Carolyn Barta at Dallas Blog wrote Friday that Dallas’ Only Daily Newspaper will spin off the Texas Almanac to the Texas State Historical Association today. If true (Barta didn’t name any sources, but she is a long-time Belo insider), it’s the end of a 150-year association between the almanac and the various Belo companies that have published it since 1857.
As noted here and elsewhere, Belo will almost certainly do something to cut costs in the wake of its poor first quarter numbers:
• The company lost $8.7 million in the first quarter, and it warned things would get better before they got worse.
• Revenue fell 8.8 percent and advertising sales at the company’s four newspapers and their Web sites dropped 12 percent.
• Total daily circulation was down 8.3 percent, the largest drop among the biggest 20 U.S. newspapers.
• Its EBITDA, which is a fancy way of measuring cash flow, dropped from 14 percent in the first quarter of 2007 to 9 percent this quarter.
• Its stock, which debuted in February, closed at $9.15 on Friday. That’s just six cents off the all-time low, also hit on Friday, and more than $7 less than its all-time high. In other words, A.H. Belo has dropped 44 percent in about four, and almost 10 percent since April 28.
So what’s next? I think these losses caught Belo’s bosses by surprise, who figured things would be bad, but not this bad. They had already taken extensive cost-cutting measures, reducing expenses company-wide by 3.5 percent. This included making The Morning News smaller both in physical size and the number of pages and eliminating some clerical staff earlier this year. That those efforts didn’t prevent this has to have been a shock.
Hence shedding the Texas Almanac, which has always been a source of pride for the company. Belo would probably like to dump its Riverside, Calif., newspaper, as well, but who would want it? Riverside is in the middle of the California real estate collapse, and its ad revenue declined 26 percent from the same period in 2007.
I don’t see how layoffs can be avoided, because there isn’t much else left to cut. You can only trim miscellaneous expenses, like magazine subscriptions and travel, so much. Then you have to hack at the biggest costs, and that is wages.
I don’t write this chucking and chortling, because job losses are never times for chuckling and chortling. But when Belo CEO Robert Decherd says "We are looking at every sensible expense reduction. …", it’s time to be realistic.