Monday, December 19, 2011

New York Times in talks to sell off its regional media group to Halifax Media Holdings; the journey to the NYT for a lot of journalists and ad execs just got longer

The New York Times Company confirmed today that it is in discussions with Halifax Media Holdings LLC regarding its Regional Media Group.

The story broke because of the sharp eyes of Jim Romenesko (or one of his readers) who noticed that Halifax was listing the NYT properties on its website. That page was swiftly taken down, but not before a screenshot was taken.'

The properties in question include mostly mid-sized dailies like The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, Calif., The Gainesville Sun in Gainesville, Fla., and The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

For as long as I can remember, these properties were seen as choice landing spots for many journalists and advertising managers – a way into an elite organization other than through the doors of the NYT itself. While reality often led those I know who have worked for the Regional Media Group to express disappointment – there is only one NYT – those I spoke to were always happy to say they were working for The New York Times Company rather than ____ (fill in the blank).

So why is the NYT selling? Because it remains difficult for most regional newspapers to make the transition to digital, or said another way, many don't see a successful transition ahead.

The reality is that few newspapers can continue to sell print while also forcing readers to pay for digital. The financial newspapers – the WSJ and FT, for instance – are finding success selling digital subscriptions. My guess is that the NYT really aren't doing as well, but they are doign better than other consumer newspapers. (So many of the NYT's digital subscriptions remain discounted that I am still reluctant to pronounce the Times's metered paywall an unqualified success.)

So if the way is not clear for the NYT, what does it look like for regional papers? Well, not good unless the model changes – and getting a newspaper to change its model is almost impossible. Few papers have taken advantage of the geolocation services in mobile devices to launch localized advertising products, few have launched tablet editions that are more than mere replicas, and few have energetically embraced app development to become serial launchers of new digital products.

The future of regional and local newspapers will be dismal for many traditional print publishers, what with new digital competitors biting at their heels. But there is a future for some, and no doubt that is what the investors behind Halifax Media Holdings is hoping (or they will simply sell off the pieces).

No surprise that Jim Romenesko landed this news first – he has been landing stories like this for years. But it is ironic (or maybe it isn't) that this story broke one month after his departure from Poynter.

Jim is not time stamping his stories on his new website, so it is a little hard to tell exactly when he posted his story, but it obviously quickly forced the NYT to respond with its own press release. That, in turn was picked up by others, including Poynter, which would not link back to Jim's news site as a source. (You can make of that what you will.)