The changing landscape of newspapers…

The combination of the Internet and the recession has hit many newspapers hard. That’s especially true for daily newspapers where the decline of classified advertising took away a core revenue source.

So what is happening?

It appears that some daily newspapers are looking to cut back on their print editions and move toward heavier digital delivery on iPads and other similar devices. The Morris newspaper group, including the Athens Banner Herald, are making noise that seems like they’re moving that direction. Morris’ “digital first” plans imply that in the next few years, the company will be moving away from print into more iPad delivery as a new business model. Bolstering that idea are rumors that the ABH will be outsourcing its printing soon. Given Morris’ debt load, any way to cut costs is being looked at by the firm. Moving to digital distribution and cutting printing back is one way to achieve that. (Scuttlebutt also indicates that Morris is trying to sell its ABH building to UGA, then lease back part of the building for its operations sans printing.)

Other daily newspapers, including the AJC, are also reportedly looking at iPad distribution as a new business model. The industry publication Editor & Publisher had an article last week about the boom in iPads and how that might be an opportunity for newspapers.

Frankly, nobody knows how newspapers will make the digital transition. Print isn’t dead, but clearly the industry is shifting and the old model is changing.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see a college town like Athens move toward digital as its primary mode of delivery. (ABH publisher Scot Morrissey is known for his push toward an all-digital future.) The financial pressures Morris faces is a strong incentive to experiment with cost-cutting ideas. Going “digital first” with a one or two day print product is one way to do that.

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No reporting on Clarke County schools’ EOCT results

It’s been nearly a week since the state released individual school results for the End of Course Tests taken by students last spring. So far, the Athens media has ignored reporting on those results.

Could that be because Clarke County students did so poorly on the EOCT?

Pretty much across the board, the two public high schools in Clarke County were in the bottom 30% of all high schools in the state in last spring’s testing. That is consistent with other Clarke County school test results.

Yet the Athens-Clarke media just doesn’t report that important school data. While they relish reporting data from surrounding communities, they don’t pay too much attention to what’s happening in their own back yards.

The ABH, for example, posts detailed crime blotters online for every county in the area except Clarke County. There isn’t any crime in Clarke County I guess.

With the lack of local reporting, you have to wonder if the Athens media is being published by journalists, or by the local chamber of commerce.

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How should local governments use tax abatements?

Tax abatements to lure industries are the subject of this week’s editorial in the Barrow Journal. Some counties do those the right way, but Barrow’s latest deal raises some serious questions.

The AJC also had an article Friday on that issue:

Jobs carry a high price tag

By Richard Halicks
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
4:19 a.m. Friday, August 5, 2011
Researchers at the University of North Carolina discovered a disturbing trend last year regarding businesses that accept state incentives and tax breaks in return for creating jobs.
Four in 10 of those companies did not create jobs. They actually cut them.
Georgia has spent more than a half-billion dollars in the past 10 years on similar tax breaks and incentives, and you’re probably wondering how our programs performed.
Keep on wondering.
The state Revenue Department receives corporate tax records each year, but the taxpayers of Georgia – who bear the budgetary burden from fewer tax collections – do not have the right to review those reports. So you often can’t find out whether a company has lived up to its promises.
Without question, companies receiving incentives have created thousands of jobs in Georgia. But it’s unclear whether the loans and grants are necessary.
“Obviously, we don’t know whether these programs are effective or not,” said Sarah Beth Gehl, deputy director of the nonpartisan Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. “There are valid purposes for certain incentives. But with any program we need to have transparency and accountability to make sure we’re getting our money’s worth.”
Throughout this week, the AJC publishes an eight-part series on metro Atlanta’s 2012 turning point. Get the in-depth story on how our region ranks with nine of its metro competitors around the country. Find out who’s in the lead (it isn’t us) and why. It’s a story you’ll get only by picking up a copy of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution or logging on to the paper’s iPad app. Subscribe today.
Click here for more information about the Atlanta Forward series.

Follow our scorecards and see how Atlanta stacks up against our competition.

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About the AYP standards…

I don’t like the AP standards that came out of the Not Child Left Behind laws. It’s impossible to expect that EVERY child will be on grade level. That will never happen unless we dumb down the standards.

And I don’t like the way one small subgroup of students can keep an entire school from making AYP. That is not a fair evaluation of an entire school.

I’ll be discussing these issues this week (July 27, 2011) in the Barrow Journal both in print and online.

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Secret dealing won’t help Athens industry problems….

Why can’t Athens-Clarke lure new industry?

Here’s why:

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The real story on CRCT results

This week we’re writing about system level CRCT results for area elementary and middle schools. In a couple of weeks, the state will release the school by school results, which are often very interesting when looking at what schools are strong or weak.

Still, the system results are also important if you look at the data correctly. What does that mean? Well, to really get a feel for how a system is performing, you need to look mainly at 5th and 8th grade results. Those are the two big “gateway” grades and reflect the total effort of a school.

You also have to look in the context of state results. This year, most schools in the state “improved,” which means that the test was probably dumbed-down or the cut score for passing was lowered. Just about every school in the state can claim they “improved,” but that’s meaningless if the standards were lowered.

Most area schools were in the middle or top tier of schools except for Clarke County, which remains in the bottom 1/2 of school systems in the state. You won’t find that in the Athens media, however, which continues to mask the real problem of education in that county.

Today’s ABH story, for example, you have to read 9 paragraphs down to even get to Clarke County results, which then has this spin sentence: :”Students in the Clarke County School District posted the lowest pass rates in the region, but their scores showed marked improvement since years past and were on par with or just below state averages.”

Well, that’s not exactly true if you look at 5th and 8th Grade results. Clarke is pretty far below the state average in most content area in those two key grades. And compared to other local school systems, they were way down the list.

Just compare Clarke results to the Jackson County School System: 5th Grade Social Science, Clarke had a 42.6 percent failure rate compare to Jackson’s 11.9 percent; in 5th Grade Reading Clarke had a 12.1 percent failure rate to Jackson’s 2.4 percent; 8th Grade Math Clark had a 30.3 percent failure rate to Jackson’s 19.3; and 8th Grade Science Clarke had a 37.8 percent failure rate to Jackson’s 17.6 percent.

Spin, spin, spin. The Athens media should really do a better job of reporting local schools’ testing results and not hide the reality by burying the data.

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Secrecy in Baldwin…

Baldwin finance director Karen Degges tried to keep city budget documents secret last week and refused to give our reporter at the Banks County News a copy of the documents. She later sent an email to the city council mulling over ways to keep the city’s budget process secret (now she claims that email was “attorney-client” privilege.)

For the record, here is the full copy of Degges email in which she makes it very clear she doesn’t want the public to know about city spending plans:

Email dated: Monday, June 13, 2011 11:38 A

Good morning everyone,

Saturday’s meeting was one more challenging that I had hoped it would be, with the unexpected attendance by the media (after they said they would not be there at last Thursday’s work session). Clearly there is a huge amount of media interest in the activities of Baldwin, on an extremely detailed level that I have not seen with the other cities I’ve worked for. Unfortunately, the handouts I had prepared for you folks included detailed information about employee salaries, as I thought we were going to be in the position where we could have much more frank discussion about the budgets submitted by the department heads. I had hoped we would leave that meeting with a clear outline of what needed to be cut, or some clear direction from the council as to what staff should do to get the budget in presentation form. We could not get to that goal with the added distraction of having the press literally sitting right there on top of us looking at the notes being taken by the City Clerk and Council members, asking questions, and providing their input as to what we should be budgeting for. I am all for transparency in government, but not when it’s to the point where work is being impeded and the line between who is staff and who is media is being blurred. It took us four hours to get through the budget summary, which had no detailed information at all.

It is going to be very difficult to have another public meeting, which is scheduled for this Thursday at 5:30 at City Hall, and go into the level of detail that will be needed to examine potential budget cuts and/or tax increases to fund what has been requested. Sharon and I had some disagreement first thing Saturday when she asked for a complete set of handouts, which were draft working documents (and labeled so) for our internal use. Initially I refused to provide her with anything, but then she said she was going to ask the Mayor for a set of documents. Then I relented and gave her Robert’s copy of the 3 page departmental summary, and she advised she would be writing up any number we discussed in our meeting. That forced me to hang onto the other handouts. It will be inflammatory enough in the paper to have her print (as I am expecting) that staff has asked for an additional $150,000 in funding, which will require a 2.5 tax mil increase.

Normally all of this behind the scenes discussion of budget details, salaries and proposed budget cuts would be handled by staff (under the City Manager’s direction) prior to presenting the budget to the elected officials. The use of a budget committee of 3 elected officials was discussed but not implemented on Saturday. Since everyone indicated they want to be involved in the budget process (and it is your right to be as elected officials), I think some serious thought needs to be given as to whether or not we want to continue doing this level of detailed discussion and possible disagreement (about what and where to cut) in full view of the press. My primary concern is preserving some level of privacy for our employees, who do not want their pay detailed on the front page of the newspaper for all of their neighbors to see.

I will be putting together some numbers this afternoon on a few different scenarios for possible cost savings, and I would much prefer to meet with three of you Thursday morning, and the second three Thursday afternoon, and it be done as two staff meetings, than be forced to provide the press an abundance of sensitive information, including employee salaries, in a public meeting. Not to mention how much longer it will take to get through all this information in that type of meeting structure. If we proceed with the original plan, the hand-outs used will (I feel sure) be challenged again, and be again requested by the media. Even if those aren’t distributed, everything we say will be public record.

I do not want to take away from or diminish anyone’s participation, but to do this type of detailed budget work in front of the press is not going to be easy or pleasant. Please think this over and let me know if you still want to have the Special Called Meeting on Thursday, or handle this as two separate staff meetings. No matter what is decided, I will try to adjust the content of any handouts accordingly, and at least be more prepared for full publication of any documents.

If any of you have any questions about the material I gave you to take home, please give me a call or stop by and I will be happy to assist you.




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