Audit Notes: Star-Ledger sinks, Strib swims, news revenue quantified

Advance Publications and the Newhouses slash another already-gutted newsroom

The Newhouses brought the ax down yet again on the Star-Ledger today, slashing 167 jobs, including 40 in the paper’s newsroom.

That’s just the latest blow to a paper which had 350 journalists in 2008 and which now has an anemic 116. It’s a catastrophe for news coverage in a notoriously corrupt state, though at least some of Advance Publications’s Jersey reporting has been centralized at Some of these papers are getting to the point where there’s nothing left to save.

You can see the Star-Ledger’s structural problems easily, as well as the mismanagement that has exacerbated them. The paper had 750 employees, but just 20 percent of them were journalists. It had journalists overlapping beats at the paper and and was headed for a $19 million loss in 2014 (perhaps more than its entire newsroom cost).

— Meantime, things are going better at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which has resisted gutting its newsroom and which has implemented a successful digital-subscription program. It’s now being eyed by a local billionaire:

The sale would be a pivotal moment for the media company, which emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 with the challenge of reinventing itself for a digital audience while also keeping its print editions robust. Since then, the company has expanded its readership, stabilized its finances and striven journalistically, winning two Pulitzer Prizes in 2013.

“Right now, I think the Star Tribune has great leadership,” said Dan Sullivan, Cowles Chair of Media Management and Economics at the University of Minnesota. “They’re one of the real success stories in terms of major dailies today”…

Despite ongoing challenges in print advertising, the Star Tribune has been “solidly profitable” in every year since its restructuring, Klingensmith said, characterizing the profits as consistently “in the eight digits.”

The Strib still makes at least $10 million a year, and it’s building a digital business that relies on readers as well as advertisers to make the eventual leap to digital-only. Perhaps the Newhouses should take a field trip to Minneapolis. Just please don’t buy the paper!

— The Pew Research Center reports that news-industry revenue have plunged by one-third since 2006, a loss of about $30 billion in real terms. With the collapse of advertising, reader revenue now comprises 24 percent of journalism revenue across print, broadcast, and online.

There is, however, a twist to those numbers: Even as it has grown as a share of the total pie, in actual dollars, news-related audience revenue is about the same as what it was in 2006. Adjusting for inflation, the 2006 figure is estimated at around $15 billion, just as it is today. But that doesn’t mean it’s been stable all those years.

Newspaper circulation revenue, after five years of decline from 2006-2011, grew 5% in 2012, tied to both print price increases and digital subscription plans. It is expected to stay even or see slightly smaller gains in 2013. In the television news business, retransmission fees, which ultimately benefit cable and broadcast networks and their newsrooms, have been steadily on the rise over the past handful of years as has the typical monthly cable bill.

Pew Research estimates the retransmission money funneled to TV newsrooms has doubled since 2006.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,