My friend Alex pointed me to Business Week's cover story on the future of the New York Times. As a onetime Times subscriber, reading it on the subway on the way to work in New York, I became a fan. It's a 30 mile drive to get it here, an occasional treat. No other paper I've found matches it. Here's why:
In essence, Sulzberger is doing what his forebears have always done: sink money into the Times in the belief that quality journalism pays in the long run. "The challenge is to remember that our history is to invest during tough times," he says. "And when those times turn -- and they do, inevitably -- we will be well-positioned for recovery."
Great sentiment, but will the market allow it?
NYT Co.'s stock is trading at about 40, down 25% from its high of 53.80 in mid-2002 and has trailed the shares of many other newspaper companies for a good year and a half. "Their numbers in this recovery are bordering on the abysmal," says Douglas Arthur, Morgan Stanley's (MWD ) senior publishing analyst.
After the jump -- the constancy of their commitment and will the Website remain free? If you're not a registered web user, many of my friends here aren't, sign up now. It's one of the best sites on the web!
News now, TV, newspaper or Internt, is news on the cheap. Not yet so at the Times:
THE CONSTANCY OF THEIR COMMITMENT to high-cost journalism has put the Sulzbergers in an increasingly contrarian position. Many of the country's surviving big-city dailies once were owned by similarly high-minded dynastic families that long ago surrendered control to big public corporations that prize earnings per share above all else. Editorial budgets at most newspapers, as well as TV and radio stations, have been squeezed so hard for so long that asphyxiation is a mounting risk. The proliferation of Web sites and cable-TV stations has produced an abundance of commentary and analysis, but the kind of thorough, original reporting in which the Times specializes is, if anything, increasingly scarce.In effect, the Sulzbergers have subsidized the Times in valuing good journalism and the prestige it confers over profits and the wealth it creates. In fact, for much of its history, the Times barely broke even. Recasting the paper into a publicly held corporation capable of pursuing profit as determinedly as Times editors chase Pulitzers was the signal achievement of Arthur Jr.'s father, Arthur O. "Punch" Sulzberger Sr.
Advertising accounts for almost all of the digital operation's revenues, but disagreement rages within the company over whether NYTimes.com should emulate The Wall Street Journal and begin charging a subscription fee. Undoubtedly, many of the site's 18 million unique monthly visitors would flee if hit with a $39.95 or even a $9.95 monthly charge. One camp within the NYT Co. argues that such a massive loss of Web traffic would cost the Times dearly in the long run, both by shrinking the audience for its journalism and by depriving it of untold millions in ad revenue. The counterargument is that the Times would more than make up for lost ad dollars by boosting circulation revenue -- both from online fees and new print subscriptions paid for by people who now read for free on the Web....Sulzberger declines to take a side in this debate, but sounds as if he is leaning toward a pay site. "It gets to the issue of how comfortable are we training a generation of readers to get quality information for free," he says. "That is troubling."