Sunday, May 27, 2012

Newspapers clinging to life in digital era

Not many people know that I actually investigated purchase of The Times-Reporter shortly after Copley Press put it and the remainder of its Ohio and Illinois properties up for sale in 2006.

During a meeting that I and a friend with vast knowledge of such things and who was kind enough to serve as a consultant had with a local commercial banker it became obvious that the process was beyond our capabilities. The bank might loan against the value of the newspaper’s real estate but not the “blue sky” worth of the actual business.

For that, we’d need venture capital and friends with deep pockets in the New York financial houses. In addition, Copley Press, whose flagship at the time was the San Diego Union-Tribune, was not interested in selling its Midwest newspaper properties piecemeal. It wanted one deal – one check – for the nine Ohio and Illinois daily and weekly publications.

Ultimately, GateHouse Media obliged and in 2007 purchased the publications for $380 million. Employees were never privy to the value of each newspaper, but I think it’s safe to say that The T-R’s value was somewhere between $30 million and $40 million.

I have to say Copley Press was the best company I ever worked for, but at the same time note that its executives also had business savvy. They knew when it was time to sell and in 2006, after owning the Ohio properties for five years, it was time to disassemble its publishing empire and turn it into cash.

Meanwhile, GateHouse Media was attempting to build an empire. But in 2008, shortly after GateHouse pulled the let’s-grow-bigger trigger, the economy blew up. Newspapers found themselves underneath tons of economic rubble.

Other forces were at work as well, including but not limited to the Kindle, the iPad, the iPhone, Facebook, Twitter – well, you name it.

Revenues plummeted as advertisers sought to save money and connect with consumers directly.

In response, GateHouse Media and other publishing companies did what they had to do – cut staff and consolidated departments along with printing and distribution. Now, they’re attempting to outsource content (news) production and editing all while moving to a digital publishing model.

The move online has been less than satisfying.

Alan Mutter, a consultant specializing in corporate initiatives and new media ventures and who writes a blog on the newspaper business, estimates that publishers since 2005 have lost $26.7 billion in print revenue while gaining only $1.2 billion in new digital (online) revenue.

“Thus, the true ratio of print loss to digital gain is 22 to 1, not the 7 to 1 reported by Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism in March,” he wrote.

All of this has had an impact on the community newspaper’s ability to serve its readers. For example, there are 11 staffers in the T-R newsroom today, down from more than 25 just a few years ago.

And on May 21, 2012, it became evident that, for the Times-Reporter, its dominance in local news was in jeopardy. At 9:20 a.m., an accident at Dover Chemical Corp. threatened disaster for the community. I-77 was shut down in both directions. Law enforcement authorities were telling nearby residents to evacuate. Traffic in the city crawled.

The T-R posted its first report – four paragraphs – on the situation at 11:37 a.m. It sent no Tweets. And it didn’t use Facebook. That first report was updated again at 2:37. It promised more later.

All of the other media outlets in Tuscarawas County – the Bargain Hunter, WJER, and WTUZ – were using every available platform from early morning on. I found out about the situation from WEWS in Cleveland, which sent me a smart phone alert mid morning.

People noticed the news outlets that were paying attention. The Bargain Hunter and the radio stations were applauded on Facebook for keeping the readers and listeners up to date on the situation.

Last I looked, the T-R was taking licks on its own website over its lack of coverage.

This is not something that I or any of the other former T-R staffers take pleasure in reporting or discussing. There are so many longtime employees who toiled in that building on Wabash Ave. NW and took pride in the product who are now watching from the sidelines.

I think I can speak for most of them, if not all of them, when I say we watch this process with great sadness.

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Atwood Resort plans: Too good to be true?

Last week, Radius Hospitality of Canton reiterated its plan for Atwood Resort & Conference Center, which henceforth will be called Atwood Lake Resort and Golf Club.

By every measurement, Radius has an aggressive plan to turn the resort – closed since 2010 – into a regional destination.

That plan includes renovation and expansion of the current hotel and conference center, now with about 100 rooms and slated to grow to about 300 rooms, renovation of the 18-hole golf course including the addition of new holes, construction of a family water park and a skeet shooting range, and other improvements.

Radius President Scott Yeager briefed about 150 community members on the plans, noting that turning Atwood into a gambling venue isn’t on the agenda. Apparently Yeager is conceding that revenue stream to Rock Gaming’s Dan Gilbert.

Someone likened the Atwood plans to Myrtle Beach. How about Disney World?

The resort ultimately will end up in Radius’ portfolio by way of a five-year lease agreement, which means Radius will have about five minutes to make any money from the improvements.

So, something is going on here and it obviously involves oil and gas leases/royalties and what-have-you. Continue to color me skeptical because it all seems to be too good to be true for a place that was losing its owners $1 million a year before its doors were closed.

Let me reiterate that the fundamental mistake was made when the decision was made back in the ’60s to build the resort on the hill rather than at the water’s edge. I’ll concede, however, that it’s tough to see that shell of itself on the Edge of Paradise, just kind of hanging there.

A couple of reminders that apparently not everyone has a firm grasp on things… 

–The Plain Dealer reminded readers recently that the odds favored Cleveland’s new casino, the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland, and not the gambler. Yes, that’s right, gamblers. The odds favor the house. Always have. Did you think Las Vegas was built on the backs of winners? Know when to fold ’em.

–According to ABC News, Fort Lee, N.J., Police Chief Thomas Ripoli said that jaywalkers distracted by their personal technology had become so dangerous that officers had to get tough. Now, the jaywalkers face $85 tickets, which the cops figure is a lot better for them than becoming a traffic fatality.

“They’re not walking in the crosswalks,” the chief told ABC. “They’re walking against the red light, and they’re being struck by vehicles. We had three fatalities this year, and 23 people hurt, hit, [in] a three-month period.”

I agree with Democratic strategist James Carville that the Democrats, notably Barack Obama, have a lot of work ahead if they want to score in the November elections.

Obama should take nothing for granted as we head toward the conventions and the fired-up campaigns of September and October.

Obama isn’t getting much credit on the economy, if one takes the polls seriously, although Americans do feel better about the future while acknowledging that times remain tough. And he gets absolutely no credit from the Fox News conservatives on the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, which is something of a mystery to me. I’m not sure what he needed to do differently.

Mitt Romney has to find some way to connect to the average American. He hasn’t done that yet and perhaps he’s not capable. Calling attention to his wife’s two Cadillacs doesn’t seem to be a great strategy.
I’m not calling this one yet. Give me another month or two.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

For high school juniors the dream is intact

No one pays much attention to the class on deck, but maybe we should. I mean the seniors are willy-nilly all over the place at this time of the year with proms and graduation plans and what have you. They’re a little tough to pin down.

Not so with the juniors. They’re quietly continuing on their educational career paths, setting lofty goals and not worrying about what kind of fun they’re going to have this summer.

I had the opportunity this week to be around some Dover High juniors, so I asked them, “Where do you see yourself in 11 years?”

Eleven years will place the juniors in 2023, 10 years out of high school.

They’ll be 28 or 29 then and card-carrying members of the real world. Now one would think, given the media noise, that the American dream, including the traditional family unit, has somehow been damaged over the last few years because of the Great Recession and Hollywood-type partner arrangements such as Brad and Angelina.

But after reading the short takes on their futures, I think it’s safe to say the “dream” is in place. Here’s what they want and/or expect to have before they reach of the age of 30:

–A career – many in the medical field. Dover’s Class of 2013 promises to produce a lot of nurses, including at least a couple who will speak fluent Spanish. That will help them as they help the world in disadvantaged areas, such as Honduras.

–A house – small or large, beachside or in the woods. Nearly every junior wants to be in his/her own house by age 28. It’s not clear whether renting that dream house will be an acceptable option.

–A family. There doesn’t seem to be an inclination to hold off on hooking up. And in 11 years, plenty see themselves as parents of two or three children.

–They want to be somewhere else. Sorry, Dover, you’re a nice place to raise a family, but only a few see themselves settling back in or around their hometown.

Here’s a sampling of what the kids have to say:

–“In 11 years, I hope to have successfully completed college. By that time, I will have a master’s degree in nursing with a minor in Spanish. I will have a job at a hospital and I’ll be changing lives every day. Saving humans will be my motivation…”

–“I want to live on a farm, living a life different from others. I want a wife – we aren’t going to get divorced – and a log cabin with husky and a little girl. Most importantly, I want to be happy – no fancy cars or things I can’t afford…”

– “I can see myself with a family and living out on a lake somewhere. I plan on getting a nice job where I don’t have to worry about borrowing money from people to pay my bills. I also see myself giving back to the town/school that has given me so many opportunities…”

–“In 2023 I want to be graduated from Ohio State School of Pharmacy … I want to live in a city different from where I currently live. Dover is a nice safe city, but there is just nothing to do. I hope to experience a few different countries, learn how to play guitar and fluently speak another language…”

–“I’ll accomplish being a history teacher, a guidance counselor and an English teacher for a different country. Hopefully, I’ll have beaten all of my medical problems and help out my mother…”

–“I want to be happily married with at least two kids – three at the most. I want to have a successful career. I want a nice, decent house with my amazing husband. I do not want to be in debt. I want my husband to be faithful.”

–“All I want is to have an amazing life with a great family. I would like to live in a large house, get married and have children. I would also like to be a nurse in a hospital.”

–“I’m planning on living in Georgia. I want to have my masters degree in accounting and bachelors degree in business management. I’m hoping to have my own gym and fitness center…”

–“I hope to be a mother, wife and nurse. After I graduate high school I want to get my nursing degree. I might return to Dover after college to raise a family.”

–“I expect to be done with college (sports medicine) and have a good paying job (occupational therapist) that can support the start of a family. I would like to be somewhere other than Tuscarawas County, but maybe somewhere else in Ohio…”

–“In 11 years, I hope to be a pilot of an aircraft at either a commercial airline or for the United States Air Force. I would also like to be making over $100,000, have a wife, two kids and to live in South Carolina…”

–“In 11 years from now I can see myself in plenty of situations but I prefer to be contributing to society with a job in physical therapy, which will provide paychecks for my family. I would just as much like LeBron James still without a ring.”

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Welcome to the real world

This weekend kicks off graduation season with the area’s first commencement ceremony at Kent-Tuscarawas.

So, it is time once again to welcome all of our graduates to the real world with some advice from those of us who have been around the block once or twice.

(OK, full disclosure. This is one of my popular recycled pieces that I do from time to time.)

Actually, a Chicago Tribune columnist – Wes Smith – started the tradition back in 1986 with his column full of advice ditties to graduates. Some of his offerings might seem a little outdated – most of today’s high school graduates were born in 1994 – but many are still of value.

This year’s grads have never known life without the Internet, or cell phones, or mp3 files, and they would be hard-pressed to tell you the last year that the U.S. was not involved in an armed conflict in another nation.
So, here’s a sampling of Smith’s offerings: 

– Never answer an advertisement seeking a “liberal roommate.” You probably are not that liberal.

– Having a drink out with the boys every night after work is a bad idea. Notice that the boss doesn’t do it. That is why he’s the boss and they’re the boys.

– Instead of buying a new stereo for your car, skip a step. Buy a window sticker that says, “It’s already been stolen.”

– They aren’t kidding when they say, “Wash whites separately.”

– Never date a woman whose father calls her “Princess.” Chances are she believes it.

– Never date a man who goes shopping with his mother.

– Eat good meals. Greasy snacks take their toll.

– If you don’t like your job, quit. Otherwise, shut up.

– If you get invited to a wedding, send a gift. Otherwise, do not expect a crowd when your turn comes.
– There is no such thing as a self-cleaning oven.

– Be nice to ordinary people. You’re still one of them.

– Never date someone you work with. Especially the boss.

– At some point in your life, your family will be all you have. Treat them right.

– Never get married simply because you think it is time to get married. Get married because you want to live with someone for the rest of your life, including weekends and holidays.

Everyone is lonely at times. Learning to deal with it is part of growing up.

– The only thing worse than asking people how much money they make is telling them how much you make.

– Dirty laundry never goes away.

– Never trust a landlord to make improvements after you have moved in.

– If you make a mess of things, admit it.

– Hurry up and learn patience.

OK, here’s some more advice (that hopefully is up to date) from a number of sources:

– When you get a job, keep your mouth shut for a while. Look around, listen and learn. If not, then the veterans who have been there will regard you as a loudmouth joke.

– Make sure you are using anti-virus software.

– You probably don’t need life insurance, but the $4.99 a month for replacement cell phone insurance is probably worth it – especially if you’re a male.

Learn in advance the immediate steps you need to take if you accidentally drop your cell phone into the toilet.

– Don’t leave college broke and tired. Save as much money as you possibly can from those part-time jobs during the college years so you have a little money when it’s time to get your own place – and stuff for it – after you graduate.

– And when you get that first job, be frugal. Save money from every paycheck.

– Absolutely take advantage of an employer’s 401(k) plan, especially if there is a company match.
– Traveling is much more fun than owning – and paying for – that hot, red convertible.
– Invest in a good steam iron and learn how to use it.

– If you get a tattoo, make sure you can hide it when you’re on the job, unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to own your own business.

– Avoid using the personal pronoun “I” in conversations. People will like you a lot better if you ask about them instead.

– If it’s your turn, by all means buy lunch.

– Never, ever cheat while playing golf. It says something about your character if you do.
– Don’t be self-righteous. It’s irritating.

Don’t try to manage your staff – if you are lucky enough to have a staff by email.
Avoid starting memos with the degrading “All:”

– Be on time whether it’s a work commitment or a social engagement. Being continually late is a character flaw.

– Paying your own way in life is about as good as it gets. Make sure you get enough education to pull it off.

– For goodness sakes, if you don’t smoke, don’t start. Quitting is pure agony.

Learn how to spell. It’s not too late.

Use the English language when writing essays, memos and letters. Do not use the language created by cell phone texters.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you being in debt is good. It is not.

And here’s one from Michael Pollan, who wrote the book “In Defense of Food”:

– Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Ron Lieber, the New York Timesfinancial columnist, borrowed Pollan’s style with this:

– Index (mostly). Save a ton. Reallocate infrequently.

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