July 26, 2007

What's missing from the Dow Jones drama? The community newspapers

By Bill Reader,
COMJIG vice head

Having worked for Dow Jones for a couple of years, at one of its community newspapers operated under the Ottaway Newspapers company, I have been paying close attention to the soap opera of Rupert Murdoch's takeover bid for the Wall Street Journal. After a month of reading the high drama in the almost daily postings to various industry blogs, I kept waiting to hear something about the fate of Ottaway, which publishes a couple of dozen community newspapers.

Although the paper I worked for is no longer part of Ottaway (CNHI bought it last year), I remember that most of the papers in the chain were pretty decent -- emphasis on local news, lots of community news, localized state and national policy stories, relatively good pay for entry-level reporters and mid-career editors. Ottaway has long provided an important, if small, cog in the community journalism machine, particularly in New England.

Even Murdoch seemed to dismiss the importance of the Ottaway papers in his June 6 interview with the WSJ, in which he referred to how, "Those silly little Ottaway papers make more than the Journal does."

The Boston Globe recently checked into that claim (Ottaway publishes a number of dailies and weeklies in the Boston region) and came up with this: "the Ottaway community publications posted operating profits of $48.2 million last year on $252.2 million in sales, outstripping the $33.9 million in profits on revenue of $1.1 billion for the Dow Jones operating group that includes the Journal and Barron's magazine."

While most seem to be wringing their hands over the fate of the WSJ, it seems the real prize of the Dow Jones company is its small, but profitable, stable of decent little community newspapers. The fact that Murdoch considers them "silly little papers" is a truly terrifying thought, even coming from such a mercenary little magnate.

1 comment:

J.R. Wakeland said...

Mr. Murdoch may dismiss them publicly, but he keeps buying community newspapers. In October 2006, he bought the TimesLedger Newspapers in Queens, NY and a group of papers in Brooklyn, and combined them under a New York Post-run company called CNP. This spring, he added two Bronx papers to the that company. He continues to squeeze a good-sized profit out of them to subsidize his profitless New York Post, which I can tell you from personal experience as the former news editor at one of these community papers, seems clueless in its ability to sell advertising in the New York City area. Meanwhile, it is slowly squeezing the life out of formerly excellent community weeklies.