Monday, January 28, 2013

Time to enter the Press Club contest

It's that time of year to submit entries for the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club's annual contest. Here's a link to download the "Call for Entries." The rules are similar to last year. The deadline is March 1. Entries can be uploaded, so contestants don't have to submit paper entries. As in previous years, the entries will be judged by press clubs in other cities. No members of the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club will participate in the judging. The fees are also unchanged -- $15 per entry for members, $55 for non-members, and $30 per entry from the same company with 25 or more entries. To get the membership break, join the Press Club for $35. Here's a membership form. And here's a link to the site for uploading contest entries.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Examiner owner buys SF Weekly

San Francisco Examiner CEO Todd Vogt is buying the SF Weekly from Voice Media (formerly Village Voice Media) for an undisclosed price. Last year, he bought the SF Weekly's arch rival, the Bay Guardian, from Bruce Brugmann.

Here's the news release from Voice Media and a report by SF Appeal. SF Weekly music editor Ian Port tweeted "there will be layoffs here at SFW, in every department, we're told. We'll be interviewing w/ new bosses to see who stays." Early reports say that the three papers — the Weekly, Guardian and Examiner — will continue to have separate editorial content. The terms of the deal haven't been disclosed.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

1 in 9 Patch sites making money, CEO says

The Wall Street Journal reports that AOL CEO Tim Armstrong says that about 100 of the 900 Patch websites are making money. Armstrong said AOL is working to make the entire chain of hyper local websites profitable by the end of the year. The Journal says that AOL has been investing an estimated $160 million annually in the collection of sites, which include several in the Bay Area. Activist investor Starboard Value last year launched a proxy fight for control of AOL, citing perceived shortcomings at the firm including losses for its display-advertising business and "money-losing growth initiatives like Patch."

Monday, January 7, 2013

Chapuis out as KTVU news director

KTVU announced today that Ed Chapuis will step down as news director on Jan. 18 after 10 years in the job. A press release from the station didn't say what he would be doing next. Before KTVU, he was news director at KCRA in Sacramento for five years.

“I am looking forward to some new challenges. These are exciting times for the both broadcasting and the digital industry,” said Chapuis. “Television’s ability to connect with people combined with the explosive growth of content for mobile devices, tablets, and live streaming is creating great opportunities. I am convinced there will always be viewers searching for high quality news and information --- regardless of the device.”

No replacement has been named.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

SF-based Current TV sold to Al Jazeera

Al Gore has sold San Francisco-based Current TV — a national cable network that was only watched by 42,000 viewers a night — to the emir of Qatar’s Al Jazeera Media Network for a reported $500 million.

Al Jazeera said it plans to use Current to launch a news channel based in New York City, with bureaus in Washington, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago. No mention was made of San Francisco and plans for Current’s South of Market headquarters are not yet known, the Chronicle reported.

Current TV never succeeded in drawing an audience. It was available in 60 million U.S. households yet only had 42,000 viewers per night in 2012.

After the sale was announced Monday, Time Warner said it was dropping Current TV from its cable systems serving 12 million viewers, as it had other low-rated channels. Time Warner’s systems include those serving L.A. and New York.

While Current TV’s audience was microscopically small, it gave politicians such as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm nightly programs so they could brush up on their TV skills.

Current TV made headlines twice since it began — for firing Keith Olbermann and when two of its reporters were captured by the North Koreans, and President Clinton had to negotiate their release.

Paper hires more reporters and expands coverage, betting that quality will grow the bottom line

The following story from the AP isn't about a Bay Area newspaper, but it's about a Stanford graduate who is challenging the conventional wisdom in the newspaper industry by spending more on reporting to increase circulation and revenues.
    New and expanded sections to cover business, automobiles and food. A nearly five-fold increase in community news pages and more investigative reporting. Even daily color comics.

    It feels like a throwback to an earlier era at the Orange County Register, where a first-time newspaper owner is defying conventional wisdom by spending heavily to expand the printed edition and playing down digital formats.

    Aaron Kushner added about 75 journalists and, with 25 more coming, will have expanded the newsroom by half since his investment group bought the nation's 20th-largest newspaper by circulation in July.

    Changes also include thicker pages with triple the number of colors to produce razor-sharp photos and graphics. By the end of March, the newspaper will have 40 percent more space than under previous owners, Freedom Communications Inc.

    Kushner, 39, believes people will pay for high-quality news. His bet is remarkable in an industry where newspapers have shrunk their way to profits for years, slashing costs while seeking clicks on often-free websites to attract online advertising.

    As more newspapers begin charging for online access, Kushner's spending spree is drawing close attention.

    "If he's successful, it's going to show the way for other papers to follow," said Walter E. Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and an early advocate of charging readers for online access.

    Seated behind his large, clutter-free desk near shelves stacked with newspapers, the former Stanford University gymnast said his lack of industry experience may be a plus because he hasn't been through the tough times in newspapering.

    "So when we sit down and look at what's possible, our view of the world is different," Kushner said. "We're a little crazy in that we really do believe that we can grow this particular newspaper."

    It's too early to know whether he's right. Kushner said advertising revenues have grown, though he won't say how much.

    Average daily circulation rose 5.3 percent as of Sept. 30 from a year earlier to 285,088 on weekdays and 387,547 on Sundays, bucking an industry decline of 0.2 percent, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.

    One key test will be when the Register begins charging for online access sometime before the end of March. He said readers will pay the same as the print edition — a contrast to publications that charge online subscribers substantially less.

    "If you have a wonderful restaurant and it cost $10 to come in the front door, I've never understood why it should cost anything less to come through a side door," he said.

    "The value of the journalism isn't any less. The reporter isn't paid any less. The photographer isn't paid any less."

    Kushner, who has a master's degree in organizational analysis, founded a business in the 1990s that allowed people to change their addresses online and later owned and managed a greeting-card company for seven years.

    In 2010, he started an investors group, 2100 Trust LLC, to scout for newspapers, flirting with The Boston Globe and later with MaineToday Media Inc., publisher of The Portland Press Herald.

    Tom Bell, president of The Portland Newspaper Guild, said Kushner presented the union with 50 demands, including a longer work week and increases in employee health care contributions.

    "We got off to such a bad start that it was hard to recover," said Bell, who is skeptical of that Kushner's print bet will succeed.

    Kushner settled on Freedom and its 107-year-old flagship paper, the Register, for an undisclosed sum. The newspaper serves affluent, growing, well-educated and ethnically diverse communities near Los Angeles, bolstered by 24 community publications.

    Kushner became Freedom's chief executive and the Register's publisher, working five days a week at the company's Santa Ana headquarters and flying cross-country to his wife and three children in the Boston area.

    Many executives stayed put, including the top editor, Ken Brusic, who joined the Register in 1989.

    The newsroom is nearing 300 employees, including about 40 year-round interns who are paid $10 an hour and provided housing. The new owners eliminated 401(k) matches at the non-union newspaper and have resisted pay raises.

    Like other newspapers, the Register experimented over the last decade as its circulation tumbled 40 percent and the newsroom shrank in half. A tabloid paper featuring snappier stories failed, as did a weekly entertainment publication.

    Reporters got ever-rising numerical targets to generate Web traffic, with constant reminders of how they fared against peers. "It was more like a sales floor than a newsroom," columnist Frank Mickadeit wrote in a recent piece hailing the Register's "reawakening."

    To focus more on the print edition, the Register slashed the number of blogs from around 40 to less than a dozen. It scrapped an iPad application for news, traffic and weather.

    The new owners have introduced a daily page for coverage of a major development, began sending a reporter and photographer to every one of the region's 50 high school football games on Fridays and doubled editorial pages.

    Reporters have been encouraged to dig deeper and expand sources. "It's a new experience for (a publisher) to say, 'Are you sure you have enough investigative reporters? I think you ought to hire more,'" Brusic said.

    The Register's editorial page — once a strong libertarian voice — didn't endorse for president in November. Kushner has contributed to Democrats such as Barack Obama and Joe Biden and moderate Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

    Kushner declined to discuss his political views and said they are separate from his work at the Register.

    He is looking to buy more newspapers, telling Register staff last year that he had a list of 15 that fit his criteria. In an interview, he expressed interest in Tribune Co. newspapers, which include the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun.
Photo credit: Jae C. Hong, AP.