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Newsonomics: Tribune’s Thursday night surprise rescrambles the consolidation puzzle
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Jan. 7, 2019, 4:07 p.m.
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LINK: www.dallasnews.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   January 7, 2019

The Dallas Morning News, one of the largest remaining independently owned metro newspapers, announced it was laying off 43 staffers, 20 in its newsroom, Monday. The layoffs reach from senior writers to community reporters, with varying levels of time at the organization. The News is owned by A.H. Belo, which is publicly traded but still family-run; Belo used to include a number of other newspapers and a chain of TV stations, but it’s now mostly just the News. (I should note I spent a summer there as an intern and Nieman Lab head honcho Joshua Benton worked there for eight years. We’re both digital subscribers.)

The News pointed to continued print revenue declines in advertising and its reorganization to a digital subscription-focused organization for the cuts. The news outlet’s main Twitter account listed around 140 staff members Monday afternoon, though it still included those laid off. The most recent audited circulation numbers, from the third quarter of 2018, showed the News’ paid print circulation is just 98,000 on weekdays and 160,000 on Sundays. The News had 24,000 digital-only subscribers in December 2017 when it announced the hire of Dan Sherlock from the Los Angeles Times to focus on growing that group.

Chris Roush at Talking Biz News also reported that the paper would no longer have a separate business section in print on weekdays, instead combining it with metro news. “Editors are spending this week figuring out all of the details and design,” Roush wrote. “The paper’s publisher and editor are writing a column for print on Wednesday that’ll explain these changes to its print subscribers.”

The paper has tried several different versions of a paywall in recent years, but it has still struggled to generate significant revenue from digital subscriptions. In the third quarter of 2018, it reported just $1 million in digital subscription revenue — barely 2 percent of its total revenue of $43.7 million.

Margaret Sullivan has written at The Washington Post about the strip mining/vulture capitalism performed by Alden Global Capital on local newsrooms in Colorado (where The Denver Post cut 30 jobs in one day), the San Francisco Bay area, and elsewhere. The Morning News, in contrast, has been controlled by members of the same family since 1926, which has allowed it to avoid the worst ownership abuses.

(There was a curious blip of a hedge fund buying A.H. Belo stock in December, as noted by Morning News investigative reporter J. David McSwane. Minerva is a hedge fund owned by David P. Cohen, who has regularly been on Belo quarterly investor calls in recent years. But Minerva is still very much a minority shareholder, and there were no announcements of ownership shifts today.)

Also keep in mind: The newsroom had moved from its longtime building in December and tried to sell the old campus, but the deal for $33 million fell through in December. The company also had no debt and $58.7 million in cash at the end of the third quarter: “Operating expenses decreased $6.9 million, or 11.4 percent, when compared to the prior year period…due to decreases of $3.5 million in employee compensation and benefits expense.”

This start to 2019 also follows layoffs of longtime newsroom members last March.

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