By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Editor and Publisher

Margaret Sullivan on The Washington Post and the demise of the public editor

Good conversation this week with Margaret Sullivan on the Editor & Publisher vodcast. She and host Mike Blinder talk about the turmoil at The Washington Post, where she used to be a media columnist, and the disappearance of the public editor — a reader representative who holds the institution to account, a position she once held at The New York Times. Sullivan now writes a column for The Guardian and a newsletter at Substack, and holds a top position at the Columbia Journalism School. Listen in (or watch).

Leave a comment | Read comments

Want to succeed in for-profit local news? Go local — and take charge of your own data.

Gordon Borrell may not be a name who’s familiar to you, but he’s a big deal in the world of local news: he’s the CEO of Borrell Associates, based in Williamsburg, Virginia, whose business is “tracking, analyzing, and forecasting 100% of what local businesses in the U.S. spend on all forms of advertising and marketing, right down to the county level for all markets.”

Over the weekend, he appeared on “E&P Reports,” the vodcast hosted by Mike Blinder, publisher of the trade magazine and website Editor & Publisher. Blinder was excited enough to contact me and make sure I gave it a listen. I did, and if you’re interested in the future of advertising for local news outlets, you’ll want to check it out.

Essentially, Borrell offered some basic wisdom about what community journalism organizations need to do if they want to compete successfully for advertising. They need to offer quality local content. And they need to be able to provide prospective advertisers with “first-party data.” That means information about their audience that they collect themselves rather than relying on distribution via third-party platforms. In other words: newsletters, yes; Facebook, no, at least not as a primary means of distribution.

Because Borrell is placing renewed emphasis on local content, he’s moving his annual conference from Miami to the Walter Cronkite journalism school at Arizona State University.

Pretty wonky stuff, but it validates a lot of what Ellen Clegg and I have written about successful local news outlets in our book, “What Works in Community News.” They have to make themselves essential to their communities, and the way to do that is to be present in people’s lives. Irrelevant content from distant locales, the strategy that corporate-owned newspaper chains are pursuing, appeals neither to readers nor to advertisers.

Moreover, at a time when nonprofit has proven to be the path forward for many local media organizations, Borrell holds out the hope that for-profit news can succeed as well. That said, Borrell is pessimistic enough that he told Blinder he thinks we’ve entered the “final phase” of local news. The goal is to be one of the survivors.

Leave a comment | Read comments

Mike Blinder tells us about his latest project — a vertical dedicated to public media

On the latest “What Works” podcast, Ellen Clegg and I talk with Mike Blinder, the publisher of Editor & Publisher magazine, which is now much, much more than a magazine. It’s a cutting-edge multimedia source of information on innovation in our industry. Mike hosts E&P’s weekly vodcast series, “E&P Reports.” He’s also been a guest on this podcast previously, and today’s he’s back to talk about a new venture.

Blinder has a new vertical on public media called Public Pulse. It’s newsy and filled with insider information. It aggregates the latest on stories like conflict ignited by Uri Berliner at NPR, and features reporting on trends like the collaboration of universities and public radio stations. There’s already an excellent publication in this space called Current, and Public Pulse is a welcome addition to that.

Ellen has a Quick Take on a big award going to MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. The nonprofit Memphis news outlet, which we profile in our book, “What Works in Community News,” will receive the Lorraine Branham IDEA Award from the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University. We discuss other media criticism up for awards as well.

Dan gives a shoutout to a New Hampshire news project previously featured on the podcast. InDepthNH recently revealed some pretty disturbing details about a state representative — and it came only after a four-year quest to obtain public records. It demonstrates why journalists need to be persistent.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

Leave a comment | Read comments

New York local news tax credit would benefit nonprofits and exclude Gannett

New York will become the first state to offer a tax credit aimed at helping local news organizations. According to Rebuild Local News, which has been pushing for several different tax credits at the federal and state levels, the New York legislature and Gov. Kathy Hochul have agreed to a budget provision that will set aside $30 million a year for three years in order to offset the cost of hiring and retaining journalists.

Although the plan is multi-faceted, there are two aspects that I think are especially worthy of note.

The first is that calling it a “tax credit” is something of a misnomer — rather, it’s a payroll credit available to all news publishers, including nonprofits, which don’t pay taxes, and for-profits operating at a loss, which are also exempt from taxes under most circumstances. Zachary Richner, the founder of the 200-member Empire State Local News Coalition, explained that in a recent appearance on “E&P Reports,” a vodcast hosted by Mike Blinder, publisher of the trade publication Editor & Publisher. Given the importance of nonprofit startups in helping to solve the local news crisis, it makes sense to include them.

The second is that newspapers owned by publicly traded corporations are ineligible for assistance. That would exclude Gannett, the country’s largest newspaper chain, which is notorious for its slash-and-burn approach to managing its newsrooms. According to the chain’s website, Gannett currently owns 12 daily newspapers in New York, including well-known titles such as the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester and the Times Herald-Record of Middletown.

Gannett shouldn’t be rewarded for destroying newspapers, but the provision does lead to some anomalies. For instance, Alden Global Capital, which, like Gannett, is notorious for driving up profits by hollowing out its newspapers, would presumably be eligible for assistance because it is a privately held hedge fund rather than a public company. On Twitter/X, I asked Steven Waldman, the president of Rebuild Local News, whether Alden would be able to put its hands on some state money. His answer: “Yes. I think so.”

Alden’s MediaNews Group chain owns four dailies in New York, including The Record of Troy, and The Saratogian. Alden also owns New York City’s legendary Daily News, which is listed as being part of MediaNews but which I understand is managed separately.

If I might speculate, it could be that there are several privately held chain owners in New York that are doing good work and that proponents of the credit didn’t want to exclude them. The largest privately held national chain doing business in New York is Hearst, whose Times Union of Albany is a well-regarded paper (but is not part of the Empire State coalition). In any case, even if Alden’s papers get some of the money, it provides an incentive for them to do the right thing.

Some other details of interest, quoting Rebuild Local News:

  • No newsroom can get more than $320,000.
  • The subsidy to newsrooms will be based on the number of  employees. The benefit will be up to $25,000 per employee (50% of the salary  up to a $50,000 wage.)
  • $13 million for firms with fewer than 100 employees, $13 million for bigger ones, $4 million for new hires.

As I said up top, there have been a number of tax credits proposed to help local news outlets over the past few years. The best known, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, would have created credits not just for publishers but also for subscribers and advertisers. President Biden included a credit for publishers in his Build Back Better bill, which died at the end of 2021.

The question, as always, is whether government assistance to local news is a good idea. U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., recently filed legislation to defund NPR in response to former senior editor Uri Berliner’s error-filled lament that the network has fallen in with the progressive left. Tenney, as it happens, is a lead sponsor of the Community News and Small Business Support Act, a bipartisan bill that would create tax credits for local publishers and advertisers.

Mike Blinder raised the issue of government interference with Richner and Waldman, who was also a guest on Blinder’s recent podcast. They responded, essentially, that the New York tax credit was worded in a neutral manner so that news organizations could not be punished for their specific content.

I agree that tax credits are about as neutral and arm’s-length as you can get in insulating journalism from government pressure. But it’s always going to be a challenge. Given that the New York credit expires after three years, you can be sure there will be a debate over whether to renew it as the expiration date approaches. That, in turn, will give politicians an opportunity to redefine eligibility requirements — and there’s always a possibility that some assessment of content might be part of that.

Still, the New York system seems like an experiment worth trying, and I’d like to see it spread to other states.

Leave a comment | Read comments

WNET cuts force NJ Spotlight News to trim its staff; plus, E&P unveils public media vertical

NJ Spotlight News is based at NJ PBS in Newark. Photo (cc) 2022 by Dan Kennedy.

The ongoing shakeout in public media continues. The trade publication Current reported earlier this month that WNET, the nonprofit giant that controls public radio and television stations in New York City, Long Island and New Jersey, has eliminated 34 positions since December.

Among the operations affected is NJ Spotlight News, a hybrid operation comprising a website covering public policy and politics in New Jersey and a daily newscast that is broadcast on NJ PBS. Spotlight executive director John Mooney told me that the cuts resulted in “a couple layoffs” at his organization. Spotlight is also one of the projects that we profile in our book, “What Works in Community News,” and Current ran an excerpt in December.

Until very recently, public media had seemed largely insulated from the economic pressures that have affected other sectors of the news business, especially newspapers. In rapid succession, though, layoffs have hit a number of outlets, including Colorado Public Radio (also briefly profiled in “What Works”), WAMU in Washington and NPR itself. Boston’s two public broadcasters, WBUR and GBH, have also said they may have to reduce staff.

• E&P goes public (media). Current itself is about to get some competition. Editor & Publisher, a trade publication that covers the news business, announced this week that it is starting a vertical aimed at covering public media. E&P publisher Mike Blinder said in a press release:

We spent most of 2023 assessing the state of public media through editorial reporting and interviews with executives managing local public media operations across the U.S. We recognize that these key executives have been underserved in accessing essential information to continue building audience and revenue.

E&P’s venture, called Public Pulse, is free, whereas Current is paywalled. Current, though, has a reputation for being well-sourced and authoritative. We’re going to talk with Blinder about Public Pulse on the “What Works” podcast in an episode that should drop around the middle of next week.

Leave a comment | Read comments

Gannett is ramping up on the advertising and editorial sides — but will it last?

For a long time I’ve heard an alternative explanation for why newspaper advertising collapsed over the past 15 years. The argument goes something like this: Yes, Craigslist, Google and Facebook offered a better deal and took most of the ads that used to belong to newspapers. But newspapers themselves were to blame, too. Ad salespeople had become so accustomed to sitting at their desks and taking the orders that came pouring in that they actually had no experience or incentive to get out and sell. The tech platforms were going to have a devastating effect on them in any case, but it was worse than it needed to be, so this argument goes, because they couldn’t shake themselves out of the lethargy that came with many years of enjoying a monopoly or, at worst, a duopoly.

Which is why there’s some reason to be at least a little bit hopeful about the latest moves by a large media company that is hiring on both the business and editorial sides. At a time when many news organizations are in the midst of laying people off (CNN, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times) or shutting down (The Messenger), one media mega-corporation that is a household name is taking the opposite approach.

Would you believe it if I told you that the company is Gannett? The chain, which controls about 200 daily papers, anchored by USA Today, is rightly known for hollowing out newsrooms and using the savings to pay down debt and enrich their owners and top executives. These days, though, they are talking about trying something different.

Recently Mike Blinder of Editor & Publisher had two top Gannett executives on his podcast, “E&P Reports” — the chief content officer, Kristin Roberts, and Jason Taylor, the chief sales officer. After years of cutting at Gannett and the chain that it merged with several years ago, GateHouse Media, Gannett is now in expansion mode. Taylor said that Gannett has hired about two dozen local general managers since last August, with plans to hire more. These are the folks who are in charge of selling advertising, and they say it’s paying off with new accounts and with the return of some old accounts that left years ago.

Meanwhile, Roberts said that Gannett has hired 500 journalists since June of last year, with more to come in the months ahead. These are reporters, editors and visual journalists who, she said, will “bring strength back to local newsrooms, so that they can do the job of strengthening their local communities.” And yes, she mentioned the reporters that Gannett hired to cover Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, so make of that what you will.

Now, of course we should be skeptical. Axios has reported that the combined company eliminated fully half of its 21,000 employees after the 2019 merger, and the destruction it has wreaked in the communities it supposedly serves has been deep. I would love to hear from Media Nation readers whether they’ve seen any improvement in their Gannett paper’s coverage of local news in recent months.

The situation is especially dire in Eastern Massachusetts, where Gannett has closed and merged dozens of weekly papers and replaced local news stories with regional content from around the chain. Weeklies were at the heart of GateHouse, but the new Gannett doesn’t seem to have any interest in weeklies. If improvement is going to come, I suspect, it’s going to be at the dailies.

It’s also fair to be skeptical about whether the current upsurge is sustainable. Roberts and Taylor were recruited at a moment when the executives at the very top of Gannett decided to see if a little expansion might bring in more money than round after round of cuts. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, well, we know that the cutting will resume. Gannett remains heavily burdened by the debt it took on when it merged with GateHouse, which led the new Gannett to cut half its workforce.

The hiring that’s taking place now doesn’t come close to making up for what has been lost. But if they succeed, perhaps the hiring will continue.

Blinder has been on a roll with his podcast. His latest features Steven Waldman, the president of Rebuild Local News, and Jeff Jarvis, a journalist, author and the retiring director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at City University of New York. The discussion was billed as debate over whether legacy media is worth saving or if instead it’s time to let them go. They agreed more than I thought they would, though they diverged when the discussion turned to government assistance and efforts to force Google and Facebook to compensate news organizations. It’s well worth a listen.

Leave a comment | Read comments

Mike Blinder tells us how he revived E&P — and built a must-listen podcast about the news business

Mike Blinder

The “What Works” podcast is back! Ellen Clegg and I took some time off to finish our book, which now has a name — “What Works in Community News: Media Startups, News Deserts, and the Future of the Fourth Estate.” Barring any unexpected roadblocks, it will be published by Beacon Press in early 2024.

Our latest podcast features Mike Blinder, the publisher of Editor & Publisher, the once and future bible of the news publishing industry. Mike also hosts E&P’s weekly vodcast/podcast series, “E&P Reports” which has established itself as a must-listen for anyone interested in the state of the news business. Blinder has interviewed everyone from Richard Tofel, founding GM of ProPublica, to Jennifer Kho, the new executive editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, to professor and media critic Jeff Jarvis. Blinder probes important issues like government support for community journalism, the role of social-media platforms and the impact of chain consolidation.

I’ve got a Quick Take on the failure of two bills in Congress that would have provided some government support to newspaper companies. It’s fair to say that the federal government is not going to be riding to the rescue of local news, and that communities had better get about the business of providing coverage on their own.

Ellen reports on the City Paper in Pittsburgh, an alternative weekly, which has just been acquired by a subsidiary of Block Communications. The Block family has achieved some notoriety for its mismanagement of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Media observer Margaret Sullivan called the Post-Gazette a tragic mess under the Blocks.

You can listen to our latest podcast here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

The numbers show why it’s difficult for many to walk away from Twitter

Thanks for the traffic, Bob! Photo (cc) 2011 by Francisco Antunes.

I was looking at my WordPress statistics for 2022, and one number really leaped out at me. Twitter was the third-largest source of traffic to Media Nation in 2022. Search engines were responsible for 70,626 views, Facebook was second at 27,126, and Twitter was right behind at 25,371.

As you probably know, I’ve stopped using Twitter. But it shows you why walking away is pretty close to impossible for self-employed journalists and marginal operators who can’t afford to spurn any service that drives traffic to their site. Although I have a voluntary membership program for $5 a month (please consider!), my livelihood is not dependent on Media Nation.

Search, Facebook and Twitter were the big three, followed by LinkedIn at 4,047 and, in fifth place, an unexpected source: Editor & Publisher, the news industry trade publication, at 3,827. E&P has been kind enough to feature my posts in its daily newsletter on a fairly regular basis, so I guess that’s the explanation. Other notable entries in the top 10 were Universal Hub and Expecting Rain, a site for fans of Bob Dylan, who I’ve been known to write about from time to time. From there it quickly dribbles down to double and single digits.

I’ve taken most of my Twitter-like posts to Mastodon, so I was curious to see that there was nothing. The explanation, I found out, is that Mastodon contains code that makes referrals invisible, which is supposedly some sort of privacy protection. I don’t quite get it, and I’ve learned about a workaround that will supposedly make Mastodon referrals show up. I am getting some referrals from Post News, which, like Mastodon, is emerging as a leading Twitter replacement.

E&P reminds us of an editor’s protest against the GOP’s ‘fascist’ press restrictions

J.D. Vance. Photo (cc) 2021 by Gage Skidmore.

The news media trade publication Editor & Publisher has republished a letter to readers from Chris Quinn, the editor of Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer, about press restrictions imposed by supporters of Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance. Quinn’s letter originally appeared Aug. 20, but with the campaign for the midterm elections down to their final days, it’s well worth pondering what Quinn had to say two months ago. Kudos to E&P for reminding us.

Quinn told his readers that reporters from his news organization did not attend a Vance rally featuring Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis because they could not abide by the rules that were imposed. Quinn wrote:

The worst of the rules was one prohibiting reporters from interviewing attendees not first approved by the organizers of the event for DeSantis and Vance. When we cover events, we talk to anyone we wish. It’s America, after all, the land of free speech. At least that’s America as it exists today. Maybe not the America that would exist under DeSantis and Vance.

Other beyond-the-pale rules were that any news video shot at the event would have to be shared with the organizers for promotional use; that the organizers had the right to know how any footage would be used; and that reporters could not enter the hotel rooms of anyone at the event, even if invited in for an interview. Quinn also had this to say:

Think about what they were doing here. They were staging an event to rally people to vote for Vance while instituting the kinds of policies you’d see in a fascist regime. A wannabe U.S. Senator, and maybe a wannabe president.

Wow.

The event was organized by Turning Point Action, a nonprofit associated with Donald Trump. But as Quinn rightly observed, it was essentially a Vance rally, and if he had any problems with the restrictions placed on journalists, he was notably silent about it.

Quinn concluded: “I should note that I’m writing this before the event occurred, so if something changed at the last minute, this piece would omit it.” But Turning Point did not back down, according to a piece that Jon Allsop wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review several days later. As Allsop put it:

The Turning Point rules may have been eye-catchingly baroque, but they form part of a much broader pattern of restrictions on mainstream-media access to candidates and events — a long-standing bane of political journalism that has significantly intensified on the GOP side of the aisle in the Trump era.

So here we are, on the brink of one and possibly both branches of Congress flipping back to Republican rule. There’s really no way for journalists to fight it except to refuse, and f that means giving Republican candidates less coverage, so be it. Meanwhile, the dividing of America into two camps, one small-“d” democratic and the other authoritarian — or fascist, as Quinn put it — continues apace.

The Globe’s Rhode Island initiative may be expanded across New England

The Boston Globe’s Rhode Island section could be a model for other verticals devoted to different regions in New England. That’s the main takeaway from this week’s edition of “E&P Reports,” a vodcast produced by the trade publication Editor & Publisher.

The vodcast, hosted by E&P publisher Mike Blinder, featured the Globe’s Rhode Island editor (and my “Beat the Press” crony), Lylah Alphonse; Rhode Island reporter Dan McGowan; and Michelle Micone, the Globe’s vice president for innovation and strategic initiatives.

It was Micone who talked about expanding the Globe’s coverage to other regions. She specifically mentioned New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont but not Connecticut, which was either inadvertent or, more likely, a nod to the Nutmeg State’s very different media and cultural environment. I mean, my God, they root for the Yankees down there.

Alphonse and McGowan were careful not to criticize The Providence Journal, but let’s face it — the Globe’s Rhode Island project was begun in response to Gannett’s evisceration of that once great paper. Blinder said that the Journal’s full-time staff is down to about 14. [Note: The actual number is about 30.] Alphonse told me that Globe Rhode Island now has eight full-time journalists. Of course, the folks who remain at the Journal are doing good work under trying conditions, and Alphonse and McGowan were smart to acknowledge that.

One statistic that really hit me was that McGowan’s daily newsletter, “Rhode Map,” is sent to 80,000 recipients each morning, with an open rate of about 30%. By contrast, the Journal’s combined paid print and digital circulation on weekdays, according to data the paper filed with the Alliance for Audited Media, is a little under 31,000. (About 24,000 of that is print, showing that Gannett’s push on digital subscriptions has a long way to go.)

I also want to highlight the news that staff reporter Alexa Gagosz, one of our great master’s degree alums at Northeastern, is heading up expanded food and dining coverage in Rhode Island, including a weekly newsletter.

Now, to get back to possible expansion in other regions: Rhode Island was an opportunity that may not be entirely replicable elsewhere, thanks not only to the ProJo’s shrinkage but to the state’s unique identity. The state has a range of media options, including good-quality public radio, television newscasts and independent community news outlets. But the ProJo’s decline gave the Globe a chance to slide in and quickly establish itself as one of the players.

Where else does opportunity that exist? Worcester and Central Massachusetts strike me as in serious need of more journalism. The Globe memorably walked away from the region when then-new owner John Henry sold the Telegram & Gazette to a Florida-based chain after leading the staff to believe he was committed to selling to local interests. Soon enough, the T&G became part of Gannett, and it was subjected to the same devastating cuts that the chain has imposed throughout the country. The T&G carried on but is currently in flux, having lost its respected executive editor, Dave Nordman, to Northeastern, where he’s heading up the internal news operation. Could the Henrys return to Worcester? I’ve heard that might be within the range of possibilities.

But where else? New Hampshire and Maine both have good-quality independent newspapers, though New Hampshire’s two leading papers — the Union Leader and the Concord Monitor — have shrunk quite a bit. Vermont is unique, dominated by one of the most respected nonprofit news organizations in the country, VTDigger.

Then there’s the distribution model, which, if they were asking me (they’re not), is too reliant on print. Quite a bit of the Globe’s Rhode Island coverage appears in the Globe’s print edition. But rather than take on the cost of trucking more papers to Rhode Island, why not use digital to expand your reach and drive more digital subscriptions? What the Globe is doing with Rhode Island and print simply wouldn’t work if the paper established bureaus in Central Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.

The Globe is one of the few major metropolitan dailies in the country that is growing. What it’s doing in Rhode Island is impressive, and I’d love to see it happen elsewhere.

Correction: After this item was published, I learned that the Journal’s full-time newsroom staff is actually around 30 people, supplemented by freelancers.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén