They’re Lying To You, News At Eleven

Why it’s bad to bullshit reporters, volume eight:

Documents reveal double-digit profit margins at scores of newspapers on verge of massive layoffs

We’ve always heard that Gannett newspapers racked up double-digitprofit margins,
even as bad times engulfed the industry. But I’ve never seen actual
numbers until now, because Corporate keeps the performance of
individual businesses a well-guarded secret.

It has gotten to the point where Mr. A takes away the sharp objects at the table when someone brings up “the terrible times facing newspapers these days” or “isn’t it just awful how no one reads anymore.” Newspapers make plenty of money. PLENTY of money. They are wildly successful businesses. If you or I owned them we’d be jumping for joy.

They just don’t make enough money to satisfy the greedy, rapacious assholes who own and run them. This isn’t a death, you know. It’s a homicide. Newspapers aren’t dying. They’re being murdered. And until somebody convenes an academic conference on how to overthrow these fuckers and raise funds for employee buyouts of every last one of these newspapers you cannot pay me in solid gold ingots to listen to one more stupid lecture about the Internet.

Deborah Howell the other day waswanking on and on about what the newsroom needed to do to fix the horrible horrible problems facing the industry, as if writing a 12-inch story instead of a 15-inch story is gonna make readers suddenly pick you up, as if marketing and distribution have nothing to do with this, as if it matters what’s in the paper if you don’t know about it or can’t find it.

It’s maddening because there’s so little journalists can do about this shit, when it’s all being run by people who come down and lecture you that you’re not covering the right stuff. Write more about pets, or flip-flops, or Sex and the City. Let people send in their teenage kids’ poetry. As if that shit even counts when there’s money like this being squandered.

Schmucks.

A.

10 thoughts on “They’re Lying To You, News At Eleven

  1. If Deborah Howell’s all over a story, it’s a safe bet the story’s bogus at heart. She covers those with a wide-eyed innocence that’s a beautiful thing to behold in these cynical times, and as far as I can tell they make up most of her work.

  2. Dear Sun-Times:
    I bought and read you every day when you were breaking the Hired Trucks scandal.
    Dear Trib:
    I bought and read you every day when you were digging deep into the cases of innocent men on Death Row in Illinois.
    Dear both of you:
    That was two years ago for Hired Trucks, and six years ago for the death row stuff. By the way, I was in the coveted 18-25 year-old male demographic during that period.
    I haven’t read you since, and I’ve never read either of the nose-picking, drooling free spin-offs you slung/sling, and I don’t see any reason to.
    There are still tons of corruption issues to be dealt with, still innocent people on death row, still horrible shit to be brought to light. That’s why I read you- I can get fucking Sudoku and celebrity news for free somewhere else.
    Love, Prattfall

  3. When I was a kid we used to play a game with those clip it together build 50 electronic projects kits. We’d build a two transistor radio or a tone generator or something. Then, we’d take turns removing wires until it stopped working. When it died, you had to put the wire back. You got a point for each connecting wire you removed before there were no wires left to remove without killing the gizmo. (Sometimes we’d declare a second round, since you can remove wires from a radio and still have a tone generator, so round one would be for the radio, and round two would be for the tone generator).
    I think that’s how the newspapers are managed. Remove this. Cut back on that. Watch your readers turn to the internet. Check the profit margin. If it’s still good, try removing another wire.
    I know that the magazine business is bleeding from the ears. Circulation is down, in some cases by an order of magnitude, and staff cuts have followed. I can’t blame the management here. The magazine action has been moving online. The newspaper business is different in that they provide immediate local coverage. Bloggers have picked up the ball on some of this, but it is hard enough making a few bucks from a national scale blog, let alone a blog of interest to perhaps tens of thousands.
    I’m not at all surprised that newspapers are doing fairly well. Local advertisers don’t really have any other forum, and the big chains have to advertise locally or they’ll lose their margin against the other big chains. Neither am I surprised that a lot of newspaper operators, particularly the larger chains, are basically playing one of my favorite childhood games. Of course, being children we didn’t whine about our profit margins.

  4. But, but, Deborah Howell assured me that the “kidspost” on Washington Post was something where the newspaper could really dominate and show its unique style. That has simply *got* to be true.
    aimai

  5. Way back 11 years ago or so now, there was a big brouhaha in SF publishing circles about the vanishing “midlist” in the genre, the dwindling number of “just plain books” by medium-performing authors — not trashy, reliable sellers, but not bestseller material either. I did some research and wrote an article about it. Turns out that the huge transnational conglomerates that own the publishing companies have been demanding 30%+ or better returns annually for the last 15 or 20 years. And people wonder why books cost so much, and why aside from the latestUrinary Catheter of Shannara piece of dreck.
    You’d almost think that in the highly-concentrated media industry (thank you Ben Bagdikian) there’s a systemic problem with profiteering at the expense of the public interest, or even public demand, wouldn’t you?

  6. Crap, I screwed that up somehow. A, could you please delete that first comment if possible?
    What I meant to say was:
    Way back 11 years ago or so now, there was a big brouhaha in SF publishing circles about the vanishing “midlist” in the genre, the dwindling number of “just plain books” by medium-performing authors — not the trashy stuff, but the reliable sellers, but not bestseller material either. I did some research and wrote an article about it. Turns out that the huge transnational conglomerates that own the publishing companies have been demanding 30%+ or better returns annually for the last 15 or 20 years. And people wonder why books cost so much, and why there’s so damn little to read aside from the latest Urinary Catheter of Shannara piece of dreck.
    You’d almost think that in the highly-concentrated media industry (thank you Ben Bagdikian) there’s a systemic problem with profiteering at the expense of the public interest, or even public demand, wouldn’t you?

  7. It’s not so much that newspapers aren’t profitable (although some aren’t), it’s that they are not showing profit growth. And it’s profit growth that grows share price, which is the ultimate goal of investors. Let’s not forget that return to shareholders is the required fiduciary duty of a corporation.
    For family owned papers, many are doing just fine and the ownership is sitting on a comfortable cash cow. Even for them, the name of true success is growth and they’re driven to find ways to leverage their investment for increasing returns. In the absence of innovation and imagination, cost cutting is all that remains.

  8. Miller, I agree with the first part, but not entirely with the second. For family owned newspapers (or privately held corporations) having a modest profit every year should be enough. After all profit is what you make after salaries are paid, so it more than pays the bills. Only if you’re defining “true success” as greed does it mean that growth has to be sustained. What’s wrong with making an excess few hundred thou a year? Put it in the bank for a couple of years, you’re a millionaire. Then a multimillionaire. Then retire.

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