Tag Archives: New York Times

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…)

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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…

The New York Times completes its descent into pure farce

After Monday’s long article about the birth of Sarah Palin’s baby, the New York Times follows up on Tuesday with a 950-word analysis of the McCain-Palin embrace by Elisabeth Bumiller.

What else is there to say? I’m speechless.

The New York Times misses the story

I’m sure the spat between Bill Clinton and Todd Purdum is fascinating to Clintonologists and journalists, who are obsessed with Clinton’s sex life and obsessed with media navel-gazing. After all, Purdum covered Clinton as the New York Times White House reporter and is now the husband of Clinton’s first Press Secretary, Dee Dee Myers. So people already titillated by the speculative whispering in Purdum’s article are further titillated by Clinton’s outburst and the Freudian psychodrama of the dispute.

Unfortunately, that irrelevant soap opera was so distracting that reporters couldn’t be bothered to look closely at what Clinton said, and notice that his most inflammatory words weren’t calling Purdum “sleazy” or “slimy” or a “scumbag,” but his bizarre swerve into an incoherent attack on Obama:

It’s part of the national media’s attempt to nail Hillary for Obama. It’s just the most biased press coverage in history. It’s another way of helping Obama. They had all these people standing up in this church cheering, calling Hillary a white racist, and he didn’t do anything about it. The first day he said ‘Ah, well.’ Because that’s what they do — he gets other people to slime her. So then they saw the movie they thought this is a great ad for John McCain– maybe I better quit the church. This is all politics. It’s all about the bias of the media for Obama. Don’t think anything about it.”

Look at the non sequitur. The press is helping Obama, then suddenly out of nowhere “they” had all these people standing up in this church cheering, and that’s what “they” do. “He gets other people to slime her.” It’s unclear from the audio at the Huffington Post whether he knew he was talking to a reporter/blogger, and whether he knew he was being recorded. But you have to wonder if, as he has talked to voters around the country, he has been spreading lies about what “they” and “he” are doing, only toning it down when he knows he’s talking to a reporter or knows he’s being recorded.

You also have to wonder whether he even believed what he was saying, that Obama “gets other people to slime her.” In the heat of the moment, and enraged by what he perceives as a great injustice against him and his wife, maybe he did believe it. But Clinton the tactician also knows, and even suggests in the above tirade, that the last thing Obama would want is to have another preacher ranting offensively about Hillary Clinton from the pulpit of his church. It’s depressing to think that he might not have believed what he was saying at all, and was cynically trying to spread the notion that Obama is encouraging people to personally attack Clinton, against all evidence to the contrary.

Who knows, but readers of the New York Times can’t wonder about these things, because although they wrote an entire article about Bill Clinton’s comments, they mentioned the above passage extremely vaguely, saying only “Mr. Clinton said the article was part of a pattern of media bias against Mrs. Clinton and in favor of her rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Barack Obama.” So the Times reporter skipped right past most interesting part of Clinton’s outburst, when he bizarrely jumped from a complaint about media bias to a false accusation against Obama, which had nothing at all to do with the media. But you won’t read anything about it in the New York Times.

Okay, so he’s angry and frustrated and can’t control himself. This isn’t earthshattering news for anyone who’s been following the campaign so far, but for the Times to write a whole article about Bill’s day on the campaign trail and ignore the most noteworthy part of his tirade is appalling. As appalling as it is, I can’t say that it’s surprising anymore…

(The Times wasn’t alone in this, either. The Washington Post, for example, had a section on Bill’s rant in its story wrapping up the day’s campaign news, and they didn’t mention the above comments either.)

Why write clearly when you can write unclearly instead?

What The New York Times says is,

Mr. McCain’s remarks, however, differ from the numbers available.

What The New York Times means is, “Mr. McCain’s remarks, however, are incorrect.”

“The numbers available?” As if there might be other, unavailable numbers that would support McCain? I’m glad the Times avoided the typical journalistic practice of writing something like, “Democrats claimed that Mr. McCain’s remarks are incorrect,” but they still can’t bring themselves to say outright that a candidate or politician is wrong about something.

Note to reporters and editors: If there are known, undisputed, verifiable facts about the world, then you can refer to them clearly and unequivocally and still be “impartial” or “unbiased”. Indeed, that’s why we call these things “objective” facts, and you are allowed to refer to such things in “objective” journalism without betraying your professional principles.

The Annotated New York Times

From Saturday’s New York Times:

Some other analysts do not object to Mr. McCain’s portraying the insurgency (or multiple insurgencies) in Iraq as that of Al Qaeda. They say he is using a “perfectly reasonable catchall phrase” that, although it may be out of place in an academic setting, is acceptable on the campaign trail, a place that “does not lend itself to long-winded explanations of what we really are facing,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, research director at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

...and author of a 2002 book entitled The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, which played a major role in causing this goddamn catastrophe. Funny how the Times forgot to mention that, since they do mention the title of Juan Cole’s book in the next paragraph and Ira Lapidus’s book a few paragraphs later.

What would it take for someone like Kenneth Pollack to stop being treated respectfully as a wise expert on Iraq by the press corps? How much blood does someone have to have on his hands before the Times refuses to quote his opinion that a simplistic and misleading justification for prolonging the war is “perfectly reasonable”?

Pleasing crowds and disappointing critics

A comment on an earlier post says, regarding Santiago Calatrava, “There must be equivalents in music, art, and literature–somebody help me name them!–the ones who give great pleasure to multitudes and earn the contempt of their betters…”

As if on cue, the New York Times has a review on Friday of the Olafur Eliasson show at MoMA and P.S. 1, which is the expansion of a show that delighted visitors to San Francisco’s MoMA over the winter. I saw the smaller version at SF MoMA, and enjoyed it, and two separate people recommended it to me out of the blue, not knowing that I had already seen it (people almost never recommend art shows to me). The Times reviewer, Holland Cotter, accurately calls it “audience-pleasing.”

Eliasson’s work plays with perceptions and space in ways that remind me of Richard Serra’s sculptures or some of Bill Viola’s video works — rather than merely situating the artwork in a given space, the artwork seems to alter space itself by the use of lighting, sound, or changes in the actual shape of the room. For example, the photos below show a circular chamber that is set up in the middle of a room. You walk into the middle of the circle, and you realize that the wall of the circle is slowly growing lighter or darker, and changing color as well. (It wasn’t my favorite work, but it translates into blog form more easily than the ones that involve sound or water.)

The Times review is not negative by any means, but Cotter criticizes Eliasson for being too crowd-pleasing and safe:

And how radical is Mr. Eliasson’s art? How market-challenging or expectation-shifting? In the end — so far — not terribly. “Take Your Time” looks anomalous enough in an object-fetish moment, and in MoMA’s galleries, where you don’t find moss murals, or dripping water everyday. At the same time the work is too intent on appealing to our appetite for passive sensation and too readily adapted to corporate design. (Mr. Eliasson’s architectural and commercial projects include proposals for BMW.)

Cotter explains his critique by contrasting Eliasson with a female performance artist who walked around with an “I Am A Man” placard, “a sign that originated in the civil rights protests in the 1960s but to which she gave multifold new meanings.” (Edgy! Ceci n’est pas une femme!) The review then ends with the following:

Mr. Eliasson’s art is, of course, of a different kind and deals, some would say, in a different kind of activism, a politics of enchantment. Enchanting the work certainly is, and spacious, evanescent and intellectually stimulating. In these ways it offers a model for a future art beyond the present rummage-sale glut. In others ways, though, it reminds us how far in the current decade art has not come.

“Enchanting,” “evanescent” and “intellectually stimulating.” If only we could say the same for most contemporary art!