News still projecting 2009 profit

The Buffalo News is projecting a smaller-than-expected profit this year because of its inability to bargain concessions from other unions and a steeper-than-expected drop in advertising.

The decline in News’ profits was the big news to come out of the first Labor Management Committee meeting between members of the Guild and News management last month. The LMC, created as part of a recent bargaining settlement, was formed so both sides can exchange ideas on how to improve the paper’s future.

The News, which lost money in November, December and January, is again turning a profit, although the cost of employee buyouts technically put the paper in the red in March.

The News is projecting year-end profits of $7 million to $12 million, although, year-to-date, it is still losing money.

Advertising sales in recent months have been down more than 20 percent compared with the same period the year before. Ad revenues nationally were down 30 percent during the first quarter of the year.

Part of The News’ advertising struggles are the result of a nearly 50 percent drop in the number of incoming calls from customers placing classified ads.

“The News is doing a bit better than papers nationally, but the trends are not good,” said Jim Heaney, chairman of the Guild contingent on the LMC.

The meeting also featured Vince Chiaramonte, an assistant design editor, who gave a presentation on ways The News can improve the function and earning potential of it Web sites.

Among his key recommendations:

  • Change the home page to provide a mere taste of content, to encourage readers to click through to interior pages.
  • Improve the effectiveness of ads by making them more prominent on pages and charging based on performance rather than clicks.
  • Offer video classifieds, one way to combat the growth of Craig’s List.
  • Use customized e-mails to deliver targeted news and advertisers to readers.

“We’ve been at it for 10 years and we can’t get out of the single-digit percentages of company revenue,” Chiaramonte said.

“How to make money to save newspapers is not someone else’s problem. Nothing’s stopping us from bringing together good people, tossing ambitious goals on the table and sharing what happens.”