Reality Check at the NewsHour

Republicans may have succeeded in stalling health care reform, at least for now. But that doesn’t mean the press should give them a pass when they lie about where and how the plan falls short. That’s what Judy Woodruff did Friday night on the NewsHour. The program featured a clip of the president’s meeting with Republicans, and then...

Jon Stewart Now Going After Obama, Too

It was inevitable that Obama would become a late-night target, at least when Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and Dave Letterman have taken time out from sliming one another. But Stewart, who makes no secret of leaning left, is a pop-culture bellwether. And while the White House notes that Obama used the prompter to address journalists, not the students, the details matter little in comedy.

Are Media Companies Ready To Take On the iPad?

As dialogue continues to swirl about the iTampon’s big iLetdown, David Carr’s recent article in the New York Times touches on a point that has often gone unsaid: this is a media consumption device, not a gadget, and its larger size is precisely what makes it special.

Think about it: when you read a book or a magazine on the computer, the screen is not the primary annoyance. It’s the chair, having to sit, hunch and strain, unable to curl up with your book on the couch or to read the paper without configuring your laptop next to your O.J.

“Critics who suggested that Apple unveiled little more than an iPhone that won’t fit in your pocket don’t seem to understand that by scaling the iPhone experience, the iPad becomes a different species,” Carr writes. “Media companies now have a new platform that presents content in an intimate way.”

Whether or not media companies are ready is another topic for debate. The device has no Flash, which has left Hulu and Conde Nast (which just finished up a Flash prototype of a digital magazine) in tears. Apple has “limited agreement with movie studios,” magazines were practically nonexistent in the Apple demo and though five of the top six book publishers have signed on, it may be a while before they’re able to take full advantage of the iPad’s features, such as video within text.

Nevertheless, the iPad has already made media waves. As recently as Friday, Amazon had refused to sell books for Macmillan on Kindle with a similar pricing schedule as the iPad. By Sunday, they had surrendered.

Personally, I don’t think it’s going to take long for media companies to catch up to the iPad’s capabilities, nor do I think Apple will waste much time installing Flash on the device. As soon as they come out with scented varieties…er, I mean colors…I’ll be on board.

Gannett Turns A Profit In 4Q, Ad Sales Still Dropping

NEW YORK — Gannett Co., the largest U.S. newspaper publisher, said Monday it turned a profit in the fourth quarter, helped by a drop in one-time costs and a smaller decline in ad sales.

The earnings report showed Gannett has been able to slash expenses enough to stay profitable despite steady revenue declines. Other big publishers, such as Miami Herald owner McClatchy Co., have followed a similar course in trimming staff and consolidating printing and delivery operations.

"We are a leaner, stronger company as we move into 2010," Gannett CEO Craig Dubow said during a conference call with analysts.

Although Gannett's earnings topped Wall Street's estimates, its shares tumbled more than 10 percent, or $1.65, to $14.50 in morning trading Monday.

But the stock is still up significantly since Gannett and other publishers first signaled improving advertising trends in December at the annual UBS media conference. Gannett shares closed last week at $16.15, up about 62 percent over the previous two months. They had been as low as $1.85 early last year.

In the last three months of the year, Gannett earned $133.6 million, or 56 cents per share, compared with a loss of $4.7 billion, or $20.65 per share, in the same quarter of 2008, when it booked charges to account for the falling value of its newspapers.

Excluding $53.5 million in one-time charges in the most recent quarter, Gannett said it would have earned 72 cents per share, down from 85 cents the year before. Wall Street analysts, who typically exclude one-time losses or gains from their forecasts, expected 64 cents per share on average, according to Thomson Reuters.

Revenue dropped 14 percent to $1.49 billion, largely in line with the average forecast of $1.46 billion.

Gannett, which has its headquarters in McLean, Va., also announced Monday the promotion of Chief Financial Officer Gracia C. Martore to chief operating officer, a new position. The company said Martore, who has been with Gannett since 1985, will handle day-to-day operations, while Dubow focuses on long-term strategy. Dubow returned to work in October after taking a medical leave during the summer for back surgery.

In a statement earlier, Dubow said stabilizing economies in the U.S. and the U.K. helped slow the decline in ad revenue. The company is also benefiting from easier comparisons with year-ago figures; because the ad slump had already set in by the end of 2008, the latest quarter's ad performance is being compared with figures that are already down significantly from earlier years.

Advertising sales in Gannett's publishing division, which includes USA Today and more than 80 other daily newspapers, dropped 17.9 percent compared with the year-ago period. That's after a 28 percent year-over-year decline in the third quarter. USA Today sold 705 ad pages during the October-December period compared with 788 a year earlier.

By comparison, McClatchy's ad revenue was down 20.5 percent in the fourth quarter after a 28.1 percent decline in the third quarter. Other newspaper owners, including The New York Times Co. and The Washington Post Co. are expected to show similar improvements when they report earnings later this month.

Broadcast revenue was down 14 percent to $183 million, in large part because of the lack of political ad spending.

Net income for the full year came to $355.3 million, or $1.51 per share, compared with a loss of $6.65 billion, or $29.11 per share in 2008. Revenue was down 17 percent to $5.61 billion.

Where to Watch Obama Answer Your Questions Online

President Barack Obama will be participating in a first-of-its-kind online video event today, answering questions via YouTube’s CitizenTube channel. The event, which begins at 1:45 p.m. EST/10:45 a.m. PST, is a followup to last week’s State of the Union address, and will open up the floor to video and text questions on a number of topics from ordinary citizens using YouTube.

YouTube announced the live video chat last week, asking users to send in questions on the economy, health care, foreign policy and other subjects that could then be voted on before being posed to the President. So far, CitizenTube has received more than 11,500 questions, and more than 600,000 votes on those questions. According to a YouTube blog entry today, neither the President nor his staff will know ahead of time which questions will be asked.

The YouTube chat is part of an ongoing effort by the Obama administration to use online video to get its message across. Obama’s inauguration drew millions of viewers online, and the president has streamed key addresses online, including the news conference following his first 100 days in office. Last week’s State of the Union drew 48 million TV viewers, according to Nielsen, and 1.3 million viewers online to the official White House live video stream.

Cost-Cuts Propel Gannett To Profit; Digital Dragged Down By CareerBuilder

Gannett Newspapers Building

The pattern of swinging to profitability mostly on cost containment served Gannett (NYSE: GCI) well yet again in Q4, but advertising and classifieds remained bleak and weak during the period despite signs the bottom may have passed. The digital side was negatively affected by the dismal performance of classifieds, specifically employment ads. Gannett’s digital revenues fell 7.2 percent to $157.7 as rising dollars at rich media unit PointRoll and the e-commerce-based ShopLocal failed to balance out the downward spiral at jobs site CareerBuilder, which Gannett now has a majority stake in.

Publishing ad revenues were down about 18 percent to $790.8 million, worse than the company-wide revenue decline of 14.4 percent to $1.4 billion. Net income was $133 million, reversing the $4.7 billion loss in Q408.

Taking a closer look at the publishing segment, which includes the McLean, VA.-based Gannett’s flagship, USA Today and 84 pubs in the community newspaper division, classifieds took the biggest hit. But it wasn’t the only area of to take a hit. Classifieds were down 21.9 percent in total, with the U.S. off by 21.9 percent and the UK’s Newsquest division drop of 23.5 percent. In the U.S., autos were down 16.7 percent, real estate fell 28.4 percent and unemployment plunged 38.3 percent.

The publishing segment wasn’t all bad news. On the plus side, legal classifieds gained 14.5 percent. Also, the community papers division was up 12 percent.

While Gannett took a $56 million charge on pre-tax workforce restructuring costs ($36.1 million after-tax or $0.16 per share), reduced expenses in Q4 outpaced the revenue declines. Specifically, operating expenses were $1.2 billion—82.4 percent lower than they were in Q408. But as has been pointed out many times before, Gannett, and other newspaper publishers that have spent the past year slashing costs left and right, will have a difficult time keeping that up, as there are only so many printing plants that can be closed or staffers that can be laid off. For now, Gannett has once again implemented one-week without pay furloughs for Q1, though it is not company-wide. Only community newspaper staffers are affected, as USAT and broadcast employees are not required to participate in the mandatory unpaid leave in Q1.