American Pie 14.03.2006

McClatchy acquires Knight Ridder 

Like a dolphin swallowing a whale! That’s how one Wall Street newspaper analyst described the outcome of the of the bidding for Knight Ridder, the second largest newspaper company in the US.

Actually there were not that many bidders. The winner turned out to be the McClatchy Company, which is hardly a household name in the US, even in newspaper circles.

Before the deal, McClatchy owned 12 newspapers, most of them in California. Acquiring the Knight Ridder group and its 32 dailies, 50 weeklies with a total circulation of over 3 million for roughly $4,500 million in cash and stock suddenly puts it into the top rank of America newspaper companies.

The McClatchy Company, which was started in 1857 when Irishman James McClatchy fled the potato famine and started the Sacramento Bee in California, has already indicated that it may sell off some its newly-acquired papers, perhaps as many as 12 including two in Philadelphia and the Knight Ridder flagship, the San Jose Mercury News.

That, understandably, has upset some of the Knight Ridder staff who had hoped a successful take-over would have guaranteed their jobs. Their hope now is that their papers might be taken over by individual companies. There is even talk of buy-outs assisted by journalists’ union the Newspaper Guild.

The state of the American media in 2005 

One of the reasons there were so few bidders for the Knight Ridder group was the latest report that the newspaper industry in the US had another difficult year in 2005.

According to the State of the News Media Report 2006, advertising income, circulation figures and stock performance were all down. Big city papers, it was reported, are losing circulation faster than small-town papers. The total decline last year was more than 1,500 million readers. The only exceptions were the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, whose circulations remained steady.

One result has been an increased investment by many newspapers in their web sites – mainly in the hope of capturing new readers. The big question is still whether this investment will pay off. Online revenues are still only a fraction of the income newspapers have been used to collecting from advertising.

Cutbacks at the Washington Post 

At the same time newspapers are having to cut back staff. Lay-offs last year topped 1,500. In the past five years, newspapers here have cut 3,800 jobs – or about seven per cent of their work force. Even the big papers are not exempt: The Washington Post has just announced it is planning to cut 80 jobs – or just under ten per cent – of its newsroom staff. At the same time the Post will expect its staff to contribute more time and effort to its web site, online chat, a news radio station which its has just launched, and its blogs.

Some journalists at the Post complain they are being over-stretched – at the expense of their old regular jobs on the paper. There is also talk at the Post of consolidating some of the paper’s foreign coverage – which either might mean sharing correspondents with other papers or syndicating their reports.

Circulation scandal at Newsday 

Another big American newspaper having staff problems is Newsday, the Long Island daily. Its problem stems from a scandal which involved inflating circulation figures. About half-a-dozen employees were arrested, including its circulation manager, who admitted inflating the sales figures by almost 20 per cent. In the aftermath, the paper ordered a reassigment of many staff. Many reporters — some say as many as 40 — are fighting back and refusing to take on new jobs. Many objected to being assigned to general new coverage instead of their specialist beats.

NAA looks at Holocaust-era mistakes 

It’s somewhat belated, but the Newspaper Association of America is looking into charges that it failed to support efforts by Jewish journalists seeking sanctuary – and jobs – in the United States in the 1930s.

While other professions fleeing Nazi Germany, such as doctors and lawyers, were offered help, journalists in the main were turned away.

The association has agreed that at its annual convention this year in April it will include the subject on its agenda. This follows charges that back in 1939 the association, or its predecessor, even refused to allow the plight of Jewish journalists seeking safe haven from the Nazis to be debated. The association has since said it regrets that decision.

A weekly, down-market version of Cosmo? 

A weekly, “down-market” version of Cosmopolitan! That’s the idea of Bauer Publishing, which is working on launching a new weekly here that will, it says, be a cross between Cosmo and the popular big-seller Us Magazine.

Also will have a newsstand price of under $2 – that’s about half of what both Cosmo and Us charge.

American OK! sales jump 

It seems that abandoning its vivid red logo has helped boost sales of the US version of OK! That and dropping the newsstand price from $3.29 to less than $2.

Since February, newsstand sales have jumped from 250,000 to around 400,000 copies. According to publisher Christian Tolskvig, American readers regarded the red logo as “down-market”. At the same time the magazine trimmed its size so it could fit more easily into supermarket check-out slots, Although some rivals are skeptical, and doubt the boost in sales will last, OK! US is planning to increase its news-stand print to over a million.

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