In the July 10 issue, North Coast Journal publisher Judy Hodgson published a letter to advertisers, explaining why the Journal will have to raise its rates. Hodgson lamented that fierce competition between the two local dailies, the Eureka Reporterand the Times-Standard, is keeping local newspaper advertising rates artificially low. “Their owners have very deep pockets,” Hodgson wrote, and “they have the resources to subsidize their papers indefinitely.”
This is simply not true. The Times-Standard is owned by Media News Group (MNG), a large newspaper chain based in Denver and helmed by Dean Singleton. MNG is in dire financial condition right now. Last month Standard & Poor’s downgraded MNG’s corporate credit rating to “CCC.” This puts MNG “deep in junk bond territory and four notches above a default rating,” Editor & Publisher, the principal trade journal of the newspaper industry, reported last month. “S&P also asserted that continuing cash flow reductions could push [MNG] into violation of its loan covenants,” the E&P report states.
Singleton is in no position to subsidize the Times-Standard. In fact, the far more realistic scenario is that the Times-Standard is subsidizing Dean Singleton, sending profits generated from the T-S’ successful web venture to Denver. Let’s be on the level. There is only one daily newspaper in Humboldt County that is heavily subsidized by its deep-pocket owner. And it’s not the Times-Standard.
Andrew Bird, Eureka
Judy Hodgson’s letter to advertisers strikes a chord with me, a journalism professor from Utah who takes refuge in the cool, blue air of the North Coast during summers.
Publisher Hodgson notes the strain that the newspaper war between the Times-Standard and the Eureka Reporter has placed on the Journal, and hopes that she does not become collateral damage. I strongly concur: The North Coast Journal fills an important and, I believe, essential niche, and delivers a service that helps make Humboldt County the vibrant place it is.
That said (as a newspaperman and press scholar), I also feel Hodgson’s fear and loathing in the face of market forces and competition. These are dire — and I mean really dangerous — times for the news business. No one’s reading newspapers much anymore, as evidenced by declining circulation and more layoffs at many of the nation’s biggest media companies.
It’s a weird time for newspapers. In just the past week, these items illustrate the flux and uncertainty: a Michigan newspaper is cutting print production to twice weekly in favor of news online 24-7; strong newspapers all over the country are firing staff; USC-Annenberg has canceled its online news product because all its online faculty have bailed (for newspaper jobs?); meanwhile, there’s a new free weekend tabloid in Baltimore, delivered to 315,000 homes; a reader has sued the Charlotte (N.C.) News&Observer for breach of contract because it cut staff and produces a thinner product. Never a dull moment in the news business.
In the early 1990s, I surveyed newspaper people about the future of the industry. Asked if they’d want a son/daughter to go into the newspaper business, one Midwestern newspaper editor said, “No. Being a newspaper reporter is like being a cowboy on a dinosaur ranch.”
As the Times-Standard and Reporter thrash each other — which is good for the reading public, by the way — I hope the North Coast Journal is not collateral Jurassic damage.
Ted Pease, Trinidad