Apr 3, 2014

A Precarious Time for Legal Newspapers

4 Comments · Posted by Robert Ambrogi in General

Reuters broke the news two days ago that legal news giant ALM — publisher of Law.com, The American Lawyer, The National Law Journal and Law Technology News, among other publications — is up for sale. Just two weeks earlier, it was reported that another major legal news publisher, The Dolan Company, was entering a prepackaged Chapter 11.

Whenever a newspaper or news organization changes hands these days, there is reason for concern. Throughout the industry, reductions in advertising and paid circulation have forced news organizations to make cuts. Legal news entities have been no exception. Indeed, just last summer, ALM cut 35 editorial and production positions. As new owners come in to these organizations, cutting costs is often a first priority.

But there is reason to be particularly concerned about the news of these two companies occurring so close in time. Although both companies have national operations and national publications, both companies’ real bread and butter is in reporting state and local legal news. Between them, they provide local legal news coverage for nearly half the states in the U.S.

Why does this matter? There is an old saw in the news industry, “All news is local.” Nowhere is that more true than in the legal profession. Lawyers are state-focused creatures. Our licenses to practice are by state and, for the most part, the laws we work with are by state. Except where federal law intrudes, we deal primarily in state legislation and state courts.

If new ownership at either ALM or Dolan begins to make cuts, those cuts could chip away at the only sources we have for state and local legal news. If state legal newspapers close down or seriously curtail their operations, lawyers will be left without independent sources of legal news coverage.

General news organizations will not fill this void. Maybe bloggers will to some extent, but rarely with the reliability of these established news entities. Increasingly, our only source for news from our courts and legislatures may be those bodies themselves — and that’s not journalism.

This is probably a good time in this post to point out that I have worked for both ALM and Dolan, as well as for the Lawyers Weekly chain, which Dolan acquired after I worked there. It has been many years since I have been an employee of either, although I occasionally receive payment from ALM for articles I write.

It is enlightening to consider the extent of the states covered between these two companies. Both companies have various businesses besides legal news and, as already noted, national publications. (ALM also has publications focused on Europe and Asia.) But if you consider just their state and local legal news operations, you find that ALM has legal newspapers in nine states and that Dolan has them in 16 states. (Both also have news operations in D.C.) They overlap in two states, so the total number of states they cover is 23.

Here are ALM’s state legal publications:

  • Connecticut Law Tribune.
  • Daily Business Review (Florida).
  • Daily Report (Georgia).
  • Delaware Law Weekly.
  • The Legal Intelligencer (Pennsylvania).
  • New Jersey Law Journal.
  • New York Law Journal.
  • The Recorder (San Francisco).
  • Texas Lawyer.

And here are Dolan’s (some of which are both legal and commercial):

  • Arizona Capitol Times.
  • Idaho Business Review.
  • New Orleans CityBusiness.
  • Daily Journal of Commerce (Louisiana).
  • The Daily Record (Maryland).
  • Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.
  • Michigan Lawyers Weekly.
  • Finance and Commerce (Minnesota).
  • Minnesota Lawyer.
  • Politics in Minnesota.
  • St. Paul Legal Ledger.
  • Missouri Lawyers Weekly.
  • St. Louis Daily Record (Missouri).
  • The Countian – St. Louis (Missouri).
  • The Countian – Jefferson County (Missouri).
  • St. Charles County Business Record (Missouri).
  • The Daily Record – Kansas City (Missouri).
  • Long Island Business News (New York).
  • New York Daily Record.
  • North Carolina Lawyers Weekly.
  • The Mecklenburg Times (North Carolina).
  • The Journal Record (Oklahoma).
  • Daily Journal of Commerce (Oregon).
  • Rhode Island Lawyers Weekly.
  • South Carolina Lawyers Weekly.
  • Virginia Lawyers Weekly.
  • The Daily Reporter.
  • Wisconsin Law Journal.

Let me be clear: No one has said that any publication is closing down or that any jobs are being cut. In news reports about the ALM sale, ALM has declined to comment or even confirm that it is happening. In Dolan’s case, the prepackaged bankruptcy is expected to reduce the company’s debt from $170 million to $50 million and allow it to keep operating.

Further, some of these local publications are the cash cows of their companies, bringing in far more revenue from both advertising and circulation than some of the higher-profile publications. If anything is to be cut, those papers would be last.

In an interview with the Boston Business Journal last week, the publisher of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, Susan Bocamazo, said that her paper has not felt any impact from the bankruptcy filing. “We’re continuing with business as usual at Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly,” she said. “I would expect that’s the way it’s going to be going.”

Still, at this juncture, it is difficult not to be concerned about the state of state legal reporting. With one major company up for sale and the other going through Chapter 11, changes of some sort are sure to be on the horizon. Are we beginning to see the end of state-focused legal journalism? I don’t think so, not for some time anyway. But we could be seeing cuts, and cuts lead over time to greater erosion.

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4 comments

  • New Jersey Legal (& Local) News | Quo Vadis? · April 3, 2014 at 9:37 am

    […] This just in: Bob Ambrogi reports that ALM, publisher of the New Jersey Law Journal, is up for sale. Read more about this on LawSites Blog: http://www.lawsitesblog.com/2014/04/precarious-time-legal-newspapers.html […]

    Reply

  • A Precarious Time for Legal Newspapers - Legal Marketing News | Legal Marketing News · April 3, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    […] Check out the article at Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites here: A Precarious Time for Legal Newspapers […]

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  • Venkat · April 4, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    The personal/economic fallout from this would be a bummer, but that aside, I question the value of local legal newspapers and magazines. Perhaps the local ones add some value, but I was never sold. (American Lawyer/law.com and other nat’l pubs are uniformly terrible IMO.)

    What’s the big value proposition that we as news consumers will be missing out on?

    Reply

    • Author comment by Robert Ambrogi · April 4, 2014 at 1:14 pm

      First of all, some of these state legal papers are the only reliable way for a lawyer to keep up with the news that is the bread-and-butter of a legal practice: court decisions (especially from trial courts that are not available online), proposed rules, verdicts and settlements, etc. In addition, some of them provide superb coverage of business, bar and professional issues related to the practice of law. When I started out years ago as editor of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, there were some who argued that it was malpractice for a lawyer NOT to subscribe. Granted, the Internet has made much more information available online. But who will cover the business of law? Who will serve the role of watchdog over bar associations, courts and other law-related entities? Many of these state legal newspapers practice real and essential journalism, and no one else is likely to pick that up if they disappear.

      Reply

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