New York Times Not For Sale—But It Should Be

New York Times SC New York Times Not For Sale—But It Should Be

With the shocking announcement this week that The Washington Post was being sold to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for $250 million, ending the Graham family’s 80-year ownership of the newspaper, all eyes have turned towards The New York Times, which like the Post is family owned.

Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. moved quickly to dispel the rumors that the family would follow the Graham’s lead and sell the Gray Lady:

Colleagues –

We were all taken by surprise on Monday afternoon with the announcement of the Graham family’s decision to sell The Washington Post. Surprise probably doesn’t cover it; we were stunned.

We have spoken to Don Graham and he reiterated to us his desire to put The Washington Post into the hands of someone who he and his family believe is best positioned to help it grow and thrive and compete in the global and digital marketplace. It’s sad to see a great American newspaper family like the Grahams depart from The Post, a publication for which we at The Times have much affection and common ground. While The Times will continue to compete with them for the big story, we hope for the sake of quality journalism and an informed citizenry that Jeff Bezos will continue the tradition of excellence that the Grahams achieved in their eight decades of stewardship.

This leads us to the Ochs-Sulzberger family and this great institution, The New York Times. There has been much speculation and understandable concern about what this could mean for us. Will our family seek to sell The Times? The answer to that is no. The Times is not for sale, and the Trustees of the Ochs-Sulzberger Trust and the rest of the family are united in our commitment to work together with the Company’s Board, senior management and employees to lead The New York Times forward into our global and digital future.

All of us at The Times are aware of the great strides we have made. Our digital subscription model set the standard for the industry and put us on the path forward. The Company is profitable and generates very strong cash flow, which we believe makes us perfectly able to fund our future growth. The Times has both the ideas and the money to pursue innovation.

Mark Thompson has articulated our strategic plan to enable that growth, and we are implementing it beginning with a focus on The New York Times brand, increased investment internationally, in video, in paid products and in brand extensions. Jill Abramson is presiding over a newsroom that is raising the bar with its innovation in storytelling capabilities while maintaining the highest standard of excellence in its journalism. The same can clearly be said for Andy Rosenthal’s leadership in Opinion.

We’re incredibly proud of our association with this great institution and, on behalf of the Trustees and the other members of our family, we plan for that association to continue for many years to come.

Arthur and Michael
On behalf of the Ochs-Sulzberger Trustees and family

But just because Sulzberger says the family isn’t interested in selling doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t.

The Times, like other major city daily newspapers, has been suffering for years after the recession. That, combined with increased Internet usage, has forever altered the business model of newspapers across the country.

Like other newspapers the Times has been hit hard by the decline in advertising, as large advertisers have either cut back or in many cases disappeared as consolidation took hold. Think department stores, which have seen numerous mergers and bankruptcies in the last decade, along with the auto industry, which required jettisoned brands and dealers, and a government bailout to survive. Both  sectors were once major advertisers and provided plenty of profits to the Times and their ilk, but no more.

Even harder hit has been the classified ad section, which has shrunk to almost nothing as sites such as Craigslist, EBay, LinkedIn etc…, have proven to be a far more efficient method to sell merchandise or look for a house or apartment.

The Times is a prime example of how much the business model has changed and why they should consider selling.

For the 11th quarter in a row, advertising revenue dropped—this time by 6.8% compared to a year ago. In addition, digital advertising, which was supposed to help make up for the loss of print ads, declined by 2.7%. And for the first time in its history, circulation revenues surpassed advertising revenues, thanks to the initial success of their paywall, which now has 699,000 subscribers.

As advertisers and their money either move to other platforms or disappear altogether, the pressure will grow on the Times to replace that revenue. They are trying by building up their paywall, but at some point that growth will likely stall, putting downward pressure on profits.

While the Times eked out a profit of $20 million in the last quarter, that doesn’t do anything to enrich the Sulzberger family, which used to receive about $25 million in dividends annually  from the company. Sellling would allow the family to monetize an asset that is producing no income and is facing some stiff headwinds now that they are purely a newspaper company.

With a market value of nearly $1.8 billion, the Times wouldn’t come as cheaply as the Post, but a deep pocketed investor could still offer an attractive price—it seems like billionaires have nothing better to do with their money lately—and give Sulzberger a chance to cash out at what is likely to be the company’s peak.

 

This commentary originally appeared at AIM.org and is reprinted here with permission. 

 

Photo credit: niallkennedy (Creative Commons)

Obama Administration Kills “Change”

obama fail4 Obama Administration Kills “Change”

The Sunlight Foundation, which tracks government transparency, noted in its blog on Thursday that the Change.gov website that was set up by the Obama transition team in 2008 was shut down sometime last month.

Even though the transition effectively ended when Obama took office in January 2009, the Change.gov website continued to list “the materials and agenda” laid out by the administration, according to Sunlight. But no longer.

Sunlight speculates that the reason for the disappearance of the website may have to do with the promises the administration made to protect whistleblowers, which may now be more of a liability, as it has struggled to keep its promises of transparency.

The Foundation managed to dig up what used to be on the website, thanks to Internet Archives.

Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.

No hope, no change—just a bunch of empty promises.

 

This article originally appeared at AIM.org and is reprinted here with permission. 

Young Reporter Bails Out—Says Newspapers Killed Newspapers

Newspaper SC Young Reporter Bails Out—Says Newspapers Killed Newspapers

Newspapers have been in decline for a number of years now, and the general assumption is that among the reasons for this decline are the growth of online news coupled with a broad decline in advertising revenue.

But according to one young reporter who recently quit the newspaper business, it’s really the newspapers that killed newspapers.

Allyson Bird, 28, who started writing stories for her local newspaper when she was 16, had planned to make journalism her career. She began by working in West Palm Beach and survived several rounds of layoffs as the business model deteriorated. When her father was stricken with cancer, she took a cut in pay to move to South Carolina to be with him and work for the local paper.

But Bird’s enthusiasm, as a 21-year old, soon faded:

The flip side to the excitement is the burnout. You’re exhausted, and you’re never really ‘off.’ You get called out of a sound sleep to drive out to a crime scene and try to talk with surviving relatives. You wake up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat, realizing you’ve misspelled a city councilman’s name. You spend nights and weekends chipping away at the enterprise stories that you never have time to write on the clock.

Everyone works so hard for so long and for such little compensation.

It was those long hours and low pay that Bird said left her “supremely unsatisfied.”

Apparently, Bird isn’t alone in her sentiments.

I spoke with a former AIM (Accuracy In Media) intern who had been working for a local television station in Virginia. She recently quit her job to sell luxury cars because she wasn’t making enough money to take care of rent, student loans, etc.; and she was doing the job of two people (reporter and videographer) while getting paid for just one.

Did newspapers kill newspapers? For the most part, the answer is yes. They failed to accurately predict how technology would affect their business, and they were too wedded to their hidebound ways to make the necessary adjustments to remain relevant. That, combined with the recession, was more than enough to drive many of them into bankruptcy and out of business.

The future of newspapers is bleak. Only the strongest will survive over the next decade, and even then in a vastly different form than today, as technology marches on and their cheap labor supply evaporates.

This article originally appeared at AccuracyInMedia.com and is reprinted here with permission. 

MSNBC: We’ll Beat Fox By 2014

MSNBC SC MSNBC: Well Beat Fox By 2014

In a profile piece written by veteran journalist Rebecca Dana in The New Republic, MSNBC President Phil Griffin said he believes that the liberal network can beat Fox News by 2014.

Dana writes that even though Griffin and new CNN president Jeff Zucker are close personal friends, Griffin plans to “kick his ass,” and that beating Fox News is his “life’s ambition.”

And MSNBC is more successful now than it has ever been. At the end of this presidential election, it drew an average of 1.5 million viewers to its weekday prime time lineup. (The numbers have fallen since.) Fox still gets more than two million a night, but Griffin, optimistically, believes he can beat Fox by 2014. It’s a cockiness that has funneled down. In a recent staff meeting, one of Griffin’s producers coined a new term for Fox News: ‘Loserville.’

Griffin and his producer sound more like Nancy Pelosi every time she predicts that the Democrats will retake control of Congress in the next election. It isn’t based on reality and isn’t going to happen any time soon, considering how much MSNBC trails Fox News in the ratings.

While Griffin keeps setting his sights on Roger Ailes and Fox, he should keep his eyes on his rear view mirror, where onetime cable news leader CNN is receiving a makeover under new president Jeff Zucker.

MSNBC’s new 8 p.m. anchor told Dana that he wasn’t sure what Griffin’s political leanings were, though he thought he was a Democrat, and that Griffin’s politics aren’t woven into the DNA of the network as they are with Roger Ailes and Fox.

That may explain Griffin’s desire to build “the MSNBC Lifestyle,” in an attempt to broaden the network’s reach beyond liberal politics. That includes giving Chris Matthews a digital channel to talk about movies and good television shows.

What’s next? Decorating tips from Rachel Maddow?

Griffin has succeeded in improving the ratings and profits at MSNBC, but the lifestyle effort shows that he isn’t really confident that his brand of liberal talk will be able to overtake Fox News, and he is hedging his bets for the day viewers tire of the left-wing banter.

 

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