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July 7, 2009 / Toby Dayton

More Chaos Surrounding The Dailies & The Emerging New News Models…

It’s been a very interesting past few weeks with a bunch of stories relating to the death of older news and journalism models (daily newspapers) and the emerging models that hope to replace the dailies. Below are a few of the stories that have caught my attention…

• On the old model front, Gannett has cut 1,000 more people from its payroll, and McClatchy’s efforts to restructure its massive, crippling debt load failed miserably. An extremely insightful, detailed analysis of Gannett’s debt reveals just how rapidly that company’s balance sheet has deteriorated and how perilously close to insolvency the once stalwart publisher truly is.

• Also on the old media front, USA Today shuttered ‘Open Air,’ its quarterly magazine targeting more affluent readers, and Tribune also ceased publishing its weekly Sunday magazine.

• Even smaller dailies, who had seemed somewhat immune to the travails of their big-city brethren, are feeling the impact of the web as well as the current economic meltdown. Deal activity in that segment of the media landscape is rising, and valuations present some interesting opportunities.

• Despite the grim news, there are signs that things may have bottomed and that at the current prices, certain media companies present compelling investment opportunities. Even Sam Zell appears to have found a buyer for his Cubs and Wrigley and his cable business. While below initial estimates, the fact that it might get done at all in the current environment is amazing.

• Another positive sign for the dailies is the fact that some are beginning to see returns on their investments in emerging media and technology. Even despite some embarrassing missteps and the fact that many investments are still in their very early stages, there is hope that the flurry of activity over the past few years, while perhaps too late, might have a chance in salvaging some value for the large dailies.

• Even Google is helping the cause of publishers by helping pave the way for customized news delivery.

• On a much smaller scale, some monthly magazines like Men’s Health have even figured out how to capitalize on the iPhone phenomena to create a nice little recurring revenue stream.

• One thing certain to not work for any daily paper is charging for the vast majority of its daily news content. Some will try, and perhaps one or two (NYT & WSJ) might be able to succeed at some minimal level, but the pay for content model is a death sentence for anyone else.

• A bunch of stories have sprung up recently about emerging new models for online news and journalism such as Huffington Post and Politico seeking to fill the vacuum being created by the implosion of the dailies. Debates are raging as to whether Huffington Post, in particular, is a credible, high-quality source of journalism, news, and opinion or a trashy parasite, and the arguments on both sides are both enlightening, interesting, and entertaining.