Skip to comments.(Seattle) Spokesman-Review deals with budget problems (Dinosaur Media DeathWatch™)
Posted on 08/03/2007 2:42:20 PM PDT by abb
Topic: Memos Sent to Romenesko Date/Time: 8/3/2007 3:26:58 PM Title: Spokesman-Review deals with budget problems Posted By: Jim Romenesko
All of the above holds the promise of closing the gap between this year's budget and the dismal performance against budget to date. It does not address the publisher's longer term concern for rising costs against flat or declining revenue.
Let me make this clear once again so there is no confusion: Our staff will be smaller this time next year. My guess is we'll be down anywhere from 8 to 12 positions. My goal is to achieve this reduction through attrition, retirements (possibly some early retirements) and avoid involuntary layoffs. I can't promise that won't happen. But you know I'll move heaven and earth to avoid it.
As I told the newsroom managers, this is a good time for any staffer to apply for unpaid time or a leave of absence. Also, for those few of you who plan retirement in the next few years, there may be some early retirement options. Again, I can't promise anything. But if you're at all interested, please see me in the next few weeks. The only potential changes to the pension plan being considered at this time would make it easier to retire earlier.
Until the long-term staffing strategy has been set, we will do NO more hiring. We have one staffer joining us this month, her employment budgeted (and promised) long ago. We have one promised winter internship slated for the Boise bureau. But that is it. No exceptions. I will not hire anyone while the possibility of seniority-based layoffs is at all on the table.
None of us should hold any illusions here. A smaller staff means a lesser paper. There is no "working harder" or "working smarter" rhetoric that can hide the impact of staff reductions. Doing more with less is corporate-speak BS and you won't hear it from me. There is no way to make this pig look like anything other than a pig. As we reduce staff we will have to make very tough choices and some of what we do now simply won't survive the process.
Any of you who follow the industry know we are not alone in this pain. We have been truly blessed with three full years of staff stability, in no small part due to the generous cooperation of the Spokane Editorial Society and all of you. But now we have to confront the realities of this period of revolutionary and unsettling change.
In this climate, it is important to ignore the wild rumors circulating in the room. It is amazing to me how journalists, trained to be skeptical of everything they hear, will abandon their professional training when it comes to their own world and will accept at face value the most bizarre, improbable and ridiculous rumors about their own office. Let me say this as emphatically as I can...if you didn't hear it from me or Gary (Graham, managing editor) it isn't true. If I didn't make the decision personally, the decision hasn't been made yet.
If you hear rumors that truly unsettle you, bring them to me or Gary and we'll tell you the truth.
I have been proud to be your editor and remain so. This is a great staff that produces a great community newspaper. In the weeks to come I pledge (and I think I can speak for Gary, too) to give you everything I have to preserve the best of what we do and protect, as best I can, our commitment to service in the interest of readers.
Thanks, Steve Smith
Newspaper Turmoil Likely to Continue
Friday August 3, 3:08 pm ET
By Seth Sutel, AP Business Writer
Has Family Control Become a Weaker Defense Against Newspaper Takeovers?
NEW YORK (AP) — When Rupert Murdoch prevailed this week in his struggle to buy Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal, it proved two important points.
One, family control isn’t an absolute guarantee against preventing a sale; and two, it may be too early to conclude that a wave of dealmaking that has reshaped the U.S. newspaper industry over the past year is over.
Dow Jones was long thought to be immune from an unsolicited takeover attempt because the Bancroft family, descended from the adopted daughter of an early owner of the company, controlled 64 percent of the shareholder vote.
But the widely dispersed clan — which had three dozen family members spread all over the country — proved vulnerable to infighting and dissension, allowing Murdoch to convince enough of them to sell, despite objections from others.
Other prominent newspaper companies such as The New York Times Co. and The Washington Post Co. have a far greater degree of family control than Dow Jones did, as does California-based McClatchy Co., owner of The Miami Herald and the third-largest publisher in the country by circulation.
But now that Murdoch has clinched his prize, other newspaper companies could attract the interest of potential buyers, particularly since the stocks of many of them have been beaten down in recent years over concerns about the steady migration of readers and advertising dollars online.
“For those that want to buy newspapers, this is the time to do it because newspaper stocks are so low,” says Louis Ureneck, chair of the journalism department at Boston University. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw another big play.”
The deal for Dow Jones marks the third time in just over a year that a major U.S. publisher has been forced into a sale, following Knight Ridder Inc. last year and Tribune Co. earlier this year.
For other newspaper companies, the obstacles to a sale are formidable, but not necessarily impassible for all time.
Gannett Co., the industry leader and publisher of USA Today, is seen as a well-run operator with less exposure to the large metro markets where papers are facing greater exposure to competition from online sources. However its current market value of about $12 billion would be a big bite for any investor.
Questions about potential deals often come up about The New York Times Co., which has come under pressure from a dissident investor who, unhappy with the company’s financial returns, wants to see the Sulzberger family’s influence over the company loosened.
The Times’ stock has had a rough time, declining steadily from the high $40s in early 2004 to the low $20s today, cutting its market value by more than half.
But the Times is controlled by a far tighter clan than was the case with the Bancrofts. There are just eight Sulzbergers on a key family trust that holds supervoting shares. The setup allows the family to name most of the board members. The trust also must sign off on any takeover offer.
“The rules of the road are, the Sulzbergers have the votes to do whatever they please,” said Robert Broadwater, managing director of Broadwater & Associates, an investment banking firm focusing on media.
The Sulzbergers are also actively involved in the company — Arthur Sulzberger Jr. is both chairman and publisher of the paper — unlike the Bancrofts, who were often seen as absentee owners.
That point was brought home by Crawford Hill, who wrote a long, impassioned note to other Bancrofts saying the family was paying for its years of passivity. “We never really figured out how to be owners when we needed to most.”
Like The New York Times, The Washington Post Co. also has a highly involved family in control, the Grahams, starting with Donald Graham, the chairman and CEO.
Also, The Washington Post has had tremendous financial success with its fast-growing Kaplan educational business, which is now the largest operating unit in the company and a cushion against weakness at the newspaper. As a result, its stock has held its ground over the past two years, despite steep declines at many of its peers.
The same can’t be said for McClatchy. It was vaulted into the major leagues of newspaper publishing last year with a surprise move to swallow the much larger Knight Ridder, which had been pushed into a sale by restless investors.
The stock has been savaged over the past year, from about $42 a year ago to about $23 over concerns about how the company will digest the big acquisition and the extra debt it took on while also managing a persistent decline in advertising revenues.
McClatchy, however, also has a small, tight and active family group, with much of the supervoting shares that control the company being held by seven family members, four of whom sit on the board.
Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst with the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla., doesn’t see McClatchy, the Times or the Post as being particularly vulnerable right now.
Most newspaper companies outside of Gannett have some measure of family or trust control through two classes of stock, but “not all of those are necessarily forever,” Edmonds said.
As for Dow Jones, Broadwater suggested that shifting control from the Bancrofts to Murdoch will actually put it under a far greater degree of family control than it had seen in the last 25 years.
“Now you have an individual who owns it who will be more active than the previous owners,” Broadwater said. “This is more of a return to the old days of newspapering where you had proprietor who ran the business and determined the agenda.”
OOPS! My bad. Should be (Spokane) Spokesman-Review. Could you please change it for me?
May the SpokesRag Review die a painful but very fast death! I’ve lived in the ‘Inland Empire’ more than 26 years and have only ever picked up a Review if I was totally out of kindling or toilet paper :)
That’s actually a pretty good corporate layoffs-coming notice.
Really? I only get to read a copy on occasion, being from the wet side of the state, but it always looked to me like a (reasonably) well-balanced paper, certainly nothing like the fish wrappers that come out of Seattle. The stuff that passes for straight news over here would bring a smile to Khrushchev’s mug. The P.I.’s editorial page is pure Goebbels.
Even Harry Truman called it the second worst newspaper in the US, and that was in 1948.
The reason it is doing so badly is that it is a liberal rag in the most conservative part of the state. I have no idea how it has lasted this long.
I know whenever I pass by a stand carrying it, it will have a totally leftist headline.
Having grown up in Seattle, living in Portlan and now in Spokane I agree with you the Spokesman review is more balanced than the PI or the Oregonian. It’s liberal slant is more like the Seattle times—present but not blatant.
However, the local Spokane columnist for the most part, suck. This is regardless of their ideology. One guy who writes their business column is good, but the rest are just dumb. They are completely devoid of originality or thought provoking material if your IQ is above 80. Spokane is much smaller market than Seattle. Nevertheless, you would expect the local writers to be a better quality than a newspaper in a town of 500 people
I totally agree. I cancelled it years ago because it carried so much opinion (from the left) and so little “news”.
About a year ago, they sent us the “We Want You Back” free paper on a Wednesday. First page I looked at was filled with as much anti-Bush-we’re-failing-in-Iraq as they could fit on a page. If nothing else, they’re at least consistent.
It may be more tame than the P-I, but I’m still not paying money for it.