April 11, 2003

Singleton-Minded Approach to News

Leave it to Dean Singleton, CEO of MediaNews Group (owner of the Denver Post and 46 other daily newspapers) and one of the most penurious publishers in the industry, to dampen any near-term hope for a resurgence of quality journalism.

After researchers told the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention in New Orleans that dollars invested in quality produce fatter returns to the bottomline [ Read Quality Journalism & Porn ], Singleton reminded the assembled editors that publishers control the purse strings and his are remaining closed.

"We're in one of the longest downturns our industry has ever seen," Singleton told Newsday. " ... Revenue will turn around, but until it does, the quality of newspapers is affected."

This admission that the revenue tail wags the editorial dog comes from a man who only four months ago told the another gathering of editors, the APME convention in Baltimore on Oct 25, "Right now, few priorities are more important than providing our readers with the high-quality content they seek -- no matter if it's in our print edition, online, via a mobile phone or Palm Pilot, or by some other means not yet invented or tried."

In the same speech Singleton said, "Even during the last two years, when the newspaper industry faced its worst economic downturn since 1938, MediaNews continued to grow spending in the newsroom, in newshole and in circulation promotion. To be sure, we cut a lot of costs to get through this difficult period. But not in news, newshole or circulation promotion. Remember, 'It's the content, stupid.'"

That may be the case, but the Starbucks-level salaries paid by some of Singleton's newspapers (his Alameda News Group pays $12.50 an hour to start for reporters and editors in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the nation's most expensive places to live), fail to attract the best journalists, so quality suffers even if the newshole doesn't.

So, we have a classic chicken-and-egg question. Do you build readership, and therefore revenue, by investing in quality? Or do you wait for revenue to rise before investing in the newsroom? Singleton's answer seems to be, "It's the revenue, stupid."

 Newsday War Woes Dampen Outlook For Papers
 I Want Media William Dean Singleton: 'Newspapers Are The Cornerstones of Convergence'

Posted by Tim Porter at April 11, 2003 08:03 AM