Nearing year-end, executives at major newspapers are sprouting more gray hairs as traditional advertising revenue continues to decline and print readership becomes shakier with a fuzzy national outlook, observes Grumpy Editor.
Subscribers, facing higher costs --- ranging from health insurance to groceries --- look for items to trim.
High on the list: print subscriptions.
Periodic cuts in newsroom staffers, resulting in fewer features and coverage, such as no Monday business sections, also set readers grumbling. Science and investigative reporters, as examples, are becoming rare birds in newsrooms.
Grumpy readers also are miffed at the slant, or spin, some newspapers place on coverage and opinions that may disagree with their own (neutrality used to be emphasized in journalism).
Latest development to irk print readers is a barrier thrown up on the letters-to-the-editor page. The Los Angeles Times says it will no longer print letters from “climate change deniers.” Meanwhile, other dailies are cutting back on space devoted to readers’ letters.
So how are major newspaper publishing companies doing?
The McClatchy Co., the U.S.’s third largest newspaper operation that includes 30 dailies, last week reported third quarter total revenues of $293.6 million, down 4.2 percent from the like year-earlier period, while advertising revenues were $194.9 million, off 8.1 percent.
However, third quarter circulation revenues were up 6.5 percent from the same period in 2012, bolstered by the company’s digital subscription package, known as the Plus Program.
McClatchy total revenues in the first nine months were down 3.8 percent to $897.5 million, compared to $933.1 million last year. Results included a $12.9 million ($8.2 million after-tax) gain related to Miami Herald property sold. Advertising revenues in the period totaled $599.6 million, down 6.9 percent while circulation revenues were up 4.2 percent to $261.3 million.
Gannett Co., the country’s largest newspaper chain and owner of 81 community newspapers and USA Today plus operator of broadcast outlets, last week reported third quarter revenue from its publishing business declined 3.6 percent from the like year-earlier period while print advertising revenue slipped 5.9 percent and circulation revenue ebbed 0.6 percent. Overall Gannett profit in the period fell to $79.7 million from $131.1 million.
Meanwhile, Tribune Co., which emerged from bankruptcy at the end of 2012, comes out with third quarter results in late November. Earlier, the parent of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and others, reported second quarter net income tumbled 61.2 percent to $66.3 million from the same year-earlier period as revenue in its publishing unit declined 4 percent to $470 million. The newspaper unit’s ad revenue dropped 7 percent to $262 million.
Print advertising at the New York Times Co. in the second quarter saw national advertising slip 3.5 percent, retail advertising slump 12.9 percent and classified ads drop 8.6 percent from a year prior. The company's third quarter results, due to be released tomorrow, are expected to show a rise in that period's circulation revenue stemming from digital subscriptions and a print circulation price boost.
At the Washington Post Co., newspaper division print advertising revenue, including that of flagship Washington Post, fell 4 percent to $54.5 million in the second quarter, compared with the like year-earlier quarter. Average print circulation for this year’s first half slipped 7.1 percent to 447,700 on weekdays and 7.6 percent to 646,700 on Sundays compared with the same year-ago period. Third quarter results are slated for Friday release.
With a downward drift in newspapers’ print advertising, Rick Edmonds, researcher and writer for Poynter Institute on business and journalism issues, declared indications are that “the (newspaper) industry will again lose more than $1 billion in advertising year-to-year in 2013.”