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Government media aren’t dodging the recession — 1105 Media decides not to publish this week’s GCN

with 2 comments

gcn_logo1If you’re looking for your Jan. 26 issue of 1105 Media’s Government Computer News today, don’t hold your breath — I what I believe is a first in the publication’s 26 year history that ofGCN, the magazine did not publish a scheduled issue. Why? The horrible, terrible, awful advertising market.

gcn_cover_01120911105ers have been told that advertisers are waiting until February — or later in the year — for advertising buys. (The government market has traditionally been defined by what publishers call the “hockey stick” — there is a spike in advertising in the months before the end of the government’s fiscal year on September 30 when advertisers are looking to get in front of readers right around the time they are making buying decisions. As most of us know, most government funds are ‘use it or lose So there was an opportunity to avoid losses, and that was just too much to pass up. They have been told that things seem on track for the rest of the year, but I’m guessing nobody is doubling down.

I have no doubt there was some debate how how this would look ‘in the market.’

This recession has been tough on many markets — the financial markets have been ransacked, of course… the housing market… the list goes on. But I would argue that few have been as hard hit as journalism — to the point that some have suggested that it might be time for a journalism bailout bill. I’m not sure how exactly one measures the difference between a recession and a depression, but… in my many years in this business, I’ve never seen anything like it. And it has struck just about every organization — the Tribune Company, purchased by SamZell , has filed for bankruptcy protection… the Wall Street Journal was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp… even the vaunted New York Times and Washington Post have been struggling. All of journalism is under intense competitive pressures right now — and I mean intense. Print journalism, where I have spent most of my career, has been struggling with how to monetize the Web — print ads carry pay for most of the infrastructure, but they they don’t have the cache that they once did, yet Web ads don’t nearly cover the expensive costs of a news gathering organization. So print publications put more online, where more eyes are, but nobody has yet to figure out a workable business plan.

I share BusinessWeek’s Steve Baker’s hope that journalism will come through this stronger. “All kinds of opportunities are going to come out of this. The money’s a mystery, a course. That’s part of what makes the movie scary,” he writes.

In previous recessions, government publications have been somewhat protected — I say somewhat. During the dot-bomb period in 2000-2001, there were tough times and some belt tightening — even some layoffs, but — as awful as it is to say, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks brought a lot of money into the government market. And just about anybody who was somebody started a homeland security publication of some kind. But the market has been tough for awhile, but I’ve never seen anything like what we’re seeing right now.

Back in October, we reported that two government related publications shuttered.The big IT publisher, CMP, has all but eliminated Government VAR, essentially merging it in to VAR Business giving it token attention on a government business section on their Web site. But many of those have not been the big government publications. The big books are 1105 Media’s Federal Computer Week, Government Computer News and Washington Technology — and, of course, the respective Web sites, FCW.com, GCN.com, and WashingtonTechnology.com; Atlantic Media’s Government Executive with its two Web sites — GovExec.com and the tech focused NextGov.com; and there are the suite of Army Times Publishing publications including Defense News and Federal Times, among others. And then there is AFCEA’s publication, Signal magazine. (By way of disclosure, I used to work for 1105 Media as the editor of Federal Computer Week. I currently write a column for Signal magazine.) And, of course, in the state and local market, there are a handful of publications, the big one being eRepublic Inc.’s Government Technology. (Disclosure: I have a column that will be published in the coming issue of Government Technology’s sister publication, Public CIO.) There are others, but… those certainly are the big guys.

In my scan of the most recent issues of 1105 GovInfo’s publications, the ad rundown:

Washington Technology’s January issue: 2 ads in a 36p folio
Government Computer News’s January 12 issue: 3 ads
Federal Computer Week’s January 12 issue: 2 ads in a 36p folio

I don’t have the print issue of Government Executive. If somebody has one and can count the number of ads and let me know… The big difference is that Government Executives is essentially a monthly. They pushed up to 24 issues for one year, and have backed off of that since then. This year, it is essentially a monthly with a few “special” issues.

The government market is not alone, by far. Other publications — and tech publication — are also hurting. The February issue of Wired magazine has 114 pages, the smallest I’ve seen.

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Written by cdorobek

January 27, 2009 at 12:39 PM

Posted in press

2 Responses

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  1. Your picture of the slippery slope was informative and thoughtful.

    While we should shun some unattainable, high-fallutin’ definition of journalism, the attributes of trade press journalism in the government services industry are that it (1) originates little news and rather repackages information released with a purpose by the government and companies, or borrows same from other media sources; (2) tends to gather opinion from the same sources repeatedly (I charted this four years ago, and it was striking); (4) shuns controversy unless it can be relayed from elsewhere; and (5) is not very concerned about potential conflicts of interest and is less stringent than the (declining) standards of the top MSM.

    This could describe the “trade press” in many industries. But it still serves important purposes, e.g., aggregating transactional news and passing on (predictable) opinion, and offering a relatively wide communications channel that has hardly been exploited.

    But for now, the summing effect is homogenization (like the industry itself) and leveling, and, in the present environment, a weeding out of organizations still willing to be in the business. Trade press cutbacks follow along MSM layoffs and contractions everywhere you look, and Web sites remain thin–a kind of paving-the-cowpaths effect. They seem headed for Google News methods if they could only afford the software. Lights-out journalism.

    Michael Lent

    January 28, 2009 at 1:01 PM

  2. I’d be remiss in not responding to your assessment about government media and Michael Lent’s comment.

    There’s no question, business-to-business (or trade) publications are going through the same painful adjustments as the consumer press–and indeed, virtually all industries right now.

    All of us who work in business or government have a responsibility to be attentive to the real world conditions around us, be agile in our response, and be willing to change. That invariably means making some tough decisions.

    What wasn’t said was how much content GCN, and the 1105 Government Information Group properties, continue to publish online each and every day.

    Indeed, the amount and type of content we produce on GCN.com each week routinely dwarfs what appears in an average print issue, even though we believe print issues provide a unique value all their own to our readers and the government IT community.

    If there’s a signal to be taken from not publishing one of our 26 print issues this year, it is that we’re facing the current market with our eyes wide open and trying to make responsible moves in difficult times. No one in media is finding this easy. Our challenge is finding the right publishing balance as we continue to seek the best ways of satisfying the needs of our readers, advertisers and our stakeholders.

    As to Mr. Lents’ comments about trade publications, his observations are valid to a degree, but he paints with an overly broad brush.

    I might remind him that it was publications such as GCN and Washington Technology that broke the story about government abuses regarding diploma mills (http://gcn.com/Articles/2003/07/07/The-heat-is-on-dubious-degrees.aspx) that eventually led to Congressional hearings and a report by 60 Minutes. And that GCN was ahead of most of the consumer press in reporting (in 2006) the details of mounting cyber breaches at the Pentagon (http://gcn.com/Articles/2006/08/17/Red-storm-rising.aspx). And that we continue to provide substantial original reporting and technology product reviews every week that represent an important, independent voice in our market.

    Wyatt Kash

    January 29, 2009 at 11:07 AM


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