Media Notes: Pigs (Three Different Ones) & The End of Portfolio

Obvious? Yeah.

Obvious? Yeah.

An early update of media news from around the Internets:

Pigs on the WingHoward Kurtz on the fierce outbreak of swine flu coverage. The media, overreact? Maybe. If we’re all dead by next week? Maybe not!

Which of the Buggers to BlameIs Matt Drudge a hero? How Drudge drove (prefigured?) the media’s wild coverage of the swine flu.

You’ve Got to Be Crazy – Snoutbreak! The Daily Show mocks pig coverage.

Full of ValorThat’d be Max Brantley.

Giving Up – People continue to explore a “nonprofit” option for newspapers.

Closing Portfolio – If Conde Nast can’t launch a major glossy magazine these days, who among us can? New York Times on how the recession ended the magazine, and BusinessWeek weighs in here.

In the Tank – Is anyone really surprised by this?

Star Power – 40 journalists who took buyouts from the New Jersey Star-Ledger have banded together to start NewJerseyNewsroom.com.

Safe Bet? – Meanwhile, investors are betting that small market newspapers are where it’s at. Meanwhile, Warren Buffet knew it was over for major media waaay back in 1992, according to Slate.

A Commercial Appeal – The Memphis newspaper is tops among the latest circulation gainers. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on local circ numbers here.

Depressing Media Quote of the Week (And It’s Only Tuesday!)From an editor at the San Francisco Chronicle.

E&P: Entire Star-Ledger Editorial Board Takes Buyout

Wow. The entire editorial board of the New Jersey Star-Ledger has taken buyouts.

From Editor & Publisher:

As The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. cuts 40% of its news staff through buyouts, it’s also losing its entire editorial board, according to John Farmer, the new editorial page editor.

Farmer, a 26-year veteran of the paper, confirmed that the board members had all taken the buyout.

Those include: Fran Dauth, former editorial page editor; Josh McMahon, Op-Ed page editor; Debra Jerome Cohen, deputy editorial page editor; board member Paul Wycoff; Joan Whitlow, columnist and board member; and Fran Wood, columnist and board member.

“I am going to have to rebuild all of it,” Farmer, 78, said about the editorial board. “I don’t look forward to that. I am losing some really good people.”

Farmer goes on to ponder the significance of a newspaper’s editorial voice in this day and age. “In most cases, I don’t think they have any weight. It has to be a hugely visible race with a significant historical difference. Then maybe an endorsement means something.”

I’ve always been an advocate for having a strong editorial voice at a newspaper. And I continue to read newspapers editorials (including our own at Arkansas Business and others in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette), but I wonder whether I’m in the minority.

In an age where shifting opinions are more prevelant than paralyzed fact, does the editorial page even matter anymore? Do you read newspaper editorials?

Leave comments below.

Major Declines Continue for Daily Newspapers

It keeps getting uglier for daily newspapers.

The Audit Bureau of Circulations reports that average daily circulation is down 4.6 percent in the April-September period, compared with last year. Last year’s drop was only 2.6 percent.

Editor & Publisher reports that in this environment, publishers are now catering to core readers and subscribers:

It’s too expensive to bulk up circulation in unprofitable areas such as third-party, newspapers in education and bonus day copies. Not in the core market defined by the newspaper? You are out of luck at least for the print edition.

More on that strategy from a Wall Street Journal story today:

One of the biggest declines came at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where weekday circulation fell 13.4%. About half of that drop was the result of a decision to cut the number of counties the publisher delivers to 49 from 74, according to Bob Eickhoff, senior vice president of operations for the paper, owned by Cox Enterprises Inc.

Others are following a similar strategy in light of a growing recognition by publishers that subscribers in faraway locations aren’t valuable enough to advertisers to justify the high cost of getting them the paper.

“Some circulation just isn’t as valuable as others,” said Arizona Republic publisher John Zidich, who attributed half of his Gannett Co. paper’s 5.5% weekday circulation decline to the publisher’s decision to stop delivering to customers more than about 200 miles away.

Such moves are welcome developments for advertisers. “We’d asked newspapers to really focus on paid, quality circulation,” said Dave Walker, chief executive of NSA Media Inc., which buys ads on behalf of big companies including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Home Depot Inc. “They’re actually doing what we asked them to do.”

On a related note, the New Jersey Star-Ledger says about 40 percent (!) of its newsroom staff will leave, part of a giant buyout wave:

Executives signaled they wanted about 200 people to depart, but the number of buyout requests was reported to exceed that number.

Jim Willse, editor of the Star-Ledger, told staff Friday that 151 buyout offers were accepted in a newsroom of about 330 people. The paper turned down 17 people who had requested buyouts. Departures will be staggered between now and the end of the year, Mr. Willse said in an interview.

Buyout levels for other departments are slated to be announced in the coming week. The paper’s total staff has been about 1,400.

Credit Crisis Further Weakens Big Newspapers

This credit crisis on Wall Street isn’t good for anyone (except maybe CNBC), but it couldn’t come at a worse time for daily newspapers, which were already in pickle from falling advertising revenues, a drop in subscriptions and reader migration to the Internet.

Take, for example, the pickle that the Star Tribune of Minneapolis is in. As the Wall Street Journal points out, lots of newspaper groups took on lots of debt in recent years, including the Tribune Co. and the McClatchy Co., which owns papers including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. And you know how bad it is to be in debt these days.

From the New York Times:

The Star Tribune skipped a $9 million quarterly payment to its senior creditors that was due on Tuesday, said Chris Harte, the publisher and chairman. The paper has been in default since June, when it began missing payments on its smaller junior debt.

With advice from the Blackstone Group, The Star Tribune has been trying to negotiate new terms with its lenders, a consortium of banks, insurance companies, hedge funds and others.

The paper has cut its staff and reduced other operating costs, while trying to obtain wage and work rule concessions from its unions.

The default means that lenders could force a bankruptcy, but they have been reluctant to take that step with battered newspaper companies as long as there appeared to be a chance of agreeing on new repayment terms.

The Gannett Co., which locally owns KTHV-TV, Channel 11, and newspapers like USA Today, has also had to tap its credit line. In fact, Standard & Poor’s has put the newspaper giant on credit watch, fearing that revenue declines there could accelerate.

What does all this mean? The Journal puts it this way:

As debt conditions sour, interest rates will go up for many papers, and lenders will impose onerous conditions. Some publishers risk default or even a trip into bankruptcy court.

The bright side? According to the Journal, banks’ — given their current troubles — might be lenient with newspaper, cutting them some slack. Consider the other choice: taking over newspapers, something the Journal says most banks “wouldn’t stomach,” because, really, who wants to be in that business now anyway?

More

Star-Ledger Achieves 200-buyout Goal [New Jersey Star-Ledger]

Newspaper in Minneapolis Halts Debt Payments [New York Times]

Financial Downturn Futher Hurts Newspaper Publishers [WSJ]

For Newspapers, the Storm Gets More Perfect [Forbes]