The Newspaper Dead Pool — LA Times Publisher Jeffrey Johnson out

Life is hard for pimps as well as publishers and editors in 2006.
Here at SadBastards, we reported the arrogant stand the editor-centric LA Times was making to it’s owners, about no more cuts.

The Tribune Co. forced out Los Angeles Times Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson this morning, a little more than a month after he defied the media conglomerate’s demands for staff cuts that he suggested could damage the newspaper. This was reported today in the LA Times.

Tribune Publishing President Scott C. Smith met with top managers at the newspaper this morning and announced that David Hiller, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, would immediately replace Johnson as chief executive at the 125-year-old newspaper. Hiller is the 12th publisher of The Times.

“After a thorough review, Jeff and I agreed that he should resign at this time,” Smith said in a statement. “We do agree on many priorities to best serve our customers, communities and shareholders. The Times’ has also made great progress on many fronts in the face of intense marketplace challenges. However, this leadership change is necessary because of important differences on how best to shape our future.”

Hiller was expected to ask Times Editor Dean Baquet to stay on the job, despite the editor’s sharp protests against further job cuts by the Chicago-based parent corporation. Friends of Baquet said the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist had not yet decided to remain with the paper.

In an e-mail to The Times staff this morning Hiller said: “I read and love newspapers and have the highest regard for the Los Angeles Times, its great journalism and the special role it plays in Southern California.

“I believe in the future of newspapers as the most trusted source of news and information in the communities we serve. To achieve that future we have to continue to change because our readers, online users and advertising customers continue to change.”

Hiller, a nearly 20-year-long company veteran, has served as publisher of the Chicago Tribune since November 2004. He was previously senior vice president of Tribune Publishing and also served as president of Tribune Interactive.

Los Angeles Times newsrooms staffers, including many who had signed a petition just weeks ago supporting Publisher Jeff Johnson and Editor Dean Baquet’s stand against more budget cuts, greeted yesterday’s announcement of Johnson’s firing with sadness and concern.

Although some were waiting to see what incoming publisher David Hiller of the Chicago Tribune would do, most took Johnson’s forced resignation so shortly after his public stand as a sign that owner Tribune Co. would likely make the cuts that have been in the pipeline.

“The mood is pretty grim, as far as I can see,” said Bill Nottingham, a city and county bureau editor. “None of us know all of the back-and-forth between Jeff and Chicago. If he was removed for taking a stand, that does not bode well for our paper or our industry.”

Henry Weinstein, a 28-year Times reporter, agreed. “Obviously we are very distressed that our publisher has been forced to resign, we think that is a regrettable decision,” he said. “There is nobody here who is happy about this.”

Robert Salladay, who works out of the paper’s Sacramento bureau, said the firing was a clear move by Tribune to flex its muscles. “Most people today see this as a very significant shot across the bow from Tribune Co.,” he said. “It is never good when there is instability at the top. People are hoping this doesn’t lead to 120 people being laid off. I think the quality of the paper would suffer.”

William Rempel, who has spent more than 30 years at the Times, said “resentment runs deep and wide.” He added that the move has increased anger against Tribune Co.: “There is no one in the building who has any confidence in Tribune management to do what is right for our newspaper or for journalism. It is punishment for Jeff for speaking truth to management and doing it publicly.”

Weinstein and other were partially relieved with word that Baquet would stay on, at least for now. “That is good news,” he said. “The big issue is, what are the conditions? Hopefully they did not present him with any intolerable list of cuts that have to be made.”

And some of the LA Times staff have already given a Hiller a nick name, guess what it is…

Shares of newspaper companies headed downward this week after a Deutsche Bank analyst lowered his fourth-quarter and full-year 2007 earnings estimates on many of the companies. Of course, analyst Paul Ginocchio did his homework.

The analyst cut 2007 forecasts on Tribune, New York Times Co., McClatchy, Belo, Lee Enterprises, E.W. Scripps, Washington Post, Gannett and Media General due to weaker-than-expected third-quarter advertising trends. Tribune’s full-year earnings per share estimate fell to $1.99 from $2.01, while the New York Times dropped to $1.36 from $1.46. McClatchy’s estimate slipped to $2.52 from $2.62 and Media General sagged to $2.37 from $2.44. Belo declined to $1.10 from $1.13, Lee fell to $1.91 from $1.95, Scripps shed a penny to $2.40 and the Washington Post slumped to $42.27 from $43.91. Gannett dropped to $4.85 from $4.95 per share.

“The biggest change in ad growth over the next two to three quarters will be real estate and help wanted classified, both of which are showing weakening trends,” Ginocchio said in a Sunday client note. “We maintain our cautious view on newspaper publishers.”
He also reduced fourth-quarter earnings per share estimates on Belo, Gannett Co. and Medial General. Belo declined to 47 cents from 49 cents, Gannett, the best managed, sagged to $1.50 from $1.53 and Medial General declined to $1.33 from $1.35.
Ginocchio said next year could be difficult for the newspaper sector.
“Online will still be greater than 10 percent of ad revenue for most companies, and even if some publishers are successful in implementing a more innovative culture, the impact probably won’t be apparent financially until late 2007 or early 2008,” he said. In real world terms, 10 percent is chump change. There doesn’t appear to be any examples of newspapers able to make the switch.
Shares of Gannet fell 18 cents to $56.65, Lee slipped 36 cents to $24.88 and Media General lost 84 cents to $36.88 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange. McClatchy dropped 64 cents to $41.55, New York Times slumped 43 cents to $22.55 and Scripps declined 36 cents to $47.57 on the Big Board. Tribune dipped 6 cents to $32.66 and the Washington Post fell $4 to $733.

Kristie Landa said goodbye and good riddance in her letter to readers of Gannett’s Reno Gazette-Journal last week. The Reno paper is one of the most profitable in the “scrap yard dog” chain with revenues pouring in from high population growth, new housing, employment and gaming advertising.

Chris Anderson, CEO and president of Freedom Orange County Information, today announced that FOCI will reduce its workforce through a voluntary severance plan.

“Along with almost every other metropolitan newspaper, The Orange County Register has suffered declines in advertising revenues in recent months. Unfortunately, we don’t see a quick turnaround in the loss of this advertising in key categories,” said Anderson. “We are diversifying our product portfolio and showing some growth, but is not enough to overcome the revenue shortfalls. That means we must carefully reduce expenses, and one of the actions we are taking is the voluntary severance plan.”

The Orange County Register’s voluntary severance package is being offered to about a third of the newspaper’s full-time staff of 1,600.

There is no innovation going on, just cuts. What do analysts expect from an medium that delivers biproducts of dead trees to peoples driveways every day?

Which will be the next newspaper to fold? It will most likely be one of the small community papers, so it won’t make big news. But the time has come to set up a dead pool. There is one already for magazines, Google it at magazine death pool.

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