Mark MacDonald, the new managing editor of the Nanaimo Daily News, has some interesting ideas about how to fix the daily news business.
Find below a three page document titled “Restoring Daily Newspapers to Prominence” in which MacDonald advocates his strategies for helping daily papers survive.
Please read the whole thing. I’ve pulled out some snippets of particular interest.
“The three most important words in the newspaper business are: Local, local, local.”
“There are many ways our papers can obtain news without increasing costs. As you can see by this list, these are not necessarily new ideas:”"Use advertising staff to bring in editorial leads. What better way to put their clients and prospective clients in the news and give them a reason to read? Simply pass on news to an editorial person who would compile a “People” column that ran regularly. People LOVE gossip – the daily needs that to some degree to make it a must read.”
“Sports organization leaders who want to share.”
“Increased yield from existing news staffers. If a lengthy interview takes an hour and it takes an hour to write, that’s four substantial length stories in a typical working day. And it’s a reasonable work place.”
“Having sat in a newsroom for many years, I know the culture well. More than once, we watched the next days’ [sic] front page story walk past our desks. I understand how a veteran news writer, faced with bundling up and going out to fight the elements i search of a meaty, story, could see the “relevance” of the one that just walked by his or her desk in a warm, dry office.”
“Either balance out all stories, or don’t balance them out at all and let the topic have its say. If you can’t have both side of an issue covered and represented respectfully, don’t have either.
“For example, if there is a new mine being considered for an area, the writers cover the topic, then contact someone opposed to ‘bring balance’ to the story. When an opponent is contacted, a proponent should be also, to give balance.”
“Existing union contracts can be onerous and unworkable and even though workers believe this gives them job security, it is in fact crippling the industry and making it unprofitable. The union needs to realize this and be willing to make alterations for their long-term profit.”
“Most papers lean to the left editorially, or at least are lukewarm to business interests. Typical journalists don’t understand business, how business operates successfully, or how their owners think. Newspaper owners must share part of the blame for the left leaning tendencies of typical media, in that they’ve abrogated responsibility for hiring news staff to editors, many of whom are sympathetic to the socialist cause. Of course there are some positive aspects of socialism, but they shouldn’t dominate the editorial flavor [sic] of the paper.
“Newspapers need not become “right wing rags”. That is counter-productive, and not indicative of a community building meeting place for citizens. It is not a fair representation of the community at large. But they do need ballance.”
While I will refrain from commenting, please feel free to weigh in below…
Note: If you’re having trouble viewing them, click on these three links and zoom in. You can do this on most browsers by pressing the CTRL and + buttons at the same time. I think on Macs it’s the apple button instead of the CTRL.
The owners of the Columbia Valley Pioneer and the Invermere Valley Echo have signed a joint operating agreement that will preserve the existing newsrooms but consolidate administration and accounting duties.
The Pioneer will remain free, while Invermere Valley Echo will remain a paid-subscription paper with a paywalled website. The papers will remain owned by different entities, but Rose-Marie Regitnig will serve as publisher of both papers.
The Pioneer reports:
This means both businesses can work together, instead of fighting for survival in the face of decreasing profit margins.
Each newspaper will maintain its owner. Black Press still owns The Echo, and Misko Publishing still owns The Pioneer. And both will maintain their distinctive editorial voices, Ms. Regitnig explained.
“To serve the community best we feel that each paper should maintain its personality and thus both will have varied content, just as they do now,” she said. “Significant stories may run in both, but as we have two separate editorial teams, the coverage of the same event will differ.”
“This agreement is set in place to make each newspaper better, in every way.”
“I believe that this joint operating agreement will allow us to get so much further by letting us shift our mindsets and work together, rather than against each other,” Ms. Regitnig added. “That can be an uncomfortable and intimidating concept to most of us when we think of our business competitors, but we are taking this approach because we believe in it.”
“Our competitive editorial spirit at both newspapers will still be there, and that is good and healthy. It creates better newspapers.”
The Pioneer has a poll on their website asking what their readers think. So far, of 22 votes, half think it’s the wrong move, while six people approve.
If somebody could explain to me who, exactly, the publisher will report to (e.g., who’s her boss?), it would be much appreciated, because I sure as hell can’t figure it out.
Also, please feel free to explain how newspapers can retain a “competitive editorial spirit” while running some of the same stories?
The Kamloops Daily News has been sued by Strauss Herb Company over an April 2 column by Russ Reid.
The company says Reid’s column gave readers the impression Strauss was knowingly trying to sucker customers into buying a worthless product, according to a story by Kamloops This Week reporter Tim Petruk.
According to Petruk:
The column was in response to a KTW front-page story nearly a month earlier — in the March 6, 2012 edition — titled Strauss claims victory, describing the fact Strauss Heart Drops had received natural-health designation from Health Canada.
In its statement of claim, Strauss took particular issue with one paragraph of Reid’s column — which stated Strauss “has refused to reveal its formula and put standard specific information about the ingredients on its product label.”
Reid went on to compare Strauss to 19th-century snake-oil salesmen and New York Ponzi-scheme con man Bernie Madoff.
The Kamloops Daily News responded, in documents filed last week, with a counter-claim against Strauss, alleging false advertising and seeking orders from the court that Strauss stop making exaggerated claims about its products.
The newspaper also denied any malice in publishing Reid’s column and claimed it was a matter of public interest — specifically citing reader comments under the column when it was published online, including a number of “intemperate remarks” from a user traced back to a Strauss computer.
As the story notes, none of the claims have been proven in court.
The Daily News published an unbylined story on the lawsuit with the headline “Paper responds to Strauss lawsuit.” (Although, I usually just quote snippets of stories, what with copyright and all that, I’m going to reprint in full since it’s pretty much a press release. If that’s a problem, let me know.)
Lawyers for Glacier Media, the Kamloops Daily News and a retired city doctor have filed a response to a lawsuit from a Kamloops company alleging defamation and libel.
The legal documents were filed in B.C. Supreme Court Friday, in response to a lawsuit from Strauss Enterprises (the Strauss Herb Company), and Peter Strauss, Brian Kettle, Bill Carey, Don Schulz and Robert Jackman of the company.
Strauss’s lawsuit, filed earlier this year, names Glacier Media Inc., The Daily News, Dr. Russ Reid, editor Mel Rothenburger and publisher Tim Shoults.
Strauss claims it was defamed in a column authored by Reid, who wrote about Health Canada’s awarding of a natural product number to Strauss Heartdrops. The article was published in The Daily News last spring.
The Kamloops Daily News and the other defendants have filed a response in which they deny that the column has the meaning claimed by the plaintiffs, and some of the defendants have challenged Strauss’s advertisements.
It’s not known when the case will reach court.
Rothenburger, incidentally, was slated to retire Sept. 14, two days after the news of the lawsuit was made public.
It’s unfortunate that I’ve been too busy to post at the exact moment most British Columbians realize Black Press is not run by that guy named Conrad. But such is life.
Whatever the case, I need to point to a couple of articles that have come out in the past week.
First, the Globe and Mail ran a Q&A between Ian Bailey and Black, which included Black’s views on his newspapers publishing of pro- or con- editorials on the refinery. The entire interview is worth reading, but here’s the most interesting part:
I do think that the editorial itself, the unsigned editorial itself in a paper, is a grey area, a confusing area. I would hope if my editors want to write opinion pieces against it or even for it that they do so in an opinion columns and op-ed pieces and so on where it’s clear who’s writing it. If you do it otherwise in the editorials, you confuse them. Here’s the owner saying one thing, and the editorial says another. Who owns this paper and who’s responsible for it? Editorials are an area that we’ve got to be careful in. Other than that, they’re welcome to do whatever they want.
This is interesting in light of his earlier ban on papers running pro-Nisga’a Treaty editorials a decade or so ago. I feel like I should dislike Black’s position here, and yet I kind find myself in agreement with him. This is such a unique case, that it demands unique treatment. It’s also worth acknowledging that unsigned editorials are less understood by the public than those who write them think, and they do have the power to confuse. E.g.: if Black owns a paper, and the paper’s editorial line is rabidly against (or rabidly for) some aspect of the pipeline, it could be interpreted that the editorial reflects the personal opinion of Black — who now carries the weight of being a lead proponent of a HUGE project in the area. Black is not innocent here, though. By wading into the Nisga’a controversy with his editorial ban, he forever tied his personal views to those expressed within his papers’ editorials, even if he clearly has little effect on his papers’ day-to-day editorials.
[It's also, perhaps, a time to reflect on the relevance of the unsigned editorial at small newspapers. Many daily newspapers have editorial boards that collectively determine a newspaper's stance. Local newspapers often have a couple journalists who might write editorials (and therefore determine a paper's "position") based on who draws a short straw or who has a little extra time on their hands that day. But that's a topic for another day.]
Secondly, Vancouver Sun reporter Jeff Lee — on the heels of his profile of Black — posted to his Civic Affairs blog in order to add comments by Black that didn’t make it into the original story. The comments primarily relate to the state of daily newspapers. But there’s also these quotes by Black:
There are some other things that are bloody obvious in the industry. There is NO money to be made in the digital side. You do not want to let any subscribers, if you can avoid it, leave your print product and go over to the digital side, so get paywalls in place. And there are still guys who haven’t done that.”
(Despite that, Black says a “digital first strategy” makes sense, in some cases.) [BCRR note: this is Lee]
“Akron and Honolulu, which are our biggest newspapers, have real good websites. But I am just saying there is not a lot of money to be made and there is some expense to do that and the price of the advertising on the websites is low. Unfortunately, the price is dropping all the time. And I’ll tell you why. The main reason is it doesn’t work for our clients.
If you are in Burns Lake, you have to buy the weekly newspaper. Not all the papers are free. It depends on where they are. Certainly in the suburbs they are free but in most of the small towns we are selling them for about a buck a copy and most people will buy that because for a dollar a week you are staying up with all the news in town.”
Finally, the Georgia Straight’s Charlie Smith assails the Terrace Standard for not covering the refinery/pipeline goings on in the precise way as he would have done. Smith, I think, is looking for some meddling by Black.
The overall impression I’ve gleaned from the website is that it’s okay to publish articles that quote local critics of the refinery plan, but don’t run anything that might make readers question Black’s business acumen.
Nor is there any look at Black’s proposal as public-relations hocus-pocus done in cahoots with the Liberal government to persuade more British Columbians to support Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Project.
I’m hoping that an enterprising SFU communications student conducts a more complete content analysis of how Black Press papers have covered this $13-billion refinery proposal by the company’s owner.
It would make for fascinating reading—particularly if it examined self-censorship by journalists who don’t want to rile the boss after one of their colleagues was thrown overboard.
Feel free to disagree, but I don’t think it’s possible for the Standard, with its three-person newsroom (correct???), to appease Smith, or produce the sort of investigatory takedown he seeks.
Glacier Media reported income of $6 million in the second quarter of 2012, according to its latest quarterly financial statement. That’s down from $7.9 million during the same quarter of last year. Revenue, meanwhile, increased 27.4 per cent over last year to $91.4 million.
The report is positive about the future:
Overall the combination of consolidated revenue growth, mix of businesses, level of performance of the Company’s business units, and additional cost efficiencies are expected to result in continued growth in revenue, profitability and cash flow per share in 2012.
The report goes on to blame a poor economy for slumping revenues among B.C. papers. Glacier also blames Postmedia’s cost-cutting for hurting the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island papers it bought last year.
Here’s the most community newspaper-centric part of the report. I’ve bolded points of particular interest.
Glacier’s community media operations incurred softer revenue performance in some markets during the quarter. The Prairie operations continued to generate strong revenue and profitability. The B.C. markets were affected by weaker economic conditions in Victoria, the Lower Mainland and a variety of Vancouver Island and Interior markets. National advertising revenues were weaker in most markets, which appears to be the result of cautiousness due to economic conditions, as financial and government revenues have been significantly lower, although digital competition is also affecting print spending levels. Local advertising revenues were more resilient in both the existing markets where Glacier has operated, and some of the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island markets acquired from Postmedia, although the Victoria market continues to struggle.
Operating resource investments are being made to improve the strength of the community media assets acquired in order to increase competitiveness and sales effectiveness. The operations had been weakened by significant cost cutting incurred over many years under previous ownership due to the high debt levels of these owners. The costs of the operating investments have been partially offset by savings in overhead costs as a result of the integration of the operations with Glacier’s existing infrastructure. The operating investments resulted in stronger local advertising sales and classified sales in the second quarter. While it will take time to strengthen and revitalize the operations, it is encouraging that direct revenue increases are being realized as investments are being made. Digital investments are also being made to exploit the digital revenue opportunities of the larger markets in which the community media operations acquired are located.
While economic and market challenges have affected the community media operations, management believes that these businesses remain strong and will continue to generate solid cash flow given the nature of the markets in which Glacier operates and the nature of local community media. This cash flow can be used to fund growth through both internal investment and acquisition of digital business information and digital community media assets, as well as repayment of debt, payment of dividends and repurchase of shares.
Glacier’s small market community media operations offer a unique selling proposition and competitive advantage through the local information that they provide, of which they are a primary source, and the primary marketing channel they offer to advertisers. The value of Glacier’s local community content is being provided to Glacier’s readers in print and online, by tablet and mobile smartphone platforms. A number of new digital sales products and strategies have been introduced, and new digital sales and product staff are being hired and technology investments are being made to drive these growth initiatives. Given that the demand for local community information is expected to exist for the long term, Glacier expects to be able to monetize the information and marketing value through
advertising and other revenue sources for the long term. As 85% of Glacier’s local newspaper distribution is free, this also provides for a more durable reach of readership for advertisers over time wherein total market coverage can always be provided. The attributes of these community media operations are significantly different and stronger than larger metropolitan paid daily newspapers, which has been reflected in the financial performance of Glacier’s community media group.
Remember, of course, that such reports are intended to make a company look like a good investment for shareholders.