How’s the T&G doing?

posted by Mike on July 25th, 2014

Last year, tycoon John Henry bought the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from the New York Times in a package deal. This year, Florida-based Halifax Media bought the T&G from him.

Documents leaked during the first sale showed T&G daily circulation at 57,000 and annual revenue at $49M, down 20% over 5 years. As a business, the T&G was fading fast.

Henry bought $70M of properties from the NYT. The T&G’s value was estimated at $7M. Surprisingly, Halifax possibly paid $19M for it. With Halifax in charge, there was a massive round of layoffs. 29 of 80 newsroom staffers left the paper, mostly layoffs with a few resignations.

It’s hard for an outsider to understand the real effect of these layoffs, and the other newsroom layoffs they’ve had in recent years. So let’s see if there’s been a change in the crudest journalistic metric, the number of Worcester stories printed each day.

To measure, I counted the number of Worcester news and feature stories printed in the daily paper from July 14-18, 2014. As it happens, I did a couple of similar counts back in 2008, before all the sales and re-sales. Here’s a comparison of a couple days’ reporting in 2008 with a few days in 2014.

Date News Stories Features Total
Nov 24, 2008 3 5 8
Dec 4, 2008 9 3 12
July 14, 2014 4 2 6
July 15, 2014 5 1 6
July 16, 2014 4 0 4
July 17, 2014 4 5 9
July 18, 2014 7 3 10

So the amount of Worcester news in the T&G remains frustratingly small, but it’s not far out of line with what was being printed 6 years ago.

Notes:

  • Next time: a longer time span, with word counts.
  • Maybe the time after that: is it even possible to measure what’s available from new and social media?
  • I counted standalone photos as features. I didn’t count sports or business content, as I don’t follow that stuff closely.
  • For years on this blog, I followed T&G circuation as reported by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, but grew to distrust it, as they were always changing their circulation formula without making their methodology clear.
  • I wish there were an easy way to measure quality. One big lapse I noticed was the story about Wormtown Brewery winning grand prize in a national competition. A local artistic and business endeavor succeeding on the national stage feels like page one news to me. I first heard about this when Worcester Magazine blogged it July 10. The T&G didn’t get around to it (on page A10) till July 14. They did do a nice job. And the T&G getting scooped by Womag is nothing new.
  • So many details around the sale, re-sale, and layoffs are poorly documented in online articles. I’ll happily make a correction if you can find a better source for any of these numbers.

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7 Comments Leave a comment.

  1. On July 25, 2014 at 10:21 Victor D. Infnate said:

    “I counted standalone photos as features. I didn’t count sports or business content, as I don’t follow that stuff closely.”

    Did you count that July 17’s Go Section? Because that section had:

    2 local columns (myself, staff, and Barbara Houle, freelance)
    1 restaurant review (Bob Datz, technically freelance)
    1 theater review (Paul Kolas, freelance)
    2 local feature stories (Richard Duckett, staff, and Courtney Little, freelance)
    10 “Ten Things to Do” recommendations by myself and Richard Duckett, which are not as easy to do as they look and, especially done in concert with the two page calendar that day, are ridiculously time consuming
    5 wire stories

    Laying it out like that paints a different picture.

    Also, not counting the business section strikes me as bad methodology, because a story might have been intended for local, and get knocked to business simply because it can be displayed better or some such. Sometimes there’s very little local in there, and sometimes there are three or four local news stories as relevant as anything in any other section.

    I’m just saying it’s misleading to cherry pick sections, as it underrepresents the population you’re analyzing, especially when your sample size of days examined is so small.

  2. On July 25, 2014 at 10:36 Mike said:

    Three of the counted features from July 17 were from the Go section. That’s probably a bad day to include for this comparison, because it’s not just the A and B sections, it’s also a standalone calendar section. And because it’s so rich with features, it’s more of a judgement call about whether things like your article on the Ramones with lots of local comment are “Worcester stories” or not.

    Thanks for your comments on methodology. Even though an effort like this is not going to be very scientific, I’d like to take it as seriously as I can.

  3. On July 25, 2014 at 10:48 Victor D. Infante said:

    Sure, I get that. IJS your interpretation of what constitutes a “news” or “feature” story might be different than mine, and it would probably be best to set some parameters and definitions. I know that’s a lot of ask of a “crude” measure, but there you are. The fact of the matter is, we’re actually producing considerably more content than your statistics convey. And even by your numbers, if a substantially reduced staff is producing substantially similar amounts of copy, what does that say about US and what we’re doing here on a daily basis?

    Also, speed of reporting is overvalued. I’d rather wait a few days (over a weekend, at that) and have a GOOD story.

  4. On July 25, 2014 at 11:11 Victor D. Infante said:

    OK. I just looked at the A & B sections for July 17, conveniently still on my desk, and now I’m not sure how you’re getting your numbers at all.

    Local bylines:

    A section: 1 staff, 1 intern
    B section (including business): 8 staff, 2 freelance (former staff)

    That’s without Go (mentioned above) and sports (which doesn’t seem to be on my desk.) It also doesn’t count “briefs,” many of which are actual stories that involved real reporting, although I’ll admit it’s difficult to separate those from the ones that are basically recycled press releases at a glance. It DOES include Dianne Williamson, though.

    So … what am I missing that you’re not counting?

  5. On July 25, 2014 at 12:20 Mike said:

    I’m not counting local bylines. I’m counting articles about the city of Worcester. So for July 17, in section A that would be the A4 article about Attorney General candidate plans. The A1 article about the Taiwan national baseball team coming here, I would classify as a feature.

  6. On July 25, 2014 at 12:27 Victor D. Infante said:

    Ah. OK, that’s what I was missing.

  7. On July 25, 2014 at 12:33 Victor D. Infante said:

    So, say, George Barnes’ Athol/natural gas pipeline story doesn’t count in your figuring.

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