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Newspaper Deathwatch

Local Editor Ponders Future While Celebrating Pulitzer Prize Winning Alums

An article posted this week by Easy Reader News editor and publisher Kevin Cody perfectly encapsulates the Dickensian state of 21st century journalism.

On the best-of-times side, there’s the fact that Cody – who manages a 50,000-circulation print weekly as well as a respected companion website – recently got to spend time with former contributors who have gone on to Pulitzer Prize winning success. He partied in the Hollywood Hills with Wall Street Journal national news editor Sam Enriquez and had dinner in Redondo Beach with politico.com’s Matt Wuerker, who just won this year’s prize for editorial cartooning.

At the worst-of-times end of things, he had a long conversation at the first party with an LA Times employee about the newspaper’s paywall:

I assumed the Times web reporter would be happy at the prospect of people paying to read his stories, rather than reading them for free. He wasn’t. He thinks the paywall is a bad idea. Every morning, he reads Google News for free, so why would he or anyone else pay to read the Los Angeles Times online, he asked.

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Why Newspapers Still Exist

We here at FishbowlLA think we may have solved a big mystery. For more than a decade, the majority of newspapers in America have given their print content away online for free. How in the world did they manage to do that and stay in business? Well, according to a study by the Pew Internet Project, one in five Americans still don’t use the Internet. Of that one in five, half don’t go online because “they don’t think the Internet is relevant to them.” That equals 30 million Americans who don’t think that newfangled Internetz is worth all the hubbub. Not a bad pot of people to sell newspapers to.

According to Pew, that 30 million chunk largely consists of the elderly, Spanish-speaking Americans, and those making under $30,000. But don’t count on that demographic staying Internet-free for long. Eighty-eight percent of Americans have a cell phone, and with Internet capabilities emerging on almost all new phone models, Spanish-speaking kids and the youth of lower income households are starting to access the Internet without the need for an expensive computer. The elderly don’t give a crap about the Internet, but…well…they aren’t going to be around forever.

Technology is eliminating the Internet income gap. Which is a good thing. But for newspapers, the rush to monetize web content is only getting more dire.

Sharon Waxman Updates Matt Welch vs. Joe Flint

Here’s a good example of how to proactively cover a Twitter fracas. Rather than simply recap the tweets, TheWrap CEO and editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman picked up the phone today. The result is a deeper look at the issues Reason magazine editor Matt Welch has with the business direction taken by his former employer, the LA Times.

For Welch, it’s not just a matter of the questionable March move to a paywall, which was the crux of his exchange on Twitter with LAT media and entertainment reporter Joe Flint. It’s also about how the newspaper has prioritized its budget cuts:

“Even though they’ve cut a ton, they cut stupidly,” Welch said. “They cut the people making news and they keep every stupid blowhard columnist who nobody likes and gets paid a generous six-figure salary.”

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One Thing Newsprint is Still Good for: Home Alone 5

The slow death of print media has – and will continue to be – quantified in many different ways. But thanks to the warm 2011-12 winter, one oddly profitable end of the newspaper business is getting another workout in Winnipeg.

That’s where the ABC Family TV movie Home Alone 5: Alone in the Dark has run away to location shoot. And because there is no snow on the ground, the first week’s round of exterior Christmas shots has had to be faked… using old newspapers. Per a report in the Winnipeg Free Press:

California crews have been faking snow scenes for years, using newsprint. “Yes, we can do this, but it’s very, very expensive,” said co-executive producer Dennis Murphy, surveying their snow-making effort… This reporter saw huge lawns in The Gates mansion area being covered with humongous white blanket undercloths, to be sprayed with heaps of bleached and shredded newsprint.

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San Diego CityBeat Hits 500 Issues, But Future Is In Doubt

San Diego CityBeat hit a milestone this week, with the publication of its 500th issue. But while the paper is reading better than ever, it’s struggling mightily on the financial end.

Writes editor Dave Rolland:

As we inch toward another milestone—our big 10th anniversary in August—CityBeat is at a crossroads. We have to get our spending closer in line with our income. Not long ago, print ads were all that newsweeklies needed to thrive. It’s just not the case anymore. While it’s still the lifeblood, papers like ours across the country are forced to find new ways to pay for their news coverage…

We’re considering a wide range of options—from the traditional (selling T-shirts and other merch) to the wildly unconventional (selling “bricks” of space in our paper to individual readers, sort of like selling actual bricks of a new building to donors). The alternative to coming up with innovative fundraising ideas is to hack away at our content. San Diego needs more high-quality journalism, not less. For heaven’s sake, the daily newspaper is owned by a local developer whose stated No. 1 priority is getting a football stadium built on the waterfront…

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Pew Study Puts LA Times Paywall In Context

Anyone doubting the LA Times‘ decision to put its website behind a paywall…er…we mean, launch a new “membership service,” would be wise to check out the latest Pew study regarding online ad revenue. According to the study, for every newspaper dollar earned online, seven are lost in print ad revenue. Over the course of the year-long study, newspapers brought in $11 in print revenue for every $1 they made online. So even though digital revenue for newspapers was up 19% on the year, that number didn’t come close to making up the 9% loss in print revenue.

As we wrote when the news of the Times‘ paywall was announced, the LA Times is allowing full digital access to subscribers of its Sunday print edition. In doing so, the Times is effectively using its website to sell its more profitable print product. Sunday circulation has taken a huge hit in recent years. If the added bonus of full online access can boost those numbers, or at least keep them stable, it prevents the immediate threat of a major revenue hemorrhage. And it will hopefully give the paper some time to figure things out until the 11:1 print to online ad dollar ratio begins to narrow a little.

Journos React to Surprising OC Register Layoff

It’s certainly not unusual, sadly, to hear about another round of layoffs at a SoCal daily newspaper. But the idea that the Orange County Register would not be able to find a way to keep Latina columnist Yvette Cabrera on staff is truly mind-boggling.

FishbowlLA was tipped to this development around the same time that James Rainey sent out the first tweet and Kevin Roderick got up the first post. Cabrera is the executive director president of CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California and was voted Best Columnist in 2011 by the OC press club.

So far, the most impassioned and detailed reaction to this developing layoff news (word is as many as eight other Register staffers may also be involved) comes from Gustavo Arellano of the OC Weekly. He writes:

Yvette was always kind to me, penning articles on various members of my family over the years. I, on the other hand, didn’t return the favor, both as part of the “Spy vs. Spy” game that is the rivalry between the Reg and your favorite infernal rag, and because I always wanted her to be tougher, more radical, more of an Agustín Gurza than a feel-good columnist. Immaturity on my part, I can now say with a bit more years under my belt.

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California’s Struggling Spanish-Language Weeklies

Huffington Post’s Eduardo Stanley just published a lengthy piece on the near extinction of California’s once numerous Spanish-language weeklies.

Here’s his set-up:

In the mid-1990s, Spanish-language weeklies created by English-language dailies began to emerge in nearly every city in California’s Central Valley.

Commercial interest was the driving force behind the decision. To sell advertising revenue, why not charge a bit extra for a “combo” newspaper package in both English and Spanish? Considering the burgeoning Latino population, at first glance, the idea was not far fetched. Thus emerged El Californiano, published by the Californian, of Bakersfield; Noticiero Semanal, published by the Porterville Recorder, of Porterville; Las Noticias del Valle, published by the Hanford Sentinel, of Hanford; El Tiempo, published by the Merced County Times, of Merced, although the newspaper later became an independent; Vida en el Valle, published by the Fresno Bee of Fresno; El Sol 2000, published by the Modesto Bee, of Modesto; and El Sol of Visalia, among others.

Of these Spanish-language, or bilingual newspapers that depended on English-language dailies, the only survivors are the Noticiero Semanal, which went from a 26,000-circulation paper to 8,000 and is limited to eastern Tulare County, and Vida en el Valle, which began printing 170,000 copies weekly after integrating with El Sol 2000 of Modesto….

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Nieman Lab Surveys California’s Shifting Media Landscape

The overriding takeaway from Ken Doctor‘s look at the radical economics of California news gathering is already obvious to anyone doing the gathering. It’s all about digital synergies.

From Russ Stanton‘s jump to a public radio station on a Tony Pierce-led Internet blog blitz, to the confirmation this week that the Bay Citizen is merging with California Watch, print is warming up the deathbed. Doctor also takes the California temperature of Patch, which currently operates 132 hubs across the Golden State:

Many of the sites are lively, with good features, calendars, and lots of local, if episodic, bloggers–even if the sites don’t come close to living up to Patch’s tagline: “Hi there, we’re Patch, your source for local knowledge you can’t live without.”…

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Tribune Company Has Spent $231 Million on Bankruptcy

The Tribune Company, (abusive) parent company of the LA Times, has spent $212.9 million on lawyers fees and another $17.8 million on additional legal expenses since they filed for bankruptcy in December of 2008, according to a report in Crain’s.

And the river of wasted money isn’t drying up anytime soon. U.S. bankruptcy judge Kevin Carey recently said he wouldn’t hold hearings to end Tribune Co’s bankruptcy until May, at the earliest. Which, sadly, will most likely mean more layoffs, despite the company’s supposedly improving cash flow.

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