Archive for the ‘The News & Observer’ Category

McClatchy offers papers on Kindle

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

McClatchy is offering abridged, advertising-free digital versions of five newspapers – including The News & Observer  and the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina – on the Kindle reader.

The Kindle service is a product of Amazon and offers about 50 periodicals (including The Erotic Picture Blog). Kindle newspapers are free for a two-week trial, and then McClatchy’s papers will be $6.99 a month, according to Editor & Publisher.

The Kindle Edition of The News & Observer contains articles found in the print and online edition, but will not include some images and tables,” the Amazon description says. “Also, some features such as the crossword puzzle, box scores and classifieds are not currently available.

“For your convenience, issues are automatically delivered wirelessly to your Kindle starting at 7:30 a.m. Raleigh local time.” The paper edition shows up at most subscribing homes about 3:30 a.m.

Also available are The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram in Texas, and the Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News. The Kansas City Star, The Miami Herald and others are to be available soon, E&P says.

McClatchy announced the new service on its Facebook page, according to E&P. There’s an “N&O on Kindle” link to Amazon at the top of The N&O’s homepage.

The N&O ranked No. 2,982 in the Kindle Store Monday morning.

N&O’s Living in Style breathes its last

Monday, November 16th, 2009

livinginstyleWake County subscribers to The News & Observer last Friday received  the final issue of Living in Style magazine, a bi-monthly published by the newspaper since 2006. Jim McClure, vice president for display advertising, told his staff in an e-mail this morning that, “Given our focus on Print & Deliver [a preprint insert program] and Yahoo sales, and taking into account the staffing changes that have recently taken place … [and] in light of the economic pressures on our building and home furnishings customers” the company will discontinue publication of the magazine.

All but one of Living in Style’s staff members left the company through layoffs and buyouts this year, and the publication itself, which once had a circulation of 87,000 per issue, has dwindled from a high of 92 pages in May/June 2007 to 32 in the past week’s November/December issue.

Living in Style was a huge undertaking by The N&O’s Display Advertising Department, setting out to publish a lifestyle magazine that would capture revenue being lost to other glossies produced in the Triangle. It was headed by the local advertising manager, and staffed by a single writer/copy editor – the author of this blog – in addition to a creative manager, design staff and ad sales representatives. Freelancers were enlisted for photography and additional coverage; staff members eventually took over most photography duties.

Each issue presented a cover feature about a large home, a food feature with recipes, seasonal fashion, a gardening feature, a trio of first-person artist profiles, a books column, a short travel article and a lengthy events calendar. When page count allowed, additional features focused on consumer technology and general home/décor topics. It pursued stories from across the state in addition to the Triangle, and was well-received from the start.

After two issues in 2006, the four planned for 2007 became six as the contribution that additional issues would make to all-important fourth-quarter revenues became apparent.

By 2008, the company had established the Niche Publications Division, with Living in Style on a bi-monthly schedule; a quarterly called About Downtown Raleigh published in cooperation with the Downtown Raleigh Association; skirt! Magazine, the local franchise of an established women’s monthly based in Charleston, South Carolina; and a local semi-annual edition of Carolina Bride, which had for years been published by The Charlotte Observer, a sister newspaper.

A talented young journalist was hired to write and edit skirt! and Carolina Bride, and the new division had three dedicated sales reps, a creative/design staff of three and an administrative aide, in addition to Living in Style’s writer/editor and the ad manager now dubbed the director of niche publications and new business development (with a mandate to develop a fifth publication by year’s end). Later in the year, a veteran newspaper editor was brought in under the director as publisher, bringing the staff to 11.

The parent McClatchy Company proclaimed that it was looking toward its newspapers’ niche publications as a reliable and growing revenue source, and N&O Publisher Orage Quarles III backed that sentiment at a company gathering and in a newspaper ad. But consensus among the advertising department was that department management didn’t support Living in Style, seeing it as simply one more product among nearly a dozen with sales goals to be met. Meanwhile, advertising department staff openly opined that Living in Style should be written by a woman instead of the 40-something man assigned to the job.

When the economy turned in late 2008, the fortunes of The N&O and its Niche Publications Division quickly followed. About Downtown Raleigh, which had never caught on, had become an insert in Living in Style and was discontinued at year’s end. Carolina Bride could not compete successfully with established local bridal magazines, and the Winter 2009 edition was its last. One of the division’s three sales reps and its administrative aide were reassigned. In April 2009, the skirt! editor and the creative manager were laid off (the latter after 18 years with the company), and the division’s publisher became the skirt! editor. The two sales reps were told that one had to take a buyout, and the second resigned rather than live with a pressure-packed situation, leaving all sales to the department at large. Living in Style’s distribution was cut to 57,000 as an additional cost-savings measure.

Some 90 days later, I was laid off, as was the skirt! editor/publisher and one of the two remaining designers. The division director, who over the course of the previous year was also assigned to direct Classified Advertising, was re-assigned as a territory ad manager, and the remaining publication designer was transferred to the artists’ pool for the newly merged (Display, Classified and Online) advertising department.

The layoff orders came from the vice president(s) in charge of the advertising department(s) with no consultation with those below them. The niche publications director said in April that “there is no plan” moving forward. She also said at the time that Living in Style was “making good money for this company.” In August, she said she didn’t know how they’d continue to publish nor for certain that she was still in charge of magazines.

It was understood that Living in Style wasn’t making revenue goals and, as the economy sank, advertising dwindled steadily. The 32-page June/July 2009 issue just managed to cover its costs when a full-page ad came through at the last minute. Managers quickly decided to cancel the August/September and October/November issues and pin hopes on a year-end issue bolstered by holiday advertising. It proved a futile expectation as the company moved forward with additional buyouts in November. This round fell most heavily on advertising staff, including the niche publications director, Living in Style’s last advocate.

Living is Style was a lightweight publication, by design providing “fluff,” as the division director put it. But it was written and designed well, and not entirely without useful information. Despite the “advertising supplement” tag that publications of the advertising department must carry, it was not advertorial, as many assumed. (The final issue, produced without a writing staff, carried advertorial for its back-page travel feature and in an article by the president of the Raleigh Regional Association of Realtors – who quotes himself in the story!) It also benefited from distribution inside home-delivered copies of The N&O, as opposed to other local magazines that sit in stores and may or may not go any farther. This was supposed to make the publication more attractive to advertisers.

The magazine was hurt by a poor online presence, in which images of pages were reproduced instead of a true Web site. The division director, in response to my suggestion that Living in Style needed a stronger online presence, replied that “by definition” Niche Publications were print. “We’re doomed,” I thought to myself. The head of the N&O’s online division, in response to the same suggestion, said it had “been decided” that the page-image setup was “good enough.” The good-enough setup went through at least three different vendors. The last was more user-friendly than the earlier ones, but only the first provided functioning links for URLs printed in the magazine. (I always enjoyed giving people the www.livinginstylenc.com address and telling them to be sure to remember the “nc,” because www.livinginstyle.com goes to a much different magazine.)

Skirt! magazine’s local edition (which has had a strong online presence through its parent firm and its editors’ efforts) lives on under the direction of The N&O’s head of community papers and features, at least in part because The N&O signed a 10-year contract to publish it.

N&O circulation drop outstrips national trend

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

The News & Observer is reporting a decline in daily circulation over the past six months that exceeds the national average.

The Raleigh paper’s Monday-through-Friday circulation dropped 11.8 percent to 139,826 over six months through September, from 158,575 for the same period in 2008. Sunday circulation dropped 6.2 percent to 193,010 from 205,662 in 2008.

Audit Bureau of Circulations figures released Monday show that average daily circulation nationwide dropped 10.6 percent in the April-September period from the same six-month span in 2008. Sunday circulation fell 7.5 percent.

N&O Publisher Orage Quarles III said in an e-mail to employees Monday that he “hopes you will see [the figures] in a realistic, rather than pessimistic, light.”

Quarles says that, as a cost-cutting measure, the company has devoted less of an effort to circulation sales and has increased prices. They have also eliminated many third-party sales of the paper and Newspaper in Education print copies.  Third-party papers are bought by an advertiser, homeowners group, or an event group and re-distributed.

Other circulation, NIE and third party were down 26 percent daily and 29 percent Sunday for the reporting period, Quarles wrote.

“Sunday paid circulation among home-delivery subscribers, a key measure watched closely by our advertisers, remains strong. In fact, Scarborough Research shows that The N&O has more Sunday readers than ever in the four-county Greater Triangle, and that readership is more affluent than ever,” Quarles’ memo continues.

“Our interactive traffic, which is combined with our paid circulation to achieve a net combined audience number, remained strong, with 2.3 million unique visitors and 14 million page views – an increase over the previous six months.

“I realize that these numbers are not encouraging, but I hope the information I have shared will help you see them in context. And please do not forget that we are the leading source of news and information to the Triangle and beyond, and we continue to offer effective and innovative marketing solutions to our advertisers.”

In the N&O’s article about the figures, Jim Puryear, vice president of circulation, also says the new e-edition of the paper, an online reproduction of the printed paper’s pages that launched in July, has 700 daily subscribers and 300 Sunday subscribers.

Follow the hearing – if you can find it

Monday, October 26th, 2009

The News & Observer, which has done great work exposing what looks like corruption in the Easley administration, promises live video of the Board of Elections hearings into the matter, starting today. But, see if you can find it from the info box on newsobserver.com copied about 10:30 a.m. Monday below:

“The Board of Elections hearing involving former Gov. Mike Easley starts today and could last all week. We’ll have all the coverage you need at newsobserver .com and in our daily print editions:

Video: Live video streaming at newsobserver.com.

Online: Regular updates on our home page and more coverage at our new Investigations blog at blogs.newsobserver.com/investigations, where you can also catch up on our coverage of Easley. You’ll find additional news at projects.newsobserver.com/dome.

Print: Deep reports on each day’s events from J. Andrew Curliss and Dan Kane, plus columns from Rob Christensen.”

The first question you might ask yourself is “When does the  hearing start?” Or, perhaps you’d just click on the link at “Video,” figuring that will set you up. But, it only goes to the homepage.

We saw a note on one of WTVD’s digital channels that said their coverage starts at 5 p.m., which seemed odd, so we went to the Election Board’s Web site, where we found the board’s notice that says the hearing starts at 11 a.m.

Update: a large “Breaking News” block with a link to The N&O’s live video stream was posted to the top of newsobserver.com’s home page at 10:46 a.m. Monday.

At The N&O, everyone’s in sales

Monday, October 19th, 2009

“We’re all in sales” is what advertising managers at The News & Observer used to tell those of us in the Advertising Department who, actually, weren’t in sales. But, the paper has since drafted employees companywide to sell subscriptions to The N&O, and at least one reporter has responded by cutting his price and advertising in the newspaper, as well as on Craigslist and Facebook.

Matt Ehlers is kicking back half of his commission to offer a one-year subscription to the daily and Sunday newspaper for $75 — $25 less than the price specified in the memo announcing the contest.  Employees get $50 for every new subscription they sell (renewals aren’t part of the contest).

Ehlers’ Sunday newspaper ad of about a dozen words (which cost him $18.27 to run once) points out the savings of $120 off the regular price for a full subscription. His Craigslist ad explains that he’s a reporter with the paper and includes a sales pitch: “Think about it: more ACC football and basketball news than you can handle, with state government coverage and crime news mixed in with features, comics and culture stories you won’t find anywhere else. The News & Observer broke open the Easley scandal, and we’re not letting up. Don’t you want to know what happens next?”

“I thought a $50 commission on a $100 sale was pretty generous, and figured splitting it with the customer might entice more people to sign up,” Ehlers said in a e-mail.  “A $75 subscription comes out to about 20 cents per day. We all work really hard around here, and I think the paper is a tremendous value. I want more people to read us.”

Scott Wotring, sales and marketing coordinator in The N&O’s Circulation Department, also has an  ad on Craigslist — but not in his newspaper —  that explains that the sale price is part of an employee contest. He presents three-month subscription prices under the headline “Cheap News & Observer Subscriptions! – $20” and gives the URL for signing up online.

Ehlers said he’s seen flyers advertising subscription sales at a lunch spot actross the street from The N&O’s downtown offices that had the employee’s number on them to ensure they got credit for the sale.

“I’ve gotten some nibbles, but haven’t yet made any sales,” Ehlers said. “This is my first attempt at selling newspapers at any of my reporting jobs (over more than 12 years).”

Wotring said in an e-mail to employees last week that 55 subscriptions had been sold in the first two weeks of the contest, which runs through November 23.

Tribune papers to adopt narrow format

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Tribune Co., publishers of The (Baltimore) Sun, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Hartford (Conn.) Courant and six other daily newspapers, is moving to a 44-inch web for all of its papers over the next several months, according to News & Technology.

The News & Observer in Raleigh made the switch to the narrow format in August, changing from a 48-inch web.

The Sun is already smaller, and other Tribune papers will follow suit, with some shaving two inches from their web while the flagship Tribune and L.A. Times move from 48 inches to the slimmer profile.

The smaller size saves money on newsprint, one of newspapers’ biggest expenses.

N&O offers more buyouts

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Employees at The News & Observer heard this morning of “a voluntary reduction program for several areas of our operation” affecting an unspecified number of employees. Employees in positions that “may not need to be replaced if vacated, or where work can be consolidated, reorganized or streamlined” are to receive buyout packets later today, according to an e-mailed message from Publisher Orage Quarles III.

Affected employees will have until 5 p.m. October 27 to decide whether to accept the offer, and will work through November 6 if accepted.

Among positions with multiple incumbents are copy editors, designers and photographers in the newsroom, and advertising managers and account executives (sales reps) in the Advertising Department.

Not counting outsourcing moves affecting ad designers, transportation and customer service, this is the fifth round of buyouts or layoffs at The N&O, sixth counting a few people let go from the recycling plant. In the past, if too few accepted buyouts to meet the necessary cost reductions, layoffs followed.

“As you know, we have implemented a number of cost-control and reorganization measures including reducing our workforce, implementing a wage freeze and managing down vacation liabilities,” Quarles says. “Unfortunately, despite our progress, there is continued softness in our classified ‘Big 3’ categories. While it does not appear that revenue is getting worse, we still are falling short of our projections. As a result, we must now look for additional expense reductions.”

In addition to softness in advertising revenue, The McClatchy Company, The N&O’s owner, is laboring uder a debt of about $2 billion from its purchase of Knight Ridder in 2006.  This week the company announced seven layoffs at its Modesto Bee and “organizational changes” at its Sacramento Bee, according to the McClatchy Watch blog.

Update: Buyout offers in the newsroom are going to mid-level section editors and reporters, and do not include copy editors or designers. In Advertising, managers, sales representatives and the Creative Services team (senior designers) received packages.

N&O’s new site easy once they show you how

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

The News & Observer’s newly designed Web site debuts today, with the paper and the site itself touting it as easier to use. Yet, as a friend said, “It was a bit puzzling to see that The N&O had to include a video to explain to readers that the new Web site was much more reader-friendly.”

The redesign includes “one cool feature,” an index tab (at upper right); the ability to customize the categories of news that show up in the news grid on the lower half of the page; revolving “featured stories” at the top of the home page; and additional navigation tabs.

Wednesday morning, the home page also featured a lot of empty space.

Community newspapers faring better

Monday, September 21st, 2009

A new survey backs up the notion that “local” is better – half as bad, actually – for newspaper revenue.

Figures from Suburban Newspapers of America say that ad revenue at community newspapers dropped 12.4 percent in the second quarter of 2009 year-over-year, according to Editor & Publisher. The Newspaper Association of America says newspaper ad revenue in general fell 29 percent in the same quarter.

The SNA survey included 32 community newspaper organizations totaling 12.5 million in circulation.

As we’ve noted recently, The News & Observer has adopted community newspapers as an efficient vehicle for delivering ad inserts and, in addition to The N&O, currently publishes nine weekly or semi-weekly papers in the Triangle.

McClatchy stock listing survives

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

The McClatchy Co., owner of The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and 28 other daily newspapers, has escaped a de-listing threat from the New York Stock Exchange, the firm reports.

The NYSE said in February that the publisher’s stock must maintain an average value of at least $1 for 30 days before January 7  or it would be taken off of the board. McClatchy said in a news release Friday that it has met compliance standards.

McClatchy stock, which had reached a high of $74.50 in April 2005 before missing an earnings call and beginning to tumble, fell to a low of 44 cents in July. Through layoffs and other expense cuts, the firm posted a profit for the second quarter of 2009 and the stock jumped as high as $2.29 a share in July. So far this month, it has bounced between $1.99 and $1.71 per share.