Since 2003, Revenue Down For All Papers But The Smallest

A new study reemphasizes that in the troubled newspaper industry small and large circulation dailies have gone in different directions. The Inland Press Association says that of the more than 120 papers whose confidential financial data it analyzed, none of the papers with a circulation of over 50,000 have been able to increase their profits over the last five years. By contrast, 19 papers with circulations under that level boosted their profits during the period (Ten of those papers had circulations under 15,000). No word on whether any were flat. As for revenues, only the under 15,000-circulation category managed to eek out any increase in revenue since 2003. Another positive indicator for small papers: On average, classified sales were actually up.

The group says that overall most papers still managed to post profit margins of between 8.5 percent to 13.6 percent of revenue—which the Inland Press Assocation’s Ray Carlsen says is “encouraging,” adding that “it means that newspapers are still a good business when compared to the results of other industries.” Over at the Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, Alan Mutter emphasizes that those figures represent the average profits over the last five years. Thus, it’s likely that average margins for most papers are lower than that now—and rapidly declining. As noted yesterday, for instance, The Tribune Company is still making money but has seen its profits fall significantly over the last six months. (Mutter says that the Inland Press Association won’t give out the figures for 2008).


Industry Moves: Kliger Joins TV Guide As Interim CEO; Can He Save It?

In a surprise move, TV Guide magazine, now owned by PE firm OpenGate Capital, has appointed former Hachette CEO and magazine industry vet Jack Kliger as the interim CEO and senior adviser to the company. This comes as the troubled mag tries to revive itself and the format. This fills the spot left empty when former CEO Scott Crystal left in a huff in May, accusing the PE bosses of mishandling the magazine and raiding its assets. Kliger left the struggling Hachette about a year ago, which now has Elle, Woman’s Day, Metropolitan Home and three auto and motorcycling publications left in its stable; last month it sold some titles to Bonnier.

Kliger, 63, has a tough task, and besides the declining print, doesn’t have much to work with.

Since earlier this year, the magazine has cut staff, trimmed its rate base 9.4 percent to 2.9 million from 3.2 million, and reduced its frequency to six fewer issues this year, for a total of 40. The magazine recently launched its website in beta at TVguidemagazine.com, with news and info on the TV shows, but will have a tough time competing with tons of other competition out there, and may be hurt by the confusion over TVGuide.com similarly named site.

The TVG TV network and the TVGuide.com network of sites was sold separately to Lionsgate earlier this year; the movie studio later brought in former bidder One Equity as a part owner.

According to OpenGate CEO Andrew Nikou, the PE firm “continues to expand into media, and as the company furthers its success with publications like TV Guide magazine, Jack’s guidance on media and expansion strategies will be a tremendous asset to us.” Reading between the lines, this likely means it will buy more troubled publishing assets. Hollywood Reporter, anyone? The entertainment trade has been hammered over the last year by layoffs and circulation declines, and rumors of print closure have been surfacing recently, though my sources say nothing is planned for the rest of this year at least. It could fit well with OpenGate’s philosophy of picking up distressed legacy properties, if Nielsen Business Media wants to sell it off separately.


Updated: 6,000 Facebook Status Updates Per Minute During Jackson Memorial

Updated: The Michael Jackson memorial service has come and gone, and some of the preliminary stats on online viewing, streaming and social media activity have come in.

First up is Facebook, which reports that roughly one million users tuned in through its Live Stream box across CNN, E! Online, MTV and ABC News. They posted a total of about 800,000 status updates during the memorial, with a peak of approximately 6,000 status updates per minute

Stats from MSNBC, Ustream, Akamai and the full Facebook breakdown after the jump.

MSNBC: 3 million live streams; 7 million uniques and 82 million page views by 2pm PDT

Ustream: 4.6 million total streams worldwide; 1.6 million unique visits; 12,000 messages sent in chat rooms per minute

Akamai: Over 2.7 million people were tuned into various memorial streams at noon PDT (per ZDNet); that’s still pale in comparison to the 7.7 million concurrent streams tracked during the Obama inauguration—but the full day stats aren’t out yet.

Facebook/CNN: 759,000 streams; 733,000 status updates

Facebook/ABC: 97,000 streams; 48,000 status updates

Facebook/E! Online: 87,000 streams; 9,000 status updates

Facebook/MTV: 21,000 streams; 5,000 status updates


Donny Deutsch: Jackson Mourners “Crying In The Streets That Don’t Know Him… Need To Get A Life”

Despite claiming that he didn’t want to be a “cold-hearted guy,” CNBC’s Donny Deutsch came off as just that when he harshly criticized all the media attention that Michael Jackson’s death was receiving. Deutsch read off a list of people who had died on the same day as Jackson, a woman who registered tens of thousands to vote, a U.S. military member who died, the implication being that Jackson’s impact on society and culture, whom Deutsch called a “wonderful singer and dancer,” did not merit the massive amount of attention being paid to his death.

Deutsch also had harsh words for those intensely mourning Jackson’s death: “People who are crying in the streets that don’t know him, they need to maybe get a little bit of a life.”

WATCH:

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Sandy Maisel: Journalistic Values in the 21st Century

In 1973, Colby College awarded the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for Courageous Journalism to Katharine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, for the paper's extraordinary coverage of the Watergate affair. The award went to Graham, not to the reporters or to the editors, because Graham risked her paper's entire future defending the principle that reporters should be free to follow a story wherever it led and that neither they nor their paper should be cowed by threats from even the most powerful people in government. It was Katharine Graham whom then-Attorney General John Mitchell threatened, with an oft-repeated claim that he would place certain parts of her anatomy through a wringer.

Last weekend Katharine Graham's granddaughter and namesake, Katharine Weymouth, the current publisher of the paper, penned an extraordinary letter to her paper's readers, apologizing for what seemed like an effort to use her prominence to sell access to power brokers in Washington. As she said in her letter, she feared that the episode would cause readers "to doubt our independence and integrity."

Weymouth asserted that neither she nor any of the editors in her newsroom approved of the flier that many found so offensive; yet she was chagrined enough to spell out the paper's standards in great detail. And so she should.

The major newspapers in this country adhere to rigorous journalistic standards; so too do many of the smaller papers and the vast majority of working journalists.

But what exactly are those standards? And are they the same for all media? When readers pick up the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, or the Washington Post, they have a certain expectation. Generations of journalistic giants have defined the role that newspapers play in our society. Today's reporters, editors, and publishers are heirs to the tradition of the Kay Grahams, the Robert Maynards, the Tom Winships and Mary McGrorys, the Don Bolles and Dan Pearls, all winners of the Lovejoy Award.

We all know, however, that journalism today is evolving radically. Most citizens, particularly young citizens, do not get their information from traditional newspapers. They do not even get information from the major television networks. Readers of this blog are among those who go to the Internet for some of their news; perhaps some go for all of that news. Various news outlets cater to specific audiences -- either by age or demographic group, or ideology, or some other identifiable trait.

What do we know about the standards followed by these media? And the key there is that we do not know what standards apply.

To be a literate consumer of the news today, one needs to know about the sources on which one relies. Most young people simply go to the site that is most convenient to them; few ask about the ways in which information for that site was gathered, about the standards for publication, about the role of ideological values in interpreting the news.

During the post-election disturbances in Iran, most mainline journalists were kept away from frontline reporting. How did we get our news? When President Obama's staff notified a Huffington Post reporter that he would be called on at the President's press conference, to ask a question that came from those on the ground in Iran, he came under severe criticism. Press Secretary Gibbs' response was that they did not know what the question would be, but that they wanted to recognize that those reporting through social networks were closest to the action in Iran and giving us much of what we know.

Last week I spent a good deal of time reading various news outlets coverage of Sarah Palin's announcement that she would resign as governor of Alaska. What one learned of that event depended heavily on where one read the news.

It is not easy to be news literate, particularly not for those who rely largely on digital media. It is difficult to know how to interpret news one receives. Under a grant from the John S, and James L. Knight Foundation, the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Colby College has just launched a website to work on this problem. The Lovejoy Journalism and News Literacy Blog is intended as a conversation among journalists with two goals in mind: first, to educate news consumers about the strengths and weaknesses of the various media on which they rely, to assist them as they learn to consume news intelligently, to understand what it means to be news literate; second, and of equal importance, to raise the consciousness of news producers in the same variety of media about the expectations of their audiences. The goal is not to criticize journalists working in any media nor is it to criticize the news that is produced. Rather, it is to encourage thought and dialogue about what it means to be news literate in the 21st century. Take a look and join the conversation.


5 Ideas to Transform Newspaper Sites

I sometimes wonder whether we are held captive by old school thinking. At our newspapers at Mediafin, we are in the process of integrating web operations with the print publication, a move which I fully endorse. There’s one major risk to this: that we might end up seeing the web as just another way to distribute newspaper articles rather than a radically new opportunity.

People who have spent years writing for print newspapers could easily fall victim to the horseless carriage syndrome — the belief that they can continue to apply the same thinking that they applied to an old technology to a new, fundamentally different one. At the turn of the century, many saw the automobile as a new variation on the horse-and-carriage, not realizing that the car was in many ways very different. Just as cars are fundamentally different from horseless carriages, or cinema is fundamentally different from theater, the web is fundamentally different from newspapers.

We have only begun to perceive those fundamental differences, like the streaming and social character of the web. Thus, many newspapers are still looking at the web in old print terms — and not using their websites as anything more than a place to post the exact same material that they put in print. We should at least try to think out of the newspaper box and imagine how our presence on the web could be completely different from what it is today.

Five Suggestions for Change

Let me suggest some possibilities for how a newspaper’s web presence could be radically different from the way it’s been so far:

1. Create micro-sites.
Instead of having a single website divided in sections which often replicate the sections in the print newspaper, we could have many different sites each focusing on a specific topic of interest to our communities. For example, at Mediafin, we know our community has various interests — financial services, markets, technology for consumers, technology for enterprises, etc. Why not have a separate website for each to better target community members’ interests?

2. Streams of content.
The news on each of those more specialized sites or networks would be like a stream of blog posts or microblog posts. In other words, it would look more like Twitter, Facebook or FriendFeed rather than a collection of newspaper articles. Of course, posts could be longer than the famous 140 characters of Twitter, but overall the look would be far more stream-like. There could be a special section for link journalism, using a tool such as Publish2.

3. Use wikis for context.
Instead of only posting static articles, newspapers could use wikis to help provide background and context. A wiki format would allow both the newsroom and the community to contribute their expertise. Of course, the comments would enable the community members to post links, see members’ profiles, and maybe even rate articles and comments.

4. Boost audience interactions.
Forums would enhance both synchronous and asynchronous interaction. One could imagine using some embeddable virtual 2.5-D environment such as Metaplace to enhance the interactive experience. Metaplace is a platform that enables you to make your own virtual environment and connect through hyperlinks or simply embed it on your site. A newspaper could easily transform one of Metaplace’s stock “worlds” to match the look and feel of the newspaper and organize chat sessions there.

5. Give participants more control.
It would pretty much be up to the user how all these components of the newspaper site(s) would be organized. Community members would also have the option to either participate in synchronous discussions using avatars in the 2.5-D space or participate in that same discussion using a text-only environment. The idea is to make the participation experience more user-centric: let the users decide how to experience the information, news and discussion flows.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Implementing any of these out-of-the-newspaper-box ideas would require that both journalists and community members adapt to something rather new. This could be a disadvantage for journalists accustomed to old-school print thinking; it could actually be more problematic for them to adapt than for the community.

Another possible objection might be the reaction of the advertisers. Would they appreciate the possibility offered by some of these ideas — like creating separate websites for each topic — to better target very specific segments of the community? Or would they instead deplore the fact that the community has been split up, making it harder to reach a broad range of readers?

I think the real benefit of separate environments/sites for advertisers is that they can focus on the relevant audience. The audience’s behavior — reading, commenting, participating in chat discussions, etc. — will offer insights that are relevant for advertisers planning their campaigns. The only thing is: advertisers will need to be convinced of these new possibilities. Journalists are not the only ones who tend to be conservative in regards to online innovation.

metaplace.png

A clear advantage would be that such a model makes it possible to react very fast on the news, with Twitter-like speed. Adopting a blog-stream style of posting would allow newspapers to update much more quickly than if they continued to shovel articles online in the old “online print newspaper” style.

At the same time, wikis would provide in-depth analysis and context. The whole operation would be very much community driven, using sophisticated comments, forum and wiki systems. People would have the choice to refer to existing online networks for their profiles, to create a new profile on the site or they could stay anonymous.

Some sites have already adopted some of these ideas. I was inspired to list some of the above elements by the Columbia Tomorrow site. I especially like that site’s combination of a blog-like news stream with in-depth overview pages, and that it offered the possibility for community members to start their own discussions on news posts. The site features a video explaining how this project organizes the interaction and the news.

If you have other such examples or ideas for other components of the news site/network of the future, let us know!

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L’Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

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Analyst: Google Bests Bing For Relevance

Citigroup tested 200 of the most common queries to determine which major search engine delivers what it considers to be the most relevant results and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) won by a wide margin. From the report released Tuesday: 71 percent of the time a Google search brought up the most relevant results or brought up results as relevant as the competition, compared to 49 percent for Bing, and 30 percent for Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO). But analyst Mark Mahaney says there is no need at all for Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) to despair: “We view our study as generally validating the positive Bing reviews ... but also demonstrating Google’s very strong position,” he says.

Indeed, Microsoft has said that with its relaunched search engine the company is actually focusing on four core areas—travel, health, local and shopping. And, in two of those areas—health and travel—Citigroup says that Microsoft usually returns results that are more relevant than its rivals (The investment bank does not look at shopping). That’s certainly an indication that Microsoft’s attempt to position itself as a “decision engine” around those areas is working.

It’s also worth noting that “relevance” is difficult to define. What may be the most relevant result to Citigroup researchers may not actually be the most relevant result to another searcher. Citigroup says it picked winners for each of its queries based on “relevancy of the organic search results” as well as the “robustness of the search experience, which included factors such as image and video inclusion, Search Assist, and Site Breakout.” That sounds very subjective.

For its part, Microsoft has unsurprisingly insisted that its own metrics show that its search engine produces results as relevant as Google’s.