Neil Chase knows the painful realities of managing and motivating a daily newsroom in 2018.
“You can’t ask dedicated, veteran career journalists to completely change the way they work without explaining why,” the Mercury News executive editor said at a panel discussion I moderated at Stanford two weeks ago. (The panel’s fitting title? “The Last Stand for Local News.”)
“So I shared some very simple charts with the newsroom, showing the decline in our circulation and staffing over the past decade, and how that trajectory would put us out of business in the mid-2020s if we don’t make some drastic changes. We then started talking about reorienting the newsroom to serve a digital subscription audience, and we’ve made major progress since.”
Chase knows that his staff can still churn out great work, as do many of the 23,000 or so remaining journalists in U.S. daily newsrooms. But Continue reading "Newsonomics: Newspapers are shells of their former selves. So who’s going to build what comes next in local?"
In the blink of a digital era, The Washington Post’s Arc publishing platform has sprinted from an experiment to a full-on strategic business.
Arc is now used by more than 30 clients operating more than 100 sites on four continents. It’s not the industry standard, but it’s not too early to call it an industry standard. But its ambitions are still nowhere near met. Now the Post is moving Arc into a new phase, talking of a connective effect that could impact the face of the business formerly known as “newspapering.”
Arc wants to be more than a technology stack — it wants to be a network.
“Arc is reaching a critical mass of most of the advertising markets in the United States, the major markets,” Shailesh Prakash, chief product and information officer for the Post, told me recently, listing off cities where it has customers — New
Could McClatchy unexpectedly join Gannett and GateHouse as survivors in the game of the American daily newspaper consolidation?
Could California become a new epicenter of the American local newspaper business?
Could Patrick Soon-Shiong have found a bigger lab to test his theories of AI-enhanced journalism?
As we learned over the weekend, the newspaper chain Tronc may be entertaining multiple suitors — or might just be trying to juice a lukewarm market. As the Chicago Tribune revealed late Friday, McClatchy had emerged as an unlikely dark horse in the bidding. That emergence opens up an array of fascinating scenarios for the fast-paced consolidation of daily newspapering amid its continued business downturn.
With the help of a number of confidential sources in and around the potential transactions, let’s explore them. (McClatchy, Tronc, and the Los Angeles Times each declined comment for this story.)
First, consider Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire and new Continue reading "Newsonomics: Could a McClatchy-Tronc merger help local newspapers transition to digital?"
The newspaper tariffs are dead. How big a difference will that make to those whose businesses still depends on dead trees?
On Wednesday, the International Trade Commission —like numerous judicial or regulatory bodies before it in the Trump era — reversed the tariffs that the Commerce Department had placed on Canadian newsprint.
The unanimous 5-0 decision surprised many, even though the ill-considered tariffs were silly, ignoring the actual way the newsprint trade has long been structured. The whole effort symbolized the times: a private equity company, recently buying into an established industry, looking for a quick buck, and using the politicized trade environment to do it. Even as the tariffs go away, it’s essential to understand that they represent only a small part of the problem that daily newspaper publishers now face. Though that black swan of tariff doom has flown away — an appeal of the decision by NORPAC,
Socialism is having a moment in the sunlight — that is, on daytime television. Yet at the same time that the left earns a closer look from political pundits, Democrats and Republicans still fail to understand each other with nuance. Plus, after newspaper layoffs and a White House lockout this week, we assess the press’s appetite for solidarity.
In what was truly a dark day for New York City, Tronc — owners of the New York Daily News — destroyed their own property on Monday by laying off half of the News staff.
Sportscaster Michael Kay — best known as the lead announcer on the New York Yankees TV broadcasts — spent approximately three years writing for the Daily News. And as an outraged alum, he went on a furious rant against Tronc for destroying his former employer.
“They completely ravaged the newspaper — which is a New York City Institution,” Kay said. “The history of this city has been chronicled by the New York Daily News.”
He added, “Who would ever buy this paper!? Who would ever read this paper!?”
Kay noted that the sports section of the
Michael Ferro’s deal to get paid a 34-percent premium for his Tronc shares vanished as strangely as it appeared. Just seven weeks after Ferro announced that Sargent McCormick was the lead buyer of Ferro’s Merrick Media 25-percent stake in the company, McCormick turned his pockets inside out on Tuesday evening. He released a hurried statement, just as Ferro himself announced the “breach” of the agreement in a Securities and Exchange filing. That statement, in part:
McCormick Media, a subsidiary of the Harvester Trust, has announced that, at this time, it will not move forward with the stock purchase agreement with Merrick Ventures. That said, McCormick Media remains interested in exploring opportunities to complete this acquisition of Tronc shares which will enable the organization to continue its mission to serve the Chicagoland community and revitalize the independent voice of the Chicago Tribune.
Tronc is getting smaller. Tronc is getting bigger. And some say Tronc may not be Tronc all that much longer.
Welcome to the odd world of newspaper economics. The question of who owns daily newspapers, especially chains, has moved to the forefront this year, as Alden Global Capital’s grip on The Denver Post has caused an unprecedented uproar.
Change, of course, is nothing new to Tronc. Born under some astrological sign of chaos two years ago, a morphed iteration of Tribune Publishing, the company is now looking at what would be its most significant changes yet — which could come as soon as in the next several weeks.
In that time period, we’ll likely see Patrick Soon-Shiong, the one-time Tronc vice chairman, finally close on his nearly $600 million buy of the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune. Expect that news — if all continues to go smoothly — Continue reading "Newsonomics: Tronc’s selling, and buying, and just generally shapeshifting"
Tronc doesn’t do anything by the book.
Even as much of the company’s turbulence looks to be clearing, new questions are emerging about who will next lead the big metro chain.
Softbank and Apollo Global Management have reportedly expressed real interest in buying the company, but much more likely is the reemergence of one of the many characters who have have upended business as usual in the roiled daily newspaper industry. Tronc’s newspapers, staff, and readers may soon be subject to a whole new round of strategic rethinks and re-deployments.
Let’s first focus on the potential impact of Michael Ferro’s sale of his dominating Merrick Media 25 percent share in Tronc. That surprising sale prompted all kinds of speculation about the future, including mine.
The sale looked like a homecoming story: A McCormick had bought back into the Chicago Tribune’s parent company, Tronc. Sargent McCormick, described as a distant relation Continue reading "Newsonomics: Still another Tronc drama, as John Lynch re-enters the business"
On Friday afternoon, Tronc announced that its lead shareholder Merrick Media, led by just-resigned board chairman Michael Ferro, was selling its entire stake in the company. McCormick Media — managed by Sargent McCormick, a distant relative of the McCormick family that controlled the Chicago Tribune for most of its long history — is the buyer of Ferro’s 9 million shares. As we sort out the impact of the sale on the Chicago Tribune and the rest of Tronc’s remaining newspapers, we offer this publishing obit for the would-be impresario who grabbed so many headlines of his own in the last two years.
Michael Ferro has left the room. Tronc announced Friday that Merrick Media, the Ferro-led, Chicago-based investment firm had sold its 25% stake in Tronc.
The hometown Chicago Tribune tries to tell us more about Sargent McCormick, the buyer of Merrick’s stake. We do know of his interest in the family legacy and in art, but not yet much about what he will do with the stake he bought through his McCormick Media.
We also know that Ferro’s exit from the newspaper industry spotlight again changes the dynamics of the industry.
As we pay our respects to Mr. Ferro, this new story will unfold over the next several weeks. With a closing of the sale to be scheduled, let’s assess what the repercussions could be.
What’s the half-life of Justin Dearborn? Colleagues describe Dearborn as the perfect complement to the boisterous Ferro. He’s quiet and non-inflammatory, but one issue has Continue reading "Newsonomics: 8 questions as Michael Ferro leaves the stage ($100 million richer)"
What are we to make of The Denver Post’s “extraordinary display of defiance”? As the paper’s editorial board, led by Chuck Plunkett, fired a fusillade of public protest on Sunday — publishing six pages decrying the paper’s owner, to the social congratulations of the news world — we may have reached a new point in local American journalism’s descent into oblivion.
Despite almost a decade of newsroom cuts, which have left no more 25,000 journalists in the more than 1,300 dailies across the country, journalists have been remarkably accepting of their buyouts and layoffs. We haven’t seen the kinds of mass strikes or work actions that have happened from time to time in Europe. We’ve seen instead an acquiescence to what’s been seen as the inevitable toll of digital disruption. Sadness, rather than spirited action, has marked the trade. That’s understandable, in part: No one wants to risk the lifeline Continue reading "Newsonomics: The Denver Post’s protest should launch a new era of “calling B.S.”"
It almost sounds like a riddle: What’s a Tronc without the L.A. Times?
As the Tronc sale of the Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune finalizes, now most likely in mid-April, the next question arises: What becomes of Tronc? Its eight remaining titles own an impressive history and still play important roles in their cities: the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, the New York Daily News, The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., and The Daily Press in Newport, Virginia. But Tronc as a company appears at sea. Sensing “blood in the water,” several media banker firms are now actively looking for would-be buyers, several top newspaper executives have confirmed to me this week. While Tronc itself hasn’t announced any “strategic review” or the hiring of its own banker for a would-be sale, more than a half-dozen industry Continue reading "Newsonomics: Is Tronc about to go on the market?"
Is the Tronc party over?
This morning, Tronc announced that its chairman Michael Ferro would step down from his position, as the company formally closes on its sale of the L.A. Times and San Diego Union-Tribune. The buyer, billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, has told Times staffers that the deal would close within days. (Last week, some staffers visited his Nant Technologies facility, where he told staffers that former Times CEO Ross Levinsohn’s plans to cut newsroom staff by 20 percent and to move into “expensive” new headquarters in the Playa Vista area had spurred the quick sale.)
Justin Dearborn, Tronc’s CEO and Ferro’s long-time business partner, moves into the chairman position, while remaining CEO.
The big question: What’s really happening here? Has the 51-year-old Ferro just decided to “retire,” satisfied with the money-spinning success he’s found since his coup-like takeover of Tribune Publishing just two years ago? As the Continue reading "Newsonomics: “Retiring” from Tronc, what is Michael Ferro up to?"
GateHouse Media, though suffering through all the same revenue woes as its peers, is about to get significantly bigger.
Earlier today, GateHouse officially became the winner in the auction of the Austin American-Statesman; the newsroom of a little more than 100 staffers was told in mid-afternoon. I had reported that was the highly likely outcome last month. Just as significant, the Fortress Investments-directed chain may be poised to buy a second metro daily, the Palm Beach Post.
Cox Media Group sold the American-Statesman for $47.5 million — or as high as a 7× multiple on the Austin paper’s annual earnings, according to some observers. (Cox is privately held.) That’s a high price in the current mid-metro market. It came after a couple of rounds of bidding that featured a head-to-head battle between GateHouse and Hearst. Hearst had been the presumed favorite, given its already major presence in Continue reading "Newsonomics: GateHouse goes bigger, buying Austin’s daily and eyeing the Palm Beach Post"
Michael Ferro’s not done yet.
He may have sold off his prized flagship Los Angeles Times — the cornerstone of his latest transformation strategy — but the publishing wheeler-dealer already has his top team consumed with finding new deals.
That deal-making appears to be traveling on two tracks. One involves newspapers — their purchase and consolidation. The other lays rail for a digital-only content business expansion. And then, there’s the seemingly wild-eyed Ferro dream: buy Gannett, a company reeling again, its stock price down more than 10 percent Tuesday after announcing dismal fourth-quarter and full-year 2018 financials.
One immediate Ferro goal: Deploy the cash that Tronc will gain when it closes the sale of the L.A. Times and San Diego Union-Tribune to Patrick Soon-Shiong. Tronc tells me the deal will finalize at the end of this quarter or the beginning of next.
Some observers have looked at the incoming Continue reading "Newsonomics: Will Michael Ferro double down on newspapers or go digital?"
No, the saga of the Los Angeles Times isn’t the only story in the newspaper world. It’s just that in its breathtaking oddness, it consumed the beginning of our year. Let’s begin with one question about the future of the Times, but then move on to other early-in-the-year questions that may tell us lots more about the business-of-news year ahead.
What’s at the top of PSS’s to-do list?
It’s been a week of almost eerie quiet in L.A., as the reality of new owner Patrick Soon-Shiong sinks in. The Guild’s elected its local leadership and the L.A. Times newsroom sees that it barely dodged the bullet of major Tronc reorganization.
Tronc announced Tuesday that it would concentrate all page makeup and design in Chicago, following the centralization models now becoming standard among chains, with GateHouse the
It doesn’t really matter where you live or how large your local newspaper’s circulation is: The average price for a digital newspaper subscription is $2.31 per week, according to a new report from the American Press Institute.
API research fellow Tracy M. Cook looked at pricing of digital subscriptions to 100 newspapers across the U.S. in October 2017. The median price across the papers: $2.31 per week, or about $10 per month or $120 per year. (That’s actually down slightly from a 2016 API report that pegged the average weekly price of a digital newspaper subscription at $3.11 per week, across 77 papers. For this new data set, the average price was $2.44/week.
The median price excludes special introductory offers, as well as bundles like The Washington Post’s partnerships with Amazon and Hulu and The New York Times’ with Spotify. Cook also notes that digital