Killing the news

2008-07-24 00:00

Spend some time on the “future of news” conference circuit, as I have recently, and believe me, you’ll need a drink and perhaps a Prozac. The flight of readers and advertisers to the web has led to an unprecedented assault on stockholder value, making newspapers the investment equivalent of slow-motion seppuku. For instance, on July 11, Alan Mutter’s invaluable Reflections of a Newsosaur blog reported that in “perhaps the worst single trading day ever” for the newspaper business, “the shares of seven publicly held newspaper companies today plunged to the[ir] lowest point in modern history.” When these losses continued to accelerate, Mutter calculated that newspaper stocks had shed an amazing $3,9 billion in value in just the first 10 trading days of July, leading to the disappearance of more than 35% of these companies’ combined stock price in 2008 alone.

Virtually the only expense still intact is executive pay. On the Recovering Journalist blog, Mark Potts notes that the average compensation among the 13 public-company newspaper CEOs was just under $6 million a year in 2007, according to corporate proxy filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). These figures, one can only conclude, are entirely unrelated to performance.

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