Thursday, January 25, 2007

Allentown Times, RIP

So S.I. Newhouse and his Advance Publications have shuttered the Allentown Times, the city's only English-language community weekly.

The rationale was revealing: Advance is killing the Times not because the paper isn't profitable--it is--but because the company wants to invest more money in its online presence. (It's true that the company's PennLive site--which hosts the online versions of the Express-Times, the Allentown Times, and the --is painfully bad.)

It's worth noting that Time Inc., the nation's largest magazine publisher, announced cutbacks at its flagship, Time Magazine, for very similar reasons: to free up money for online investments.

One reason this trend is disturbing: (a) journalism is expensive; (b) most revenue--and journalists' salaries--still comesfrom print advertising; and (c) the revenue from online advertising remains relatively tiny. Right now, it's not at all clear that the internet can financially support real, professional journalism. As media companies shift resources to the web, they are diverting some of that print revenue away from reporting, and onto a platform that, at the moment at least, can't do the economic heavy-lifting necessary to support journalism.

We all know that online news is the newspaper's future, but all of us that care about quality journalism should be worried about the economics: The New York Times' 1200-reporter newsroom is expensive, and no army of bloggers can reproduce the Times' shoeleather reporting.

The other Times--Allentown's--was the city's only community weekly (not counting the Morning Call Weekly, which is a slimmed-down repackaging of the mother paper). The Valley is blanketed with community weeklies in other communities (owned, for the most part, by two chains, the Lehigh Valley News Group and the Times News group). Now the state's third-largest city has no community paper.

The Times had some good reporting, though it seemed wrong that it was reported and produced out of Bethlehem. Before the announced closure, I had intended to post about its recent, disturbing, circulation strategy: To deliver the paper only to affluent West-Enders in the 18104 area code, relegating the rest of the city to scattered kiosks. Advertising-driven demographics, of course.

Even so, the Times will be missed.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Call Parent Receives Bid

Ron Burkle and Eli Broad, the two LA billionaires, submitted a complex bid today to take control of 31% of Tribune Co. stock. Here's the NYT story--long on details of the deal, but with mere speculation concerning the various Tribune papers' futures.

It's significant that none of the private equity firms that had been circling Tribune ended up submitting bids. Burkle and Broad's was the only bid--though the Chandler family (already the largest Tribune shareholder) may yet set up its own deal to take the company private.

Philly Media Forum TONIGHT

A PUBLIC FORUM ON MEDIA OWNERSHIP, Thursday, January 18, 2007, 6pm.Gladfelter Hall, Room 13, Temple University, Free and open to the public

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Morning Call Parent Tribune Co. Taking Bids Tomorrow

Today's New York Times has an interesting piece focused on likely Tribune Co. bidding partners (and billionaires) Eli Broad and Ron Burkle--two men who both claim to care about newspapers' civic duty. The same claim is made by another likely bidder, David Geffen, the music mogul. The handful of private equity firms hovering around, it is safe to assume, would be ruthless in their profit-maximization.

What will a sale to one (or a pair) of these billionaires mean for journalism at the Call? Though all three assert that profit margins will be reasonable--and not at the disastrous 20+ percent that is currently expected at publicly traded newspaper companies--they may turn around and sell the Call and other papers. The reason is that all three are interested mainly in Tribune's flagship, the LA Times.

Stay tuned. The Call will almost certainly have new owners within a year--and almost any owner would be better than Tribune.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Wireless in Allentown?

NPR's On the Media has an excellent segment on municipal wireless--with a measured (but inconclusive) compare-and-contrast of Philly's private, St. Cloud's public, and Boston's hybrid systems.

Community wifi was one of the original reasons we formed Media Action of the Lehigh Valley. As we move into 2007, let's pressure city officials--including Allentown's Ed Pawlowski--to name a task force to start exploring options.

A Reporter Stands Up to the Army

San Francisco Bay Guardian 9 January---Independent Oakland reporter Sarah Olson could face felony charges for refusing to testify against a conscientious objector whose court-martial "stem[s] from interviews he gave which he openly criticized the Bush administration and the war on Iraq." She explains why she expects little relief from journalist shield laws that "probably wouldn't even cover me, and they probably wouldn't cover bloggers ever."

Entering into a conversation about who is or isn't a journalist (as the San Francisco Police Department and the District Attorney's Office have sought to do in imprisoned idependent reporter Josh Wolf's case), Olson says, "is degrading for the whole profession. And what it doesn't do is stand up for the civil liberties that are constitutionally afforded to everyone, nor does it protect a meaningful and independent press."... "My duty," Olson says, "is the public and its right to know and not to the government.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Inquirer Layoffs: The View from Inside

On the Inquirer layoffs, these comments on the Inky's own blog tell the whole story...

Update on Tribune Co. Sale

Via Huffington Post's Eat the Press, an update on the ongoing drama around the probable sale of the Tribune Co., the newspaper giant that owns the Morning Call.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Philly Inquirer to Lay Off 17% of Editorial Staff

Local ownership was supposed to save newspapers from the ruthless profit expectations of the big chains. Wishful thinking: the new private owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer, a group of local businessmen headed by Brian Tierney, first engaged in hard-ball negotiations with the newspaper union. Now the owners have dropped the ax on about 70 editorial employees. This means that, after the cuts, the Inquirer will have 400 newsroom staff--down from its 80s and 90s staff of 500 +, with 15 foreign bureaus.

The New York Times reports that the paper's gambling beat reporter is one of the victims--even as gambling becomes one of the top state issues. This excerpt from the Times story is revealing (and helps to explain the Call's own meager reporting on the slots license aftermath):

Among those who received calls last night and was told he was losing his job was Jeff Shields, a reporter who covers gambling, a young and growing industry in Pennsylvania.

“These last two weeks, knowing this was coming, have really been Kafkaesque,” said Mr. Shields, 41, who has been at the paper for almost four years. He said he hoped to parlay his knowledge of the gambling industry into a job at a paying Web site or doing research.

A subject he would like to write about is the effect of casinos on their hometowns — “the kind of story you might pitch to an editor but in this day and age would never get approved,” he said, alluding to declining ambitions at many daily newspapers.

His editor, Eugene Kiely, 47, who made the call to Mr. Shields, is also leaving The Inquirer, although voluntarily, and will take a job at USA Today. He said he wanted to continue his newspaper career at a place he thought would be “stable.”

Monday, January 01, 2007

Poll Finds Local TV News Most Trustworthy

Confirming a long trail of perplexing findings, the latest Pew Center poll on the public's attitude toward the press finds that local television news--that ratings-driven journalistic nightmare--is trusted by more people than any other news platform. Baffling, especially since corporate "video news releases" are aired, often unedited, at local stations across the country.