The Disquieting Decline of the Star Ledger

Despite its success, the Ledger has been losing as much as $30 to $40 million a year due to the same pressures that all newspapers face: declining ad sales and subscription revenues. Associate Professor of Journalism at Rutgers-Newark, Rob Snyder, and I discuss how long the Ledger has left.

robsnyderThe Star Ledger, established in 1832, is the 15th largest paper in the country by circulation, delivering a half-a-million papers on any given Sunday.  The paper received a Pulitzer in 2005 for its coverage of Governor McGreevy’s resignation.
Despite its success, the Ledger has been losing as much as $30 to $40 million a year due to the same pressures that all newspapers face: declining ad sales and subscription revenues — much of which has been blamed on the emergence of the news sources on the web, delivered both by large media companies (such as CNN) and smaller niche blogs.

In its efforts to transition to the web, the Ledger has launched new initiatives in recent months such as a daily video podcast, a Twitter news stream, and training reporters on the use of video.  While the Ledger Live has been a really enjoyable podcast (this one had a particularly brilliant insight from one guest video blogger), it’s been difficult to tell whether these efforts will have a measurable boost to the Ledger’s bottom line.

In response to the paper’s troubles, Debbie Galant, blogger at BaristaNet (shown gazing over her glasses below), sniffs, “Good luck, Star Ledger. I really do hope that you stay around because I like linking to your stories.”

Today, the paper faces an October 8 deadline to renegotiate with its unions and lower costs or face a potential closure or buyout come January.  To discuss the implications of a closure of Newark’s only paper, I chatted with Rob Snyder, who is an Associate Professor of Journalism and American Studies at Rutgers Newark and Editor of the Newark Metro.

The interview is about 26 minutes. Press the play button below to listen.


On the podcast, we discussed:

  • What’s the national context for the Ledger’s potential closure? Is it common for local papers to close?
  • What pressures are there on the newspapers now to bring about this potential sale or closure?
  • What role have newspapers like the Ledger played in American society? Do we know what the implications might be of losing the paper?
  • It seems that the business models for papers and the web are very similar — both delivering content supported by advertisers. Why can’t many of these papers flip to an online model?
  • What models of delivering news do you see gaining traction in the next 3 years?
  • Bonus! Given your experience in the city and teaching at Rutgers, where do you see the city in 5 years?

More commentary and coverage:

Time for Showdown or Shutdown at the Star-Ledger

Time for Showdown or Shutdown at the Star-Ledger

Employees await announcements later this week as to whether the negotiations with the drivers’ union were successful. Failing cost-saving concessions, the paper’s management claims, the Ledger will have to sell or close its operations entirely.

The newsroom has always been non-union and the billionaire family that controls the paper had given lifetime no-layoff guarantees to its reporters and editors so long as the newsroom stayed non-union.

Arwady on July 31 had told stunned employees that the paper was “on life support” and past efforts to cut costs had failed to reverse the losses.

“Despite the best efforts of all of us, the Star-Ledger is losing its battle to survive,” he said at that time.

Newark Star-Ledger says sale or closure possible

Newark Star-Ledger says sale or closure possible

Buyouts are being offered to Ledger employees as the paper considers a best-case 26% reduction in staff and renegotiated agreement with its mailers union.

If a new agreement with the union can’t be reached, the Ledger will be sold or even closed.

The loss of the Ledger would be disastrous for local news coverage in a state of 8.5 million people. In 2005, the paper won a Pulitzer for its coverage of Governor McGreevy’s resignation amidst his gay affair. The Ledger ranks 15th in largest circulation of daily newspapers, nationwide.

The Star-Ledger of Newark is notifying employees that the newspaper will be sold or closed in early January unless it reaches a contract deal with its drivers union.

Publisher George Arwady told employees in a memo today that it is doubtful drivers will ratify a new deal by Oct. 8. As a result, formal notices required by law will be sent out this week advising employees that the newspaper will be sold or close on Jan. 5.

The Star-Ledger is New Jersey’s largest newspaper with a daily circulation of about 350,000. The paper has posted losses for at least three straight years and is on pace to lose between $30 million and $40 million in 2008.

Cory Booker Has a Blog

Cory Booker Has a Blog
Peek into the thoughts (and datebook) of Mayor Cory Booker at his new blog. There have yet to be any cat photos, and it’s unclear whether the Mayor will be Twittering his every move (“OMG! Star Trek TNG Marathon this weekend for realz!!1!!one!”).

But this will doubtless be a welcome resource for Newarkers and another reason why the transparency argument just doesn’t hold water. (Hat tip: Ironman).

Hi, I’m Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ. I’ve started this blog as an opportunity not only to record the inner workings of my office and my own mind, but also to hear from both those who support me and those who may not. So please, make this page a conversation. Together we can move Newark forward.

Booker changes the perception of Newark

Booker changes the perception of Newark
The communications team at City Hall has really been exceptional about reaching out to bloggers, as well as big media. When I call up, the team knows who I am and makes time available for me.

Kudos for this profile in PRWeek about how this critical function in the Mayor’s administration is capitalizing on the nation’s fresh attention to its third-oldest city.

The arrival of the 39-year-old Booker as mayor provided an opportunity for change, according to his office’s communications director, Desiree Peterkin Bell. Since Booker took office two years ago, he has worked to build out its communications machinery so that when a problem arises, like the building evacuation, the mayor’s office is able to quickly brief state and federal officials, as well organize the press to cover the story with little notice.

“Under this administration, we’ve basically redefined how government interacts with people,” Bell says. “We want people to know that Newark is a great place to live, work, and visit… and invest. I’ve committed to the mayor that, if we’re going to get our message out, we’re going to engage as many outlets as possible.”

Heads Up: Mayor Booker on WBGO’s Newark Today

Heads Up: Mayor Booker on WBGO’s Newark Today

Mayor Booker to make a guest appearance with David Cruz on Newark Today on WBGO 88.3 FM. Newark Today will air at 8 p.m. and is hosted by anchor/reporter David Cruz. The call-in show enables listeners to speak directly with the mayor live.

On the next Newark Today, Mayor Cory Booker is joined by acting business administrator Michele Thomas, who will explain how you can run a city without an official budget.

Call-in number – 1-800-499-9246

Star-Ledger Warns of Sale

Star-Ledger Warns of Sale
Management at the Star-Ledger warn of possible headcount reductions or face selling the paper entirely due to declining ad revenue.

The award-winning paper ranks as 15th largest in the nation, with a daily subscriber base of 375,000.

The Star-Ledger of Newark and a smaller sister paper need to eliminate at least 20 percent of their staff and win concessions from trade unions to stay afloat, their management said on Thursday, or the company will sell the papers and possibly close the smaller one.

The Star-Ledger’s publisher sent a note to its staff saying the paper must have 200 non-union workers take buyouts. The paper has about 1,000 employees, about three-quarters of them non-union.

The paper’s owner, Advance Publications, wants to buy out about 100 newsroom employees at The Star-Ledger, out of a total 330 to 350, the company’s president, Donald Newhouse, said.

We wish the best for our friends at the Ledger during these difficult times, and welcome their thoughts and feedback.

New ‘Electric Company’ diner is in Newark

New ‘Electric Company’ diner is in Newark
Sesame Street Workshop, whose podcast my 16-month-old absolutely adores, will be filming a portion of its revived Electric Company series on a set in Downtown Newark.

While streetscapes and other segments will be shot in New York City, one can’t help but feel a little pride that comes with the caché of a television studio in the city. I’ve been in the Ironbound long enough to remember the euphoria when Stephen Spielberg and Tom Cruise graced us with their presence while filming War of the Worlds — photos of the two of them were hung in coffeeshops and restaurants all over the neighborhood.

I know Sesame Street regularly draws celebrities into its episodes, so who knows? We might just see Sarah Jessica Parker or Cuba Gooding Jr. relaxing at The Spot or 27 Mix after wrapping up on set.

Booker toured the main set for the revival of the kids’ TV series, “The Electric Company,” a show promoting literacy that the mayor fondly recalled from his childhood.

“I was enthralled by ‘The Electric Company,’” Booker, 39, said. The PBS show aired from 1971 to 1977, and then in reruns until 1985.

During his visit, Booker posed behind the curvy blue counter of “The Electric Diner” with cast members and all shouted, “Hey you guys!” the signature introduction of the original show.

Sesame Workshop: The Electric Company

The Electric Company
This in from a City Hall press advisory:

Mayor Booker will speak at a press conference to announce that the production of the first season of Sesame Workshop’s “The Electric Company,” has begun in Newark.

The famed educational show is being revived, and will be filmed in Newark, using Newark schoolchildren.

Very cool. Stay tuned for details.

Profile In Leadership: Newark Mayor Cory Booker

Profile In Leadership: Newark Mayor Cory Booker
NPR appears to be slightly more sympathetic press than Esquire.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker opens up about the challenges he faces in improving a city plagued by violence and budget problems.

Then, Booker talks about his commitment to upholding high standards as a public servant, which were put in place by African-American leaders before him.