December 17, 2015 Last Updated 9:13 am

2015 Year in Review – Newspapers: Shooting at Charlie Hebdo began a very bad year for the industry

We all miss David Carr, The New York Times media critic, who many wished they could turn to when stories such as that of the mystery buyer of the Review-Journal would break

On Tuesday, TNM looked back at posts published concerning the digital magazine industry. It was an easy post to organize as the focus here has always been on new digital publication apps., and although 2015 was a slow year for great new digital magazines, it was still easy to find more than enough magazines to include. Part two of that post talked about the downside of the business, some of the titles that either went digital-only or were shuttered altogether.

The year in newspapers, however, was excruciating. I cannot think of any year in the newspaper business that looks, upon reflection, as awful as 2015.

My career in newspapers started professionally in 1981, so that is saying something. There have always been layoffs, closures and other nastiness in this business. And though few major newspapers changed hands, enough were bought, spun-off or went into bankruptcy to make it an exceptional year.

The year did not start off well, and throughout 2015 few weeks went by without word of layoffs, sales, closures, spin-offs, and the like.  It was not all doom and gloom, though. The New York Times, for instance, produced earnings reports showing it in the black, and digital audiences continued to grow at many newspapers. But with the exception of the Toronto Star’s new StarTouch digital edition app, very little new digital products to report on in ’15.

Hollande-visit-smOffices of French satirical newspaper attacked by masked gunmen, 12 reported killed: {January 7}

  • The French President François Hollande tweeted a response to the attack today, saying “Aucun acte barbare ne saura jamais éteindre la liberté de la presse. Nous sommes un pays unis qui saura réagir et faire bloc.” (No barbaric act will never extinguish the freedom of the press. We are a united country which will know how to react and will side together.)

david-carr-200NYT’s David Carr dead at 58 – nation’s leading media critic and columnist: {February 13}

  • “David Carr was one of the most gifted journalists who has ever worked at The New York Times,” said Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. “He combined formidable talent as a reporter with acute judgment to become an indispensable guide to modern media. But his friends at The Times and beyond will remember him as a unique human being — full of life and energy, funny, loyal and lovable.”

Owner of NY’s Daily News exploring sale of tabloid: {February 27}

  • “I have not come to this decision easily,” Zuckerman said. “I appreciate that this news is difficult for you to digest. But I want to reassure you that my aim throughout this process will be to do the right thing for the business to ensure the Daily News and its brilliant staff have the best opportunity to achieve all our future ambitions.”

Owner pulls Daily News off market: {August 20}

  • “I have met with several potential interested and well-intentioned suitors during this process. For a variety of reasons, I have decided to withdraw the Daily News from the market and have instructed our financial advisors to inform the suitors.”

OCR-kushnerAaron Kushner abruptly resigns as head of Freedom Comm. – former casino exec takes over as publisher of the OC Register: {March 11}

  • “I’m sure for a year or so, working at the OCR was a blast. I saw the enthusiasm in friends’ Facebook posts. I felt happy for my friends who were already there and for more friends who joined the adventure in key positions. But I felt dread, too.” – Steve Buttry

Freedom Comm. files for bankruptcy protection: {November 2}

  • “We’re turning the page and starting a new chapter,” Mirman said. “We’ve gone through a few rocky years and we need to redefine ourselves.”

Tribune Publishing acquires the San Diego Union-Tribune for $73M in cash and $12M in stock: {May 7}

  • Doug Manchester bought the paper in 2011, using the paper to try – and often fail – to boost his businesses interests. Under Manchester, the name of the paper was changed to the U-T, but Tribune’s announcement returns to calling the paper the Union-Tribune.

Following closing of acquisition, Tribune Publishing lays off 178 at San Diego Union-Tribune: {May 27}

  • “When the two companies announced that they were coming together, we said at the time there were going to be some synergies, and unfortunately for a lot of people today we’re realizing those synergies.”

beutner-200Austin Beutner reportedly pushed out as publisher of LA Times, San Diego Union-Tribune: {September 8}

  • Politico’s Ken Doctor today is reporting that Austin Beutner, who runs the California News Group as publisher of both the Los Angeles Times and the recently acquired San Diego Union-Tribune, will be replaced. Doctor calls it a firing that will be announced as a resignation.

Digital First Media may now sell off assets piecemeal after failing to complete sale to PE firm: {May 14}

  • The sale of Digital First Media to the private equity firm Apollo Global Management has apparently collapsed, likely leading to the company selling off its newspaper properties piece meal, something that probably always made sense. But with the failure to find a buyer, the company’s CEO, John Paton, today announced via Twitter that he leaving DFM to lead IVA Ventures. COO Steve Rossi will now assume the CEO role.

Rusbridger-280Rusbridger ends 20 year run as editor of the Guardian today: {May 29}

  • Rusbridger joined the Guardian as a reporter and later served as features editor. In 1995 Rusbridger was appointed editor by The Scott Trust, the organization that owns the Guardian Media Group, following a vote of the National Union of Journalists members.

She’s back: Rebekah Brooks named Chief Executive Officer at News UK: {September 2}

  • Brooks, when last we heard of her, was being was being cleared of all charges related to the phone hacking scandal in the UK.. Brooks had been chief executive at News during the scandal, and served as editor of the now shuttered News of the World and at the Sun.

La Presse announces weekday print edition of the newspaper will be shuttered January 1: {September 16}

  • Obviously, for anyone covering digital editions, this is big news, and very encouraging. It provides some proof that there if the digital edition is native, if its well done and properly promoted, it can be a success with readers.

StarTouch-iPadFirst look: The Toronto Star’s new iPad edition built using the La Presse+ platform: {October 5}

  • “It’s a unique initiative in an industry undergoing rapid change,” said Ali Rahnema, chief operating officer, digital. “This company-wide effort, which involved hundreds of employees from all departments, is testament to the Star’s continuing commitment to providing industry-leading products that appeal to readers of all ages.”

Postmedia reports $54.1 million loss in Q4 report, decides to shutter evening tablet editions: {October 22}

  • “They’re beautiful products and we’re incredibly proud of how they look, but they didn’t reach a critical mass of audience or advertisers,” Phyllise Gelfand told The Canadian Press.

Inquirer and Daily News to merge newsrooms, layoffs to hit both papers and {October 30}

  • “We are not unique to this economic reality, as evidenced by similar moves in recent weeks by media companies ranging from ESPN, Twitter and multiple newspaper companies.” – PMN Publisher Terry Egger

FT journalists overwhelmingly vote to authorize strike, action delayed for now: {November 20}

  • “FT senior managers have completely lost the trust of their staff including most senior journalists. We will be seeking talks with our new owners and expect a clear commitment to make good any shortfall on our pensions.” – Steve Bird, FT NUJ FoC

LVRJ-front-300New Media sells Las Vegas Review-Journal only months after acquiring property: {December 11}

  • The buyer is supposedly News + Media Capital Group, LLC, a company just formed in a filing in Delaware two months ago… But who is News + Media Capital Group, LLC? No one seems to know, and the only person who has stepped forward to represent the group is not identified by title.

Mystery solved as new owner of Vegas daily comes out: {December 17}

  • The mystery has been solved: billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson does, indeed, now own the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The deal was put together by Adelson’s son-in-law at his behest, keeping him out of the limelight, even if only for a few days.

There are actually far more stories that made my list for possible inclusion in this review. Gannett, for instance, was always in news following the spin-off of its newspapers from broadcast. It had a purge of those over 55 at USA Today, then bought Journal Media, the company created by the merging of newspaper properties owned by Journal Communications and EW Scripps.

There was, in fact, more M&A activity then I can ever remember, even if many of the deals were not blockbusters. New Media Investment Group bought a laundry list of papers, its largest acquisition probably being The Columbus Dispatch (not counting its purchase, then sale of the Las Vegas Review-Journal).

Where does all this lead us going into 2016?

The ultimate fate of Digital First Media’s properties still is to be determined. DFM not only owns The Denver Post, but properties in both Northern and Southern California. I worked for newspaper companies in both locations and wonder what may become of them.

There were other big issues effecting the newspaper trade discussed here, such as paywalls and reader comments, but that will be discussed in the final segment of this year’s Year in Review.

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