1:05 pm Jul. 3, 2012
Speculation about Advance Publications' intentions for its New Jersey papers has been swirling for the past week.
The arrival of two new executives at the offices of NJ.com, the web portal for about a dozen New Jersey titles including the Pulitzer-winning Star Ledger, first fueled worries the Newhouse family was planning something drastic for the Garden State: Both executives came from AnnArbor.com.
Advance, you will recall, is the Newhouse-owned publisher of the News Orleans Times-Picayune, the print edition of which is being scaled back to three days a week while the brand moves to a more digitally focused news product with a significantly reduced editorial staff. Similar plans are underway for several papers Advance owns in Alabama, and the model was previously implemented at the company's Ann Arbor publication, which was renamed AnnArbor.com both online and in print.
The tea leaves seemed even more ripe for reading last week after Jim Romenesko unearthed a Facebook posting from NJ.com's chief content officer, Lamar Graham, seeking "aggressive go-getter" digital reporters to cover four counties in central and northern New Jersey. Advance could, after all, be quietly ramping up content and broadening coverage at its statewide online news portal in anticipation of future cost-cutting at its print products.
But in a Media Decoder item this morning, The New York Times' David Carr got a quote from Graham pushing back on the suggestion that NJ.com's hiring tear might portend dark days ahead for Advance's Jersey dailies.
"I was brought in to turn NJ.com into more of a news-gathering operation in areas that are outside the core coverage of the newspapers,” Graham told Carr. "We don’t anticipate any changes with our New Jersey newspapers."
The prospect of reducing the frequency of say, The Star Ledger, New Jersey's most august paper and the only one that seriously covers the state up and down, would seem a deadly blow to Jersey news, which has already suffered in recent years due to steep cuts at other dailies, such as those owned by Gannett. It would even be hard to imagine a much smaller Advance paper like The Jersey Journal cutting back on its print edition, which has become an anemic tabloid and a shell of its former self, but is nonetheless the only daily paper devoted primarily to covering New Jersey's most densely-populated area, Hudson County.
For now, we can only take Graham at his word.
But it's also worth noting that an earlier job posting seeking NJ.com reporters was circulated on May 1.
"NJ.com, New Jersey's largest news and information website, is seeking web-savvy reporters to generate engaging and dynamic digital content in Bergen County, NJ," read the ad, a copy of which was forwarded to Capital at the time from someone who received it via the career services department of N.Y.U.'s journalism school.
"We're seeking driven professionals who are passionate about 21st century journalism and committed to excellent real-time news coverage. The right candidate will have the opportunity to make an impact as part of a well-established and forward-thinking news organization."
This of course was a full three weeks before the company's plans for New Orleans became public. But still, the description sounds not unlike the spin Advance was promoting in the face of widespread consternation about the Times-Picayune print reduction and the resultant digitization of the paper's news-gathering model.
As one Star Ledger reporter told the Times' Carr: “It feels like they are sneaking up on us, just like they did in New Orleans.”
On the other hand, the job listing also makes it sound like NJ.com is making an incursion into the turf long covered by The Record of Bergen County, New Jersey's second largest daily paper.
At the time, we asked Matt Kraner, one of the former AnnArbor.com executives and president of NJ.com, what was behind the expansion.
"We have a no comment policy," he said.
ED. NOTE: An earlier version of this article stated that Hudson County is the "most populous" area of New Jersey. It is more accurate to say that it is the most densely populated.
More by this author:
- 'Village Voice' fires Michael Musto in yet another round of cuts
- 'New York Post' buyouts focus on 'loyal soldiers ... highest paid'