RealClearPolitics Media Watch

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New York Times on the Brink

Cash-strapped with rapidly declining readership (at least of the print variety), the New York Times faces an uncertain future, and its plight has been well-documented in recent months.

The Times' latest money-saving scheme has hit a snag. Trying to extract significant concessions from the unions of the Boston Globe, instead the Times Co. has met resistance. Essentially, the unions are calling the company's bluff. The Times, in turn, now threatens to put the Globe under bankruptcy protection.

Whatever the Times decides to do with the Globe, it's probably not going to completely turn around the fortunes of the company. It has too much debt, too many assets it can't divest and too few ideas to regain its footing, at least for the time being.

In January, The Atlantic ran an alarmist "End Times" piece that raised the specter of the Times' shutting down its print edition, as early as this year. The Times dismissed it out of hand. Now comes Vanity Fair's epic "The Inheritance," in which Mark Bowden chronicles the Times' inexorable decline under the stewardship of the scion Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger, Jr., in a somewhat sympathetic portrayal.

It's quite lengthy, so you'd best go buy the May issue or get your printer to work. But here's a bit of a highlight:

Here, in a nutshell, in the words of a veteran Times staffer, is what is supposedly wrong with Arthur: "He has no rays"--rays, as in the lines cartoonists draw around a character to suggest radiance, or power. In the comics trade these lines are called "emanata." The emanata deficit is a standard insider lament about Arthur, although most Times people need a few more words to make the point.

No one can plumb another's depths. Arthur certainly seems clever enough, but try as he might, he fails to impress. He comes off as a lightweight, as someone slightly out of his depth, whose dogged sincerity elicits not admiration so much as pity. While no one blames him for what is clearly a crisis afflicting all newspapers, he has made a series of poor business moves that now follow him like the tail of a kite. He has doubled-down on print over the last two decades, most notably with his own newspaper but also spending more than a billion dollars to buy The Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune.