News and Democracy
Jun 8, 2013
Critics can say what they want about the diminishment about the L.A. Times. Its news presence and ability to set agendas, through its reporting and opinion pages, is certainly reduced, but it’s still got the only megaphone of its kind in town. As Gabriel Kahn, a University of Southern California journalism professor and WSJ alum pointed out to me this week, even newsletters that aggregate local news — from such sources as the L.A. Business Journal and KPCC’s Maven’s Morning Coffee, rely heavily on the Times for their citations. Consider that an indication that the next generation of rip ‘n read — dailies’ long-standing complain against local radio news stations — uses the same raw resource as the first one, the daily newspaper’s vast newsroom.
What lesson we’re seeing reinforced: No matter how much anyone may pre-bury the legacy daily, some people understand the huge and remaining value of media today. So maybe a different question needs to be asked. Not the almost trite one — “When will dailies disappear?” — but a new one: “Who will own and steer these old titles into the heart of the 21st Century?”Read More »
Jun 6, 2013
The new board’s mandate, of course, is to maximize its take on the sale. Tribune newspaper profits run at the roughly $200 million level, maybe a third of which comes out of L.A. So, take the market multiple of 3 or 4 times that number as a price — or $600 million-plus — for the eight papers, even though underfunded newspaper pensions put a drag on that number. Then, if the inflamed passions, stoked by the Koch bid, produce a higher selling price, so much the better.
The board clearly is aiming for a single deal. One deal reduces transaction costs and deal risk, and speeds closing. So who’s likeliest to play in a single auction for the eight Tribune papers, which also include two non-metros in Newport News, Va., and Allentown, Penn.?
The likeliest four: the Brothers Koch, Rupert Murdoch, the B group from L.A. (Eli Broad, Ron Burkle, and Austin Beutner, a well-connected trio of moneyed liberal lineage), and Aaron Kushner’s 2100 Trust.
For the Kochs, the purchase would be a seem to be an extension of their political wars by other means. Of course they protest that notion, and the only track record we have to go on is their profound influence on conservative activist American politics over the last several years.
Murdoch’s L.A. TV licenses come up in 2014, so the cross-ownership issue is immediate and real, and with the FCC in appointment limbo, he’ll not get the waiver relief his lobbyists had hoped to win by now. Flip a coin and I say Rupert goes with his gut and bids.
If he indeed goes for the Times (and other titles, if necessary), consider that Murdoch couldn’t ask for a better competitor than the Koch Brothers. No one’s out in the streets protesting a Murdoch takeover of the L.A. Times or Chicago Tribune. Even Koch opponents whisper that Murdoch would be better — the gray, if not white, knight, to the black hats of the Kochs. It’s a new parsing in the post-Sam Zell era: How do you judge potential ownership these days, except on a relative basis?Read More »
May 31, 2013
Digital advertising is all about technology in 2013, and you’ll see lots of talk of the ad-tech stack, and who owns it. Google, of course, owns much of it, through its successive AdWords/Doubleclick/AdMob and more creations, acquisitions and integrations. Its stack is so efficient that many publishers feel compelled to use it, though they are wary of getting their businesses tied ever more directly to Google — or the Google “Death Star,” as some critics call it.
For most publishers, Google is the classic frenemy. They work with it when they think the advantages outweigh the hazards, even as top publishers build their own programs. In fact, expect to soon see U.S. news publishers transition their Newspaper Consortium partnership with Yahoo into something intended to be broader, something that allows publishers to opt into and out of the ad programs of multiple portals — not just Yahoo — harnessing the ad tech of the day.
Six-month-old Smart Match is one of the FT’s latest innovations to stay “premium.” In brief, the content of an advertisement is matched, dynamically, to that of an article. The technology: semantic targeting of both article content and the FT’s current “ad library” for the best matches on the fly, as compared to standard keyword targeting.Read More »
May 16, 2013
Renamed NewsRight, it was an industry consortium, and here a truism applies: It’s tougher for a consortium — as much aimed at defense than offense — to innovate and adjust quickly. Or, to put it in vaudevillian terms: Dying is easy — making decisions among 29 newspaper companies can be torture.
It formally launched just more than a year ago, in January 2012 (“NewsRight’s potential: New content packages, niche audiences, and revenue”), and the issues surfaced immediately. Let’s count the top three:
1) Its strategy was muddled. Was it primarily a content-protection play, bent on challenging piracy and misuse? Or was it a way to license one of the largest collections of categorized news content? Which way did it want to go? Instead of deciding between the two, it straddled both.
2) In May 2011, seven months before the launch, the board had picked TV veteran David Westin as its first CEO. Formerly head of ABC News, he seemed an odd fit from the beginning. A TV guy in a text world. An analog guy in a digital world.
3) Publishers’ own interests were too tough to balance with the common good.
May 3, 2013
Design is an important part of these acquisitive moves. One reason these companies have value on the market is that they stand out. It must be said: For the most part, news companies have once again missed a chance to innovate, to make something new of a new platform. Flipboard, Pulse, and Zite each saw the potential of tablet news and magazine feature reading early and set to work to present it harnessing the glowing touchscreen. Now Flipboard 2.0 (build your own magazine) and Zite 2.0 are moving to a next generation. The best newspaper sites have mastered the utilitarian basics, but they hardly break new presentation ground. They also emphasize a single brand, where plainly many readers relish cross-title variety and a bit of serendipity. Innovation on tablet news design has been minimal, and it’s outsiders who largely deserve the credit for it.
One noteworthy exception: AP Mobile. While it lacks the finesse of Flipboard, it delivers a national and local experience, bringing in hundreds of local news feeds into its tablet and smartphone products, and is one of the top news apps downloaded in Apple’s App Store. AP Mobile is a rare case of newspaper cooperation, building a single customer experience; now it’s up to AP to deliver the next-generation mobile experiences.Read More »
Apr 26, 2013
How did we get here? How did we get to a place where a half dozen of the top newspaper nameplates in America could fall into overtly political hands? What does it tell us about the reshaping of the U.S. daily landscape? How might the Koch brothers’ ownership fare, a lesson applied here that may both confirm worst fears and offer counterintuitive lessons about the nature of local press power in 2013? Finally, what are the newsonomics of the Tribune sale, as its new board ponders its options?Read More »
Apr 25, 2013
As the Times Company readies its sale of the Boston Globe (at the Nieman Lab today, I further explore the sale of the Globe and Tribune metro properties), it’s clear the Globe is underperforming the Times. It was down 6.7% in overall revenue, as its reader revenue lost 1.9% and advertising declined 10.1%. Two takeaways here: 1) the new owners of the Globe face a tough challenge in getting back to growth, given those numbers; 2) as the Times emerges as essentially a standalone entity, its own reader revenue strategy looks better. Without the Globe, it was up 8.2% in circulation dollars.
The national ad market movement from print to digital may be faster than the regional one. As Gannett, the largest newspaper company reported yesterday, it announced a 4.5% decline in ads. Gannett’s ad revenue is more heavily tilted to retail advertisers,, whose movement from print to digital is slower than either classifieds (largely gone) and now national. Significantly, Gannett, also reported a 14.5 percent increase in local market circulation revenue.
In sum, paywalls are working, but will they be enough to turn the industry from red ink to black?
Apr 13, 2013
All-access circulation revenue is spinning upward, leading to a 5 percent gain in overall circulation revenue in 2012. Print advertising is whirling downward — 9 percent last year — in a seeming death spiral. Digital advertising is growing tepidly at 5 percent. Put those circulation and ad trends together and you end fairly flat on your back. So NAA’s number is that dailies lost 2 percent of revenue overall; I’ve made the point that their big goal, as nothingburger as it may sound, is to get back to zero revenue growth (“The Newsonomics of Zero, and the New York Times”).
Which brings us back to that non-ad, non-circ number. If local news organizations are going to regain growth — and hire — they must find new revenue. They have plumbed marketing services, events, and print-insourcing. Now some are putting a new category on the board: content marketing.
No, not content marketing, you say! It’s already a hackneyed phrase, seemingly identical to “native advertising” and “sponsored content,” both now much-recognized and already much-maligned techniques that bigger brands are using to break through the digital clutter and get to potential customers. Yes, content marketing (and we’ll narrow some definitions below). As news companies rediscover the power of their own content, there is new revenue to be gained. How much, not whether to seek it, will be the major question.Read More »
Apr 7, 2013
It’s incredibly sobering to remember that three of 10 readers have abandoned news outlets. That’s a reflection both of those newsroom reductions, which have removed three of 10 journalists, and how newspapers still spend way too much money in ways that don’t improve the product. Newspapers spend 10-20% of their overall budgets on content creation. It’s not enough; readers are voting with their feet. In a time when reader revenue is what’s working — that number one bright spot — publishers have got to figure out how to spend more on the single source of growth, readers.
As new NAA CEO Caroline Little puts it, “America’s newspaper media are transforming themselves.” “In virtually every community they serve, newspapers have the biggest newsrooms, the best-known brands and significant audience market share. Now they are building on those to find new ways to serve audiences and local businesses.” All true. That said, this profound and long-required transformation has been profoundly slow. In 2013, we finally see more innovators and innovation, but the overall numbers in the NAA survey point to relatively glacial change.Read More »
Apr 4, 2013
It’s the membership program — one that’s not unique in the industry — that will catch the headlines.The Register wants to go big. It approached the Angels, located 10 minutes away, with the idea of better using the empty seats the Angels couldn’t sell. The Angels found themselves sitting on almost 600,000 empty seats last year over 81 games. Put another 7,000 butts in those seats each night, even without getting paid for the ticket, and the club is pulling in another 10 bucks or so on Chronic Tacos, garlic fries, and overpriced Corona.
The perk is available on a first-signed-up, first-served basis to the Register’s 124,000 seven-day subscribers, beginning 72 hours before each game. Forty-eight hours before the game, the Angels, through Ticketmaster, release available seats. Register Connect buyers can nab four tickets, for a service charge of $5. Within a year — subject to going to the end of the electronic queue after landing some tickets — fans can claim as many as 96 tickets a season.
“We’re looking to execute at scale,” Spitz explains, noting that lots of membership perks are good, but few are likely to move the needle of buying and retention. The Angels’ ticket program is that touch of likely brilliance.Read More »