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Media Outlook

USA Today To Become An ‘Orchestra Of Voices’

Name a reporter at USA Today with a powerful brand–a columnist or blogger you follow.

You probably can’t, says Jay Rosen. “USA Today has always been an editor’s paper—very digestible news is the big idea—not a home for writers or a school for sensibility.” But new president and publisher Larry Kramer says that that time is over.

“We really can’t survive if all we do is commodity journalism. We have to do things that… we say things differently, we help people understand things,” he told Howard Kurtz on CNN. “I’d like us to be more complete and more outspoken in several areas, including stories about the impact of actions by government and business,” he told Politico’s Dylan Byers. ” “What we need here is what we haven’t had before — a lot of strong voices…Here, it was just the USA Today brand by definition…” he told Marketwatch’s Jon Friedman.

He also said that he plans to hire “unique voices”–Kramer’s way of adding value in a supersaturated media landscape. Rosen says the thought is good, but: “Overthrowing that approach isn’t as simple as hiring a few bloggers or loosening the rules for writers. We’re talking about ideological change within an occupation that sees itself as having no ideology. That’s… tricky. And there’s no guarantee that people who excelled at the old way will be any good at the new.”

USA Today announced another round of furloughs last month, the fourth in four years. Parent company Gannett Co. is still profitable, but its profits have fallen far and its revenue has declined for five straight years.

More Woes For Heart & Soul Magazine

Heart & Soul, which was purchased in January and given a big-name editor to run the magazine, is not giving off an impression of, shall we say, financial soundness.

Just before the purchase was finalized, the National Writer’s Union launched a campaign on behalf of 60 writers who were owed a collective $200,000. The contributors had been told last July that the payment process was delayed during the ownership change.

However, not only have those writers still not received payment, but the new owners are also allowing new debts to pile up.

According to Richard Prince’s Journal-Isms, the magazine has skipped its April issue. Tipsters told Prince that the issue was skipped because the magazine’s entirely freelance team (including editors) went on strike to protest lack of payment. Clarence Brown, president and CEO of the magazine’s acquiring group, responded that actually, no, the magazine is making adjustments in its publication schedule.

Among the angry writers include Sheree Crute, who wrote for the publication before the change of ownership but told Prince that the current difficulties are nothing like she’s experienced before. She’s not the only writer who is still upset. Freelance contributor Harriet Washington, who was not among the writers in the initial complaint, tells us that she is owed more than $5,000 for an article that was accepted more than three months ago (and assigned under the new regime). Since March 13, she’s received no correspondence from editor Sandra Guzman or EVP George Curry…and of course no payment.

Reached by phone this morning, Curry referred all questions to Clarence Brown, who did not respond to a request for comment as of the time of this posting.

WaPo Newspaper Division Posts $22.6 Million Loss

The newspaper division of the Washington Post Company recorded a loss of $22.6 million for the first quarter of 2012, compared to $12.8 million a year prior.

That’s on revenues of $142 million, down 8 percent from $155 million, largely “due to reductions in general, classified and preprint advertising,” the company said. Online revenue from washingtonpost.com and Slate.com fell 7 percent to $24.2 million. That means digital now makes up 17 percent of the company’s revenues.

The loss comes from the decline in revenue, the company said, as well as an $8.6 million pension expense and nearly $2 million in early retirement expenses. Newsprint, however, cost the company 11 percent less, as it was using 11 percent less of it.

The company as a whole, which also owns Kaplan, a test-prep and education company, is still profitable: the company reported an overall profit of $31 million, but $20 million of that is from a branch of Kaplan that the company sold earlier this year. And revenues at Kaplan were down 11 percent to $553 million.

It doesn’t look good for Washington’s paper of record, but a couple of recent strategic hires may help turn the paper around.

What Editors Would Have Done Differently

If these editors had a time machine and could tell their past selves about the present, more journalists might be employed right now. Or not – if they’d messed with the past it’s probably equally likely that Skynet would be running our lives or resurrected dinosaurs would have eaten all humans.

But that’s not the point this Nieman Reports piece is trying to make (as much as we’re sure they love dinosaurs as much as we do)–actually, Nieman asked six former editors what they’d do differently if they were back in charge at their old papers.

The answers may surprise you, ranging from hiring more investigative reporters (Ronnie Agnew, former editor of The Clarion-Ledger) to using amateur photos from readers (Mike Pride, former editor of the Concord Monitor). That’s quite a difference.

Skip Perez, former editor of The Ledger in Lakeland, Fla., had a different take: it’s not about what to cover or how to cover it, it’s about preventing burnout. “But my sense is that almost everyone is overlooking the “people piece,” meaning the newsroom staffers who should care deeply about the quality of their work and feel good about it every day…How might newsrooms recapture that essential spirit, short of hiring a managing editor for psychotherapy?…a commitment to staff training is essential. Training budgets are among the first to be eliminated when money gets tight. But the right kind of training will boost morale and reward the news organization with dedicated staffers itching to tackle groundbreaking assignments. And those who are given training opportunities will gladly share their experiences and ideas with colleagues at a meeting or brown bag lunch.”

Now that’s a revolutionary idea.

CNN Buying Mashable For $200M?

Felix Salmon reported late yesterday from SXSW that “a little bird” told him CNN would be purchasing Mashable for $200 million, with an announcement scheduled for Tuesday.

It’s “entirely plausible,” he says. The acquisition makes sense, because it has the “same kind of consumer focus that CNN does. It’s not aimed for the tech insiders, it’s aimed at the masses.”

PaidContent’s Staci Kramer says, though, “not so fast.”

“A source familiar with the situation describes the report of a deal as a rumor and tells paidContent no announcement is scheduled…While I wouldn’t be surprised to see CNN wind up with Mashable, I don’t see Turner paying $200 million—or even coming close—for it.”

Washington Post Company Reports Shrunken Income On Ad Rev Drop

The Washington Post Company reported a 22 percent drop in earnings for the fourth quarter of 2011, from $79 million to $61.7 million, on a 10 percent decrease in revenues, from $1182 million to $1063.4 million.

Even Kaplan Inc, which is wholly owned by the Post Company, was less profitable than in the past, due to lower enrollment and recent regulations that have affected how Kaplan receives funding.

The publishing division, which we care most about here at MJD, saw revenue fall 4 percent in the fourth quarter, from $118.4 million to $181 million. The Washington Post itself saw a 6 percent drop in ad revenue, a lower amount of cash generated by its online properties, and a decline in circulation.

In the fourth quarter, the paper reported a profit of $7.4 million, but over the year, the division is reporting a loss of $18 million.

Indy Star Guild Gets Raises For Employees, But Could Lose Up To Eight Jobs

The Indianapolis Newspaper Guild and the Indianapolis Star have reached an agreement that awards pay raises to most workers, including the lowest-paid, but gives parent company Gannett the right to outsource up to eight jobs.

The Guild reports that covered workers will receive raises of 2-4 percent, with the highest raises going to the lowest paid workers. (The Star imposed a 10 percent pay cut in 2009, so this is only the first step toward restoring workers’ pay to pre-recession levels.)

But the company was “unyielding” in its insistence that page design work would be outsourced out of state to be designed at a center in Louisville. “We made a strong case…that this could damage the local news product,” guild vice president Adam Yates wrote. “But it became clear that this was an edict from Gannett, The Star’s parent company, and that the quality of the product was a secondary consideration to saving money.”

Six to eight jobs will be displaced (but it’s unclear how many will be hired in Louisville, if any, to replace them).

Finally, Yates said, “The pay raises, while not fully restoring our 10 percent cuts from two years ago, were significant. Our industry is still in job and pay cutting mode. And newspaper unions around the country are still facing cuts such as the ones we took two years ago.

“That we could squeeze out even these modest raises was a testimony the efforts of our workers and our friends in the community and the breadth of our public campaign…We will continue our efforts to Save the Star.”

Discovery Earnings ‘Blast’ Past Expectations

discovery_channel_logo.pngDiscovery Communications had a great fourth quarter, the company announced today, with net income of $337 millon on revenues of $1.1 billion.

The income was up 71 percent(!) with revenue up 11 percent. Ad sales rose 13 percent to $364 milllion in the US even as channels raised prices; same story internationally, where ad sales rose 18 percent to $160 million.

Deadline.com reports that CEO David Zaslav wouldn’t say how the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) was doing. Winfrey has “a team she has confidence in, and I have confidence in,” he said, adding that Discovery “learned a great deal about its audience” last year and is “off to a nice start in 2012.″

Comcast’s NBC Revs Down 3.7 Percent

Comcast today reported more than a 50% increase in its overall revenues but NBCUniversal’s revenues increased only .8 percent, with broadcast down 3.7, the company said.

That’s broadcast revenues of $1.8 billion dollars and a loss of $80 million, reflecting “lower revenue as well as higher marketing costs and acquisition-related accounting revisions.”

NBCUniversal’s cable network revenue increased 5 percent to $2.2 billion for profits of $923 million.

Star Tribune Offers Profit-Sharing Checks For Second Year Running

The Minneapolis Star Tribune, which was bankrupt just three short years ago, is now on its second year of paying out profit-sharing checks to employees, David Brauer reports.

The award is $300 per full-time employee, or about a fourth of what it was last year ($1,163). That’s because the Strib’s pension contribution tripled.

But the fact that the company had enough money to fully fund its pension obligations, match everyone’s 401(k), and still share $300 with each of the paper’s 1,000 full-time employees is pretty encouraging.

Circulation revenue was up, newsroom staffing has remained steady, and the paper says it has more than 12,000 brand-new digital subscribers.

The downside: Ad revenue is still slipping, and newsroom staffers haven’t received a raise in three years. But if business continues this way, perhaps employees will receive some good news when their contract goes up for negotiation next January.

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