Print Media’s Comeback?


President Obama gave kudos to print media this past Saturday evening during his speech at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, singling out the Boston Globe’s coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings.

 

The president closed his comedic-style remarks on a somber note saying “we have seen humanity shine at its brightest,” referencing how first responders to everyday citizens came together as a country to assist with the recent tragedies in Boston, Texas and the Midwest.

 

“We also saw journalists at their best who took the time to wade up stream through the torrent of digital rumors and chase down facts,” said the president in a packed room at the Washington Hilton Hotel.  “If anyone wonders whether newspapers are a thing of the past, all you needed to do was to pick up or log on to papers like the Boston Globe.  When their communities needed them most, they were there making sense … that’s what great journalism is and that’s what great journalists do.”

 

No doubt the president was playing nice with the media.  It’s also important to keep in mind that Saturday’s event was organized by the White House Correspondents’ Association, an organization of journalists who cover the president.

 

Whether or not the president was continuing his charm offensive remains unclear.  There is truth to his comments, however.  More stringent editorial protocols exist for print outlets than many self-publishing online media even though newspaper staffs have been heavily downsized.

 

In fact, the newspaper industry dropped 30 percent of its newsroom staff since 2000 and hit below 40,000 full-time professional employees for the first time since 1978, according to the Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2013.

 

There is an upside however.  Pew reported that newspaper circulation revenue, both for weekday and Sunday editions, has remained relatively steady over the past two decades.  Moreover, decline in total print ad revenue seems to have leveled off somewhat, although online ad growth has been minimal at best.

 

Several factors have contributed to the small glimmer of good news within the newspaper industry including a surge in pay wall subscriptions, which coincidently the Boston Globe recently halted in the aftermath of the Boston bombings.

 

Newspapers are not out of the woods yet.  These outlets have created strong brand awareness cultivated over decades by providing local news to communities. The trick is leveraging this attribute while reorganizing their business models to successfully compete in today’s online media landscape.

 

Late night TV talk show host Conan O’Brien who headlined the correspondents’ dinner may have said it best, “… many people are saying print media is dying, but I don’t believe it, and neither does my blacksmith.”

 

George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

Social Securities

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s recent decision allowing public companies to announce information via social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter is a logical next step for a government agency that has been relatively non-committal about new information channels.

Most public companies think in terms of 10-Ks, 10-Qs, 8-Ks and the like when it comes to disclosure, in addition to issuing news releases on wire services, such as Business Wire, PRNewswire, GlobeNewswire and Marketwire. But times are-a-changin’, indeed. When an executive can speak directly to his or her audience on Facebook or Twitter, it seems superfluous to shell out thousands of dollars a year to issue news releases.

Tweeting a link to financial results is, in many ways, a lot easier (and certainly less expensive) than uploading an eight-page news release to a wire service. So what if tweeting financial results will not reach Yahoo! Finance, Google News and other websites that are fed by wire services. Consider how liberating it might feel to spoon feed your messages directly to audiences who care the most about your news.

Not so fast.

To think that social media are a perfectly benign and convenient way to disclose information is about as naïve as believing that Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong-un are BFF. Consider the fact that thousands upon thousands of fictitious identities are created on Facebook and Twitter on a weekly, if not daily basis. Now add to the mix that companies are issuing market-moving information on these very same networks, and soon the powder keg doubles, triples and quadruples in size.

Don’t get me wrong. I love social media and believe that a plurality of channels begets a more well-informed public. But the SEC doesn’t (likely) have the bandwidth to police the myriad shenanigans that social media have the ability to perpetuate.

And so my question is this: Is the SEC saying OK to social media to save face(book) on the fact that it did not initiate an enforcement action on Netflix CEO Reed Hastings? Or is it due time for the SEC to embrace social media for what they really are: new information channels that have the potential to breed a hornet’s nest of Reg FD infractions.

 

Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com

Lots of Opining as 2013 Proxy Season Heats Up

With this year’s proxy season well underway, bloggers throughout the nation continue to pontificate about the many hot topics facing public companies when it comes to shareholder voting. There’s a lot to learn, but to spare you some time:
 

  • Take a look at last week’s post byThe Metropolitan Corporate Counsel entitled, “This year’s Proxy Season, the Good News and the Bad News,” which sites say on pay and director independence as continuing issues.
     

  • Or you can look at the website,www.law.com, which focuses on environmental issues as dominant themes.
     

  • The Shareholder Rights Project, part of Harvard Law School’s Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, recently announced that proposals it has submitted for 2013 meetings already have had significant impact, with declassifying boards and moving to annual director elections topping its list.
     

  • You also may want to look at www.boardmember.com; www.boardsuitecorp.com; www.proxymonitor.org; and www.corporatesecretary.com.
     

  • Many law firms and proxy solicitation firms are, of course, discussing current issues, as are most of the national law firms.
     

  • Then of course, there’s proxy advisory firm ISS, www.issgovernance.com, stating that political issues have surpassed environmental concerns this year, and that board diversity is elevating on the list of resolutions.
     

  • The other major proxy advisory firm, Glass Lewis, www.glasslewis.com, this year is adamant about board responsiveness to proposals that have received shareholder votes of 25 percent or more against a company’s recommendation.

 
That last one, board responsiveness, is among issues PondelWilkinson takes very seriously, and that ISS and Glass Lewis both continue to address. They will recommend a vote against directors if a board failed to act on a shareholder proposal that received the support of a majority of the shares outstanding the previous year, or if the board failed to act on a shareholder proposal that received a majority of shares cast in the last year and one of the two previous years.
 
My promise to spare you some time with this summary really isn’t sparing you much time at all. While there’s not much that is brand new this year, as always, there’s lots of noise out there, important issues brewing and many opinions of what’s hot. So it’s always a good idea to educate yourself if you are an issuer or a shareholder.

 

rpondel@pondel.com