Deep cost-cutting, online revenue, help Times Co. stay in black

11 02 2010

But for how long?

The owner of The New York Times reported modest profits from the fourth quarter. But its stock fell 9 percent Wednesday with the announcement. The profits were based mostly on severe cuts, moderate earnings in online operations, and a moderation in advertising losses.

But the market knows that the cuts can’t go much deeper, and the outlook for the Times Co. depends on ad revenue increases this year. For last year, ad revenue in the Times Co.’s News Media Group, which includes the New York Times newspaper, the Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune, declined 27 percent.

The company also is looking to unload its stake in the Boston Red Sox, which might improve the 1Q bottom line. But like its cuts in news operations, that’s a one-time gain that cannot be sustained.

The much discussed online fees won’t kick in until next year, so look for other drastic measures till then.





Blogging declines among under-30 set

4 02 2010

A new report on “Social Media and Young Adults” by Pew finds several interesting trends, the most pronounced of which is a decline in blogging.  Wirelessly connecting in general, though, continues to rise among teens and young adults.

Teens particularly disdain Twitter, to which those over 30 continue to flock. And in a bad sign for Facebook, users are now equally split between over-30s and under-30s. That finding  holds up in the sample of my household, where the half that is in college grows less enthusiastic about Facebook while the older segment finds itself battling obsession. We’re already seeing clear indications among the younger half that Facebook use is growing hopelessly passe.

The study shows that online activity is near saturation points among the under-30s, while I was surprised that far less than half of those over 65 are online. I’m sure that curve will flatten rapidly, but it still is cause for consideration in communications strategies aimed at wide demographic groups.





Searching for promising news sites

2 02 2010

Congratulations to the St. Louis Beacon for gaining mention in the Reynolds Journalism Institute‘s search for promising online news sites.

The Beacon is getting better all the time and is playing an increasing community role offline, as its principals organize and appear in panel discussions, events, and local broadcasts. That is indeed promising.

It succeeds by most of the  RJI’s measures of online news sites. However, the most promising new media will be those that are revenue-positive. The Beacon, established by a grant, is attempting to support itself through membership donations. If that works, it will be a promising prospect indeed.

RJI Fellow Michele McLellan is soliciting suggesting for other promising sites. Your thoughts?





Pole vault over the paywall?

25 01 2010

Turns out, there could well be a chink in the paywall of nytimesonline.com.

In fact, it may not be a wall at all, and may not address the  issue  of news aggregators linking to content generated by newspapers.

Of course, The Times wants to encourage links to its online content, perhaps particularly so once The Times asks us to pay for that content upon reaching a certain number of visits to its site. Naturally, those includes links from bloggers and on Facebook and Twitter and other social media. And if you follow such a link, it won’t count in your “metered” number of visits.

Q. What about posting articles to Facebook and other social media? Would friends without a subscription then not be able to view an article that I think is relevant for them? — Julie, Pinole CA
A. Yes, they could continue to view articles. If you are coming to NYTimes.com from another Web site and it brings you to our site to view an article, you will have access to that article and it will not count toward your allotment of free ones.
But as Jay Rosen points out,

Google News is surely “another Web site,” therefore all articles found that way will be free and accessible. … No matter how often Google News is used to get to the Times, if you come back by that route you will never be charged.

Which means that for those people who get their news from the web itself, using search, aggregators, social media and blogs to find the stuff they want, the stuff they find from the New York Times will always be available, free of charge.  That looks a lot less like a pay wall to me. It isn’t a metered system if I can access the Times via the link economy without limit.  This scrambles a lot of what’s been written on the subject.
This whole paid content issue gets more complicated the further one gets into it. That’s obviated by the fact that the big brains in the business have yet to solve it. But we’ve got to try something. If it turns out the NYT system fails to provide significant revenue for news gathering, let’s tinker some more. The decline of journalism is too urgent to cling to unproven hopes of an new model emerging or to stand on the sidelines naysaying all efforts to make the Fourth Estate viable again.




NYT appears close to move to paid content

18 01 2010

New York magazine reports that the decision is imminent. Unclear whether the Times would go with a metered model or a two-tiered scheme like the Wall Street Journal, in which some parts are free but others require a subscription. The Times tried and abandoned the latter course a few years ago, with its unsuccessful offer of paid “premium” content.

So what has changed? The timing now may have to do with technology, the magazine reports.

(Apple’s tablet computer is rumored to launch on January 27, and sources speculate that Sulzberger will strike a content partnership for the new device, which could dovetail with the paid strategy.)





Pew study: Traditional media still rules

12 01 2010

I find this unsurprising, and not good news for the old media. They may still rule, but the kingdom of news lies in tatters.

” … A new study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which takes a close look at the news ecosystem of one city, suggests that while the news landscape has rapidly expanded, most of what the public learns is still overwhelmingly driven by traditional media—particularly newspapers.

“The study, which examined all the outlets that produced local news in Baltimore, Md., for one week, surveyed their output and then did a closer examination of six major narratives during the week, finds that much of the “news” people receive contains no original reporting. Fully eight out of ten stories studied simply repeated or repackaged previously published information.

And of the stories that did contain new information nearly all, 95%, came from traditional media—most of them newspapers. These stories then tended to set the narrative agenda for most other media outlets.”

So what we define as news still comes largely from the same old outlets. Those outlets’ resources are vastly depleted. Hence, we learn far less than we once did.

News consumers starve but lose interest in this paltry gruel. They grow lethargic. So far, they have few sources for a more nutritious diet to energize them. Will a new supply come forward before the population dies off?





Kinsley: Verbosity killing newspapers

7 01 2010

I was on my way out of newspapers when “context” was on its way in. Don’t just tell readers what happened, tell them what it means. The original movement surely intended journalists to show how events would affect the readers’ everyday lives. But few journalists understood their readers enough to interpret the impact on those lives, and they soon perverted the concept to report on the only impact they really cared about: politics.

Thus, the principal impacts of healthcare reform are not take-home pay for wage earners, security for people changing jobs, or assurance for those with a history of illness (the dreaded “pre-existing condition”). No, in journalists’ minds, the major impacts are the 2010 elections and the daily or hourly approval ratings of the president and the major parties.

But as Michael Kinsley notes in the Atlantic, this trend also brought about newspaper prose that is more tortuous, bloviated, and overstated. News via the Internet, which already has many reader advantages, is cleaner, pithier, and more inviting.

But providing “context,” as it was known, has become an invitation to hype. In this case, it’s the lowest form of hype—it’s horse-race hype—which actually diminishes a story rather than enhancing it. Surely if this event is such a big, big deal—“sweeping” and “defining” its way into our awareness—then its effect on the next election is one of the less important things about it.

Most grievous, in my opinion, is campaign coverage that, rather than informing the electorate about candidates’ positions, their feasibility and practical implications, consists almost entirely of who’s up and who’s down starting years from election day. All media are guilty of this, but newspapers cannot make the claim that they lack the space for such coverage. They are devoting thousands of words to political horse-race speculation rather than exposition of what it all really means for our lives.

And over the years, the public has responded with a massive “Who cares!”

Thus the only people still reading newspapers are political junkies, and because those readers are the ones closest to reporters’ and editors’ social circles, the newspaper people can’t understand their withering circulation.