The Gray Lady
for digital era
The front page of Sunday’s National Edition of The New York Times, which landed on my driveway at about 5 a.m. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.
THERE CAN BE NO DOUBT, as a headline in Saturday’s editions so clearly put it, that the sale of the Washington Post has put the New York Times “in the spotlight.”
In a column as remarkable for its subject matter as for the fact that it appeared at all, James B. Stewart discusses in detail the present and future ownership of the Gray Lady (as she is affectionately known in the trade) and details of its business operations.
“The Times in a Spotlight After the Sale of the Post” was tremendously reassuring for those of us long time subscribers who believe deeply it is “the paper of record” for the United States.(The online version has a slightly different headline … noteworthy because it highlights the subtle differences between web and print: print is constrained by graphic presentation; the web is not. Online the headline is: After Post Sale, Spotlight Shines More Intensely on The Times.)
HOWEVER, FOR THOSE OF US who read and care about The Times, there was one hugely significant omission from Stewart’s story, something billionaire and newspaper proprietor Warren Buffet has highlighted on several occasions.
The key to the survival of The New York Times as an independent, family-owned enterprise continues to be the “indispensible journalism” it provides its readers every day.
This revelation was first highlighted in the Jan. 19 column by Public Editor Margaret Sullivian (mentioned several times previously on In the (K)now): “A milestone behind, a mountain ahead”
The first sentence of Sullivan’s piece summarizes how The Times will survive:
The sale of the Washington Post is announced in the paper. Click image to enlarge.
“A NOTE to Times readers: You matter. And you matter now more than ever before.”
What this means is that no longer will advertisers be the key to the publication’s future as they have dominated the past; subscribers, who have long been subsidized by advertisers, are now being asked to pay the full cost of the value they receive with every edition of The New York Times.
“In 2012, something remarkable happened at The Times,” Sullivan wrote. “It was the year that circulation revenue — money made from people buying the paper or access to its digital edition — surpassed advertising revenue.”
Indeed, the internet revolution has turned the newspaper business model on its head; only those that can successfully navigate the tricky transition will survive.
Many have already succumbed.
Check out the web site Newspaper Death Watch for details, but the list is long and growing.
After a couple of false starts (like when it imposed a
charge for opinion articles a few years ago), almost two years back, The New York Times began charging for most of its inline content.
Sullivan reported in January that this transition is beginning to gain traction.
“Digital subscriptions, begun the previous year, were looking like a success story (in 2012),” she wrote.
In her report on Sulzberger’s statement published Friday, “The Times Isn’t for Sale, Its Publisher Declares” Christine Haughney, quoting from the company’s quarterly earnings release, notes that digital subscriptions across all platforms have reached 699,000, “a jump of more than 35 percent from the period a year earlier.”
This is enormously encouraging.
The column by James B. Stewart in Saturday’s edition of The New York Times, Click image to enlarge.
STEWART’S COLUMN ON SATURDAY, in response to the huge discussion opened by the sale of the Washington Post, is the culmination of a series of behind-the-scenes reports on how The New York Times – as a business – is successfully reinventing itself in the face of the challenges posed by the upending of the economic model of the newspaper business that has prevailed for almost a century.
Sullivan noted in January that Buffet, who invested more than $330 million in daily newspapers in 2012, had hit the nail on the head in his letter to shareholders explaining his purchases:
“My former boss, Warren Buffett, is fond of saying that newspapers, if they are to survive, must make themselves indispensable,” Sullivan wrote.
And this, she added, is how The Times is accomplishing that.
“[Executive Editor Jill Abramson’s] top priority as editor in 2013, she said, is “to continue and deepen something that we made great strides on in 2012: global investigative reporting that I don’t think anyone else is doing.
“She (Abramson) also sees expansion of The Times’ multimedia journalism as a high priority.”
For an excellent example, look no further than the Oct. 23, 2012 story by Mark Barboza, Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader an expose that almost led to an “international incident” when the Chinese reacted furiously.
The Stewart column on Saturday reveals in detail how well The Times is managing the business as it transitions from print to digital after years of struggle. And this is important; its return to profitability is hugely significant, and almost singular in the newspaper business.
But its continued success at offering readers indispensible journalism – the value of which we are now beginning to fully comprehend and pay for – is just as important.
As a reader and long-time paying subscriber, I am reassured.
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