What is going on with the Sun Herald? A Microcosm of the impacts of too much leverage in a declining industry

Over the past 6 weeks or so I’ve been asked by numerous folks what is going on at the Sun Herald and besides another layoff to go with the one earlier this year the answer is not much.  The complaints I’ve heard from older readers that grew up reading the daily newspaper do not seem very encouraging.

I had a chance recently to spend a few minutes chatting with a member of the media, who told me about canceling their Sun Herald subscription because it had become so expensive while the content of the newspaper seems less and less.  This was a productive exchange of information because I found out that those who canceled are offered far better renewal rates to come back on board.

Not two days after I spoke with a nice lady in her late 70s who volunteered to me she too had just canceled her subscription because of the combination of price and lack of content.  I assured the lady she would be getting a phone call to renew her subscription at a discounted rate, which I later confirmed did happen.  The telemarketer promised this person that with the new Publisher in place content would be increasing.  I took that promise as long term counterproductive sales puffery because it takes people to generate content and the paper isn’t expanding its workforce, the opposite is true. The next time the lady cancels, getting her back will not be nearly so easy.

To be clear, the Sun Herald is not completely devoid of  talent. Anita Lee is still around as is Karen Nelson, Robin Fitzgerald and Margaret Baker. The sports department was cut earlier this year with Patrick Ochs ultimately leaving for sports Coms at PRCC leaving Patrick Magee as a one man sports band.  The coverage of local high school sports has suffered as a result.  For example WXXV did profiles of the coast football teams this past July/August, something the Sun Herald used to roll out in a special section. Cutting sports is huge in my mind because the sports section is typically the most trafficked part of online news sites, so I am not sure what McClatchy accomplished there cutting the second sports reporter.

Also gone are Paul Hampton (retired), Justin Mitchell (Jumped ship to the Clarion Ledger) along with several behind the scenes folks like Kate Magandy. Shannon Wall is out as publisher of the Sun Herald with that job combined with that of Executive Editor Blake Kaplan.

Based on what I could find in the public record it appears the Sun Herald took a disproportionate hit with the last round of layoffs, the second this year. The hemorrhaging cash continues unabated while local markets are treated to headlines like this in the local digital media:

McClatchy Guts Star-Telegram, Considers Fort Worth To Be Part of Midwest ~ Tim Rogers

Here’s the truth: McClatchy announced its first quarter results on April 27. The company reported a net loss in that period of $38.9 million, compared to $95.6 million in the first quarter of 2017. Not all the news is bad. But it’s hard to see how McClatchy’s ownership of the Star-T has been or will be good for the city of Fort Worth.

Since 2018 Q1 the financial picture has not much improved:

As Wall Street sours on McClatchy, a longtime lender is now also buying up its stock ~ Rick Edmonds

It appears the McClatchy family is caught in a death spiral, unwilling to let go while the company dies a slow, painful death:

McClatchy shares have been trading lately at a little under $9 a share. However, the company did a so-called “reverse stock split” in 2016. So 10 shares valued at $1.14 each would be exchanged for one share worth $11.40. On a comparative basis then, the stock, which once traded in the $70-plus range, is worth 90 cents a share — penny stock territory.

Meantime the management initiative to turn things around circa 2017 do not seem to be bearing much fruit, or put another way, those goals will be that much harder to accomplish with what’s left of the staff.

The Coast would be better off without McClatchy owning the local paper. The question is whether there will be anything left after the family gets done cannibalizing its remaining assets.

2 thoughts on “What is going on with the Sun Herald? A Microcosm of the impacts of too much leverage in a declining industry”

  1. Yes that same thing happened to the Mississippi Press. Cut, cut, then combine. The profit has gone away from the print news and they want you to go online. Sad age we are in for us older folks that love to read our papers not online. Then try to get us to subscribe online for a fee like Sun Herald did a few years ago.

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