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On the media

Friday, Apr 23, 2010

* Lee Enterprises (which publishes the Post-Dispatch, the Pantagraph and the Southern, among others) reported its third profitable quarter in a row this week. Gannett’s first quarter profits jumped 51 percent. McLatchy and the New York Times also had some good news to report.

Part of the reason for this apparent comeback is that the companies have so aggressively cut staff that their spending is now more in line with the revenues they can reasonably generate. Also, newsprint prices have fallen dramatically, as papers have slimmed way down or gone out of business. The ad revenue depression appears to be slowing, if not exactly bottoming out. And at least one analyst is pleased

I’ve always stressed that print won’t die though it will shrink and radically change. The problem is the inertia and denial which leads many executives to think that these revolutionary changes won’t affect them but the next generation of leaders at magazine and newspaper companies.

Ironically, the recession accelerated history and the main trends and that forced some print companies to shape up. We saw Conde Nast lay off a lot of people, for example, despite historically having a lot of overhead. We also saw both Gannett (GCI) (parent of USA Today) and McClatchy (MNI) go through some painful steps that explain why in Q1 2010 both companies reported profits. […]

All print companies need more than the iPad to save their bacon. As I’ve long argued, if they really want to come back with a vengeance they would look at how they can leverage video online, which is totally incremental revenue for them (unlike TV and film companies).

He’s mostly right, but there’s still the big problem of reporting staffs stretched to the limit of breaking. What newspapers ought to be doing is clearing out their front offices of the expensive dead weight. It’s the content, stupid. Better content will drive more - and better - eyeballs. Bells and whistles are fine, but strong, timely content is king, baby. The Tribune is probably doing the best job of this of any media company in Illinois. They’ve shown a remarkable willingness to experiment with new ideas, and some of their reporters are eagerly embracing the new online news venues.

But newspapers ain’t out of the woods yet. They are, for the most part, still far too stuck in the past. The State Journal-Register, for instance, hired Ryan Keith away from the AP and gave him the task of handling the paper’s new media duties. Ryan initially did things like live-blog political events, debates, etc. He also created and staffed its aggregator page. But the paper has seemed to be returning to more traditional stuff in recent months. Ryan was reportedly frustrated with the mindset and announced today that he’s leaving the SJ-R for a career in public relations. From a press release…

Veteran statehouse reporter Ryan Keith is leaving as bureau chief for The State Journal-Register/GateHouse Media to join the public relations/public affairs firm of Mac Strategies Group, led by Ryan McLaughlin. Keith will head Springfield operations for the firm. This expansion will provide a day-to-day presence for the firm, strengthening its ability to service client both before the Chicago and Springfield press corps. Keith worked in the Springfield press room for 10 years, previously working for the Associated Press and starting as an intern with the Chicago Tribune in 2000.

I’m really sorry to see Ryan go. He was a huge asset to that paper, but he was woefully underutilized. Mac Strategies will be a good fit for him, though. Best wishes, man.

* As we’ve discussed before, newspapers make a nice chunk of change off publishing official legal notices. State law requires local and state government notices to be published in newspapers, and the papers charge for the privilege. So it’s no surprise that a bill that cleared the Senate this year which would allow fire protection districts to post a couple of types of notices on their own websites has the Illinois Press Association up in arms.

The IPA has published a “guest editorial” by its own executive director on their site, and you may see it in your local papers soon…

This proposal is the quintessential reason why government should not be allowed to report on itself and clearly demonstrates why government needs to remain transparent and not try to serve as both judge and jury in the business of public notices. Aside from the inherent conflict of interest, this legislation makes little sense for a state that is trying to rid itself of an image of pay-to-play politics, public corruption, unbridled graft and imprisoned governors.

Um, “report on itself”? If this was “reporting,” then why do newspapers want to be paid to run the notices?

The bill does have an obvious flaw…

For example, guess what was conveniently left out of the legislation? You guessed it, any frequency or time requirements that would mandate how long or how often government must post this vital information on their Web site. Under the proposed legislation, it could be 10 days, 10 hours, or even 10 minutes. It is alarming that however long the notice remains publicly available would be solely at the discretion of the public body posting its own notices.

Just because newspapers have been publishing notices since “before the days of Abraham Lincoln,” as the IPA exec director writes, that doesn’t mean we should be continuing to do it now. Instead of this flawed little bill, the GA ought to be thinking about setting up a central online clearinghouse for these notices which could be easily accessed and navigated by the public. Money could be saved and the public might be better served. It’s worth a debate, anyway.

* Meanwhile, there was a bit of a behind-the-scenes blowup yesterday over a claim by NBC 5 that they had the “exclusive” story about how the redacted material on a filing by Rod Blagojevich’s attorneys could be seen by simply copying and pasting the pdf file into a text file.

The station blasted out a mass e-mail late yesterday afternoon announcing their exclusive. But they made the mistake of not blind-copying the recipients. So, I hit the “reply to all” button and pointed out that I published the story hours before they did. They apologized profusely and corrected the story.

This is truly not a big deal, although I must admit that I did enjoy dinging the NBC guys a bit.

More importantly, though, I didn’t even realize that my own story actually appeared nine minutes after Natasha Korecki published the entire, unredacted document yesterday. Natasha should get credit for the scoop.

Things move fast in this business. When I was focused on writing my piece on the redaction problems, I didn’t even bother looking around to see if anyone else had it. I imagine that the same thing happened with others as well. Heck, I just realized that my Giannoulias story headline is almost identical to NBC5’s. I honestly don’t know if I saw their hed and it stuck in my mind, or if I came up with it on my own. Weird.

Also, I didn’t figure out this redaction thing on my own. CBS2’s Internet guru is the one who mentioned it to me. Information sometimes moves in unusual ways.

…Adding… I started to write this piece because the IlliniPundit blog has been shut down. And then I forgot to post the darned story. Sheesh.

From Gordy Hulten, the IlliniPundit’s longtime publisher

Last night, I was appointed to the Champaign City Council, representing District 5. This is an enormous honor and an even larger responsibility. The time constraints of serving as a Council member (and running for election!) while balancing everything else in my life led to me to pledge during the application process that I would set aside I am doing so now, and I will no longer administer the site or participate on it. Reaching that decision was very difficult for me as has been an overwhelmingly a positive experience for me, but I am confident that it is the correct decision. There just simply isn’t enough time to do both things well.

Gordy will continue blogging at his campaign website, which is here. I’m hearing that he’s accepting offers to buy the IlliniPundit blog. Good luck, Gordy, with everything you’re doing!

* Related…

* Former sports editor Bill Adee steers Chicago Tribune’s online strategy: Mr. Adee is working with the Tribune’s technology experts on new applications for the iPad, Kindle and other devices. The goal is to create newspaper downloads that readers will pay more for than they do currently.

* Adventures in Google Ads: Roskam might want to target better

* Obama’s 2008 internal report doesn’t mention call to Balanoff about Jarrett

* Lawyers summoned to court after Obama filing accidentally made public

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Gordy Hulten - Friday, Apr 23, 10 @ 12:46 pm:

    Thank you, Rich, for the mention and the gracious words.

    You still set the standard for coverage of Illinois politics and news, and you keep distancing yourself from the rest of the field.

  2. Pingback CapFax: On the media | Gordy Hulten for Champaign City Council - Friday, Apr 23, 10 @ 1:00 pm:

    […] My good friend Rich Miller of Capitol Fax fame, who has always been one of my blogging heroes, wrote a little bit today about my being appointed to the City Council and […]

  3. - Captain Flume - Friday, Apr 23, 10 @ 1:02 pm:

    “It’s the content, stupid.”

    That content had better include comics, crosswords, travel and leisure, and fluff. Readers looking for hard news are not that numerous as a percentage of total readership. Good reporting and good reporters are certainly at a premium, but as far as the bottom line goes, they are an expensive asset without as much ROI as softer or sensationalist “news”. It’s too bad, but the profitability for the owners and stockholders don’t come from Lou Grant and Joe Rossi.

  4. - T - Friday, Apr 23, 10 @ 1:03 pm:

    You’re right about the front office “dead weight,” Rich. My print journo colleagues I talk to who work at medium-sized newspapers seem to have more bosses/editors than coworkers.
    It really is about the content and coverage - so many daily newspapers who started out as local, community papers are so stuffed full of wire stories that can be found on Google/Yahoo News. That’s why the weekly papers are doing better than the dailies!

  5. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Apr 23, 10 @ 1:11 pm:

    The most popular content of any newspaper remains the sports section.

    I imagine that a big part of profitability for newspapers will be revenue-sharing agreements with advertising giants (aka “search engines”) like Google.

    With out content, there’s nothing to google.

  6. - Rich Miller - Friday, Apr 23, 10 @ 1:15 pm:

    ===travel and leisure, and fluff===

    Agreed. But it should be well-written. And that means hiring good writers.

  7. - Carl Nyberg - Friday, Apr 23, 10 @ 1:15 pm:

    I would rather have public notices online than in the newspaper anyways.

    It’s an inefficient way of notifying people that need to be notified.

    And it also creates a situation where the newspapers are making enough revenue from local government that it affects the coverage.

  8. - Brennan - Friday, Apr 23, 10 @ 1:26 pm:

    =I honestly don’t know if I saw their hed and it stuck in my mind, or if I came up with it on my own. Weird.=

    I see a lot of this in my consumption of news on the Internet. What some see as plagiarism is often just an honest error.

  9. - Squideshi - Friday, Apr 23, 10 @ 1:34 pm:

    ==So it’s no surprise that a bill that cleared the Senate this year which would allow fire protection districts to post a couple of types of notices on their own websites has the Illinois Press Association up in arms.==

    I think this is a HUGE step in the right direction. I would like to see a centralized state website where ALL legal notices, requests for proposals / bids, and other such documents are posted. The papers can cry all they want, but they aren’t serving democracy by keeping all of this public information segregated and hard to search, sometimes behind paywalls.

  10. - Squideshi - Friday, Apr 23, 10 @ 1:34 pm:

    By “ALL” I mean local government notices too.

  11. - shore - Friday, Apr 23, 10 @ 1:48 pm: does well, why? because it has good content. rich miller does well, why because he has good content.

    old media doesn’t do well, why? because it does not have good content. the tribune’s foreign section if it still exists is awful. their sports section nothing special although david haugh is a force. their online content is presented like a college newspaper and is lackluster.

    The only thing worth paying for in the tribune the last several years has been john kass, thats it.

    I’m also unimpressed with whatever it is that the new suntimes people think they are doing.

  12. - Amalia - Friday, Apr 23, 10 @ 2:23 pm:

    rich, thanks for your honesty and your tenacity on the redaction info and story/ies.

  13. - wordslinger - Friday, Apr 23, 10 @ 2:38 pm:

    –Two sources with knowledge of the investigation confirmed to the Sun-Times that Obama called SEIU leader Tom Balanoff Nov. 3, 2008. Obama told Balanoff he preferred to have Jarrett in the White House but would not stand in her way, sources said.–

    This is interesting. When a federal courts reporters cites “sources with knowledge of the investigation,” as confirming a defendants allegation, I assume that it’s the federales.

    That makes it sound to me like the president-elect might be on federal tape talking to Balanoff. Another first, perhaps, from the crack transition team.

  14. - Ellinoyed - Friday, Apr 23, 10 @ 3:13 pm:

    If the Trib is the best example of new media b/c of its strong content, I shudder to think what media is like in the rest of the state. The content of the Tribune is largely a waste. I don’t care about the lotto ball lady or what Kevin Pang likes to eat.

  15. - Former reporter - Friday, Apr 23, 10 @ 4:25 pm:

    I agree with many of your comments regarding newspapers, especially the fact that in order to survive, they need to concentrate on hiring and retaining quality reporters who do great and meaningful work. However, I should correct two things about the SJ-R. Ryan Keith, while a great reporter and a hard worker, was not hired and put in charge of new media and he never administered the aggregate Statehouse news site featured on the SJ-R website. The SJ-R maintains a vibrant and hardworking web desk that oversees The Dome and that focuses on being on the leading edge of technology, especially within the Gatehouse chain. It will be interesting to see who the SJ-R hires to take Ryan Keith’s place and whether the parameters of that job change.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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