Letter from the Editor

Roll with Us

Our Journal from the Heartland recently marked the 13th anniversary in relatively good shape. Our paid circulation, about 9,500, is down 3% over the past year, but that is pretty good in today’s publishing environment. Newspaper circulation nationwide declined almost 5% in September from a year earlier, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, as readers migrate to the Internet and publishers cut jobs and other expenses to maintain profit margins.

Time Inc. has cut hundreds of jobs at magazines, including Time, Fortune, People and Sports Illustrated. Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the country, laid off 10% of its workforce — up to 3,000 people, even at newspapers that showed double-digit profit margins last year.

The Green Bay Press-Gazette laid off 50 employees in December, almost half its staff of 105, despite having a 42.5% profit margin last year, the highest margin among more than 80 Gannett newspapers, according to financial figures leaked to former USA Today reporter Jim Hopkins. He published those figures for the first three quarters of 2007 at gannettblog.blogspot.com (12/3). The Detroit Free Press was the only Gannett newspaper reported losing money at that time, at negative 4.67% with ad revenues of $164.8 million. (Circulation revenue was not broken down for the different papers but it was publicly reported as 21% of the newspaper division’s revenue in the first three quarters of 2008, Hopkins noted.) The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, which vies with USA Today as the chain’s biggest revenue generator, reported 25.43% profit margin and $319 million in ad revenue. (USA Today was not on the list.) Other big Gannett “profit centers” with margins and ad revenue for the first three quarters of 2007 included Asbury Park, N.J., 19.16%, $82.3M; Cincinnati, 13.97%, $111.9M; Des Moines, 24.85%, $71M; East Wisconsin group, 29.75%, $77.8M; Fort Myers, Fla., 29.99%, $66.3M; Greenville, S.C., 27.29%, $45.3M; Honolulu, 3.33%, $76.6M; Indianapolis, 24.97%, $116.3M; Jackson, Miss., 25.94%, $34.5M; Louisville, Ky., 19.33%, $78.5M; Nashville, Tenn., 21.38%, $93.1M; Palm Springs, Calif., 37.98%, $40.2M; Rochester, N.Y., 28.48%, $62.3M; Westchester, N.Y., 14.84%, $79.1M; Wilmington, Del., 25.08%, $54.7M. All had layoffs.

The Tribune Company cut staff at its flagship, the Chicago Tribune, as well as the Los Angeles Times and other properties in a frantic attempt to service $13 billion in debt, much of it acquired by speculator Sam Zell when he took the chain private last year, before the company declared bankruptcy in December.

The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., the 15th-largest paper in the country, was threatened with closing before the editorial staff was reduced by 40%.

The Capital Times in Madison, Wis., went from daily to twice-weekly free editions with a beefed-up website. The Superior, Wis., Daily Telegram went to twice-weekly publication. When Scripps folded the Cincinnati Post at the beginning of the year, it kept the Kentucky Post online. Publishers of the Detroit News and Free Press, which are published under a joint operating agreement, announced they will curtail home delivery to three days a week in an attempt to survive in the depressed local economy.

The Christian Science Monitor announced in October that, after a century, it would stop publishing a daily newspaper. The Monitor has enjoyed a reputation far in excess of its modest circulation, which stands at 52,000, but the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston spent $12 million on it this past year and church officials concluded that they could get the message out with a weekend edition and a robust website and cut the subsidy to a more manageable $4 million a year.

US News and World Report, long the weakest of the newsweeklies, with 2 million subscribers in 2007, announced in June that in 2009 it would cut back to publishing every other week, but in November it announced it would switch to publishing monthly consumer guides and focus on its website. Newsweek, which had circulation of 3.1 million in 2007, reportedly is bracing for a drop of more than a million in its “ratebase,” or the circulation it guarantees to advertisers, now 2.6 million.

Many readers ask why they should care whether the news is printed on paper or on the Internet. The answer, David Carr noted in the New York Times Oct. 28, is that the paper edition is how the news is paid for. More than 90% of the newspaper industry’s revenue still derives from the print product, he noted.

The Progressive Populist, which publishes a twice-monthly newspaper, gets less than 1% of its revenue from its website. And, as you can see, we don’t get much ad revenue. So we get by with the help of our faithful subscribers.

We view the layoffs and cutbacks at corporate daily newspapers and magazines as an opportunity for our twice-monthly journal to fill in the gap with the news and views from the Heartland that seldom make it onto the corporate op-ed pages or newsweeklies. We put some of our features and other resources on our web site (populist.com), and we invite you to check it out, but don’t expect a free ride. Give friends and family the gift of The Progressive Populist.

And do not ask for whom the press rolls. It rolls for you.

Thanks. — Jim Cullen, Editor

From The Progressive Populist, Jan. 1-15, 2009

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