Category Archives: press

Decline

I read yesterday that according to its current share price, the New York Times Company’s market capitalization is about $1.43 billion. The NYTCo paid about $1.1 billion for the Boston Globe et al. in 1993. Adjusted for inflation, that would be more than $1.5 billion in today’s dollars. So the entire NYT empire is now judged by investors to be worth less than the Times Company paid for one of its pieces 15 years ago.

I’m no financial whiz, and maybe the company is currently undervalued, but these numbers give you a sense of how far the newspaper business has fallen in the last decade, don’t they? (In related news, The LATimes laid off another 10% of its newsroom staff this week, bringing it to just over half of what its size was a decade ago, the Christian Science Monitor went this week from being a daily newspaper to a weekly website, etc., etc., etc…)

Traffic jam

This, from Editor & Publisher, is a list of the 30 most-trafficked news websites’ in September, with percentage change from a year ago. Regardless of whether she helped or hindered John McCain’s campaign, it looks his choice of Sarah Palin was a boon for someone:

Add three zeroes to give you totals in millions.

NYTimes.com — 20,068 — 37%
washingtonpost.com — 12,956 — 43%
USATODAY.com — 11,439 — 33%
LA Times — 10,022 — 102%
Wall Street Journal Online — 9,047 — 94%

Boston.com — 8,610 — 122%
SFGate.com/San Francisco Chronicle — 5,129 — 18%
New York Post — 4,815 — 98%
Politico — 4,605 — 219%
Chicago Tribune — 4,558 — 46%

Daily News Online Edition — 4,439 — 56%
DallasNews.com – The Dallas Morning News — 3,777 — 115%
Chicago Sun-Times — 3,676 — 64%
The Houston Chronicle — 3,396 — 51%
Newsday — 3,051 — 13%

International Herald Tribune — 2,940 — 121%
The Washington Times — 2,410 — 78%
Philly.com — 2,332 — 73%
The Seattle Times — 2,256 — 22%
Anchorage Daily News* — 2,190 — 928%

Atlanta Journal-Constitution — 2,180 — 14%
Boston Herald — 2,153 — 118%
Baltimore Sun — 2,136 — 30%
Star Tribune — 2,134 — 50%
NJ.com — 2,086 — 70%

Seattle Post-Intelligencer — 2,070 — 17%
Detroit Free Press — 1,994 — 62%
MercuryNews.com — 1,964 — 64%
MiamiHerald.com — 1,895 — 64%
Village Voice Media — 1,745 — (-13%)

*Estimate percent change calculated on small sample size; subject to increased statistical variability.

Thanks, Bill

Politico:

“We’ve reported the Ayers relationship before, and we had it on our to-do list for a while to take a more comprehensive look,” Keller said in an e-mail. “When the McCain campaign began to make it a major focal point of ads and stump speeches, we decided the time was right.”

“It didn’t take any prodding,” Keller continued. “When the conversation on something controversial reaches a certain level, curious readers look to the Times to help them sort the facts from the fictions and figure out what to make of it. That’s what we did.”

So, when partisan Republicans try to distract voters with their latest distorted smear, the Times feels obligated to dignify the smear by putting an article about it above the fold on the front page, even when you covered the same ground and reached the same conclusions in articles six months ago. It’s journalism! Also known as, being led around by your nose by members of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

Grading on a (very steep) curve

David Broder, the “Dean of the Washington Press Corps,” writes in his column that Biden did well, but that “he was no better than Palin.” What is one piece of evidence he marshals to support this assessment? He says that Palin “appeared…comfortable with her talking points”:

Those of us who know and admire Joe Biden were happy that a big national audience got to see him at his best — a sentimental, smart, decent and generous guy.

But he was no better than Palin. She appeared cool as a cucumber, comfortable with her talking points and unrattled by anything that was thrown at her.

Try to imagine a big-name columnist saying that Biden or Obama (or McCain, for that matter) did well in a debate because he was “comfortable with his talking points,” and you should immediately realize what an absurd double standard Broder is using to judge Palin’s performance.

Apparently this is now the way we are supposed to judge candidates — not by how good their policies are, or how well they are able to explain those policies, or whether they present a coherent vision for where they would like to lead the country in the next four years. No, we judge them by whether they appear “comfortable with their talking points.”

No wonder so many bloggers are so critical of Broder and the rest of the Washington press corps; that’s a talking point I’m comfortable with.

Journalism schmournalism

What would we do in these confusing and difficult economic times without the New York Times to hold our hand and guide us through things? For example, today’s incredibly useful article with the headline, “A Sense That Wall St.’s Boom Times Are Over.” Being far from Wall Street myself at the moment, it’s hard to get a good feeling for what the mood is like in New York. Lucky for us, the Times has two ace reporters on the scene taking the pulse of the financial community and reporting that there is “a sense” that Wall Street’s boom times are over. Indispensable!

With an insightful headline like that, how could anyone who cares about the future of the economy not start reading? Here is the lede:

The old Wall Street is giving way to a new one.

As the tectonic shifts within the American financial industry shook the world’s markets on Monday, many experts predicted that events of the last 72 hours heralded a new period of painful change for Wall Street.

The predictions were sobering. Investment banks will be smaller. Their profits will be leaner. Jobs in finance will be scarcer. And the outsize role of Wall Street in the nation’s economy will shrink.

That is the extreme case.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: the “extreme case” is that investment banks will be “smaller,” with “leaner” profits. If that’s the extreme case, then what is a scenario in which investment banks disappear entirely, because they all have huge losses instead of just “leaner” profits? What is a scenario in which the collapse of the investment banks leads to a run on other banks and a total meltdown of the entire financial system? Apparently that’s just too extreme for these two reporters to be willing to mention. As I said, what would we do without the New York Times to hold our hand, and tell us that everything will be okay…

My plan to save the New York Times

The Times, as every knows, needs to find a way to exploit its big advantages: huge amounts of traffic, high quality content (I know, I know — but grant me that one for the sake of argument), and loyal readers who are affluent, interested in the world, and literate enough to discuss it thoughtfully. Most websites would die to have the traffic and the particular readership that the Times does!

This may be totally silly, but it occurred to me today that the New York Times should enable users to set up free blogs on their site (my web address could be thisbetheblog.nytimes.com instead of thisbetheblog.wordpress.com!), and allow people to rant and rave basically unmonitored. They should make the set-up process incredibly easy so that the Times’s current readership — which is rumored to skew somewhat older than your average blogger — could start pontificating within 60 seconds, with no technical knowledge required.

The Times could place maybe one or two relatively unobnoxious targeted ads on each blog (using Google’s creepy and imperfect algorithms to match the ad with the content of the particular blog), or maybe have no ads on the blogs at all. The real revenue would come because a column to the right of the blog would automatically display links to other pages at nytimes.com — the big news of the day, perhaps, and articles from the archives that are relevant to keywords in the blog posts, and so on. It would be like mixing WordPress.com or the Daily Kos with the pre-existing newspaper site.

What’s the downside? Well, there is the cost of all the server space required to host all the new user-generated content. And there is the cost of employing tech people to design and manage the blog platform, and non-tech people to handle complaints about potentially libelous or illegal blog posts and comments. But the Times already has these problems, because allowing users to comment on its current blogs and articles requires a lot of server space, and it requires a lot of staff to moderate all the comments that people are leaving.

If the big shots at the Times just threw caution to the wind and allowed their site to become a free speech zone with very light oversight, it probably wouldn’t require much more staffing than they need now, since they now appear to have a human being approve every reader comment one by one (I could be wrong about this, but that’s my impression). Instead of half-assedly allowing users to comment, but stifling the discussion by moderating and delaying the posting of the comments, they should just open the gates wide and let anyone say whatever the hell they want. I doubt the Times would be liable for every word people wrote, but their lawyers can figure out what sorts of disclaimers or oversight are needed to protect the Times Company from liability.

Another downside is that this would require a transformation from a newspaper company that has a big internet presence into an internet company that also puts out a newspaper. (I’m reminded of the joke that GM is a health insurance company that also happens to sell cars on the side.) This transformation would require a big leap of faith on the part of upper management, and also a change in the company’s culture. It’s not at all clear they’re up to it, but if the alternative is dying a slightly slower death than all the other newspapers in the country, they had better try.

Why would anyone want to blog at nytimes.com instead of a site like WordPress or Blogger or Daily Kos or its right-leaning equivalent, whatever that may be? Well, some current nytimes.com readers (and there are a lot!) might like the idea of having their blog hosted at the Times’ website, where it would attract the attention other nytimes.com users. The hardest part about blogging is getting people to your site in the first place, and having one’s blog integrated into a pre-existing website with a huge amount of traffic would be a great help on that front. The Times could add a feature on the front page of nytimes.com, or at individual articles, which directed readers to user-generated content that was about the same topic. Also, as I said above, there may be nytimes.com readers who aren’t normally the type of people who would go set up their own blog, but if the Times told them they could do easily it in less than a minute and have it be integrated into the nytimes.com site, they might give it a try.

The bottom line is that nytimes.com gets a huge about of traffic, but a lot of those people come to read one or two articles and then move on. Not a lot of ad revenues there! The company needs to figure out a way to suck people in more, so that once they land at an nytimes.com page, they are likely to dawdle at the site for hours, viewing page after page. I propose turning the site into a big internet playground where you can spend all weekend reading articles, reading blogs, commenting on articles, writing your own blog, commenting on other people’s blogs.

It might be a total failure, but it might be a huge success, and compared with the cost of producing and distributing a daily newspaper, I think it could be a pretty low-risk venture. If WordPress and the Daily Kos are able to stay solvent based entirely on user-generated content, how expensive can server space really be? (Admittedly, I know nothing about wordpress’s finances or business plan — I think it may even be a non-profit freeware type of company. Still, they pay for the cost of hosting millions of blogs for free somehow, so I can’t imagine it’s a very expensive thing to do in the grand scheme of things.)

Am I crazy?

UPDATE: Or, alternatively, I guess the Times can try to survive by hoping that more billionaires with no newspaper experience keeping buying up shares hoping to make a quick (or not-so-quick) profit:

Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican telecommunications billionaire, and his family have acquired a 6.4 percent stake in The New York Times Company, he revealed in a regulatory filing on Wednesday.

Mr. Slim, sometimes called the wealthiest man in the world, controls cellular and landline phone companies, and has major investments in retail, construction, banking, insurance, railroads and mining. In March, Forbes magazine estimated his fortune at $60 billion.

His spokesman, Arturo Elias, was traveling and not available for comment. His primary company, Teléfonos de México, declined to comment.

The Times Company also declined comment. Its stock closed on Wednesday at $13.96 a share, down 4 cents, giving the Slim family’s 9.1 million shares a value of $127 million.

Hey, why not? That strategy worked wonders for the LATimes, right? Oh, wait…

For any Massachusetts Democrats out there

I thought you might appreciate this headline:

Jane Swift: Almost as Dumb as She is Cynical”

Unfortunately, the sneering of The New Republic is unlikely to render McCain’s tactics any less effective.

We now return to our regularly scheduled non-campaign-related programming…