Advance Publications sent shock waves throughout the newspaper industry May 24 when news leaked that the chain planned to scale back the New Orleans Times-Picayune as well as newspapers in Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile, Ala., to tri-weeklies, printed on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, starting this fall.

Newspapers have been struggling for the past decade as the Internet has drained advertising revenue — particularly classified ads — from the printed editions and many younger readers have migrated to online news sources. The Times-Picayune was believed to be in better financial shape than many other papers because it ranked third in the country in market penetration, reaching 68% of adults in its market in 2011, according to Scarborough Research. But Advance, a private company owned by the Newhouse family of New York, apparently improved its profits when it slashed news staff and scaled back the Ann Arbor News in Michigan in 2009 to a news website with a printed edition renamed AnnArbor.com on Thursday and Sunday. Advance apparently hopes to replicate those savings in its southern properties as it tries to increase profit margins that have dropped from more than 20% industrywide — and more than 40% in some cases — to single digits in the past decade.

The Times-Picayune has a long history, dating from 1837, but was relatively undistinguished under the Newhouse chain, which bought the T-P and the afternoon States-Item in 1962 and folded the States-Item in 1980. The newspaper improved in the 1990s under Editor Jim Amoss and Publisher Ashton Phelps Jr., as the paper won Pulitzer Prizes for public service and editorial cartooning in 1997 and after Hurricane Katrina, rose to the challenge of providing a unifying voice for the rebuilding city and for the coverage of the hurricane and its aftermath won two more Pulitzer Prizes in 2006. (Phelps is leaving the T-P in the transition, which will include cuts of 84 of the 173 jobs in the newsroom and nearly one-third of its total staff.) The Times-Picayune’s average paid circulation was 133,557 in the six months through March, but that number was down 49% since Katrina hit Aug. 29, 2005. The 2010 census counted 343,829 residents in New Orleans, down 29% from 2000. In the Greater New Orleans metropolitan area, the population declined from 1.3 mln in 2000 to 1.17 mln in 2010.

Ad Age reported (5/28) that Kantar Media estimates the T-P made $64.7 mln in print revenue in 2011, while earning only $5.7 mln in web ads.

Major advertisers and businesses in the New Orleans metropolitan area who spend millions of dollars in advertising annually in the Times-Picayune have joined a citizens’ group’s call to keep the newspaper printing seven days a week. The group includes Ray Brandt Automotive Group; Latter & Blum, Inc.; Hurwitz Mintz Furniture Co.; D.W. Rhodes Funeral Home, Inc.; Mignon Faget, Ltd.; Robert Fresh Market and Lakeview Grocery; Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry; the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group; and Coleman E. Adler & Sons.

If New Orleans business owners really want to get the attention of the corporate owners of the Times-Picayune, who have calculated that they can save big bucks by cutting the least profitable four days from their publishing schedule, those advertisers might be better off contacting the publisher of the Baton Rouge Advocate, which is poised to become Louisiana’s largest daily newspaper when the T-P switches to tri-weekly. The Advocate, which had circulation of 92,000 on weekdays and 118,000 on Sundays in 2008 (the most recent figures available) already sends a truck 80 miles south to New Orleans, where it sells about 100 copies daily. It could easily replate a few pages with New Orleans news and sell more papers to newsprint-hungry denizens of the Crescent City. And when New Orleans readers get into the habit of reading the Advocate on Mondays and Tuesday’s, the Manships can work on selling them Wednesdays through Sundays.

In a memo to Advocate staff members, publisher David Manship wrote: “Our long-term goal is to continue to print and deliver this award-winning newspaper seven days a week, as well as continue to improve our online presence. … At the same time, we will look for ways to increase our presence in the New Orleans area and be ready to take advantage of any opportunities that might come along.”

If a few car dealers, furniture stores, funeral homes, groceries, jewelers and restaurants commit to advertising in a New Orleans edition of the Advocate, that might qualify as an “opportunity.”

Our back-of-the envelope calculation shows that publishing 32 broadsheet pages would cost 25 to 35 cents per copy. If the Advocate sold 10,000 copies daily at $1 a copy, that would net more than $2 mln annually for the Manships, just from circulation revenue, less any staffers they hired to beef up the city coverage. And businesses would find that the competing daily they helped set up in New Orleans would force the T-P to keep its ad rates competitive on the days they chose to publish.

New Orleans musician Evan Christopher asked Warren Buffett, the “Oracle of Omaha” and chief exec of Berkshire Hathaway, which is bullish on newspapers, to buy the T-P. Buffett wrote back that he was watching the situation with interest. “I don’t know any of the facts on their profitability but was really surprised when they made the announcement,” Buffett wrote. “It seems to me that three days a week is simply unsustainable over the longer term. Either a publication is a newspaper or a periodical and I think three days a week crosses the line.”

Buffett still thinks newspapers are a good investment, as his Berkshire Hathaway company bought 3.2% of Lee Enterprises, which publishes 48 dailies, including the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Lee has been struggling financially the past few years before emerging from bankruptcy in January, after refinancing $1 bln in debt. Berkshire Hathaway now owns or has stakes in the Washington Post and Buffalo News, and bought the Omaha World Herald last November and Media General, with 63 newspapers, in May. He also bought the 20,000-circulation Bryan-College Station Eagle (6/12).

Buffett told Howard Kurtz of TheDailyBeast (6/4) he isn’t interested in buying big-city papers such as the Los Angeles Times or the Chicago Tribune. “I don’t know exactly what you would do with the Tribune Company,” he said. “It’s really hard in L.A. to have a sense of community. They probably don’t care that much about the city council, and don’t live in the same parish their parents did. They’re not as interested in high school basketball.” He added, “This three-day-a-week stuff really kills you,” Buffett says. “You want people who look at you every day … Once people get used to online, I don’t think they come back.”

While citizens in New Orleans were demanding that Advance save their city’s daily, there was little such groundswell to save the dailies in Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile, Ala., Kyle Whitmire noted at Weld for Birmingham (weldbham.com, 6/5). “What’s clear to me is that the key to having a good newspaper and maintaining a good audience is knowing when to defy readers’ expectations and when to live up to them. Historically, the News has done a poor job of doing either,” Whitmire wrote. The Birmingham News reportedly was planning to cut as many as 60% of its news staff.

Newspapers that remain daily might have to increase their newsstand price to make up for lost ad revenues. Walter E. Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock, told his readers in June that the daily would double its weekday price from 50 cents to $1 and increase its Sunday price from $1.25 to $2.

“Our plan is to remain a statewide, seven-day-a-week daily newspaper,” Hussman wrote in the letter, which like most of the Democrat-Gazette’s content is behind a paywall. “We also plan to maintain our news staff and provide the type of complete, in-depth reporting that Arkansans have expected from us for decades. But with continued advertising declines, we can see no other way to do this other than fundamentally changing our revenue base. In the future, we will have to rely more heavily on revenue from readers and subscribers.”

Ken Doctor wrote for the Nieman Journalism Lab (5/31) that US newspapers have lost about half of their overall revenue in the last seven years. For decades, US publishers expected to get 80% of their revenue from advertising and 20% from circulation. American publishers may have to move to the European model, where publishers expected 25 to 40 percent of their revenue from circulation. Minnesota’s Star-Tribune is already there, getting 43.5% of its revenue from circulation, and expecting to reach 50% in the next 18-36 months. The New York Times Media Group gets 52% of revenue from readers.

FOX STILL TOPS IN MISINFORMATION. Another survey has shown that Fox “News” viewers are more misinformed on domestic and international current affairs than people who do not watch news at all. The nationwide survey of 1,185 adults in February by Fairleigh Dickinson University confirmed a similar PublicMind poll of New Jersey residents last November that found Fox viewers least informed news consumers. NPR listeners were the best-informed news consumers in the polls.

It was at least the eighth survey that has shown Fox News leading in misinformation since 2003. Previous surveys showing problems with Fox coverage included a 2003 survey by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) that found widespread public misperceptions about the Iraq war; a 2009 survey by NBC/Wall Street Journal on misperceptions about health care reform; a 2010 survey by Stanford University and the National Science Foundation on global warming; a 2010 study by two scholars at Ohio State University on misperceptions about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”; a 2010 survey by PIPA on misinformation about the 2010 election; a 2011 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation on misperceptions about health care reform and a 2011 study by the International Journal of Press/Politics on global warming coverage.

ECONOMY-WRECKING TEXANS ARE BACK WITH MORE ADVICE. Putting more nails in the coffin of irony, former President George W. Bush has written a book with his advice on boosting economic growth and his ally, former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), who authored the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, which allowed banks to engage in the financial derivatives speculations that set up the 2008 economic collapse, has joined the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to provide advice on economic policy.

After leaving the Senate, Gramm served for nine years as vice chairman of UBS Investment Bank. At AEI, he will be working on a plan to fix the US economy through reform of the tax code and “entitlement” programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which Republicans have proposed to dramatically cut.

Gramm helped lead the fight in 1993 against President Clinton’s budget that included modest tax increases for the wealthy and resulted in the first balanced budgets in a generation. As the Senate debated the budget (8/8/93), Gramm said, “I want to predict here tonight that if we adopt this bill the American economy is going to get weaker and not stronger, the deficit four years from today will be higher than it is today and not lower … When all is said and done, people will pay more taxes, the economy will create fewer jobs, Government will spend more money, and the American people will be worse off.”

What actually happened after Clinton’s budget was passed (without a single Republican vote in either chamber) was that more than 22.5 mln jobs were created — the most ever during a single administration, 92% of which were private jobs. Economic growth averaged 4% per year under Clinton, compared to 2.8% during the Reagan-Bush years. The economy grew for 116 consecutive months, the most in history. Overall unemployment dropped to the lowest level in more than 30 years, from 6.9% in 1993 to 4% in November 2000. And the federal budget was balanced in 1998, 1999 and 2000, as Clinton left new President George W. Bush a $237 bln surplus, the Democratic Policy and Communications Center noted (see more great Republican economic gaffes at dpc.senate.gov/docs/fs-111-1-118.html).

Time magazine named Bush and Gramm two of the 25 people to blame for the Financial Crisis. As chairman of the Senate Banking Committee from 1995 through 2000, Gramm was Washington’s most outspoken champion of financial deregulation. He not only played a leading role in writing and pushing through Congress the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act; he also inserted a key provision into the Commodity Futures Modernization Act in 2000 that exempted derivatives such as credit-default swaps from regulation by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. He also promoted spending the Clinton surplus on the largest tax breaks for the wealthiest 1% in history, a move that George W. Bush embraced along with a governing philosophy of deregulation when he took office in 2001.

Instead, under Bush’s watch, Pat Garofalo noted at ThinkProgress.org (5/16) “growth in investment, GDP, and employment all posted their worst performance of any post-war expansion,” while “overall monthly job growth was the worst of any cycle since at least February 1945, and household income growth was negative for the first cycle since tracking began in 1967.” As the Economic Policy Institute found, “between the end of the 2001 recession (2001 Q4) and the peak of that expansion (2007 Q4), the US economy experienced the worst economic expansion of the post-war era.” And he presided over the formulation of the worst recession since the Great Depression. The only economic indicator on which Bush exceeded the average was corporate profits.

Also, to replace the tax revenue when the tax cuts failed to stimulate the economy as Republicans such as Gramm had predicted, Bush borrowed money from the Social Security trust fund, and then claimed he didn’t have to pay it back to Social Security because it was all government money.

“Senator Gramm is one of the most innovative policymakers of our time,” said AEI President Arthur Brooks in a news release (6/6). “The Washington policy community has great need of his ideas and wisdom. We are thrilled to have him as part of the AEI Economic Policy Studies team.”

OPEN PRIMARY SHAKES UP CAL POLITICS. California voters threw a wrench into Nancy Pelosi’s hopes to regain the House majority, Carolyn Lochhead wrote at the San Francisco Chronicle (6/11) Pelosi, congresswoman from San Francisco, was counting on California to deliver half a dozen of the 25 new Democratic reps she needs to regain the post of House speaker. But after the June 5 primary, Dems now hope to pick up 4 or 5 seats out of California’s 53, which now includes 34 Ds and 19 Rs. Jennifer Crider, deputy director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the Chronicle Dems still have a chance. “It’s going to be razor thin,” she said. “We will get over 25 and win or come just shy of it.”

This year, redistricting was taken out of the hands of the state Assembly and given to a citizen panel, whose new district lines made a quarter of the state’s 53 districts competitive. At the same time, under the new open primary, candidates of all parties run in the primary and the top two votegetters meet in the general election.

The election left nine House races with opponents of the same party meeting in November, with seven of those pitting Dems against Dems, but the Democrats lost a key pickup chance in the 31st District (suburban Los Angeles), when two Republicans made the runoff in what was supposed to be a Democratic seat when four Dems split the vote. But at least two Republican incumbents are in tough races against Dems: Rep. Dan Lungren (R) facing his 2010 opponent Ami Bera in the 7th District near Sacramento; Rep. Jeff Denham (R) facing former astronaut Jose Hernandez in the San Joaquin Valley’s 10th District; Rep. Brian Bilbray (R) facing a strong challenge in San Diego’s 52nd District; and the 26th District in Southern California given up by retiring Rep. Elton Gallegly (R) is now rated a swing district.

In the 2nd District, north of San Francisco, former TPP columnist Norman Solomon finished third in the open primary for the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D). Jared Huffman (D), a liberal member of the California Assembly, received the most votes in the 12-person race with 37.7% but Dan Roberts (R) finished second with 15.3% to make the runoff. Roberts beat Solomon (D), who got 14.1%, by about 1,500 votes. Huffman is expected to win in the district, which has a better than 2 to 1 voter registration advantage over Republicans.

‘ROMNEYCARE’ DIDN’T KILL JOBS, AND NEITHER WILL ‘OBAMACARE’: STUDY. Health-care reforms enacted when Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts do not appear to have hurt businesses in the state, and neither would the federal Affordable Care Act that was modeled after the Massachusetts reforms, a study by the Urban Institute suggests. “Massachusetts achieved its goal of near-universal health insurance coverage under its 2006 health reform initiative, with no indication of negative job consequences relative to other states,” the Urban Institute concluded (see healthpolicycenter.org).

Massachusetts has a 98% coverage rate, the best in the nation, by far, the state's Health Connector, which helps residents find insurance coverage, noted. Nearly all children (99.8%) and seniors (99.6%) have insurance. Furthermore, racial and ethnic disparities in coverage have been significantly reduced. And popular support for the law remains high, ranging from 59% to 75% in independent polls.

The two laws aren’t identical. But they share so much in common that researchers concluded, based on their findings in Massachusetts, that “national health reform will not lead to job loss or stymied economic growth,” Brian Beutler noted at TalkingPointsMemo.com (6/11).

The Urban Institute compared economic indicators in Massachusetts with data from other states and across the whole country. Across the board they found Massachusetts performed comparably to similar states and the nation. Though the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009 harmed all states, Massachusetts turned out to be no worse off than its peers, despite implementing health care reform along the way.

Charles Pierce noted at Esquire.com (6/11): “As a measure of how transcendently nutty the Republican party has become, you really can't do better than the fact that Romney cannot run on the one unalloyed triumph he had in the one elective office he ever won, and the one thing for which the people of the Commonwealth remember him in any way fondly. In fact, he has been forced to go around the country not mentioning Massachusetts at all or, if he does, to explain what a freaky bunch we are, and how his approach here will drive the country to ruin, and to be really a quite remarkable liar.”

HOUSE REPUBS CALL COPS ON COAL CRITIC. A coal-mining critic who tried to use a photo of a child taking a bath in dirty water to illustrate her complaint about mining waste was questioned for 45 minutes by US Capitol police on suspicion of child pornography (6/1) after US Rep. Doug Lamborn’s energy and mineral resources subcommittee decided the photo was inappropriate.

Maria Gunnoe of West Virginia had been invited by Lamborn (R-Colo.) and the subcommittee’s chairman — to testify at his hearing (6/1) on the Spruce Coal Mine in her state. It was the fourth time Gunnoe had been in front of the committee and the second time she had been there at the behest of Lamborn.

Gunnoe, a grandmother, said that when she has spoken to the committee previously, she never felt as if members made eye contact, so she decided to bring a photo by a freelance photojournalist of a child taking a bath in dirty water — allegedly polluted by coal mining — to put up on the panels above her head. The child’s face is not identifiable and the parents were in the room when the photo was taken, the Denver Post reported (6/6).

Eben Burnham-Snyder, a Democratic spokesman for the House Natural Resources Committee, said Gunnoe “had a picture that every parent in America has taken. ... Thankfully, most parents in our country don’t have to worry about bathing their kids in polluted water.”

Gunnoe said she has not heard from Capitol Police since the interrogation. A spokeswoman told the *Denver Post* that they “conducted a preliminary investigation. No criminal activity was discovered.”

SUPREME COURT REJECTS ‘BIRTHER’ ARGUMENT AGAIN. The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal challenging President Barack Obama’s US citizenship and his eligibility to serve as commander in chief. Without comment, the high court refused (6/11) to hear an appeal from Alan Keyes and Wiley Drake, who ran against Obama on the American Independent Party, and Markham Robinson, the party’s chairman, after the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals rejected their lawsuit. The Supreme Court has declined to hear appeals of dismissals of at least four other “birther” lawsuits.

OBAMACARE HELPS 14.3M SENIORS WITH PREVENTIVE BENEFITS. Medicare reports that 14.3 mln seniors in America have already received important preventive benefits under President Obama’s health care law. In the first few months of 2012, seniors were able to take advantage of a number of preventative health services, including an annual checkup, without paying any deductibles or co-pays, TheHill.com reported (6/11). “Thanks to the health care law, millions of Americans are getting cancer screenings, mammograms, and other preventive services for free,” said Marilyn Tavenner, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). “These preventive services are helping people in Medicare stay healthy and lower their health care costs.”

HEALTH INSURERS WILL KEEP KEY OBAMACARE PROVISIONS. Three health insurers said they would preserve parts of Obamacare, even if the Supreme Court rules the law unconstitutional. UnitedHealthcare — one of the nation’s largest health insurers —announced (6/11) that it will preserve a provision of the health care law that allows young adults to stay on their family health care plans up to age 26, even if the high court rules the law unconstitutional later this month, the Washington Post reported.

Other measures in the so-called “Patients’ Bill of Rights” that UnitedHealthcare will keep in place include offering preventive health care services without out-of-pocket costs and ending lifetime limits on insurance payouts. Later in the day, Aetna and Humana also said they would keep the popular provisions, Bloomberg News reported.

So far, 6.6 mln young adults between 19 and 26 years old have signed up for insurance coverage through their parents’ policies.

LABOR, ALLIES MOUNT VOTER RIGHTS CAMPAIGN. The AFL-CIO announced a far-reaching, multi-partner campaign to register voters, ensure they can cast their ballots without intimidation and follow through to make sure those votes are counted. At a press conference in Washington, D.C., AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker said (6/12) the campaign represents the union movement’s most aggressive push ever because: “the attacks we are seeing on the right to vote are unprecedented.”

The effort will focus on Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada. Some of those partners appearing with Holt included NAACP President Ben Jealous, National Council of La Raza’s Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro and Generational Alliance’s Carmen Berkley.

The outreach will address such challenges registered voters face as inadequate election administration, lack of access to required photo ID and intimidation and dirty tricks on Election Day. The AFL-CIO website MyVoteMyRight.org offers resources for voters, including state-by-state fact sheets on voting laws and voter registrations rules. The site allows voters to submit their stories online to be gathered as a resource.

MORE HEAT THAN LIGHT IN ‘FAST & FURIOUS’ PROBE. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee threatened to hold Atty. Gen. Eric Holder in contempt for his failure to turn over Department of Justice documents relating to the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking operation, which tried to track 2,000 firearms sold along the Mexican border between 2006 and 2011. One of the guns apparently was used in the 2010 slaying of a Border Patrol agent, which caused the “gunwalking” operation to become public.

Oversight is the committee’s job, but it’s rich to watch Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the committee chair who in his youth was accused of car theft at least three times and arrested twice on weapons charges, pose as the protector of government integrity. In 2003, when Issa was seeking to recall Gov. Gray Davis, he accused the Democrat of felonious administration. In April, Issa called the Obama administration “the most corrupt government in history.”

As Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-Washington) said on MSNBC’s *Ed Show* (6/11), the agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were forced to use the gun-walking techniques because Republican members of Congress who were “bought and paid for by the gun lobby,” refused to fill gaping holes in the gun laws that allowed easy access to guns along the border with Mexico, where “straw purchasers” buy the guns from dealers and then transfer them to the drug dealers.

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2012


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