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Ken Doctor is an analyst with a ringside seat at the greatest story ever told about the global media industry. Fully employing more than 35 years of experience across a wide range of media, he’s become a go-to speaker, press source and consultant for legacy and emerging press around the world,... More
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  • The Newsonomics Of The Newspaper Industry As The Republican Party

    First published at Nieman Journalism Lab

    The pictures told much of the story. As the networks beamed in live coverage of Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's gatherings on election nights, their anchors made similar observations - some gingerly, some more prominently.

    The Romney crowd was overwhelmingly white and older. The Obama crowd was mixed in color and younger in age.

    The presidential vote bore out the videography. The numbers picked off the assembly line of news stories have been astoundingly, and properly, reflective of the new state of America (all data via CNN):

    • Among women: +11 Obama, 55-44.
    • Among men: +7 Romney, 52-45.
    • Among Latinos: +44 Obama, 71-27.
    • Among Asian-Americans: +47 Obama, 73-26.
    • Among whites: +20 Romney, 59-39.
    • Among 18-24 year-olds: +24 Obama, 60-36.
    • Among 25-29 year-olds: +22 Obama, 60-38.
    • Among 30-39 year-olds: +13 Obama, 55-42.
    • Among 40-49 year-olds: +2 Romney, 50-48.
    • Among 50-64 year-olds: +5 Romney, 52-47.
    • Among 65 and older: +12 Romney, 56-44.

    Here's the kicker: Of all votes cast for Romney, 88 percent came from white voters. Yet the white vote declined to 72 percent of the total vote, down two points in four years and 11 points in 20 years.

    A Politico headline: "GOP soul-searching: 'Too old, too white, too male?'"

    Around noon Wednesday, I started hearing a voice inside my election-addled head: Where else had I seen numbers like these? Where had I heard that Politico description? Who else was getting a really good market share of a smaller and smaller slice of the population?

    Ah, yes: the newspaper industry.

    In what seems like another lifetime, I co-chaired a Knight-Ridder (b. 1974, d. 2006, rest in peace) task force on young readers. This was in the early '90s, I recall. Yes, all those elusive audiences: "young people" (meaning those under 50), women, ethnic "minorities." The industry has always had problems with those "underserved" groups. For reasons of both business success and doing the right thing, newspaper companies announced effort after effort to do better.

    I'd lost track of how they'd done, in the great washout of digital disruption. I checked in with Scarborough Research, the U.S. newspaper industry's go-to source for readership, both print and digital.

    The Scarborough data paints an unmistakable portrait: When it comes to audience, the American newspaper industry looks a lot like the Republican Party. Consequently, its business reversals parallel the deepening Republican national electoral woes. The newspaper audience looks remarkably like the arithmetic that put Mitt Romney on the losing end Tuesday and is forcing Republicans to self-assess how to move forward. The math is the math.

    We can look at the data in three segments: print audience, digital audience, and combined audience.

    The print audience - the audience that still responsible for 80 percent or more of almost all newspaper companies' revenue - strongly parallels the Romney vote in almost every category: age, ethnicity, and gender. Older, White, and male.

    In the digital audience, there's some across-the-board strength in age, but then strong parallels to the Republican dilemma in gender and ethnicity.

    What we see in the combined audience is that the print usage - still hugely dominant in time spent - overwhelms the digital usage. Consequently, newspapers underperform in age, gender, and ethnicity, when print and digital are added together.

    The following chart displays the print, digital, and combined. I've simplified the data to focus on one number, what Scarborough calls the "index" number. If the index number for the first demographic group on the list, 18- to 20-year-olds, were to be 100, that would mean that newspapers captured their even share of that target population. Yet, the numbers - 72 for print, 91 for digital, and 74 for combined - show that newspapers are underperforming with this age group.

    Here are the newspaper demographics. They are drawn from the wide Scarborough net of research, during the period August 2011 to March 2012. The readership measured here is print and/or digital during a seven-day period. In areas colored red, newspaper companies underperform with these demographic cohorts; in areas that are colored black, they overperform. The red overwhelms the black.

    18 - 20729174
    21 - 24739776
    25 - 297512082
    30 - 347512885
    45 - 49103122106
    50 - 54110110108
    55 - 5911698113
    60 - 6412188114
    65 - 6912571116
    70 or older13531120
    African American958293
    Asian American7913990

    The conclusion: The daily industry is doing okay with older, white people - mildly overperforming in print, digital, and combined.

    Among all other ethnic groups except Asian-Americans - off the charts with high overperformance for online news usage - newspapers are underperforming. They, like Mitt Romney, aren't getting their share of the fastest growing population slices in the U.S.

    That's where the newsonomics of this issue comes in. Milk the older, white, and male readership - as Advance has been accused of doing in New Orleans and elsewhere with its new strategy ("The Newsonomics of Advance's New Orleans' Strategy") - and newspaper companies may stabilize profits in the short term. But fail to come to grips with the changing complexion of America, and revenues - circulation and advertising - will continue to dwindle. In fact, the changing demographics, in addition to digital disruption, help explain the sorry state of newspapering, both print and digital.

    Scarborough's Gary Meo, senior vice president for print and digital services, takes the savvy, long view here. On age, for instance, "If you go back 20 years, you would see similar patterns - as young people got older, got married, and bought homes, and cared about what the school board was doing what the city council was doing, they started becoming news readers.

    "That dynamic has gone away. They grow up in a digital environment. And so when they get married and settle down, they don't buy a paper to do that, to learn about the city council. They have so many other outlets to choose from. That's why the printed newspaper audience is getting older and older. Websites appeal to younger adults, but newspaper websites don't necessarily, given the other choices they have."

    Consequently, says Meo: "Print has been declining. Websites are flat. They grew in the early years and have flattened out. The total audience is going down. When you combine the two, what we call the integrated audience, the online audience cannot make it for the losses in print."

    Newspapers played the old game well, but haven't adjusted to new demographic realities, just like the GOP.

    "The newspaper industry has always done a great job of reaching rich, white, well-educated adults and never really has reached younger ethnic adults. I worked at the L.A. Times and we worked at creating a publication for the Hispanic community for 10 years, and we never succeeded in doing it," Meo says.

    National Journal's editorial director Ron Brownstein well described the winning Obama "minority blueprint" in February. If the vaunted Obama ground game won this election, then we're left to apply that blueprint to the news industry, and ask: What is its ground game going forward? How will it appeal - after decades of efforts that plainly haven't worked - to the New America?

    In brief, I think we can apply three immediate lessons from the Obama campaign:

    The American Society of News Editors, in trying to shine a spotlight on newsroom diversity, has been keeping annual tabs on minority employment. Its April finding: "New ASNE figures show percentage of minorities in newspaper newsrooms continues to decline." Down from a peak of 13.73 percent in 2006, it now stands at 12.32 percent. Census data tells us the equivalent figure for the broader U.S. population is 36.6 percent. Despite many well-intentioned efforts over the years, the people creating the news look less and less like the communities they cover.

    So what kinds of product should newspapers create for audiences that aren't white, affluent, and male? They've tried a host of print products over the years with little ongoing success. We've seen relatively little digital niche innovation, like the Orange County Register's young adult-oriented tablet product The Peel, which ceased publishing with the recent change in ownership there. Of course, there have been numerous Spanish-language products, in cities from L.A. to Dallas to Miami to New York. Publishing veteran Arturo Duran, former CEO of Impremedia Digital and now chief digital officer for Digital First Media, notes how much nuance must be brought to the Latino market.

    "One of the main issues in ethnic media is language. The publications in the original language tail down over time, over 10 to 15 years" as new generations of English-speaking Latinos grow up. Duran makes the point that while entertainment - telenovelas, for instance - continue in Spanish as part of the nature of the product for bilingual audiences, news is different.

    For Latinos who are adopting new technologies, "that adoption comes with English" for news consumption, says Duran. He notes the popularity of anchors like CNN's Soledad O'Brien, who delivers the news in English, but brings a native understanding of her audience to her work. He also points to The Huffington Post's Latino Voices.

    As Duran notes, the Latino market has taken strongly to mobile, so new opportunities abound there; that's where the smartest news companies will concentrate Latino product testing.

    Staffing is one thing and niche product is another. More elusive to pin down is position. Take immigration, for instance. It's a hot topic, on and off, in America. Newspapers cover it, but unfortunately, usually in response to some political bloviation. (One of a number of noteworthy exceptions is Leslie Berestein Rojas' Multi-American blog at KPCC, originally part of NPR's Project Argo ("The Newsonomics of Public Radio's Argonauts"). When immigration does get covered, the coverage is too often about "them." It's a majority-white perspective on "the other." As I wrote last week, about aggressive public-minded journalism, how journalists approach topics will determine their success in this digital age. Readers don't want bias, but they do want truth-seeking. Immigration is such a hot topic because it affects millions of families in the U.S.; to many, it's more of a family issue, than a geopolitical one. News organizations that act with the spirit of that understanding - as they dispassionately work through the complex issues involved with their readers - will be rewarded with readership. The others will continue to fall into irrelevance.

    Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

    Nov 13 2:02 AM | Link | Comment!
  • The New York Times And Mark Thompson: Blow Over Or Blowback?

    First published at, Nov. 12, 2012

    It's not exactly the entrance Mark Thompson had planned for his first day at the Times, but it's an entrance.

    Call it dis-harmonic convergence. In the days leading up to and including his first day on the job, a new news company CEO finds his name well-splashed on its prominent pages, print and digital. Questions, only partially answered, linger in the air. It's quite awkward.

    Mark Thomspon, though, has started. Though I suggested ("For the New York Times' Sake, Mark Thompson Should Step Aside") that the best thing for the Times was for him to step aside before this day, my hope is that the Thompson leadership works out well for the company. Why? These days, all quality journalism is imperiled. We need the Times to succeed, and Arthur Sulzberger believes Thompson's global-reaching, digital-transforming smarts are what the company needs in the post-Janet Robinson era.

    We'll see how much he can focus on that task, as the meltdown at the BBC gets gooier and gooier. Its news editor and her deputy were effectively suspended ("stepping aside," themselves) over the weekend, following the forced departure of Director General George Entwistle, Thompson's successor. The scandal rolled through the weekend and picked up steam in Britain today. In its wake, and in light of Thompson's first day, it's worth pulling apart some of the issues involved, especially as they do or don't relate to Mark Thompson. Let's try it as a Q and A.

    What is Mark Thompson accused of?

    The range of accusation so far ranges from "incurious" to "willfully ignorant." Given that the original scandal here - the Jimmy Savile child abuse mainly happened in the '70s, there is certainly no hint that Thompson knew of the actual, alleged crimes, anytime close to their occurrence. Or, is there an accusation of an intentional cover-up of them by him or his management. In fact, Thompson, by most accounts, is a quite decent fellow.

    What is at question is how, as chief executive (the Director General of the BBC) for eight years, he dealt with the revelation of those crimes, and of why his own 60-Minutes-like program, NewsNight, scuttled its own story into the Savile story - just weeks before the BBC ran three tributes to longtime icon Savile, upon his October, 2011 death (Good BBC timeline of the affair, here.)

    Here, our best evidence comes directly from the New York Times itself. Investigative editor Matt Purdy, dispatched to London by the Times, wrote the (so far) definitive story on Nov. 4. Entitled, "As Scandal Flared, BBC's Leaders Missed Red Flags," the piece outlines Thompson's, at best, incuriousness. The definitive passage from Purdy's story:

    Mr. Thompson has said he knew nothing of the Savile investigation before it was canceled by the editor of the BBC's "Newsnight" program. As for what he knew afterward, his statements have evolved: He first said he was unaware of the investigation, but then acknowledged he was subsequently told of its cancellation by a reporter at a cocktail party. He said while he "may have formed an impression" about possible areas of a Savile investigation, including his charity work, he was unaware of child-sexual-abuse accusations.

    Interviews with former BBC executives and officials here in London show that in the months after the investigation was canceled, Mr. Thompson and his top executives repeatedly missed opportunities to pursue a fuller picture of the "Newsnight" reporting, the fate of the program and, perhaps, of Mr. Savile.

    In the two months after the inquiry's cancellation, seven reports appeared in the British press about the scuttled investigation and the accusations against the longhaired, cigar-chomping Mr. Savile, who died last year at age 84. The headline in The Daily Mail Online read: "BBC axes exposé into Jimmy Savile teen sex allegations."

    According to former executives, at least some of those articles were part of a packet of press clippings sent each morning to the network's top executives. Mr. Thompson's daily 9:15 a.m. conference call with his top executives often included discussions from the clippings file.

    Whether through a series of near misses or a more deliberate avoidance, the executives failed to confront questions about Mr. Savile and the possibility that, in decades past, the BBC was somehow complicit in his behavior."

    When Purdy asked Thompson why, given all the other press attention, he didn't question NewsNight's cancellation of its own investigation, this is how he responded:

    "…But after he learned of the scuttled investigation late last December, he said he raised it with his news chiefs, who told him that the editor of "Newsnight" stopped it for journalistic reasons. "I wasn't told any specific lines of inquiry and certainly not anything related to the BBC," he said, adding that amid the flood of business, he was willing to be assured there was nothing to worry about.

    "It didn't occur to me that there was a contemporary corporate interest to defend," Mr. Thompson said. "You can say it's a lack of imagination." But he pointed out that Mr. Savile's heyday was decades ago - he retired in the mid-1990s - and that his association with him was watching him on television as a child."

    Purdy's pieces lays out other missed chances at knowledge and action, and offers one of the increasingly popular explanations: "the ritualized BBC bureaucracy."

    The payoff quote comes from a Tory MP, Damian Collins, who sums up a view from outside the BBC bureaucracy:

    "Would not a program being made by one of the BBC's flagship news programs bringing forth very serious criminal allegations about someone who was an icon for children in this country, created as an icon by the BBC for very vulnerable people as a result of his celebrated BBC status, would the creation of a program like that or even the preparation for broadcast of a program like that not routinely have gone to the editor in chief? [Thompson]"…."If this [ doesn't qualify, you wonder what the bar is."

    Sum it up, and Thompson's performance in the Savile affair is judged at best to be less than competent. To be clear, though, there is a mushrooming quality to this scandal. There is no indication of conspiracy, but rather gross incompetence within BBC management overall, a management assembled and/or perpetuated by Thompson. That's hardly the resume that Arthur Sulzberger thought he was buying. Though assuaged by Purdy's report to proceed with Thompson, Sulzberger clearly read it as a sufficiently clean bill of health. Some of us read it differently.

    How big a mushroom cloud may erupt?

    The biggest only partially answered question here is exactly why the NewsNight story on Savile was killed. Producer Meirion Jones warned his NewsNight editor Peter Rippon that if the story didn't proceed, NewsNight - and the BBC overall - would be accused of cover-up. Rippon has since resigned. Let's remember the BBC is paid for largely by the taxpayers in Britain. About £3.6 billion, or $5.7 billion, of which is generated by TV license tax of viewers of £145.50 ($230) a year.

    Feeding the cloud anew has been latest, post-Thompson mistake. NewsNight, the program that failed to get to the bottom of the Savile affair, wrongly identified a retired member of Parliament as a child abuser - without ever showing a photo of the man to the person who had named him as the guilty party. Is it fair to associate this "McAlpine affair" with the Savile affair? Certainly the thread is the BBC's unbelievable mismanagement. One way or another, the new issue reinforces the notion that the BBC is a news organization poorly structured for accurate investigative journalism.

    The BBC may seem to be a public trust, but it's also a political football. At present, there are two formal inquiries. Given the mushroom effect, expect more and deeper questioning. Among those who will be called to testify: Mark Thompson.

    Since Thompson is only in charge of the business side of the New York Times, what's the big deal?

    Emily Bell, Guardian alum and now director of Columbia University's Tow Center, has posed this question. Her Sunday CJR column well lays out the BBC's current scandal in light of past ones, ones that Thompson gets credit for cleaning up in his eight-year-tenure, and says: "One comforting note for the highly anxious editorial floor at the NYT is that Thompson has nothing to do with the editorial management of the paper."

    Yes, editor Jill Abramson reports directly to Arthur Sulzberger. How does it look, though, to the outside-the-newsroom world to have a new CEO mucked up in British scandal? Why put the Times and Timesmen and Timeswomen in that position? No one is suggesting that Thompson will mess with the Times' journalism, but he's still CEO - and the now very public face - of a company still fighting (a meager $8.5 million in third quarter operating income) for its very survival.

    Let's look at it through another prism.

    Let's say a New York Times employee had abused and raped underage children, some within the Times' own building. Let's say various reports on that criminality had percolated through the building. Let's say a Times investigative team had, years later, focused on the story, and then dropped it, without clear explanation, as the company proceeded to fete the soon-to-be accused. Let's say word of the crimes circulated in the rival press.

    Would we say that the Times CEO on that watch would escape blameless? I doubt it, especially in the post-Jerry Sandusky era.

    For the Times, this is a case of borrowed trouble, in the most basic sense.

    Where does this scandal fit, with, say, Hackgate?

    Two completely differently things, right? Well, someone can deconstruct that proposition at length, but let's consider what most of the public will hear:

    • Children abused (and how does Jimmy Savile's alleged 300 victims compare to the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone?)
    • Tawdry British media, with lots of forced resignations
    • Executive deniability (Thompson's explanation that he missed red flags sadly sounds too much like James Murdoch's, when he appeared before Parliament.)
    • Suspicions of cover-up

    Is the conflating of Hackgate and this BBC scandal fair? We'll see. Let's be clear though. This one will quickly push Hackgate to the background. So, instead of the New York Times playing the white knight, aiding the Guardian in its disclosure of Hackgate, it now gets sucked into the scandal of the day, and may appear somehow involved, given Thompson now heading the company. Mark that fair or unfair, but it will be a reality.

    The wind in this scandal's sails is only getting stronger. Arthur Sulzberger has calculated that it will blow over. For the Times' sake, let's hope that's true and that the blowback from Britain's explosion of scandal doesn't push the Times' off its corrected course (digital circulation to the rescue), just as it is finding a new route to sustainability.

    Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

    Nov 13 1:57 AM | Link | Comment!
  • For New York Times' Sake, Mark Thompson Should Step Aside

    First published Nov. 10, 2012 at

    Scandals are the order of the day, from David Petraeus' emergency resignation this week to the implosion of BBC leadership, as its new Director-General George Entwistle announces his own hurried departure today. Now, in the U.S., attention turns directly to Mark Thompson. Thompson - Entwistle's predecessor and the leader of the BBC for eight years until he announced his departure in March - is supposed to enjoy his first day as CEO of the New York Times Company Monday.

    Arthur Sulzberger has so far given a vote of confidence to his long-awaited pick to succeed Janet Robinson Yet, at this moment, there has to be much hand-wringing among Sulzberger and those closest to him. Within the next 36 hours, he must make a new decision. Go forward with the person he's long sought to double down on the Times' global, digital strategy push ("The Newsonomics of the New York Times' Expanding Global Strategy") or decide that the potential cost to the institution of the Times makes it impossible to give Thompson a key to his new office.

    I expect the latter. It's a hugely difficult decision. Yet, the global value of the Times' brand and its trustworthiness must trump any one person's job or future.

    We have heard these two inevitable son-of-Watergate questions: "What did he know?" and "when did he know it?" Those are always good to trot out, but as chief executive, Thompson's bears responsibility for wrongdoing at the BBC one way or the other.

    Thompson certainly built a good record for diligently investigating BBC misdoings during his watch. In addition, at present, there are no smoking guns to show willful cover-up, though there is ample evidence that Thompson missed a number of opportunities to right his institution, as the long, tortured history of Jimmy Savile child abuse allegations and the knowledge that the BBC had scuttled its own NewsNight investigation into the affair have both surfaced.

    Now, especially with Entwistle's resignation, we can expect the inquiries (there are two, with more in the wings) into what went wrong to expand. The formal inquiries and the less-formal ones in the re-vivified London press (Murdoch's The Sun: "Bye Bye Chump, Clueless Boss Entwistle Resigns Over Newsnight 'Paedo' Show") will form, ironically, a part two to the ongoing Hackgate scandal.

    Different in tone and depth, perhaps, we can expect a great conflation: British media is rotten, and the politicians will have to get to the bottom of it. Beyond sensational and sussing out real wrong-doing, illegal or otherwise, there are big business interests at stake here. The BBC, dominating the UK news landscape in ways that are unknown in the U.S., has been a political pinata for many years; Thompson spent much of his tenure maneuvering to retain BBC funding and role. It was competitor ITV that broke the Savile story. Now, the BBC's for-profit competitors and many critics smell fresh blood. Calls to better regulate, rein it and break out the BBC will be strong well into 2013, at a minimum.

    The UK story will be quite watchable, as Hackgate has been.

    For the Times, though, it's not a foreign scandal. It's a scandal, like Superstorm Sandy, that will arrive on its doorstep Monday morning.

    Today, Mark Thompson isn't the head of the Times. Today, the Times has the ability to sidestep the storm. Today, the Times has the ability to move forward, building on what's been a very good 2012. Yet, the only way to do that is for Mark Thompson to announce that despite his full confidence that he will be cleared of any wrongdoing, the inevitable public questioning of his role - in Parliament and beyond - makes it impossible for him to proceed with his new post.

    If Arthur Sulzberger and Mark Thompson don't get this right, here are the consequences:

    • The New York Times' positive 2012 story gets buried. It not only has built a successful All-Access/digital circulation business, but it's model - 10-article meter, open to social and search, smart packaging of the Sunday print product and digital access - is the one that is now being copied around the world. Its election-year journalism - in the news pages, in Opinion and with the newly knighted Nate Silver - has reinforced its role as a leading global news source. (Ironically, that gain, over time, will come at, in part, the expense of the BBC.) Its new international footprint, first China and next year, Brazil, is making its global claim real. Why mess with all that incipient success, as Thompson - not the Times' emerging digital business model or its journalism - becomes the story. For Sulzberger today, the big question: Why snatch defeat from the jaws of too-soon-to-celebrate victory?
    • The Times becomes part of the media mess. As News Corp's Hackgate unfolded, the nature of the Times/Wall Street Journal competition changed. Sure, Rupert Murdoch continued to put new resources into the Journal, and, sure, the Journal's journalism remained top-notch. When publisher Les Hinton, though, was forced to resign given his association with the tainted UK properties, suspicion sapped the Journal's competitive edge. Through the scandal, the Times could play the white knight, above reproach. It could differentiate itself from News Corp papers, all unfairly or not, touched by Hackgate. Now, if Thompson moves into the CEO job, you can almost hear the Murdochian chortles, as the Times is pulled into the mud of "they all do it."
    • The light between a New York Times CEO and a News International CEO disappears. What is Thompson's main defense?: There may have been reports or messages of one kind or another noting the brewing scandal, but I was too busy to read everything. That sounds too much like James Murdoch's Hackgate defense when confronted with pointed emails alerting him to the depth of the crisis. Again, it doesn't matter whether the issues of scandal themselves can be equated or whether the willfulness of deniability are of the same scale. What matters is that it's easy to paint Thompson with the same brush.

    The Thompson pick was a gutsy one. A Brit. A broadcaster. A breath of non-traditional Times air. It may well have been an inspired choice. Now, though, the world has forced a new choice on the Times. Leadership must now rise to that difficult occasion, just as its staff has.

    Times journalists know they must be above reproach. The editors already deserves credit for allowing long-time business and now Op-Ed columnist Joe Nocera to ask forthrightly, "[Is Mark Thompson] The Right Man for the Job?" just 10 days ago. Public Editor Margaret Sullivan has publicly exhorted the Times' to stay "aggressively" on the story. Today, it's been on top of the Entwistle story, with Thompson's name and role noted. Good journalists make sure that the coverage of their own company is forthright, and pulls no punches. That's a journalistic convention we've seen sorely tested by the industry's decade of chaos, but one we expect that the Times will continue to proudly embrace.

    Now, it's up to Arthur Sulzberger to do what his newsroom has done: Face the facts, and then follow them to a decision that is seeming increasingly inevitable.

    Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

    Nov 13 1:54 AM | Link | Comment!
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