Furloughs, suspended dividend at Tribune
Tribune Publishing announced a number of changes the company says are due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Chicago Tribune reported May 14 that Tribune Publishing and The Chicago Tribune Guild have come to a deal to furlough all unionized newsroom employees making $40,000 or more or a week in May, June and July. Talk of longer-term furloughs will be pushed off until late July, the New York Post reported.
Employees will continue to get health benefits but no salary during furlough weeks. The employees will also be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits and the extra $600 per week unemployment supplement available through July 25.
The company also canceled a $9 million quarterly dividend it planned to give to shareholders, the New York Post reported.
Tribune Publishing will report its financial results for the first quarter on June 5, the company said. The company had delayed the report.
The company had instituted two measures for non-union staffers in April, the New York Post reported. It cut pay from 2 percent to 10 percent on non-union employees making more than $67,000 annually. The change will on a permanent basis lower the base pay of nonunion employees between 2% and 10%, with those making more seeing a larger drop. Staff had until April 17 to accept the pay drop or apply to depart Tribune Publishing and get a severance package.
Top company executives saw a drop in pay as well, with CEO Terry Jimenez bypassing two weeks of salary and undergoing a 10% cut in base pay. Jimenez has a yearly base salary of $575,000, according to an SEC filing.
Tribune Publishing board members will get a 13.8% cut in their fees, the paper said.
Kentucky’s News-Enterprise offers free ads
The News-Enterprise (Elizabethtown, Kentucky) is providing, free of any cost or commitment, a print ad in the paper to every locally owned business as each reopens its storefront. This advertisement can be used to announce the business once again is open to the public.
The paper is also matching businesses’ retail advertising spending up to $1,000 a month through June.
The paper’s program is called the Community Pandemic Relief program or CPR.
Virginia-based Landmark Communications owns the paper.
McClatchy launches text-to-speech audio
McClatchy has launched a text-to-speech audio feature that will offer readers the option to listen to news content produced by its 30 newsrooms. This is part of McClatchy's strategy in the audio space, which includes initiatives in smart speakers, audio search and podcasts, the company says.
The new AI audio feature integrated across McClatchy's digital news sites dynamically converts written content into an audio file. The text-to-speech service was tested on two Mc-Clatchy news sites over three months with significant positive customer feedback, a McClatchy news release says. The results from The Sacramento Bee and The News & Observer showed an increase in user engagement online including a 168% increase in time spent on the news site, an 89% increase in story page views and a 95% increase in visits per user.
A play button is positioned under every article headline.
McClatchy partnered with Trinity Audio on the initiative. Its tech uses AI and machine learning and inserts advertising on a revenue share basis. Trinity Audio is part of Israel-based Somoto, a publicly-traded company on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.
Gannett reports Q1 earnings
Gannett posted a net loss of $80.2 million in the first quarter, including $78 million due to depreciation and amortization and $34 million in cash charges tied to the company’s recent merger, USA Today reported. The company had first-quarter revenues of $948.7 million.
Same store revenues decreased 10%, approximately in line with Q4 2019 performance, including the negative impact of approximately $17 million related to the COVID-19 pandemic, a May 7 earnings release said. Paid digital-only subscriber volumes now total some 863,000, up 29% year-over-year, the release said.
“The impact on our business from the pandemic came fast and is significant,” said Michael Reed, chairman and CEO. “However, we continue to execute on our operating and integration plans from the acquisition of legacy Gannett last year. The realization of synergies remains on track and debt pay down remains ahead of schedule. We have also moved aggressively to manage through the current economic crisis by taking measures to preserve and increase liquidity and financial performance, including further cost reductions, limits on capital expenditures, and the suspension of our quarterly dividend.”
Cutting paper print days is “not part of our plan today,” Reed told USA Today. Poynter and others reported layoffs at Gannett round the country in late April.
Roanoke Times, Idaho Statesman news
staffs vote to unionize
News staff at The Roanoke Times voted 47-3 to unionize, the paper reported April 28.
The Washington-Baltimore News Guild Local 32035 of The NewsGuild will represent the The Timesland News Guild. The NewsGuild is part of the Communication Workers of America.
The vote also involved the Laker Weekly.
Lee Enterprises owns the paper.
Meanwhile, journalists at the Idaho Statesman have unionized. The 18-0 vote involved non-manager newsroom staffers. McClatchy owns the paper.
Journalists at VTDigger, a Vermont online nonprofit news site, also voted to unionize in late April.
News Media Alliance: COVID-19 ad blocking
News Media Alliance’s Rebecca Frank recently published an article on Medium on the problem of digital advertisers and ad tech companies blocking their ads from appearing next to coronavirus-related content. The issue has ballooned into an existential crisis for news publishers, the Alliance says.
There are multiple solutions being posed by various industry players in an attempt to curb the use of keyword blocking, writes Frank, vice president, research and insights. “For example, NewsGuard’s ranking of trustworthy news sites, and the Local Media Consortium/Brand Safety Institute’s white list are good solutions. The IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) is also taking a multi-pronged approach to encourage advertisers to continue to support news,” she writes.
“And we think multiple solutions will be needed and that organizations should implement the solution that works best for them. If they’re waiting for an industry-wide consensus, it will be too late. If they’re passing responsibility for the problem on to other members of the advertising ecosystem to let them deal with it, that is not helpful and in the meantime, the problem is getting worse,” she writes.
News Guild pushes for Baltimore Sun to be
sold to non-profits
The union representing journalists at the Baltimore Sun has started a "Save Our Sun" effort in hopes of removing the paper from corporate ownership and making the Sun operate as a non-profit.
Last year, New York-based hedge Alden Global Capital bought 32% of Tribune Publishing stock, making Alden the largest shareholder of Tribune and giving Alden two seats on the Tribune company board. Tribune owns the Sun, Chicago Tribune, Hartford Courant and other papers. It is expected that Alden will work to obtain majority ownership of Tribune Publishing and The Sun as early as this summer, says the Washington-Baltimore News Guild.
“Local foundations and supporters have the capital to take control of The Sun and under this new ownership model, The Sun’s revenue can be used for its right purpose: reporting local news, not enriching financiers at the expense of The Sun's distinguished history and our vibrant region. All we need is for the hedge fund to sell it,” says a guild page on the effort.
“We started Save Our Sun to ensure we have the resources we need to keep doing our jobs, preserve newspapering in Baltimore and prepare a national model for local communities to buy their newspaper back,” said Liz Bowie, a union leader and reporter at The Sun.
Lee gets letter from NYSE
On May 18, Lee Enterprises said it received a letter from the NYSE indicating that Lee isn’t compliant with these listing standards: Issuers maintain an average closing share price over a 30 trading-day period of at least $1.00; and issuers maintain average global market capitalization over a consecutive 30 trading-day period of at least $50 million and, at the same time, its shareholders’ equity must exceed $50 million.
Lee said it plans to notify the NYSE of its intent to return to compliance within the cure period, six months from July 1 on the first standard and 18 months from July 1 on the second.
Failure to satisfy the conditions of the cure period could lead to a delisting.
Google launches Journalism Emergency
Relief Fund, waives fees
Google has launched a global Journalism Emergency Relief Fund through the Google News Initiative to support small and medium-sized news organizations producing original news for local communities. The fund’s aim is to support the production of original journalism for local communities in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Google says. Operating globally, it will provide an easily accessible route to financial assistance at this critical time, Google says.
Google is also waiving ad serving fees for news publishers globally on Ad Manager for five months, the company said in mid-April. The company said it would notify news partners that meet the requirements about the details of the program and what they can expect to see in their account statements.
YouTube works on tool for publishers to sell
YouTube is working on a tool for news publishers to sell subscriptions to their owned-and-operated digital properties through their YouTube channels, according to publishers that have knowledge on the subject, Digiday reported in May.
YouTube may start testing the tool by the end of 2020, Digiday said. A spokesperson for YouTube declined to offer a comment.
The tool is linked to the Google News Initiative.
The video platform’s subscription sales tool may be linked to Subscribe With Google, Digiday said. Subscribe With Google has people subscribing to publishers’ sites using their Google accounts.
Seattle Times, Tampa Bay Times get federal
The Seattle Times Co. has gotten a $9.9 million federal coronavirus-aid loan, the paper reported April 21.
“This is a lifeline for us for the next 60 days,” said company President and Chief Financial Officer Alan Fisco.
The loan comes under the $349 billion Payroll Protection Program (PPP), which lets small businesses borrow as much as two and a half months of payroll, up to $10 million.
The Times also owns the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, the Yakima Herald-Republic and a printing facility in Kent.
The federal government usually defines small businesses as companies with fewer than 500 staff, but the SBA includes exceptions for some industries, including newspapers, which can have up to 1,000 employees, according to The Times.
“At least for now, we are putting on the back burner any plans for broad scale layoffs, or cuts to hours worked,” Fisco wrote in a note to staff. “There still may be some targeted reductions, but nothing to the extent of cuts we would have had to make without this support.”
A Tampa Bay Times spokeswoman said the paper and its other publications were getting an $8.5 million forgivable loan, Reuters reported. Chairman and Chief Executive Paul Tash said the loan would let the paper bring a “few colleagues back from furlough, and we are reversing a pay cut for most employees a month sooner than we had planned.” Bigger pay cuts for top executives will not be changed, Reuters said.
Meanwhile Axios Chief Executive Jim VandeHei said the company was eligible for almost $5 million under the program, Reuters said.
Newsday has gotten a $10 million loan from the program, publisher Debby Krenek said.
Many papers don’t qualify for the loans because they are owned by large chains.
APTech, George Mason launch certificate
The Association for PRINT Technologies (APTech) and the George Mason University School of Business have launched the LeadingPRINT: Advanced Leadership Program with its first online education offering: “Managing Transformation in the Printing Industry.”
The program is designed to provide leaders in the printing industry with the knowledge, skills and abilities required to successfully transform their companies and generate continued success in an industry being disrupted by radical change in technologies, markets, business and financial models, APTech says.
“It’s critically important for ‘outside’ business leadership knowledge and experience to join with our printing industry expertise so we can offer printing industry professionals new and valuable business-growth insights,” said Thayer Long, president, APTech.
The graduate-level curriculum will develop strategic frameworks for leaders to reinvent their organizations and develop new or revised business models based on an innovative vision for the future.
The nine-week program will run June 10 to August 30, be taught by Mason professors and be delivered through the university’s Learning Management System. Those who complete the program will get a Mason School of Business certificate of completion.
Legislation would let more news publishers
apply for SBA loans
A House version of the “Local News and Emergency Information Act of 2020” was introduced May 15 by Chairman David Cicilline (D-RI) and Ranking Member F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI).
The bill is identical to a bipartisan bill recently introduced in the Senate. Both bills include an affiliation waiver that would allow news publishers to apply for PPP loans as individual, independent entities, despite ownership by companies with other small news publishers or non-news businesses, allowing more publishers to qualify for the loans.
The News Media Alliance put out this statement: “The Alliance is extremely grateful to Chairman Cicilline and Ranking Member Sensenbrenner for their enduring support of high-quality, local journalism and for their leadership in gathering bipartisan support for an SBA affiliation waiver for news publishers. These SBA loans, which will allow news publishers to continue bringing critical news and information to their local communities, are more critical than ever, as news publishers face extreme challenges from the coronavirus pandemic.”
Longmont second local news site for
The Longmont Leader (Colorado), a new digital-only news outlet, will launch later this spring. The announcement was made April 21 by Mandy Jenkins, general manager of The Compass Experiment, a local news lab founded by McClatchy and funded by Google News Initiative's Local Experiments Project.
Jenkins also said that The Longmont Leader has acquired all the assets of the Longmont Observer, a free, nonprofit news website run by volunteers. The assets include email lists, donor lists, archives, the URL and social media accounts.
The Longmont Leader is hiring a local team that includes a business development leader as well as an editor, assistant editor and two reporters. Articles will offer comprehensive coverage of local news and events. Longmont Leader will also be a home for community columns and citizen journalism produced in partnership with Longmont Public Media.
“We are delighted that the great journalism that the people of Longmont have counted on for three years will continue and grow with the Longmont Leader and the team that Mandy is putting together,” said Megan Favat, strategic partner lead, Global Partnerships, Google.
The Longmont Leader is the second news operation funded by The Compass Experiment. Mahoning Matters, an Ohio-based digital-only news outlet, launched last fall to serve residents of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.
Times-Shamrock donates newsprint to care
Times-Shamrock Communications of Scranton, Pennsylvania, has donated four end rolls of newsprint to Associated Family Home Care in Kingston so their home health care personnel can use the paper when seeing patients at home, The Citizens’ Voice reported.
The newsprint can be put under home health care personnel’s laptops, equipment and medical bags as a barrier to stop the spreading of any contamination.
“This is just fantastic that we have this,” said Brenda Henninger, officer manager at Associated Family Home Care.
Times-Shamrock owns the Times-Tribune (Scranton), The Citizens’ Voice (Wilkes-Barre) and other papers.
Parent of Dallas paper cuts pay, dividend
A. H. Belo, parent company of The Dallas Morning News, is cutting base compensation for all employees between 3 percent and 17 percent in response to dropping ad sales due to coronavirus. Total compensation for senior executives may be reduced by as much as 27 percent, the company announced April 6. The company is also halving its quarterly dividend for the third quarter.
The company said at the time that it was not instituting layoffs or furloughs. It will be accessing its cash reserves for $8 million.
Robert W. Decherd, A. H. Belo’s chairman, president and chief executive, said the company started the year with $48.6 million in cash. “Our company is advantaged by comparison to most others, especially within the newspaper industry. This gives our board choices to prioritize the long-term health of this great enterprise and support its reason for being — that is, to provide invaluable news and information to the people who depend on us and to the communities The Dallas Morning News has served for nearly 135 years,” he said.
The company’s board was set to shrink by two at the annual meeting, as directors Ty Miller and Nicole Small will not stand for reelection.
Digital subscriptions to The Dallas Morning News rose 29% in 2019 and grew quite a bit in the first four months of 2020, A. H. Belo told investors May 12.
Furloughs, layoffs at Denver Post, other
Layoffs and furloughs hit MediaNews Group papers around the country, according to a NewsGuild report. Hedge fund Alden Global Capital controls MNG.
Papers affected include the Denver Post, Boston Herald, San Jose Mercury News and East Bay Times, Monterey Herald, Chico Enterprise-Record, Kingston (New York) Daily Freeman and Reading Eagle.
Unconfirmed reports said a sales rep, an office manager and two editorial staff members at the Ukiah Daily Journal (California) were put on furlough. Two were reportedly furloughed at the Fort Bragg Advocate and Mendocino Beacon, the Guild said.
The Southern California News Group (SCNG), an MNG operation with 11 local daily papers and more than a dozen weeklies, has furloughed some 50 newsroom staff members and laid off several others, according to sources familiar with the moves, LAist reported.
Furloughs and job cuts were also undertaken in other departments, including some 20 layoffs in advertising, according to a source, LAist said. More newsroom cuts may be in the offing, possibly in May, according to a staff announcement by SCNG executive editor Frank Pine, LAist said.
The company’s papers include the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News and San Bernardino Sun.
Buyouts are being offered at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Bring Me the News reported.
• eMarketer and Business Insider Intelligence have merged to form Insider Intelligence. Germany’s Axel Springer owns the publications.
• Santa Rosa, California-based Sonoma Media Investments has secured a $3.4 million federal loan, the Sonoma Index-Tribune reported. The loan, part of the coronavirus relief program, will go to paying salaries, rent and utility bills at SMI publications.
• WEHCO Media will receive $12.3 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration, Walter E. Hussman Jr., the company's chairman, announced May 5. The company owns the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, eight other dailies and eight weeklies.
• Fort Wayne Newspapers is suspending publication of its News-Sentinel page for the time being. The page will be assessed for comeback as market conditions improve, said President and CEO Scott Stanford. News-Sentinel reporter/columnist Kevin Leininger has been furloughed with the suspension. Other employees also have been furloughed and some positions cut, the paper said. Fort Wayne Newspapers also produces the Journal Gazette (also Fort Wayne), the second-largest paper in Indiana. The two papers have a joint operating agreement. The Ogden Newspapers owns Fort Wayne Newspapers.
• The Philadelphia Inquirer extended offers of voluntary buyouts to 55 guild members in sales, Poynter reported. Another voluntary buyout offer was extended to full-time newsroom employees 65 and older after some staff members said they wanted that, Poynter says.
• The Gloucester Daily Times (Massachusetts) is dropping Tuesday and Saturday print, the paper announced.
• The News and Tribune, covering Clark and Floyd counties (Indiana), announced a five-day-a-week publishing schedule and end to the Monday paper.
• The Eden Prairie News and Lakeshore Weekly News (Minnesota) planned to put out their last editions in April, General Manager Laurie Hartmann announced. The papers were among the 11 purchased this year by Digital First Media, a subsidiary of Alden Global Capital. The other publications that are part of Southwest News Media, including weeklies in Chanhassen, Chaska and Shakopee, will go on publishing, the company said.
• The Daily Clintonian (Clinton, Indiana), which ceased publication on April 10, has been bought with the intent to restart the paper. The news comes from John Thomas Cribb, Cribb, Greene & Cope, who represented the Carey family in their sale to Don L. Hurd, president of Hoosier Media Group, Hometown Media and Heartland Media Group.
• Protocol, a tech site started by Politico’s parent company, was laying off 13 employees, according to Nieman Lab.
• The New York Times ceased printing hard copies of travel and sports sections in the paper's Sunday edition and instead printed a section focused on sheltering in place, Cheddar first reported.
• Twitter cut support for BuzzFeed’s “AM to DM” morning show on the social platform, Variety reported. BuzzFeed has stopped the show and has laid off program staff.
• BuzzFeed is furloughing 68 employees and extending salary cuts, Variety reported.
• The Boston Globe laid off two union workers and an unspecified number of nonunion staff in early May in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, Commonwealth reported.
• Starting April 28, the Sharon Herald (Pennsylvania) began a five-day-a-week publishing schedule and ceased producing Tuesday and Sunday papers, the paper announced. The Saturday paper will serve as the weekend edition. Readers will have access to the paper’s news, features, sports, comics, puzzles, advertisements and other print content Tuesday and all weekdays through the paper’s e-edition. Community Newspaper Holdings owns the paper.
• Starting May 5, the News Record (Gillette, Wyoming) will print only on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The issues will be mailed, the paper says. The paper will still publish a daily news product online.
• Valence Media planned to cut more than a third of the newsroom positions at its Hollywood Reporter and Billboard publications, the New York Post reported. Around 35 percent of the company’s newsrooms were slated for cuts, a source told the Post. The cuts were set to hit the publications’ corporate management and advertising people and then involve the whole company, which includes Dick Clark Productions.
• The Washington County Pilot-Tribune has changed the web size or width of the paper, the paper announced. The width had been 12 1/2 inches and has gone to 11 1/4 inches. The length of the page will stay the same. Enterprise Publishing Company, headquartered in Blair, Nebraska, owns the paper.
• The Atlanta Citizens Journal (Atlanta, Texas) and the Cass County Sun (Linden, Texas) have combined. The new paper is called Cass County Now.
• In calls to staff, New York Post publisher Sean Giancola announced that the company will take cost-cutting measures due to falling advertiser demand, the Daily Beast reported. Over a dozen staffers were laid off, people familiar with the situation told The Daily Beast. Furloughs are also part of the mix, the Daily Beast says. News Corp owns the paper.
• The Lake County News Chronicle (Two Harbors, Minnesota) will produce its last issue May 22, the paper announced. Forum Communications owns the paper.
• Leaf Group, a consumer internet company, has made a deal to transfer ownership of a library of content currently displayed on selected Hearst websites to Hearst Newspapers in exchange for $9.5 million. In addition, for a three-year period, Leaf Group and Hearst will continue to work together to manage the sites.