in-market and out-of-market audiences.”
Change the approach
Newspapers can’t always wait to publish until the story is complete, a workflow shift we’re exploring now in Poynter’s newsletter on local transformation, Local Edition, which gets a mention in the report.
“In many cases, (emeritus editor of The Columbian, Lou) Brancaccio argued, the paper does have the story, but the reporter is waiting until it is complete before publishing. ‘That’s old-school thinking,’ he said, leading him — and others — to encourage reporters to publish online when a story breaks, fleshing it out as further details emerge. For many journalists that’s a radically different approach from the way they have previously worked. But Brancaccio believes it’s necessary for many outlets in this day and age. ‘The odds are somebody else has it,’ he said, ‘and if you don’t get it up first, somebody else will.'”
WITH A FEW exceptions, it’s against federal regulations for your local television station to buy your local newspaper. Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on a proposal to change those rules.
Since 1975, the commission has generally barred organizations from owning both a newspaper and a full-power radio or television station in the same market to protect what it calls “viewpoint diversity.” In other words, the agency worried that if too few companies owned the dominant media players in a particular town, the public would suffer.
Now, the FCC staff argues the cross-ownership rules are no longer necessary to protect a diversity of viewpoints because of “the multiplicity of alternative sources of local news and information available in the marketplace,” particularly digital-only news outlets.
But with the shuttering of the New York City local news sites Gothamist and DNAinfo this month, it’s worth looking at just how big a role digital-only local news outlets play in the public’s media diet.
The proposed change in cross-ownership rules is part of a broadcaster-friendly order the FCC is scheduled to vote on Thursday. The proposed rules would also ease restrictions on how many TV and radio stations an owner can control in a market. Republicans have been agitating to loosen media-ownership rules for years. A George W. Bush-era attempt was thrown out by the Supreme Court, but the agency believes its latest attempt is on firmer footing. Republicans control a majority of seats on the FCC, so the proposal is expected to pass.
To justify the changes, the order points to a 2011 Pew Research study that found the internet ranked as the first- or second-most-important source of information for 15 of 16 local topics.
What the FCC order doesn’t mention, however, is that the Pew study found respondents relied on the internet most often for information on local restaurants and other businesses. For news about subjects such as local politics, government, crime, or taxes, respondents turned more often to newspapers or television. Factoring in both how often respondents turned to a medium, and the importance of the information, Pew concluded that the internet was “a distant second to newspapers in terms of widespread use and value.”
More recently, a 2016 Pew study found that respondents were most likely to get news from local television, followed by online, and print newspapers. That study asked about news in general, not about local news in particular.
Pew identified a large number of local news sites in a 2014 study, which found that 231 out of 402 digital-only news outlets had a local focus. But it’s not clear how much original reporting these sources actually do.
A 2011 FCC study by Matthew Hindman, a professor of media and public affairs at the George Washington University, examined local digital-only publications in five metropolitan regions—Dallas‐Ft. Worth; Houston; Portland, Oregon; Cincinnati; and Charlotte. Hindman found that while many sites produced high-quality content, “a majority of posts involve commentary on stories and features found in traditional media outlets.” The study also noted that, nationwide, most popular digital-only news sources were offshoots of shuttered print newspapers. “While these sites may help maintain a bit of news diversity that would otherwise be lost, their persistence can’t be counted as evidence that the internet is expanding local news options,” the report says.
Overall, audiences for digital-only local news sites tend to be low. A 2015 Pew study of media habits in Denver, Macon, Georgia, and Sioux City, Iowa found that fewer than 10 percent of respondents often get local news from digital-only outlets. “The reliance on nontraditional news outlets is still the exception rather than the norm,” the study says.
In short, local digital news sites are far from replacing local television and newspapers in terms of either reach or breadth of coverage. The internet may provide alternative sources of local weather reports, restaurant reviews, and job listings, but citizens still rely heavily on traditional media for information that requires more leg work.
And even where those alternatives exist, they might not exist for long, as evidenced by the shuttering of outlets like Gothamist and DNAinfo in New York City, and DCist and Hill Now in Washington, DC.
The FCC claims that the struggles of local media companies argue in favor of allowing more consolidation. Perhaps pooling resources with television stations would enable newspapers to survive longer. The newspaper industry is eager to see the cross-ownership rules revoked. “Investment is necessary to sustain quality journalism; therefore, we have sought to roll back these outdated regulations,” Danielle Coffey, vice president of public policy at the industry group News Media Alliance wrote, in response to the FCC proposal.
But struggling publications already have the option to merge with other outlets. Last year the FCC created an exception to the cross-ownership for failed or failing papers and stations, acknowledging that the public would be worse off if a news outlet disappeared entirely than they would be under a more consolidated media market. Proponents of the rule change say that exception isn’t adequate. “Requiring newspapers to fail or be close to failing before they can draw much needed investment from broadcasters is a ‘too little, too late’ recipe,” NMA CEO David Chavern said in a statement last year.
Opponents of the change worry that consolidation will lead to smaller newsrooms. “Mergers are usually about cutting spending,” says Matt Wood of the organization Free Press, which opposes media consolidation. A combined company might create a single newsroom for both television and print, leading to layoffs and an overall reduction in original reporting.
What’s less clear, however, is whether broadcasters actually want to buy newspapers. Several media companies, including Tribune, Gannett, and NewsCorp have separated their newspaper units to focus on broadcasting.
I recently manned a table at career day at North Austin’s Padron Elementary School. It didn’t take me long to confront, in my head, the stark reality that I was talking to kids about a career that (a) might not look like it does now or (b) won’t exist when they age into the labor force.
I work at a newspaper, which these days means it also includes a robust online operation delivering news. Coincidentally, a headline leading the newspaper’s website I had on display for the kids as they came by to hear about what I do for a living read: “Statesman’s parent company puts newspaper up for sale.”
So that was nagging at me as I checked out the other folks at career day tables near mine and mulled what their line of work will look like in 20 years. Christy Seguin was at a table on one side of mine. A sign identified her as the “rock and roll cake diva.” She bakes wonderfully artistic cakes. Cake will be around in 20 years. (At least I hope so because I plan to be around in 20 years.)
At the table on the other side from me were Alma McElroy and Lauren Carberry of Levy Architects. Buildings will be around in 20 years. A few tables away was a Star Flight pilot. First responders will be around in 20 years. They may have individual jetpacks, but it will still be a career. (And, FYI, I still want to be a Star Flight pilot when and if I grow up.)
At another nearby table, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department was represented by Merv Griffin. (Extra points if you remember the other Merv Griffin.) Parks will be around in 20 years. So will recreation. And near Griffin was Bunny Stark, a pastor at Greater Mt. Vernon Zion AME Church, who, about halfway through the two hours of talking with energetic grade-school kids, agreed with me that it was nap-time. Faith will be around in 20 years.
Newspapers? In 2037? Who knows? It’s important that journalism still exist, despite what our current president thinks of the industry. But the troubled industry is in transition. To what? Stay tuned.
This career day came a day after Atlanta-based Cox Media Group announced its plan to sell the American-Statesman and the company’s Palm Beach, Fla., newspapers, as well as the related websites at these papers. This was not a shock. The industry upheaval/demise/metamorphosis is well-known.
I’ve seen it take the jobs of many top-notch journalists in recent years. But it’s jarring nonetheless when it hits your career home. Those of you who’ve worked at a business in transition understand the angst the newspaper staff is enduring. I now work among talented colleagues uncertain about their futures in a line of work that is far more than just a job.
All of this was in my brain as my mouth told the Padron kids — so polite, so bright, so fun to talk with — about what I do for a living. Is it something they’ll be able to do for a living?
The answer is a definite maybe. We’ll always need professional delivery of the news. How it is delivered is evolving. The big question is whether the new, online way will be a profitable way and one that will offer a career with paychecks that can help support a family.
I tried to explain the industry tradition and transition to the kids at career day, how online is the future and that sometime in the future print — at least in the form of a daily newspaper as we’ve known it — could be the past. Aware that some of the kids were born around 2010 (several years after I got the shirt I was wearing), I always started by asking if they knew what a newspaper is.
“It’s where it tells you the news,” said a second grader.
“It’s a paper that tells you things that happen in real life,” said Padron student.
“You use it to find out ideas,” said yet another.
Correct, correct and correct.
And I was happy to see many hands shoot up when I asked if anybody sees newspapers in their homes. It was at that point I tried to explain to them that the day could come when nobody will see newspapers in their homes but that the information in them, so important to a community, increasingly and perhaps exclusively will show up in the new forms we’re already using.
I remain bullish enough about journalism to believe our nation needs it to be a viable career, regardless of method of delivery.
Meanwhile, there’s great uncertainty here at the newspaper as we wait to see who’s going to buy us and what it will mean. Sure, there have been lots of side conversations rife with speculation about whether it will be Gannett or Hearst or another newspaper chain or just some rich folks who think it would be fun to own a newspaper. (The answer is yes, it would be fun, unless you believe guaranteed profit is a necessary component of fun.)
But here’s what’s been going on the most here at the newspaper in the days since the sale was announced: Journalism for the benefit of the community we serve.
Our thanks to those of you who think it’s a product worth supporting. It’s support we know must be earned with our product, regardless of how it’s delivered and who signs our paychecks.
Atlanta-based Cox Media Group said Tuesday it will sell the Austin American-Statesman after owning the city’s daily newspaper for 41 years.
The Statesman is being marketed with its seven community newspapers and multiple websites. Cox also is selling the Palm Beach Post and Palm Beach Daily News in Florida.
Cox executives did not publicly specify an asking price for the Statesman.
Cox Media Group President Kim Guthrie said the decision to put the newspapers up for sale is part of a pivot toward markets where Cox has multiple media assets, such as Atlanta and Dayton, Ohio, where James M. Cox, bought his first newspaper property, the Dayton Evening News, nearly 120 years ago and later went on to become a three-term governor of Ohio. Cox owns TV, radio and newspaper operations in both of those cities.
“After careful consideration, we have made the difficult but strategic decision to put our newspapers in Palm Beach and Austin up for sale,” Guthrie said in a written statement. “We have made the decision that we will be better equipped to operate our newspapers in Atlanta and Ohio, where we have the integrated opportunity with our TV and radio operations.”
Guthrie and other company executives made the announcement in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Tuesday morning. Tuesday afternoon, Guthrie came to Austin to address the roughly 200 employees who work at the Statesman.
“When Kim called last week to share this decision with me, she made it clear that this is not a reflection of the value the Statesman delivers to our readers, to our advertisers and to CMG,” Publisher Susie Gray Biehle told Statesman employees in a memo. “While I am sad to leave the Cox family, I am optimistic about the future for the Austin American-Statesman because of the strength of our brand, the quality of the journalism that we do and the talent of the people.”
The Statesman, founded in 1871 and published daily since 1873, has been named Texas Newspaper of the Year by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors three of the past four years. In addition to its flagship daily newspaper and website, the Statesman also publishes Austin360.com, 512tech.com, Hookemplus.com, the Round Rock Leader, Pflugerville Pflag, Bastrop Advertiser, Westlake Picayune, Lake Travis View, Smithville Times and ¡Ahora Sí!
Statesman Editor Debbie Hiott stressed that the newsroom’s mission is not changing.
“Although it has been good to be owned by Cox all these years, the journalism we do comes from local journalists who are invested in this community,” she said. “So new ownership isn’t going to change what we do or our commitment to serving our Austin-area readers.”
The past two decades have seen ongoing waves of consolidation in the newspaper industry, as the digital era brought circulation and print advertising revenue declines, forcing many publications to fold or sell.
It’s not the first time Cox Enterprises, the privately held parent company of Cox Media Group, has put the Statesman on the sales block. The company also did so in August 2008 but then took the newspaper off the market in August 2009, saying it would remain part of the converged newspaper, TV, radio media company Cox was creating to stand along with its automotive and cable interests. Forbes magazine lists Cox Enterprises as America’s 14th largest private company, with annual revenue of $20.1 billion as of year-end 2016.
Cox said it anticipates the sales process could take six to 12 months.
Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism center in St. Petersburg, Fla., said the Statesman would be a desirable acquisition for a media company or a deep-pocketed investor.
“I can see a number of prospective buyers. Gannett and New Media Investment (GateHouse Media) are sure to take a look,” Edmonds said via email. “The American-Statesman would be a great fit for Hearst, which already owns the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News” — and which also currently prints the Statesman. “And there is always the chance that a wealthy local individual might find ownership attractive — as happened with the Boston Globe or Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“But even in an attractive market like Austin, going on the block introduces uncertainty at a difficult time of transition in the industry. There is the chance that a new owner would make substantial reductions in news staff and that the community will be less well-served,” Edmonds said.
Gannett owns USA Today and more than 100 other daily newspapers nationwide. In Texas, it operates daily newspapers in Abilene, Corpus Christi, San Angelo and Wichita Falls.
GateHouse Media owns hundreds of newspapers around the country. While GateHouse doesn’t own any media outlets in Austin, its Center for News & Design is in Austin and does some work, including graphics, for Cox newspapers.
In December 2015, Cox Enterprises sold the Statesman’s lakefront property just south of downtown to a Cox family entity. The family members have since hired Austin-based Endeavor Real Estate Group — developer of the Domain, Domain Northside and numerous other high-profile retail, office and mixed-use projects — to redevelop the 18.9-acre site.
City planners see the prime Statesman land as the biggest opportunity for providing enhanced open space along a large swath of land with multiple owners along Lady Bird Lake’s southern shores, where new development is destined in coming years.
By Shonda Novak and Gary Dinges
Published October 31, 2017
GREENWICH — Recent years for the newspaper industry have been difficult, but challenges facing print journalism can be overcome with hard work and investment in the newsroom.
That was the report given to an audience at the Retired Men’s Association of Greenwich Wednesday by Lincoln Millstein, senior vice president and special assistant to the CEO for Hearst, parent company of Greenwich Time.
“Newspapers have faced challenges almost throughout their history,” said Millstein, who lives in Old Greenwich. “Whether it’s the afternoon papers folding because of demographic change or classified ads versus display ads and the penny press. They were very competitive and a lot of newspapers failed. It’s an industry that’s quite accustomed to challenges.”
With that in mind, Millstein — who has worked for the New York Times, Hartford Courant and Boston Globe, and co-founded the latter’s website in 1995 — said he can’t understand why the newspaper industry as a whole “panicked” when the Internet came to prominence in the 1990s. The industry reacted to the emergence of digital media differently than to any previous challenge, he said, recalling “dark and gloomy stories” about how print journalism was dying.
“It is the only industry I know of that publicly disparages its own core product,” Millstein said.
He compared the response to that of the television news industry, pointing out that the days of Walter Cronkite anchoring the “CBS Evening News” with a 50 percent share of the audience are long gone.
“Today in the nightly news if they’re able to get a 10 percent share it’s considered phenomenal,” Millstein said. “But you never saw Tom Brokaw get on TV and say, ‘Oh, by the way, last year we lost a million viewers.’ Only newspapers do that.”
Newspapers’ pessimism sent a message to advertisers, potentially making their challenges worse, he said, and making it harder to dig out of the 2008 recession, which caused a larger decline in newspaper advertising than in other media.
But Hearst had an advantage over other companies such as Gannett or McClatchy, Millstein said. As a private company that is not publicly traded, Hearst was able to take a longer view and “invest in journalism” by growing its newspaper division.
With the recent purchase of the New Haven Register properties, Hearst has eight dailies in Connecticut and many weeklies.
“You’re paying us to do one job, find out stuff that you can’t find out on your own that’s important to you and important to your community so you can make decisions like going to the polls on Nov. 7,” Millstein said. “What we’re finding out is that there are people willing to pay for that and they’re willing to pay us quite a bit for that journalism. We need to do a better job and more of that. I believe in communities like Greenwich we will sustain ourselves for quite a long time if we’re committed to that.”
Millstein said work is underway to improve the digital experience of Hearst papers such as Greenwich Time, but added interest in print editions of newspapers remains strong. While he spends his commute on the train reading the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and his local paper on his phone, he still reads the hard copies of the newspapers when he arrives in the office, he said.
“Every single day I miss something on my phone,” Millstein said. “I don’t know if you have the same experience but I can’t be assured that I read everything.”
Millstein’s speech was part of the ongoing Greenwich Reads Together program put together by Greenwich Library. Each year one book is chosen for the community to read and events are held throughout town to explore its themes. The 2017 selection is “News of the World,” an acclaimed historical novel by Paulette Jiles, which tells the story of a Civil War veteran who carries newspapers from all over the globe to remote portions of Texas to bring news to people starving for information.
Events will continue to take place for the next few weeks, including an appearance by Jiles, who will speak at Greenwich Library on Nov. 14 in an event open to the public.
Millstein praised the book, and recommended people interested in it also read “Empire of the Summer Moon” by S.C. Gwynne.