When The Palm Beach Post was forced by its owners in Atlanta to hire a California readership consultant in 2008, the goal was for the consultant, Frank N. Magid Associates Inc., to tell a staff with plenty experience how to slow down a decline in readership.
Three years later, the Post is selling nearly 70,000 fewer newspapers on weekdays and 72,000 on Sunday, a loss of more than 45 percent in readership.
According to the latest statistics, the company is well below the 100,000 daily newspapers mark for the first time in memory — this, as potential clients soared to 1.1 million in Palm Beach County!
I don’t know about you, but I’d be asking Magid for my money back just about now!
Another one of the bright minds behind the Magid hiring, Bob Neil, a radio exec who ran all of Cox Media’s properties in Florida, recently retired. He was then re-hired as, you guessed it, a consultant!
When Magid was brought on in 2008, several top editors told me their mandate was to follow Magid’s recommendations, whatever they may be.
Never mind that newspaper journalism is fueled by instincts, not consultants.
But it was pretty clear at the time that top jobs were on the line. So Publisher Tim Burke, Managing Editor Nick Moschella, and the usually maverick Features Editor Jan Tuckwood fell in line like good soldiers.
Changes on the papers’ front page, which sets the tone for the rest of the product, were quick and drastic after Magid assembled a sample of readers that supposedly was representative of the local population.
The “representative” readers, it turns out, wanted more hard news, more international, less frills, less sports and fewer entertainment features.
Just like in your grandfather’s newspaper!
The changes would have made sense for The Evening Times circa 1974. They didn’t seem to take under consideration the web, cable TV and what’s left of local television — and earlier deadlines caused by deep labor cuts.
Maggot, sorry, Magid, then wiggled its way through other sections of the paper and still provides its “expertise.”
In September, subscribers were grilled over the telephone for yet another survey about sports columnists, and whether readers mind reading in their morning Post stories about the Miami Heat and Miami Dolphins first published in the Sun-Sentinel.
Doesn’t bode well for the section!
Magid may have extenuating circumstances, like the economy and the decline of newspapers in general.
But then, how would the high-priced consultants explain why circulation of the St. Petersburg Times INCREASED by 6.6 percent on Sunday?
Burke didn’t respond to an email asking if Cox regrets hiring Magid. And media specialist Magid apparently doesn’t have a spokesperson, or so I’m told by a secretary. No one returned calls to address the decline.
I don’t know what’s worse: Gutless mid- and top-managers who continue to do as they’re told even if it’s the wrong thing, or L.A. consultants who obviously don’t know the West Palm Beach market and its nuances?
Either way, the paper’s more-than-capable staff and hardcore readership end up paying for an institutional lack of vision.