Gannett said to ‘sweeten’ its offer for tronc; Day One of the new Trump-Breitbart era starts with big headlines, very little story

Morning Brief: Australian newspaper company Fairfax Media receives major profile story from the NYT, as chain is rumored to be considering ending printing of weekday editions

Single-source stories, especially ones without any details, are… well, what they are. So, take this with a grain of salt, but The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Gannett has privately upped its bid for the newspapers of tronc, the company formerly known as Tribune Publishing, and the publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and others. Several other news outlets are reporting the same thing, but all referring to the WSJ story. (Even the Chicago Tribune’s story on a possible offer is single-sourced to the WSJ.)

LAT-8-18-16-290Reporting that Gannett might increase their offer to tronc is not surprising, everyone who follows the industry knows that Gannett believes that the industry will be best served by consolidation so that the remaining newspaper chain, or chains, will have enough reach to compete in attracting national advertising. Gannett’s CEO Bob Dickey is one of the few out there who still thinks an ad strategy works for newspapers. So do I, now if only Gannett newspapers and websites weren’t so godawful.

Honestly, there is not much to the story – but it is August, the Olympics are still underway, and what else is there to report on, right?

Don’t expect tronc chairman Michael Ferro to say “Yes” to this offer either. He bought himself some time with a less than disastrous Q2 earnings report, so the pressure to sell is not building, yet. I think he really can’t see himself selling his newspapers until at least after the election, if then.

But eventually, the Los Angeles Times will be a McPaper – whether tronc turns it into that or Gannett is the only question.

Welcome to Day One of the Trump-Breitbart era. An era where a media property officially becomes the media outlet of a campaign.

Breitbart-dayoneAs you can see, Breitbart knows how to drive home a story. That is not three stories it is featuring on its home page, but one with three headlines. And it is not really even a story, just a recounting of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager appearing on the Rachel Maddow Show. In fact, the headlines are longer than the story, which isn’t really a story at all, but two paragraphs of quotes from the show. In other words, all bluster and no substance. Kind of reminds you of someone, right?

(By the way, there is no link to the Breitbart site because they violate a rule at TNM about links to stories that have auto-play video or audio. Breitbart is particularly bad in this regard – but no worse, I suppose, than Gannett’s websites.)

I think this move by Trump may be the most interesting and impactful, but not in the way he may think. The media business is far too competitive to treat a politician-media alliance as anything but a business threat. Whether you are conservative or liberal, suddenly covering and commenting on a politician is against one’s own business interests. One can see that this has already had some effect on the tone coming from some conservative media outlets.

Back to newspapers…

The New York Times has an excellent story this morning on Fairfax Media, the publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. At the heart of the story is the idea that the publisher may be on the verge of ending weekday print editions.

SMH-8-18-16This is what La Presse, the French-Canadian daily in Montreal, decided to do beginning this year. They still produce a weekend edition, but are relying on a tablet edition (and the web, of course) for much of its readership on weekdays.

Of course, La Presse invested in, and committed to its tablet edition long ago. For TNM, this was one very big reason for encouraging tablet editions.

“The prospect has dismayed many Australians who wonder what it means for civic life and what it says about the country’s place in the world,” writes NYT reporters Keith Bradsher and Michelle Innis. “Australians consider themselves a highly informed and highly educated society, despite their geographic isolation. And The Herald and Age, with a history of sending correspondents to far-flung locales like the battlefields of Europe and Southeast Asia, have been central to the discourse.”

The alternative in Australia to Fairfax, the story seems to imply, is Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, and that is not a good thing.

The article mentions that Fairfax did itself no favors by making the fateful decision to separate out digital from print, possibly to spin it off into a separate company. The result was, beyond two staffs, two separate news identities.

“It was viewed that online there was a lot more Paris Hilton than Paris, France, and that to win online you needed to be a tabloid newspaper,” said Mark Scott, a former Fairfax executive who most recently served as chief executive of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “The Herald’s strength had always been its great quality, broadsheet traditions.”

Fairfax abandoned this approach to the web, but it is interesting to read of what the company felt its results were with separate staffs since this was the central question faced by publishers in the late nineties – to integrate the web into the duties of the existing staff or to separate it out.

I am sympathetic to the dilemma as I faced it as a publisher during the nineties and later. At first I believed my editors were quite capable of managing the web, but experience taught me that for every editor enthusiastic about digital, there were far more who had no interest in it, with some absolutely hostile to the web.

My decision was made for me, however, by owners who would not invest in new digital editorial staffs and so the result was websites that were infrequently updated, and blogs that featured infrequent new posts.

Fairfax Media just recently reported earnings and it is a strange mix of shocking numbers and sunny language. The company reported a net loss after tax of $893.5 million, but yet talk of cost reductions and continued dividends seem to give the impression that the financial situation is under control, The NYT piece certainly calls that into question.

Comments are closed.