Not dead yet
The parent company of half of Montana’s daily newspapers is making a huge comeback, at least on the New York Stock Exchange.
For over a year, Lee Enterprises stock has hovered between one and two dollars a share. In the last month it has nearly doubled, closing Friday at $3.22.
Not sure what the explanation is. There has been plenty of cost cutting at Lee but it’s still servicing a lot of debt. I asked media guru Jim Romenesko if he had any insight, and he didn’t, although he provided this link.
Then I stumbled across another link: Executive Chair(wo)man Mary Junck and CFO Ron Mayo promoting Lee to Barklays, the multinational banking and financial institution. Here’s their pitch:
• Digital revenue is on a strong trajectory. • The audiences in our markets are huge across all age groups and platforms. • Our margins and other key performance metrics are the best in the industry. • Resulting in strong cash flow and aggressive deleveraging that we believe drives long-term shareholder value.
(When they say “digital revenue is on a strong projectory,” I assume they mean upward.)
Let’s hope they ply some of the resulting profits into staff, which has been taking the brunt of cutbacks. Lee has papers in Billings, Butte, Hamilton, Helena and Missoula.
In other Lee news
The Missoulian newsroom is getting the stability it deserves. Two hires over the summer, Kathy Best and Gwen Florio, are shaping the new look. Best is a former Seattle Times editor who helped that paper to three Pulitzer Prizes. She is taking the newsroom’s helm. Florio is the new city editor. You may remember her excellent coverage of UM rape cases in 2012. This bodes well for Missoulian readers.
The Billings Gazette is scrapping its online comments. From Gazette Editor Darrell Ehrlick:
What began as a noble experiment in conversation has been mired in name-calling, epithet and trolling. There have been at least four iterations of commenting on The Billings Gazette’s website since it began. Each had a limitation on how much control it could exert. Few commenting strings stayed civil. Most resulted in the electronic equivalent of a bar fight — insults about nothing.
I used to think that people who got their news and information from newspapers were more intelligent, thoughtful and civil. Boy was I wrong. It’s too bad, but having viewed the online comment sections at the Gazette from time-to-time, I can’t really blame the paper for dumping them. We’ll see what other newspapers follow suit.
The Bismarck Tribune, a Lee paper in our neighboring state to the east, is going to charge $50 for political endorsement letters:
The letters will be boxed and identified as paid endorsements. Letter writers will be contacted to provide $50 by credit card.
Now I always thought that’s why a newspaper had and Opinion Page Editor: to sort through the letters, pick and choose, and provide balance to the letters’ page, and to the various political and issue campaigns. I suppose it’s one way to help the Tribune stay in the black. And again, we’ll see what other newspapers follow suit. (Hat tip to Jim Romenesko)
I leave you with this New York Times story on the future of newspapers. The industry is having its ups and downs. And particularly online, this is one of the downs:
… as the ad dollars that have long financed journalism vaporize into the electronic ether, you don’t know with any certainty that the best services that newspapers have provided — holding public officials to account, rooting out corruption — will live on.
If anything, today’s “efficiencies” may even set readers back by pumping out lowest-common-denominator nonsense or, at worst, disinformation.
Just look at what happened last week after that Goliath of the digital transformation, Facebook, pared back the team of “curators” and copy editors who oversaw the selection process for its “Trending Topics” feed. Instead, it gave more control over to an algorithm.
With less meddling from discerning humans, the algorithm promoted a news item about a man engaging sexually with a McChicken Sandwich, and it picked up a false report that Fox News was dropping its star anchor, Megyn Kelly, because she had come out in support of Hillary Clinton. She had done no such thing.
The Facebook program picked up the bogus story and the McChicken item because they were generating copious clicks on the internet — thus, they were “trending.”
They represented worst-case examples of what happens when media companies race to give their readers what’s popular — which is more discernible than ever in an age of ubiquitous data measurement — at the expense of what’s true or informative.