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20% Down Is The New Up: A Blatant Attempt At Coining A Media Industry Catchphrase. (And More On The Losses At The San Francisco Chronicle)

In prior ad slowdowns, I’ve had more than one wiseacre executive tell me that “flat is the new up”—that not losing ad revenues versus the prior year was the equivalent of posting a gain.

But this tough time is not like other tough times, as we are endlessly reminded. While at the 4 A’s media agency conference in New Orleans last week, I tweeted that the mood was so foul among agency and media execs—especially media execs—that I was surprised no one was saying that 15% down is the new up.


Memories of New Orleans tend to be a bit foggy—it is a city that admirably mixes its drinks so generously that each one delivers a noticeable blow to the cerebellum—and since I’ve been back I unwittingly started rounding up that figure. In other words: 20% down is the new up.

Heh. Heh. Kinda.

The thing is, I’m not finding many people who disagree. “20 percent sounds pretty good,” said one rueful newspaper executive. This executive expected most major newspaper companies revenues to be down 30% in the first quarter of ’09.

This is a time in which many insane figures are routinely thrown around. The stimulus bill costs $787 billion. The bear market’s nadir marked a 53% decline from its October 2007 peak. All of these new numerical realities collectively produce a kind of distortion of perception. Hearst previously said its San Francisco Chronicle, which it is threatening to shutter absent significant union concessions, was lost over $50 million last year. But I am told by an industry executive that a more precise statement would be “the San Francisco Chronicle lost over $75 million last year.” (A Hearst spokesman declined to comment beyond the company’s prior statements on the Chronicle’s losses.)

That’s losing million and a half dollars a week--or more. You may forgive the staffers at Hearst’s Seattle Post intelligencer, who are apparently awaiting a shutdown of the paper’s print product (at the minimum), for being cranky about that number. According to Hearst, the P-I lost “only” $14 million last year. Hey, the Chronicle lost that in three months!

But like I said: new realities.

Which is why 20% down is the new up.

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