Explaining Southern California's economy

A new round of layoffs hits the L.A. Times

Kevork Djansezian/AP

The Los Angeles Times building. It's emptier than it was last week.

The first quarter of 2012 is almost over, and you know what that means: more layoffs at the Los Angeles Times. According to LAObserved, "as many as 20 people may be out" — but the business section is hiring a reporter to cover the food-and-agriculture beat. 

Layoffs have become a fact of life at the LAT, whose parent, Tribune Co., is still in bankruptcy. What appears to be going on now is that the paper is chopping back on its features and special sections, concentrating instead on news, business, sports, and entertainment — the core coverage areas. Three stand-alone weekly section, for example, were recently rolled into one Saturday section.

This happened at the same time the LAT announced the introduction of a paywall

Economic pressure on the newspaper business has caused a reversal — a slow reversal — of a trend that defined the growth of big metro dailies like the LATimes and the New York Times. The creation of additional sections covering topics like food, health, science meant that newspapers needed additional platforms for ads. This transformed broadsheets into hefty print products. The Wall Street Journal has defied this reversal, adding lifestyle sections since 2010. But that's a case of a paper that primarily covered the financial markets going for a more general interest/metro New York mix.

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Why not just start newspapers from scratch?

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AP Photo/Sang Tan

A man views a news stand displaying national newspapers, some carrying the story on WikiLeaks' release of classified U.S. State Department documents, at a newsagent in central London, Monday, Nov. 29, 2010.

It's becoming abundantly apparent that even a robust online presence can't rescue newspapers as we know them. The problem is simple: online revenue, while growing, can't replace the print losses. This has seriously undermined the profits margins of big-city dailies, from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times to the Washington Post. Small-market dailies are having an easier time of it, but that's because they have lower costs to support and don't need to become online powerhouses.

This is from the Wrap:

Web traffic for newspapers keeps growing, but not fast enough for Washington Post staffers, who on Wednesday learned there would be yet another round of voluntary buyouts at the paper. 

The buyouts - up to 48 news staffers at the Post, according to the paper's ombudsman - are the latest in a new round of cuts at major newspapers as online traffic grows and overall unemployment numbers fall nationwide.

The average number of daily visitors to Washington Post's site jumped by more than 3 million, or nearly 15 percent, during the last quarter of 2011, according to a study released last week by the Newspaper Association of America.

The number of unique visitors over that period increased nearly 6 percent, while the total minutes visitors spent on the site rose by 14 percent.

But all those eyeballs are not translating into real money, or at least not at enough of a clip to cushion circulation losses and declining print advertising revenue. 

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