Thursday, January 7, 2010

Can't we all just get along?

File this under head-scratching.

The editor of an online news site in New York City has a post on a group blog known as the Idea Lab that seems to chastise fellow online news site Politico for its advertising success -- in print.

"Politico, of course, is fortunate enough to have both a print and Web presence. Those of us at Web-only publications ... cannot help but be frustrated by seeing ads -- and revenue -- going to print publications that may have fewer readers and weaker content," says Gail Robinson of, a site that covers in the Big Apple what Politico covers in Washington, D.C.: policy, politics and personalities.

Whether by "fewer readers and weaker content" she means Politico specifically or is just blowing off steam at the current wild and wooly media market isn't clear. But it sure sounds like sour grapes.

The post, titled "Advertisers Still Prefer Print to Online," recounts the news, reported earlier this week by, that Politico showed a profit in fiscal 2009, ended Sept. 30, for owner Allbritton Communications Co. of suburban D.C.

The family-owned Allbritton, which operates television stations from Virginia to Oklahoma affiliated with the ABC network, is closely held and not subject to the financial reporting rules that govern publicly traded companies. But it filed an annual report with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission "under the terms of certain long-term debt."

For fiscal '09, Allbritton shows a loss of $5.6 million on revenue of $200 million -- vs. a profit of $12.9 million on revenue of $216.4 million in fiscal 2008 -- primarily due to the recession. Auto advertising, for instance, which accounted for about 14 percent of broadcast revenue last year, was down 41 percent from fiscal 2008, according to the filing.

Politico was a bright spot, though.

Founded in January 2007, it employs about 100 in Arlington, Va., in online and print operations. The four-color, tabloid-sized newspaper circulates about 30,000 copies five days a week while Congress is in session (only once a week during recesses) and targets Capitol Hill, D.C.'s K Street lobby corridor and government agencies. It's also free in honor boxes outside the Metro (subway).

Allbritton's SEC filing shows Politico made about $901,000 in fiscal '09 on revenue of $18.6 million. In its first year of operation, revenue was about $4 million.

The revenue from print advertising comes in large part from full-page ads, many of them advocacy or issue-oriented. When I was in D.C. just after Thanksgiving, I was amazed by the number.

In the 28-page Monday paper, I counted 10 full-page ads. In the 36-page Tuesday paper, there were 17, several of them by the same companies or groups (General Electric, EADS North America, Georgetown University, the Republic of Kosovo) that had advertised Monday. Tuesday's paper also had two "double trucks" -- a single ad running across two adjacent pages (Northrup Grumman, Chevron). On Wednesday, by the time I got to the Metro, no papers were left in the honor boxes.

Sure, the GothamGazette's Robinson may opine of Politico's results: "A rare bit of good financial news for journalism points once again to the difficulty of financing online media." But you've got to offer a big Huzzah! to the D.C. folks for finding a workable hybrid for these times: a multimedia Web site with in-the-know immediacy for Beltway wonks and an ink-on-paper platform for advertisers to pitch their message to power brokers.

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