Is year-end assessment by NOLA Media Group prez a preemptive strike ahead of USA Today report?

ToOurReaders_RickyMathewsHEADLINE2013Dec22

1/6/2014, 2:50 PM CST: Information about the disappearing NOLA.com blog post about the click bait AntHillArt.com’s affect on NOLA.com’s traffic below in red and underline..

12/24/13 5:59 PM CST: Additional information via a sharp-eyed insider below in red and underline.

12/23/13, 12:37 CST: Clarification to the original post added below in red and underlined type.

As USA Today media reporter Roger J. Yu concluded a reporting trip to New Orleans for an upcoming article about the extraordinary newspaper war now raging there, NOLA Media Group President and Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews Sunday published a year-end recap to readers.

The timing of Mathews’ missive, vis–à–vis Yu’s visit, is suggestive of the preemptive strike

NOLA Media Group President and Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews

NOLA Media Group President and Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews

NMG Vice President of Content and Times-Picayune Editor Jim Amoss penned almost exactly one year ago. Amoss’ commentary came a day before a long-anticipated “60 Minutes” segment aired about the poorly executed transformation of the then-175-year-old, Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper into a “digital first” enterprise.)

Despite NMG’s fierce focus for the past year-and-a-half on NOLA.com, Mathews’ commentary was not available on the website, but only via the printed newspaper and the e-edition. (A PDF of it, downloaded from the e-edition, can be accessed by clicking this link: ToOurReaders_RickyMathews2013Dec22.) (CLARIFICATION, 12/23/13: Although it didn’t appear on NOLA.com, Mathews’ letter can be found at NOLA Media Group’s corporate site at http://www.nolamediagroup.com/about/, and on page A14 of the newspaper’s Dec. 22 print edition.)

Clocking in at 844 words (about half the length of a banner, front-page commentary directed at readers shortly after he assumed the top spot in the summer of 2012), Mathew opened his latest dispatch with a glowing account of what was at stake when digital first began, and what has been accomplished:

A little more than a year ago, we stepped boldly into the rapidly changing digital world. Our future as a viable news entity was at stake. We launched a new approach to delivering news and connecting our readers with our advertisers.

 

As we approach the end of the first year of operation in our new world, we are well on our way toward assuring our long-term ability to provide vital news and world-class advertising solutions to the communities we proudly serve.

Mathews full-page letter detailed major editorial projects undertaken by NMG in the past year, including wall-to-wall coverage of the 2013 Super Bowl (held at the Louisiana Superdome) and all of the fun and frivolity surrounding it; breaking news coverage of a horrific Mother’s Day shooting in New Orleans; and an investigative series with TV partner WVUE for which an online, reader-accessible database of campaign contributions was created.

He went on to say that home delivery of the newspaper “has grown for four (soon to be five) consecutive months, and we are reaching more than 500,000 readers in print each week.” (For the six months ending Sept. 30, the most recent report the newspaper filed with industry auditing group Alliance for Audited Media, The Times-Picayune reported an average print circulation of 130,881 on Sundays, 115,499 on Wednesdays, and 115,877 on Fridays, the three days of the week it now publishes. That totals to 362,257 for the average week during that period.)

Mathews reported that NOLA.com’s website audience grew to more than 4.5 million unique users a month, with more than 2 million accessing the site or its apps through smart phones and tablets. (NMG had 2.6 million unique users during the month of September – again the most recent numbers available – according to the latest AAM report the company filed. ADDITIONAL INFO: Nationally recognized web analytics company Quantcast, reported the NOLA had the following unique users Nov. 23-Dec. 22. Although Mathews did not specify a time frame for his figure, the latest Quantcast number of 5.9 million is significantly higher than Mathews’ stat:

TOTAL Web

5,853,704

Mobile

2,887,086

Online

2,966,618

Source: Quantcast

ADDITIONAL INFO #2, 12/24/13: A sharp-eyed reader alerted me that NOLA.com’s past unique visitor figures cited above via Quantcast were anomalously inflated by an aggregated video  courtesy of a site called AntHillArt.com. NOLA.com acknowledged the click-bait generated 1.3 million page views in 30 hours, “which at least Ricky Mathews was honest enough not to claim” in the stats he cited in his reader letter, my tipster noted. According to Quantcast, NOLA.com attracted 3.7 million unique visitors and 22 million page views during the month of November, the most-recent full calendar month for which statistics are available.

Additional INFO #3, 1/6/14: Sometime after my 12/24/13 update (above) went live, the link on the NOLA.com blog post acknowledging the AnHillArt.com click bait was disabled. (It apparently was on a publicly available section of the site, but intended primarily for internal audiences.) You can read a screen grab of the original post by clicking here.

Mathews also reported that NMG’s newly beefed-up offerings in Baton Rouge – including a substantially larger staff there, the ability for NOLA.com readers to specifically choose to view news from that community, and a weekly entertainment tab named BR – has resulted in a 40% larger audience in the state capital in the past year.

NMG’s online offerings have been the target of criticism and derision, but Mathews reports they’ve improved considerably:

We have made dramatic improvements to the digital experience for our readers across all platforms, with new photo galleries and improved video players; responsive design that allows easy reading whether on tablet, desktop or phone; and state-of-the-art commenting systems that allow for real-time conversations among our writers and readers.

Mathews also boasts of employing more than 1,000 employees and independent contractors through NOLA Media Group and Advance Central Services Louisiana, the two companies corporate owner Advance Publications formed when “digital first” was implemented. (NOLA Media Group is the online newsgathering arm, while ACS oversees everything related to the printing and distribution of the newspaper, along with HR. the print edition and its support services, including printing and delivery.) The newspaper’s total full-time employee (e.g., those receiving full-time wages and benefits) headcount dropped 30% after “digital first,” and a number of undisclosed independent contractor newspaper carriers also lost their routes. The newsroom has made some hires since the transformation, but the organization now employs more freelancers and stringers on a contractual basis since the changes, so it’s unclear exactly what portion of that 1,000 are full-time employees. Based on figures I compiled for my book and those disclosed by NOLA Media Group, full-time employees with benefits probably now total between 550 and 600.

ToOurReaders_RickyMathews2013Dec22_IMAGE

Imagery that accompanied Ricky Mathews’ Dec. 22, 2013 letter “To Our Readers”

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Seven former T-P employees laid off in “digital first” sue newspaper, parent company

age_discrimination_cartoonSeven former T-P employees who were among the more than 200 who lost their jobs in 2012 because of the radical “digital first” restructuring Advance Publications undertook at the newspaper and more than a dozen others it owns across the country, filed suit this week against the companies. The suits allege age discrimination and illegal employment practices. They were filed in Orleans Parish District Court.NOLADefender_Logo

You may read my story about the suit, published by NOLA Defender, at this link.

A year after “digital first” in NOLA and Alabama, deciphering Advance’s circulation figures

NOTE: Corrections below in underline and strike-through, making the distinction between digital non-replicas (smart phone and tablet apps) and digital replicas (PDFs).

The semi-annual figures compiled by industry group Alliance for Audited Media (previously the Audit Bureau of Circulations) were released today, for the six months ending Sept. 30, 2013, representing average circulation numbers. This represents the first full year of comparative numbers since “digital first” was implemented Oct. 1, 2012 at The Times-Picayune and Advance Publications’ Alabama newspapers – and the first full year of numbers since The Advocate launched its New Orleans edition.

As newspaper analyst Alan Mutter reported on his blog earlier this evening, the way newspapers now report their numbers (changes the AAM has sanctioned) make it nearly impossible to make historical, across-the-board comparisons. But some can be accurately made, and the way the numbers are now reported are insightful in their own way.

For example, the Picayune‘s Sunday print circulation has fallen another 10% year over year (from 145,608 in September 2012 to 130,881 in September 2013), but the newspaper is claiming a total average circulation that’s up about 12% – to 163,530 They accomplish this by counting smart phone and tablet apps PDF versions of the newspaper (referred to as “digital replicas” or “digital non-replicas” in industry parlance), which are available for free via the newspaper’s website (although that free availability is not widely promoted). The AAM report, however, doesn’t note that last year’s figure (listed on the Sept. 30, 2013 report for comparison purposes) is print-only, without any digital editions included.

Meanwhile, The Advocate reports flat to slightly increasing print circulation figures year-over-year (depending on the day of the week), but more substantive increases when “digital non-replica” circulation is included.

NOLA’s PBS affiliate’s “Informed Sources” takes up my book

"Informed Sources" co-hosts Larry Lorenz (left) and Errol Laborde (right) and I discuss my book.

“Informed Sources” co-hosts Larry Lorenz (left) and Errol Laborde (right) and I discuss my book.

I recorded an appearance on Friday, Oct. 18, immediately before the book’s launch party, on “Informed Sources,” the media and public affairs show produced by New Orleans PBS affiliate WYES-TV.1CanalPlaceShirt The episode aired later that evening.

I sported my custom shirt on the show (image at right) and discussed its origins, a topic also touched on in the book.

You may view the episode by clicking this link. My portion begins at 10:20.

Lagniappe, Mobile’s alt-weekly, excerpts the book

The Press-Register of Mobile, Alabama, was one of three Advance Publications newspapers in that state that were subjected to “digital first” on the same day as The Times-Picayune. (The other two were The Huntsville Times and The Birmingham News.) More than 400 Advance employees and contractors Lagniappe-Mobile_Logoin Alabama lost their jobs as a result.

Lagniappe, Mobile’s alternative weekly, and co-managing editor Rob Holbert play a fairly significant role in the book, and the publication excerpted it, with Holbert arranging a presentation and signing for me in Mobile.

You may read the Lagniappe excerpt by clicking here.

NOLA’s NPR affiliate talks to me on “The Reading Life” and “My Spilt Milk” excerpts the book

SusanLarson

Susan Larson, host of WWNO’s “The Reading Life”

Susan Larson, host of WWNO’s “The Reading Life” and former longtime Times-Picayune books editor (she and I worked together at the paper, but she left in one of the first rounds of buyouts, several years before last year’s saga unfolded), invited me for a chat on the show. You can listen to our conversation at this link (my portion begins at 13:27.) And also check out her revised and updated version of A Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans, released just last month.myspiltmilk

In addition, New Orleans culture and music website My Spilt Milk today published an excerpt from the book, followed by an interview with me. You may read the excerpt here, and the interview here.

NOLA alt-weekly Gambit reviews Hell and High Water

Kevin Allman, editor of New Orleans’ respected alternative weekly Gambit, drove coverage of The Times-Picayune saga, trailing New York TimesGambitLOGO media reporter David Carr by only a few hours in confirming the grim coming changes, in May 2012.

He recently offered his assessment of my book. My favorite quote from his review? “If newspapers are black and white and dead all over, in New Orleans they’re the walking dead, and Theim’s tale of how print still lives will be of interest to New Orleanians and the newspaper industry at large.”

You may read his review by clicking here.