The Journal said on its website 23 full-time workers lost their jobs Wednesday on top of the 11 who accepted a voluntary buyout in September. No reporters or columnists were laid off, and the paper said the cuts would have “minimal impact” on its news coverage. Three photographers reportedly lost their jobs.
Separately, Journal parent company A.H. Belo disclosed that the Providence paper’s total advertising revenue fell 13% compared with last year during the three months ended Sept. 30, to $10.5 million. The paper’s overall revenue rose 0.7% to $23 million as circulation and printing/distribution sales improved.
A.H. Belo CEO Robert Decherd told investors the Dallas-based company’s revenue picture worsened in October. “It’s been a little bit choppier in October and I couldn’t begin to tell you what will happen in November,” he said last week. “We’re definitely seeing a softer market in all three [A.H. Belo] markets – well, Providence and Dallas; Riverside is holding its own.”
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A growing number of contracts for printing and distribution gave The Providence Journal a slight bump in revenue during the first half of this year despite a deep drop in springtime advertising revenue.
The Journal’s total revenue rose to $46.7 million during the six months of 2012, an increase of $597,000 or 1.3% compared with the first half of last year, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing this week by its parent company A.H. Belo.
The share of total Journal revenue that came from advertising fell below 50%, a symbolically important milestone in light of newspapers’ historic reliance on advertisements to pay the newsroom’s bills. Printing and distribution contracts’ share of revenue jumped to 13% and circulation accounted for 37%.
The Journal is one of many papers with a changing revenue mix, said Ken Doctor, a media analyst with Outsell. “All are seeing rapidly increasing percentile contributions from circulation – or what we should call reader revenue,” he told WPRI.com. “Projo is at the leading edge of change, probably due more to ad decline than [its] digital circulation program.”
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence Journal’s finances brightened during the first three months of this year, as the paper used higher circulation revenue and more third-party printing work to offset another sharp drop in advertising.
The Journal’s revenue totaled $22.7 million in the three months ended March 31, up 3% from $22 million in the same period last year, according to a regulatory filing. That performance helped offset weakness elsewhere within its Dallas-based parent A. H. Belo, which said companywide revenue slid 7% in the first quarter.
The Journal’s first-quarter contract work nearly doubled to $2.8 million year-over-year as the paper distributed more national and local newspapers and landed new commercial printing jobs. The paper’s circulation revenue also posted a healthy gain of nearly 6%, rising to $8.6 million.
Advertising is no longer the bedrock of The Journal’s business that it once was, contributing only 49.5% of total revenue in the first quarter. Ad sales through March 31 fell to $11.2 million, down nearly 10% from a year earlier, with declines in all categories. Digital advertising on ProvidenceJournal.com slipped 7% to $1.5 million compared with 2011.
A.H. Belo awarded CEO Robert Decherd $1.6 million last year, down 14% from $1.9 million in 2010, and up 222% from $499,180 in 2009, the filing said.
Decherd’s pay included a $480,000 salary, $899,997 in stock awards, a $168,474 cash bonus and $61,441 in other benefits. Decherd’s salary rose to $600,000 a year effective this month, a separate filing said.
The Dallas-based company awarded Executive Vice President James Moroney $1.1 million in 2011, down from $1.3 million in 2010; Chief Financial Officer Alison Engel $626,091, down from $800,001; Senior Vice President Daniel Blizzard $424,991, down from $575,000; and departing executive John McKeon $891,788, down from $1.3 million. The first three executives’ base salaries also increased this month.
A.H. Belo posted a net loss of $10.9 million in 2011, compared with a net loss of $124.2 million in 2010, as revenue fell 5% to $461.5 million. The company’s stock is down almost 3% this year based on Tuesday’s closing price of $4.62 a share, after declining 45% in 2011.
• Related: Projo parent AH Belo’s board awards big raises to top bosses (March 20)
Top executives at The Providence Journal’s parent company, A.H. Belo, are getting big pay raises despite a 45% decline in the publisher’s stock price during 2011, the fourth straight year it lost money.
The compensation committee of A.H. Belo’s board of directors awarded the largest increase to CEO Robert Decherd. His annual base salary will jump 25% to $600,000 in April, the Dallas-based company said in an SEC filing. Decherd is chairman of the board.
In addition, A.H. Belo said Dallas Morning News publisher Jim Moroney’s base salary will increase 15.5% to $540,000; Chief Financial Officer Alison Engel’s will increase 8.3% to $325,000; and senior vice president Daniel Blizzard’s will increase 12% to $280,000. Their total compensation for 2011 will be reported later this spring.
John Hill, president of the Providence Newspaper Guild union, said the four executives “should be ashamed of themselves” for taking more money less than a year after laying off and buying out Journal staffers. The paper’s work force fell by a third between 2008 and 2011. The Guild signed a new contract in February 2011.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Advertising sales at The Providence Journal plunged by more than 60% over the last six years, forcing Rhode Island’s top newspaper to eliminate a third of its work force and to rely increasingly on subscribers and printing contracts to pay the bills.
The Journal’s total revenue dropped for a sixth straight year in 2011 to finish at $95.1 million, down 5% from 2010 and off 43% since 2005, parent company A.H. Belo disclosed in an SEC filing. Lower advertising and circulation sales were partly offset by $3 million in new printing and distribution contracts.
Journal publisher Howard Sutton declined to comment on the results. “The printed Journal has adapted to changing times, intensifying its focus on local and regional news and carefully managing its cost structure to match lower revenues,” A.H. Belo CEO Robert Decherd wrote in an op-ed on Feb. 26.
The Journal sold $52.9 million worth of advertising in 2011, down 11% from the prior year, with retail, preprint and digital lower but classifieds higher. Advertising has fallen a dizzying 61% at the paper since hitting $136.5 million in 2005, though last year’s percentage decrease was the smallest since 2007.
R.I.S.N. Operations Inc., which owns nine daily and weekly newspapers in Rhode Island, recently eliminated seven full- and part-time jobs at the Kent County Daily Times and its sister papers, WPRI.com has confirmed.
The employees worked in several different departments, publisher Nanci Batson told WPRI.com. “The restructure was a business decision based on the current economic climate,” she said in an email. “We value the welfare of all our employees and we’re especially sensitive to those who lost their jobs as a result of this restructuring.”
“We appreciate the positive contributions they made to our newspaper team and their presence will be sorely missed,” Batson added.
R.I.S.N. Operations paid $7.6 million to buy the Daily Times, the Woonsocket Call, the Pawtucket Times and the Wakefield-basked Southern Rhode Island Newspapers group of weeklies from the Journal Register Co. in 2007. R.I.S.N. is incorporated in Marion, Illinois.
The layoffs come as R.I.S.N.’s papers face more competition. In addition to Edward A. Sherman Publishing Co.’s South County Independent and the Breeze Publications papers, AOL’s hyperlocal Patch network has created websites for Coventry, East Greenwich, Narragansett and South Kingstown, North Kingstown and Woonsocket.
The Valley Breeze reported last month that multiple reporters and other employees were recently laid off at R.I.S.N.’s Pawtucket and Woonsocket papers, as well.
• Related: Publisher: Kent County Daily Times staff down 28%, not 75% (Jan. 17, 2011)
(photo: Echo Media)
Kevin O’Brien, the former owner of ABC 6 who fought unsuccessfully to hold onto the local station last year, is back in the news. This time O’Brien is making headlines in Detroit, where he was fired last week after as a consultant to independent station WADL-TV, which hired a former FBI agent to investigate him.
TV Spy reports on the latest:
After his very public termination as a WADL consultant, Kevin O’Brien is firing back at the independent station and its owner Kevin Adell.
Today an attorney representing O’Brien circulated a press release defending him against the “defamatory” press release WADL sent out last week announcing his dismissal.
In firing O’Brien, WADL cited his use of company equipment to “obtain a deal with the San Jose Sharks” as the reason for his termination. O’Brien denies trying to land a deal with the NHL team, and contends that he was fired because he disagreed with Adell about how to discipline an employee for excessive use of a company vehicle.
The Providence Journal will start charging online readers Tuesday, doubling down on its strategy of selling a digital replica of the print edition rather than using an HTML-based paywall like those of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal said it will create 10 subscription tiers on Tuesday. A seven-day digital-only subscription will cost $208 a year for the Web and iPad e-editions or $192 a year for the iPad e-edition alone through Apple’s App Store. A seven-day subscription to both the print edition and the e-edition will cost $416 a year, unchanged from the current price, effectively making it free to current subscribers. A weekend print subscription with seven-day digital access will cost $312 a year.
The Boston Globe charges the same price – $208 a year – for digital access to its new website without a print subscription. The New York Times charges $195 a year for full access to its website and smartphone apps.
The Journal’s new e-edition designed by Olive Software has been available as a free trial since Oct. 17, when the paper launched its new website, which also offers brief blog items and sports stories for free. The paper’s online traffic has declined 33% since the new site debuted. The paper has not created iPhone or Android apps and did not say whether those will be added.
It’s back to the future for Rhode Island’s Future.
The lefty website that was an influential voice of opposition to the Carcieri administration will return to its roots on Wednesday by debuting with a new look and a commitment from 15 contributing writers to reenergize the blog, which fell all but silent last year.
“There is this ephemeral image of Rhode Island being this bastion of liberal policy,” Brian Hull, who bought Rhode Island’s Future in August 2009, told WPRI.com. “Sure, everyone’s a Democrat, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s a liberal. Now RIFuture is coming back to actually have that strong liberal voice that’s been missing.”
With Hull busy as a student at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Rhode Island’s Future became a ghost town in 2011, rarely updated except for occasional scattered posts, some anonymous, and event announcements. It was a far cry from the consistent commentary that marked the site in its heyday under founder Matt Jerzyk or that still happens at Anchor Rising.
I believe (and hope) this is correct:
With technology empowering everyone with the ability to create and to distribute, I predict — and wish — that in 2012 the new dominating factor will be Credibility. Actually, earned Credibility.
What will stand out from the sea of content will be the voices we turn to time and time again. Trusted sources of news and information will transcend their mastheads and company brands…and become their own brand. Brands that are solely based on being known for the quality and reliability of their work.
Here’s yet another reason to mourn Steve Jobs – the late Apple CEO was a defender of traditional journalism.
”I would love to help quality journalism,” Jobs told his biographer Walter Isaacson. “We can’t depend on bloggers for our news. We need real reporting and editorial oversight more than ever. So I’d love to find a way to help people create digital products where they actually can make money.”
But Jobs was also “very blunt and critical of what newspapers were doing in technology,” News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch told Isaacson. The Poynter Institute’s Steve Myers has more on Jobs and journalism here.
(You may say, “Wait a sec, Ted, you’re a blogger.” True, I write a blog – but I think Jobs was using the colloquial distinction between “bloggers” as independent, amateur news gatherers and full-time professional reporters who do this for a living and work for traditional media outlets.)
I asked Benenson Strategy Group to send me the demographic breakdown for the 450 likely voters who were interviewed for Engage Rhode Island’s pension poll so I could get WPRI 12 political analyst (and pollster) Joe Fleming’s take on whether the Washington-based firm captured the local voting population accurately.
“They look good,” Fleming told me in an email after giving the screening questions a look, though he said the number of union households and college graduates surveyed might be a little high.
Pensions aside, the most interesting statistics to me in the demographic breakdown were the questions about where the 450 likely voters surveyed get their Rhode Island political and government news.
The top online source was local broadcast TV news websites like WPRI.com at 29%, followed by none (28%), local newspapers sites like Projo.com or national news sites (tied at 26%), or search-engine portals like Google News and Yahoo! News (17%).
The top source in general for political and government news was television (37%), newspapers or magazines (27%), followed by the Internet and radio (tied at 14%). That mirrors the findings of national studies by the Pew Research Center.
You can check out the demographics for yourself by downloading the PDF from WPRI.com.
Former Projo reporter John Sullivan has a big article in the new Columbia Journalism Review detailing, as he puts it, “the second age of PR.” Basically, a growing number of spinmeisters are out there working their magic on a shrinking number of actual reporters.
This comparison was particularly striking (emphasis mine):
In their recent book, The Death and Life of American Journalism, Robert McChesney and John Nichols tracked the number of people working in journalism since 1980 and compared it to the numbers for public relations. Using data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, they found that the number of journalists has fallen drastically while public relations people have multiplied at an even faster rate. In 1980, there were about .45 PR workers per one hundred thousand population compared with .36 journalists. In 2008, there were .90 PR people per one hundred thousand compared to .25 journalists. That’s a ratio of more than three-to-one, better equipped, better financed.
Sullivan’s entire article is well worth a read. I think this is one of the biggest issues the news business faces circa 2011 – reporters are being asked to churn out more and more content in a shorter amount of time. That makes it hard to verify information, let alone seek out angles that aren’t immediately obvious to us.
The FCC report says that newspapers and TV news networks have half the staff that they had in the 1980s and that newsrooms now stand at pre-Watergate employment levels. As a result, local news coverage is in trouble. Courts, schools, legal affairs, environment, state government and education once were priority beats. Now they lack reporters to cover them. …
The FCC team that wrote the report coined the term “hamsterization” (based on a CJR story) to describe the way that reporters now have to scurry to cover story after story without having the time to “turn over the rocks” to find out what is really going on. “The waste of taxpayer dollars, corruption, coverage of schools” all get less coverage, according to [author Steven] Waldman.
“Reporters write from press releases more and don’t have time to dig,” he said.
In my experience, the majority of PR folks are honest, hardworking and genuinely interested in being helpful to reporters, even when we’re working on a story they don’t like. And I’m lucky enough to work for an organization that’s continuing to spend significant money on in-depth news coverage.
Still, there’s no question in my mind that these days the flacks hold the upper hand over the hacks.
(photo: Dalius Baranauskas/Wikipedia)
Tim White and I have been spending a lot of time reporting on pensions in recent months (or, in Tim’s case, years). Sometimes I get an incredulous response from people when they hear that two reporters with a local television station are digging into esoteric topics like COLAs, ARCs and OPEB.
But snobbery aside, broadcast journalism actually has a distinguished history of hard-hitting reporting on pensions. NBC won a Peabody Award and praise from the American Bar Association for a 1972 “NBC Reports” documentary called “Pensions: The Broken Promise.”
Here’s how Time magazine described the program:
Aired in September 1972, the program was a bleak exposé of failings in privately administered group-pension plans. Workers told of losing all or most of their pension income through a variety of misfortunes: pre-retirement dismissals, company closings or mergers, the collapse of pension funds because of mismanagement. Correspondent Edwin Newman, who was co-author of the script with NBC Producer David Schmerler, noted near the end of the hour-long broadcast that “there are many good” pension plans. But his conclusion was downbeat: “The situation, as we’ve seen it, is deplorable.”
The show led to congressional hearings and is widely credited with convincing Congress to enact ERISA – the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, which set minimum standards for private pension plans for the first time to protect retirees.
Unfortunately for NBC, it also got the network in trouble with the Nixon administration:
On the same day as the Peabody Award, an FCC staff report declared that NBC had not complied with the fairness doctrine. The ruling did not challenge the program’s accuracy but charged that NBC had failed to provide “reasonable opportunity” for the airing of positive views on the subject. NBC asked for a review of the report by the full FCC membership. Last December the commission supported (5-0) its staffs decision and ordered NBC to come up with some counterpoint to its documentary. At that point, NBC took its appeal to court.
The network could have ducked a legal battle simply by dropping some rosy comments on pensions into talk shows like Today. But it contends that the documentary does not raise fairness-doctrine questions, because the existence of some inadequate pensions – the program’s subject – is a fact, not a “controversial issue.”
And NBC won in the end. “The Supreme Court refused to hear the case and in 1976 let stand a lower court ruling in favor of NBC that the program had achieved reasonable balance,” according to The Museum of Broadcast Communications.
Congratulations to The Providence Journal’s Froma Harrop, who is a finalist for a 2011 Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism in the commentary category.
And what august company she’s in: Harrop’s fellow finalists are Paul Krugman of The New York Times, Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum and former Intel CEO Andy Grove. The winner will be announced June 28 in New York City.
Harrop, who lives in Providence and whose column is syndicated in nearly 200 papers, was also a Loeb finalist in 2004. She was a business writer for the Projo before becoming a columnist and joining its editorial board.
The Journal doesn’t appear to have a page for Harrop’s column, but her syndicate collects them here.
I’ll add that Froma and I met recently while appearing together on a Rhode Island PBS program about the future of news (it airs May 25) and she’s a lovely lady – we both love Instapaper, too. Good luck!
(photo: Creators Syndicate)
Nocera grew up in Providence, graduating from Classical High in 1970 before attending Boston University. This month, the veteran business journalist added another achievement to his lengthy résumé, which includes GQ, Newsweek and Esquire bylines: op-ed columnist for The New York Times.
Nocera was back in Rhode Island over the weekend to accept a Distinguished Alumni Award from Classical – and to visit his large extended family. I sat down with him to talk about his new job, Providence then and now, The Times’ new paywall, executive pay at CVS – and whether The Providence Journal will survive. (The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.)
You’re here to get an award from Classical.
I’m very excited.
What are your most vivid memories from your time there?
I don’t think I can say that.
(Laughs.) Your G-rated memories, then.
Really, playing against Marvin Barnes‘ Central [High] team, and losing by about 40 points.
Central and Classical always used to play. Marvin Barnes was a senior that year, and everybody knew he was going to Providence College next year; they were the fifth or sixth-ranked team in the country. We weren’t even in the same division, but because we were across the street from each other we always had an annual game. So playing that game and seeing what it’s like to play against the big boys – that’s a vivid memory.
But obviously, a wonderful education, memorable teachers, and as I said to the students [at an assembly] today – I came out of Classical thinking I was going to be a math major, and I realized once I got to college that I was never going to be good enough in that. But I was able to switch to journalism because I had this foundation – so much of what you do at Classical is based around writing – and I had this foundation, so it wasn’t this impossible thing for me to switch. I owe them a lot.
When you come back to Providence, what do you notice about the city thinking back to your years growing up here?
Believe it or not, I’m still sifting through e-mails, articles and other documents accumulated during the election season that got put aside to cover the campaign. The AP’s Michelle Smith compared the process to “a dig through time,” and she’s on the money.
In the process, I just uncovered an interesting piece by Slate’s tech writer, Farhad Manjoo, about how the distinction between “blog posts” and “articles” is collapsing as written Web journalism continues to evolve. His jumping-off point is the coming redesign of Gawker Media’s sites, which he says is part of a larger trend:
Even though tradition-laden outfits like The Atlantic have adopted the blogging format, these blogs aren’t the kind of DIY ventures that we might’ve seen as recently as five years ago. Nearly all journalistic blogs—even Gawker’s—are thoroughly professional. They engage in reporting, they’ve got layers of editors, and they’re aimed at satisfying a target audience in order to gain traffic. They’re called blogs, but they’re really trafficking in articles.
I found this noteworthy for obvious reasons. My job here at WPRI is a newfangled one – a reporter-blogger, at a TV station, assigned to its website – and so people aren’t always sure exactly how it works. (Somebody mentioned that to me just yesterday, actually.) I don’t really get hung up about it; just because I write in the first person on this blog doesn’t mean my standards for accuracy are any different than they are when I write a traditional “omniscient” news article. The only downside is that “blog” – an ugly word, no? – has a negative connotation that isn’t deserved, at least not nowadays.
Really, a blog post is just a tool in the same way that a newspaper article is. You can fill a printed newspaper with bad information and questionable assertions – as some do! – just like you can fill a blog post with Pulitzer-quality reporting and analysis. How that shakes out depends on who’s doing the writing and how they define their jobs. All information sources – from a daily paper to a blog to Wikipedia – rise or fall based on the quality of their content.
Plus, who knows – everything is evolving so quickly that by this time next year I may be recording podcasts for WPRI’s Tumblr or something.
I’d be interested to hear what you readers think, though. Do you look down on material published here because it’s published on a blog? Do you even notice? Do you prefer articles over blog posts, or vice-versa? Leave your thoughts in comments; you don’t have to register to do so. And that’s enough navel-gazing for one day.
Associated Press reporter Eric Tucker is leaving the wire service’s Providence bureau to take a job with the AP in Washington, D.C. Tucker told friends about his decision today; an AP spokesman declined to comment.
Tucker joined the local AP bureau in May 2005 after working in New York and New Jersey. His focus has been on legal issues and the courts – he was a leader in coverage of the lead paint case – but like any AP reporter he covers anything and everything depending on the news of the day. I’ll miss working with him and I think the rest of the Rhode Island press corps will, too.
Tucker’s move to D.C. follows the departure of another one of AP’s local reporters, Ray Henry, who took a job in the Atlanta bureau last winter. Henry’s position hasn’t been filled, which has left Tucker and his able colleague Michelle R. Smith manning the bureau on their own for the last few months.
The AP instituted a hiring freeze back in 2008 – I’m not sure if it’s still in effect, but it seems unlikely to me they would leave Smith all alone once Tucker goes. Still, a two-person bureau is a sign of the times – less than a decade ago the wire service had five reporters, an editor and a photographer on staff here.
For The Providence Journal, like nearly all daily newspapers in the U.S., good news is all relative in these days of shrinking readership and plunging advertising revenue.
So here’s today’s good news: The Journal’s ad revenue shrank at the slowest pace in more than two years during the second quarter, which ended June 30. It was also the fourth quarter in a row that saw the rate of decline slow.
Here’s a chart showing the annual change in ProJo ad sales since the start of 2007, based on regulatory filings by The Journal’s parent company, Dallas-based A.H. Belo:
The bad news: The Journal’s second-quarter ad sales were down 17.3% compared with 2009. And although higher newsstand and home-delivery prices are adding to its take from circulation, advertising still made up two-thirds of the paper’s annual revenue last year.
Remember, too, these figures are all comparisons with the year before – so this was a 17.3% drop from ad sales during 2009’s second quarter. Those in turn had dropped 32.5% from 2008’s second quarter, which had dropped 20.5% from 2007’s second quarter, which had dropped 7.1% from 2006’s second quarter.
Put another way, for every $10 of advertising The Journal sold in the second quarter of 2006, it sold $9.29 in 2007; $7.39 in 2008; $4.98 in 2009; and $4.12 in 2010. More than half its advertising revenue has disappeared in just five years. (The actual total last year was $71 million, down from $135 million in 2006.)
That helps explain why The Journal (and its sister paper, The Dallas Morning News) are considering raising their prices yet again, as I reported this week:
The Providence Journal is exploring whether to raise the newspaper’s price again following a double-digit increase last year, a top executive at its parent company said Monday.
The Journal’s sister paper, The Dallas Morning News, “is evaluating potential circulation pricing strategies for the remainder of 2010,” and The Journal “is also reviewing further potential options,” Alison Engel, chief financial officer of A.H. Belo Corp., told investors in a conference call Monday.
Last year, The Journal increased the cost of a home-delivery subscription by 14 percent, to $416 a year. The newsstand price of a weekday edition increased to $1. The Morning News also raised prices.
But let’s end on a happier note. A.H. Belo said this week that The Journal continues to post the best EBITDA – a business term meaning earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization – of its three papers, so the leaner ProJo doesn’t appear to be hemorrhaging money.
And after cutting about 150 employees in 2008-09, reducing the paper’s staff to 562 full- and part-time workers, Ian Donnis of WRNI (and WPRI’s “Newsmakers”) reported Tuesday that the paper is hiring to replace departing State House reporter Steve Peoples.
(Full disclosure: The Providence Journal and Eyewitness News are news partners.)