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NYT vs. WSJ -- Champagne and Caviar, Anyone?

Today I begin a long break from my impression of a salmon swimming upstream, and expounding on the virtues of newspapers. I swear it would be easier to convince people that politicians really, truly do have their constituents' best interests in mind ...

So let's return to some good ol' blissful denial, and climb into the dark clouds that float above the crumbling newspaper kingdom. Let's visit a high-end war raging between two of the industry's biggest cats -- but only briefly because this battle really means nothing in the grand scheme of things, even if so many sophisticates are fawning over it, and lapping it up like it was a contentious polo match.

Two of the giants in the publishing industry are slugging it out headline for headline, and vying for spectacle-d eyes in the greater New York City area. Welcome to the "Battle of the Big Apple" my good ladies and gentlemen!

In one corner stands the old, liberally-minded, Byzantine Gray Lady -- The New York Times. In the other, a free-swinging challenger from more of a conservative background -- The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal came out with its long-awaited "Greater New York" print edition Monday, and predictably this entertaining news is making quite a splash in all the likely places. Caviar, anyone?

Continue reading "NYT vs. WSJ -- Champagne and Caviar, Anyone?" »

Update: Times' Plagiarist Resigns

Former New York Times reporter Zachery Kouwe might not know plagiarism when he is committing it, but he sure knows how to find the fire exit before the flames swallow him.

Kouwe resigned from his position at the newspaper Tuesday after his editors were convinced he had lifted copy from multiple sources without any attribution, and then called it his own.

Kouwe is now the second reporter in two weeks from a high-profile news-provider found to be a plagiarizer.
Last week The Daily Beast suspended investigative reporter Gerald Posner for stealing copy from other sources.

Continue reading "Update: Times' Plagiarist Resigns" »

Times Reporter: The Latest with the Wrong Stuff

In the wake of the second high-profile case of plagiarizing in two weeks, there has to be loads of nervous news executives out there right about now.

If not, there darn well should be.

Plagiarizing, probably the highest crime in journalism, seems to be on a bit of a spree these days. Lest there is a full-blown outbreak, it better be brought under control, but quick.

A week after The Daily Beast suspended its ace investigative reporter, Gerald Posner, for lifting copy from The Miami Herald without attribution (Posner admitted to this), it looks like The New York Times business reporter, Zachery Kouwe, did the same with "language from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and other sources without attribution or acknowledgment."

Continue reading "Times Reporter: The Latest with the Wrong Stuff" »

Newspapers Eat Their Own in Bay Area

In "The Battle for Bay Area Readers," The New York Times has allegedly fired the latest significant shot.

The Times announced Friday that it has added 1,100 subscribers in the region since launching its San Francisco Bay Edition in September.

"Single-copy sales are up too," senior Times executive Jim Schachter said Thursday. "We're delighted at the reception we're getting from Bay Area readers for the pages that Felicity Barringer is editing, and for our Bay Area blog," he said.

The modest edition is actually an additional two pages each of Bay Area news running in the Friday and Sunday editions of the paper. Before the section hit the streets, The Times had 40,080 daily subscribers in the San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland market and 57,514 on Sundays.

Also looking to cash in on a region that houses notoriously favorable readership demographics, The Wall Street Journal launched its own Bay Area edition in November. Its edition also includes extra pages filled with area news and runs each Thursday.

Continue reading "Newspapers Eat Their Own in Bay Area" »

Boston Globe Guild Caves

Two weeks after rejecting a concession package with management, the Boston Globe's guild "re-negotiated" a new deal with parent New York Times Co. that varied little from one that was rejected by a mere 12 votes.

Guild leadership this time expressed confidence that the rank-and-file will ratify the new agreement quickly. The package still calls for a $10 million concession from the guild to allow the Globe to stay afloat. And all key provisions that management had demanded, including the elimination of the lifetime job guarantee, are also left unchanged from the original deal. The only major difference appears to be that the guild would accept a 5.9 percent paycut instead of an 8.4% one, in exchange for deeper cuts in other benefits packages.

When the first deal was scuttled by the guild vote, management immediately imposed a 23% paycut that had been in effect for the past two weeks.

What's also different is that the NYT Co. has also put the Globe up for sale. Recent reports indicated that Stephen Pagliuca, co-owner of the Boston Celtics, Jack Connors, co-founder of a major advertising firm and chairman of Partners HealthCare, and Stephen Taylor, a former Globe executive and member of the family that sold the Globe to the Times in 1993 are among potential bidders. The Time Co. paid over $1 billion for the Globe but is now willing to part with the paper for around $20 million.

The guild has scheduled for a vote on July 20. And now with the backing with its leadership, most expect the new package to be ratified.

Brian Mooney, a veteran reporter who spoke out against the last proposal, says he remains unsure of this agreement until he reviews it. But he said the general rank and file view seems to be it is worth accepting.

"Everyone wants to see the numbers and I don't think it will be unanimous, but it probably puts some wind at their backs," he said of the supporters. "It is a tentative agreement which means the bargaining committee and the company have agreed this is the best they will do."

Did the Globe Just Commit Suicide?

So just what did the guild's 'No' decision, by a razor-thin 12 votes, mean for the future of the Boston Globe?

Almost a suicide, notes Alex Jones, a former New York Times staffer writing in the Daily Beast:

Alas, in this case, the situation was like mouthing off to a cop. It may offer momentary satisfaction, but you pay a severe price. One can only imagine the conversations between spouses in the wake of the "no" vote as the reality of what has been unleashed hit home.

Looked at objectively, The Globe's unions have almost no leverage. The Guild, which is the only large union at the paper to defy the Times Company's demands, has begun a legal battle in federal court to stop the wage cut, but that is unlikely to succeed. The Times justified imposing the cut by declaring negotiations at an impasse, and fighting that in the courts can easily take years and be very expensive. The prospect of getting the Times to negotiate a better deal is all but nil, because doing so would require reopening negotiations with all the other unions.

A strike would be suicidal. And everyone--including the Guild members who voted "no"--recognizes that this is not a situation in which the company is protecting profits that it refuses to share but one in which the goal is to stem catastrophic losses.

The New York Times Co., after unilaterally imposing a 23% paycut on guild employees following the 'No' vote, has put the paper up for sale. But given that the Globe will lose an estimated $135 million over 2008 and '09, plus the ongoing labor dispute, it's doubtful that a viable buyer would emerge quickly. The Times paid over $1 billion when it acquired the Globe in 1993. Now the paper is worth less than $20 million.

The guild has asked the company to reopen negotiations, but so far, management has rejected such calls. Members of the guild have gone as far as pleading with NYT Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr., long a champion of labor causes, but it was met with a terse rebuttal.

"We are now left with no alternative other than to proceed with the wage reduction," Sulzberger wrote in an e-mail. "Without that, the Globe will be unable to effectuate the savings already ratified by its other unions, in which case it simply cannot survive."

NYT Co. Imposes Paycut after Globe's 'No' Vote

By mere 12 votes, the Boston Globe's guild rejected a deal negotiated with parent New York Times Co. a month ago. Management then wasted no time in imposing a 23% paycut on all guild members, effective next week.

The New York Times Co. had threatened to shut down the Globe outright if the four major unions did not come to an agreement that would save the company $20 million. After contentious negotiations, each union reached a deal with management and all except the guild immediately ratified the pacts.

In the month leading up to the vote, the guild leadership made no secret that it came to the deal under duress and all but invited the rank-and-file to vote it down. And they did, by a vote of 277-265, rejecting a new contract that included a 10% pay cut, reduction to health and retirement benefits, including a pension freeze, and the elimination of lifetime job guarantees for about 170 veteran members.

The sides may be headed to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) but in the meantime, a new round of negotiations will probably commence. The union has little recourse in reversing the unilateral paycut except to file a grievance. Management, on the other hand, will not be able to concede too much to the guild lest it nullifies the deals it already has with other unions.

A fault line within the guild may be developing as well. Its negotiating team, lead by Dan Totten, fought hard to preserve the lifetime guarantee provision until the very end. On Monday night, guild members divided sharply on how they voted based on whether they have that lifetime guarantee or not.

Globe City Hall Bureau Chief Donovan Slack, who voted yes, believes the paper will lose "tons of amazingly, talented journalists" if the company imposes the 23-percent pay cut.

"It's really frustrating that it was so close," said Slack, who has been at the paper for six years. "To think that only 12 people separated what could have been the end of this nightmare, from what will now, most definitely, turn into a prolonged battle with too many casualties to even calculate right now."

Before the results were announced, Globe reporter Scott Allen said he voted no and described a "very serious" mood over on Morrissey Boulevard.

"As much as the New York Times needs the concessions, and as much as we all recognize that we have to do our part and we want to do our part, the Times did not try very hard to make the deal fair or equitable for us," said Allen, who has a lifetime job guarantee.

The other unions, including pressmen, drivers and mailroom workers who have already approved deals totaling $10 million in cuts, are not sympathetic to the guild. They see the 'No' vote as an irresponsible move that may scuttle a new contract that had been nearly in place.

And finally, the threat of shutting down the paper should the impasse drag on is very real, according to Wachovia Senior Analyst John Janedis:

The New York Times Co. is set to lose $85 million on an operating basis. The plant closures, reduced compensation and increased circulation revenue should help but not enough. The paper is on track to lose a "significant amount of money this year," Janedis wrote.

"While the potential closure of the paper may be viewed by some as a negotiating tool, we think ongoing double-digit ad revenue declines and labor issues could make a hybrid print/web edition a reality, ultimately leading to significantly more job losses."

Boston vs. New York (Continued)

If you thought last night's Red Sox-Yankees game took forever (because of a rain delay), you haven't kept up with the marathon negotiations between the unions of the Boston Globe and New York Times Co.

Talks broke off yesterday morning after management rejected the "last, best offer" from the guild. The company didn't follow through on a threat to file a plant closing notice with the state, as it's apparently confident that a deal will be reached. It has an agreement with every union except the guild, which represents the newsroom.

Negotiations are scheduled to resume at 5 p.m. today. The sticking point now is the guild's insistence to keep the "lifetime guarantee" intact. Management so far has not been willing to budge.

There may be some dissension growing out of the ranks as the Boston Herald disclosed that Dan Totten, the guild's lead negotiator, has seen his pay increase by 12 percent over the past three years. "I think it's unconscionable that union leadership is not suffering the same cuts that we are," said one guild member who has seen the filings and didn't want to be identified.

Meanwhile, the New York Times didn't stop negotiating in the Big Apple. Yesterday, the Times' own staff agreed to a 5% paycut, effective immediately. This deal saves the Times from trimming 80 jobs for now, but does not rule out future layoffs.

At least in this case, the New Yorkers proved to be more of a pushover than Bostonians. But the fact that the paper from its biggest rival city owns the Globe has been a sore spot in Beantown since the Times acquired it in 1993:

Boston residents have long resented the takeover of the Globe by a company based in New York, with which the region competes in sports, banking and cultural bragging rights. ...

"From the moment the Times Co. purchased The Globe in 1993, it has treated New England's largest newspaper like a cheap whore," former Globe columnist Eileen McNamara wrote last month in the Herald. "It pimped her out for profit during the booming 1990s and then pillaged her when times got tough. It closed her foreign bureaus and cheapened her coverage of everything from the fine arts to the hard sciences."

Yes, she said "cheap whore."

Troubled Times Not Going Private

The New York Times Co. released its first quarter earnings. And it's not a pretty picture. The company is fast running out of cash. And given the severe decline in advertising revenue, an immediately turnaround appears unlikely.

Facing the shareholders this morning, NYT Co. Chairman Arthur (Pinch) Sulzberger Jr. made sure to trumpet the paper's five Pulitzers before being forced to answer a few difficult questions. He insisted that there are no plans to take the company private, but dodged inquiries about the fate of the Boston Globe, which could be on the chopping block.

Sulzberger did make it seem that it's all but inevitable that the Times will be installing a paywall for nytimes.com, the leading newspaper web site in the world:

As we chart our course toward a sustainable digital future, we have come to recognize with increasing clarity that online success will require substantial re-conceptualization, thoughtful execution, and a great willingness to take full advantage of the Web, an amazing laboratory for entrepreneurs, technologists and, of course, journalists.

As our history amply demonstrates, we are not adverse to change. ... Today, in the face of the economic downturn, we are renewing our analysis of how paid content can augment our core advertising business. The goal, of course, is to garner incremental revenue from the user without significantly cannibalizing our high rate ad pages.

Recently, we analyzed the business models of more than 30 different organizations to determine which are the most effective in generating revenues online. What we believe is that the advertising model we have used at NYTimes.com has generated more revenue than the vast majority of other organizations, including some that are much larger than our site.

That said, we continue to take a fresh, hard and deep look at various subscription, purchase and micropayment models. We will have more to say on this subject at a future date.

That future date will be sooner rather than later. According to the latest financial reports, the NYT is down to its last $294 million, with $260 already committed to pay off a debt due next March, leaving it with a scant $34 million in the bank.

Facing such a crunch, it's of little surprise that the NYT's charitable arm, the New York Times Company Foundation, is suspending all grant-making as of May 22.

Pulitzer Prize Winners - 2009

The 2009 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced Monday afternoon by Columbia University and listed below. Click here for the complete press release.

JOURNALISM:

Public Service - Las Vegas Sun (for its reporting on construction deaths on the Vegas Strip)

Breaking News Reporting - The New York Times Staff (coverage of Eliot Spitzer's demise)

Investigative Reporting - David Barstow of The New York Times (retired generals on the take to drum up support for Iraq war)

Explanatory Reporting - Bettina Boxall and Julie Cart of the Los Angeles Times (western wildfires)

Local Reporting - Detroit Free Press Staff (demise of mayor Kwame Kilpatrick) and
Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Giblin of the East Valley Tribune, Mesa, AZ (exposing a popular local sheriff)

National Reporting - St. Petersburg Times Staff (fact-checking initiative over the 2008 presidential campaign)

International Reporting - The New York Times Staff (Afpak coverage)

Feature Writing - Lane DeGregory of the St. Petersburg Times

Commentary - Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post

Criticism - Holland Cotter of The New York Times

Editorial Writing - Mark Mahoney of The Post-Star, Glens Falls, NY

Editorial Cartooning - Steve Breen of The San Diego Union-Tribune

Breaking News Photography - Patrick Farrell of The Miami Herald

Feature Photography - Damon Winter of The New York Times

LETTERS, DRAMA and MUSIC:

Fiction - Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (Random House)

Drama - Ruined by Lynn Nottage

History - The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed (W.W. Norton & Company)

Biography - American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham (Random House)

Poetry - The Shadow of Sirius by W.S. Merwin (Copper Canyon Press)

General Nonfiction - Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon (Doubleday)

Music - Double Sextet by Steve Reich, premiered March 26, 2008 in Richmond, VA (Boosey & Hawkes)


The big winner this year, without a doubt, is the much-maligned New York Times, taking five Pulitzers after winning one and sharing one last year. St. Petersburg Times, which last won a Pulitzer in 1998, is a multiple winner for the first time Politico cartoonist Matt Wuerker became the first finalist for an online-only publication.

The Washington Post didn't fare as well, with columnist Eugene Robinson as its lone winner for commentary. In 2008, the Post won six Pulitzers in public service, breaking news, feature, commentary and both national and international reporting. Wall Street Journal is shut out for the second consecutive year, its reporting on the financial crisis losing out to the St. Pete Times.

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.

Paycut Times, Layoff Post and Furlough News

A day after the Washington Post Co. disclosed that it lost $25 million in 2008 and will offer employees buyouts to offset even more losses this year, the New York Times Co. announced that it is imposing a temporary 5% paycut for most Times employees.

The cuts is to be felt company-wide, including at the Boston Globe, a few smaller newspapers and also at About.com. The paycuts will last from April through December 2009 - unless economic conditions fails to improve, then it might be extended. The Times also said that about 100 employees on the business side of the company will be laid off.

The good news (of course, everything being relative) in the newspaper business is that only one paper - Ann Arbor News - has announced that it's shutting down since the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased publishing as of March 17. The Tucson Citizen, which was supposed to close up shop on March 21, is still in business as of today.

But in the first quarter this year, three newspaper companies have already filed for bankruptcy, and the rest have resorted to severe measures to cut cost, including paycuts, layoffs, buyouts and furloughs. These announcements were all made within the last 30 days:

* Hearst: San Francisco Chronicle - concessions from the guild, with about 100 employees expected to take buyouts; Houston Chronicle - 12% staff will be laid off; San Antonio Express-News - 75 newsroom positions to be cut.

* Gannett: After a mandatory unpaid one-week furlough was imposed on all employees in the first quarter, the company is repeating the measure in the second quarter, including at flagship USA Today. Some higher salaried employees may face a reduced salary for a second week.

* Newhouse: At papers such as The Star-Ledger (Newark, N.J.), The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) and The Plain Dealer (Cleveland), a 10-day furlough will be imposed and pensions are frozen.

* McClatchy: Announced that 1,600 employees, or 15% of its workforce, will be laid off and the rest will get paycuts. Particularly hard-hit is the troubled Miami Herald, with over 200 jobs being eliminated. At other papers, including the Raleigh News & Observer, Kansas City Star and Sacramento Bee, 5-10% paycuts will apply.

* MediaNews: The Denver Post employees OK'd cuts in wages and benefits. The company's other papers in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay metro areas might be hit with a second round of mandatory non-paid furloughs, similar to Gannett's.

Amidst all the layoffs and cuts, the Monday debut of the new print and delivery plan by the Detroit newspapers will be closely watched by everyone in the industry. The Free Press and News will be delivered just three days a week (Thursday, Friday and Sunday) and the print edition runs will be drastically reduced. This model, if successful, may be widely emulated, as newspapers continue to grasp for a way out of a seemingly irreversible death spiral.

NYT Makes Right Move with Douthat

Ever since the New York Times parted company with Bill Kristol in January, speculations abounded on when and if the Grey Lady would pick another conservative columnist. Let's face it, at the moment, every one of the NYT's op-ed columnists voted for Barack Obama, including the purportedly center-right David Brooks.

Then, on Wednesday, the Times made a surprise and bold move - a brilliant one, perhaps, by picking Ross Douthat to succeed Kristol.

The Atlantic was effusive in its praise for Douthat (pronounced DOW-thut). From associate editor Marc Ambinder:

Ross is late-twenties-year-old public intellectual with the sensibility of a 60-year eminence grise, the range of a Hitchens, the pitch of a conservative AJP Taylor, the conscience of a Neibuhr and the intellectual honesty of his frequent sparring partner, Andrew Sullivan.

It's heretic for a new media pioneer to say this, I guess, but the New York Times remains the most influential journalistic force in the modern world, and its opinion columnists consistently shape policy, government and public opinion. ... The Atlantic has been a fabulous perch for Ross, but the Times offers a vantage point that is irresistible.

Douthat, who will turn 30(!) this year, is a Harvard graduate who's written for a number of conservative publications, including as a film critic for National Review. Contributors to NR's blog 'The Corner' also chimed in on the Times' choice:

From Mike Potemra: I feel the way conservative Catholics felt the day Ratzinger was elected: what a bold, surprising, great choice. Congratulations to Ross, and the NYT.

From Yuval Levin: Ross Douthat will be a fantastic columnist, and one of very few reasons to read the New York Times. A young man with an old soul, a sharp pen, and a deep sense of the connection between culture, politics, and the great human questions. He's a friend, so I'm not objective, but I'm sure I'd think it even if he weren't: Good for the Times and good for the rest of us.

Eyal Press at the liberal-progressive The Nation, has a problem with the choice - he thinks Douthat is not conservative enough:

So what's the problem with this hire? The problem is that it will not give readers of The Times any clue what most Republicans today - certainly those holding the reins of power - actually think. America's preeminent newspaper will now have two conservatives (David Brooks is the other) chiming in to argue that government isn't always evil, that tax cuts aren't always good, that something really does need to be done about health care, that markets aren't always wonderfully virtuous, and so on. This will make it a lot easier for progressives to put down their coffee in the morning without feeling queasy. It will also make it that much easier for conservatives to argue - accurately - that The Times is out-of-touch with their beliefs.

Douthat will start his online columns in mid-April, with columns in print to follow shortly after. He'll also, according to the Times, blog for the paper as well.

Anything But Kristol-Clear

The New York Times parted ways with conservative columnist William Kristol after just a one-year stint. The paper claimed the decision was mutual. Kristol, who is the founder and editor of The Weekly Standard, is not telling.

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Bill Kristol

Speculations are running rampant. Most suspected that the Times pushed before Kristol jumped. The primary reason given for the severing of the relationship - undoubtedly leaked by the Times - was that Kristol was sloppy and the Times got tired of running corrections.

Scott Horton of the Daily Beast said his source indicated that the "firing" had nothing to do with Kristol's politics:

The source makes clear that the decision not to renew Kristol's contract is not related to his neoconservative ideology. ... The problems that emerged were more fundamental. Kristol's writing wasn't compelling or even very careful. He either lacked a talent for solid opinion journalism or wasn't putting his heart into it. A give-away came in the form of four corrections the newspaper was forced to run over factual mistakes in the columns, creating an impression that they were rushed out without due diligence or attention to factual claims.

Another, if a lesser, reason was that Kristol was too personally involved in the politics that he was writing about, particularly his tireless campaigning for Sarah Palin, which ultimately had at least some influence in John McCain's selecting the Alaska governor as the VP candidate for the GOP ticket.

If these indeed were the reasons for the Times to oust Kristol, then it clearly has more stringent guidelines for him. If Maureen Dowd were held to the same standards, she'd lost her job quite some time ago. Consider:

Dowd famously strung together three George W. Bush sentences in a May 2003 column, using ellipses to mask the fact that she was fabricating something Bush never said. But more recently, Dowd essentially made up a quote - Jayson Blair-style - from Gen. David Petraeus in a July 2008 column, which the Times had to admit as much in a correction:

In her column last Wednesday, Maureen Dowd wrote that a Democratic lawmaker privately asked Gen. David Petraeus why there weren't more Democrats in the military, and he replied, "There are more than you think." Col. Steven Boylan of the general's public affairs office in Baghdad, which was not contacted for comment, says the quotation "is in error as he never made nor would make such a statement."

And if Kristol was taking up Palin's cause, who was Caroline Kennedy's mouthpiece in her unsuccessful attempt to claim Hillary Clinton's New York senate seat? Here's a hint: When Kennedy "dropped out," a certain NYT columnist went on a wild rant, calling New York Gov. David Paterson, among other things: "namby-pamby," "goofball," "dithering" and "chuckle-headed," all because he "strangled his best choice for the Senate."

Kristol will be taking his work to the Washington Post, which snapped him up in an instant. Meanwhile, the Times is playing coy about whether another conservative columnist will be chosen to replace Kristol. Said Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal: "... stay tuned. We have some interesting plans."

Newspapers - Not a Poor Man's Game

For the time being, it looks like the only thing (or people) that can save the newspaper business from its impending doom would be well-heeled billionaires. It matters not what passports they carry. It only matters that they show up with suitcases full of cash.

And they arrive in many different ways - A Mexican bailed out America's leading newspaper by paying down $250 million. He doesn't want to have a say in how the paper's run, as long as he collects the sweet 14% interest. A Russian spent one pound (that's about a buck 40) to buy the last of the London evening papers and immediately he wants to make the paper more liberal. Oh, by the way, he used to work for the KGB.

EveningStandardFrontPage.gif

But hey, finding a sugar daddy to pay the bills beats getting thrown out on the street.

To be sure, appealing to the vanity of the wealthy isn't necessarily a bad business practice. For some, there's still prestige in owning a newspaper, especially one steeped in tradition and/or one with a sterling reputation. There is some parallel to owning a sporting franchise.

For a good while, a sports team - just about anywhere - was a lousy investment but the rich guys willingly paid for the privilege to be part of a distinguished club. They wrote off the losses year after year, taking hard-earned money from their core businesses to subsidize their plaything. Eventually, however, sports franchises became good investments because their values increased exponentially - whether it's an NFL or baseball team or a Premier League or Serie A soccer club.

Is there such a turnaround in the newspapers' future? That's doubtful. The economic model remains senseless. In the Economist, there was this shocking revelation:

The editor of the Los Angeles Times, Russ Stanton, says that its website's revenues now pay for the publication's entire print and online editorial staff. Publishing news electronically is also cheaper than printing and distributing it on paper. There is still huge demand for newspapers' product, the question is how to get readers and advertisers to pay for it.

If what Stanton said is actually true, then it makes little sense for the LA Times to continue publishing its print editions. It's ironic that the paper's parent, the Tribune Co., is trying to emerge out of bankruptcy by selling its most valuable asset: Not the LA Times, not the Chicago Tribune, but the Chicago Cubs baseball team and Wrigley Field, which fetched a cool $900 million.

About two years ago, that's about how much a good U.S. paper was worth. Even in 2007, the Boston Globe was valued at about $550-$600 million. Today, it's barely worth $20 million. Most other papers are worth far less than that, if anything at all.

Maybe the newspaper business really does need these rich guys. Not just for their money. But for some infusion of ideas as well. They must've done something right to make their billions.

New York Times Gets Slim - Fast

It didn't take long for the New York Times to strike a deal with Carlos Slim. While the nation was riveted by Barack Obama's inauguration, the New York Times Co. quietly got a $250 million cash infusion from the Mexican telecommunications billionaire.

The deal allows Slim to own about 17% of the company, up from the 6.4% after he paid $127 million in September. But Slim isn't simply a sugar daddy - he's a loan shark, too. While he did not acquire any voting rights on the Times Co. board, he is getting a hefty 14% interest on his investment, with 11% in cash and 3% in additional bonds.

What this deal does is alleviate the Times Co.'s most pressing financial concerns. More than $1 billion in debt, the Times also faces a May deadline on a $400 million credit line. The cash infusion from Slim should allow the company to let the credit line expire without having to replace it. This also gives the Times more time to raise more cash by divesting its interest in the New England Sports Ventures, as well as getting a loan using its Eighth Avenue building as collateral.

The Times was desperate, though. Even spokeswoman Catherine Mathis admits that the interest rate the company agreed to pay is, well, not something she's familiar with:

"I honestly don't know the answer. If you recall, in the early '80s, interest rates soared. This is an appropriate rate given the challenging market conditions."

The market wondered about the deal, too, as investors sent the Times stocks sharply down, dropping 50 cents, or nearly 8%, to $5.91 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Perhaps anticipating the deal and the pending "Slim" times ahead, the Times already started squeezing its staff on expenses. No more $100 bottle wine to go with the lobster dinner, while eating out with a fellow Times staffer. (Yeah, that is now officially frowned upon.)

The New York Observer got its hands on the lengthy memo - no doubt leaked by a disgruntled Times staffer.

New York Times' 'Slim' Prospects

With mounting debt and negative cash flow, the New York Times Co. has been seeking a number of options to alleviate its $1 billion-plus debt. The Times has sought to mortgage its Eighth Avenue building, sell its interest in the New England Sports Ventures, and now, get Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim to buy up more of the company.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the company will be holding a special board meeting this week to discuss the potential of having Slim - and/or other investors - inject some needed cash into the financially struggling company. Slim already owns 6.4% stake in the company after paying $127 million in September 2008.

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Carlos Slim

A potential hangup for Slim, or any investor, in buying up more of the Times is the dual-class structure the company is set up for its shareholders. Despite owning only about 10% of the total outstanding shares, the Ochs-Sulzberger families control more than 90% of the privately-held Class B stocks and with it, nine of the 13 seats on the board. In 2007, Morgan Stanley fund manager Hassan Elmasry staged an unsuccessful coup to change the structure, to no avail.

That the board is controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger families should concern potential investors. The company's fortunes and the paper's prestige have been in perpetual decline since Arthur Ochs "Pinch" Sulzberger took over as publisher of the Times in 1992 and chairman of the board in 1997. His management ineptitude has been well-chronicled. But his stewardship of the paper might have done even more to damage the brand.

Sulzberger's appointment of Howell Raines as executive editor in 2001 proved to be an unmitigated disaster. Raines aggressively attacked Augusta National Golf Club for its membership policies, to the point of silencing his own writers who expressed contrary opinions. Sulzberger initially backed Raines even in the midst of the Jayson Blair scandal before finally sacking him in May 2003 when the New York Times newsroom was on the verge of a staff mutiny.

Raines' departure did little to halt the Times' drift and erosion of its reputation. Just in the most recent election cycle, the Times' two most noteworthy contributions were the thinly-sourced hit piece on Republican candidate John McCain and later its refusal to print his op-ed piece after publishing one from his opponent Barack Obama.

The Times' editorial direction under Sulzberger, not to mention management of the company, will be a source of contention for any potential suitor interested in reviving the once-great national paper of record. Without Sulzberger's relinquishing at least some control, the Times' prospects of a turnaround may be slim indeed.

New York Times vs. The Atlantic

It's not every day that the New York Times is fighting someone, it just seems that way. A couple of weeks ago, it's the White House. Now, it's The Atlantic.

Writing in the January issue of The Atlantic, Michael Hirschorn pondered in "End Times" the possibility of the New York Times disappearing as a print entity - maybe as soon as May. With the Times $1 billion in debt and a $400 million credit line due to expire, it seemed fair speculation:

Regardless of what happens over the next few months, The Times is destined for significant and traumatic change. At some point soon--sooner than most of us think--the print edition, and with it The Times as we know it, will no longer exist. And it will likely have plenty of company. In December, the Fitch Ratings service, which monitors the health of media companies, predicted a widespread newspaper die-off: "Fitch believes more newspapers and news­paper groups will default, be shut down and be liquidated in 2009 and several cities could go without a daily print newspaper by 2010."

Clearly touching a nerve, the Times hit back with a letter to The Atlantic, which was distributed to a few industry insiders, including Poynter and Editor & Publisher. Signed by Catherine Mathis, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications, the letter did not dispute the mounting amount of debt the Times is under, but claimed everything is under control:

While credit markets remain tight, we have been talking with lenders and, based on our conversations with them, we expect to get the financing to meet our obligations when they come due. And please remember, we continue to generate good cash flow from our operations.

The letter went on to blast what it characterized as "uninformed speculation" in The Atlantic piece - though its own assertions seemed just as much speculation. Saying that "we talked to someone and they said they're going to loan us the money in time for us to pay you back" resembles what a desperate gambler would claim while in the presence of a creditor with a crowbar in his hands.

For the time being, the Times continues to insist that it isn't worried about the expiring credit line in May. New York Times Co. CFO James Follo said in December that the Times has two $400 million revolving credit lines and has drawn about $400 million between them. In theory, since the second credit line doesn't expire until June 2011, it should be able to buy some time to maneuver, refinance some of the debt without having to replace the expiring credit line.

Whether Hirschorn was being an alarmist remains to be seen. While he never suggested that the New York Times itself would go out of business anytime soon, there is this nagging sense that the folks at Eighth Avenue are feeling a bit under siege.

All the Ads That Are Fit to Print

Look at today's New York Times - the paper itself - and see if you find something unusual.

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Yes, on the bottom of the front page, six columns across, is an ad, by CBS.

For the first time, the Times is selling front page space for display ads. The paper had occasionally run a few classified ads on the front page and display ads on the front pages of different sections - but never on A-1.

Chalk it up as yet another sign of the times.

This is not meant to pick on the NYT - far from it. Other leading papers - the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Los Angeles Times - have been doing this for some time. The combination of dwindling circulation and a bad economy that's depressing ad revenues is forcing all media entities to think of new ways to scrape for cash.

The magazine industry is also hurting, with considerably fewer advertising placements for its January issues. And the decline is universal, as magazines as diverse as Wired, Vogue, Boating and Boys' Life are all among the 10 worst-hit monthlies.

Newspaper Stocks Taking a Beating

Without question, 2008 was a terrible year for stocks. The Dow was down by 35% and the S&P 500 was off by about 40%. Yet, when it comes to getting hammered in the stock market, there's no business like the newspaper business.

A number of newspaper publishers have seen their stock value decline by 90% or more in 2008, having been or are on the verge of being delisted by the NYSE. Gatehouse Media, Journal Register and Sun-Times Media Group all have become penny stocks and been kicked off the big board.

The stocks for Gatehouse, which publishes nearly 100 mostly small-town dailies, are down 99.5%. Journal Register, parent company of 22 mostly suburban dailies, had a similar meltdown. Sun-Times, owner of the eponymous Chicago paper, is trading at about 5 cents a share.

Bigger chains are not faring much better. Lee Enterprises, with St. Louis Post-Dispatch its flagship, is trading at 40 cents a share. Media General, publisher of the Tampa Tribune, is at around $2.50. Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper publisher and parent of USA Today and Detroit Free Press, is at $8.50, down from around $37 in January 2008.

The New York Times Co., despite all the bad news and bad press, actually has held up better than most. The NYT is trading at about $7.60, down from the 2008 high of $21. The NYT plans to mortgage its Manhattan building and is actively trying to sell its 17.5% stake in the New England Sports Ventures.

According to a source, the NYT is asking around $350 million for its share in the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park and NESN television network - though the actual worth of the stake is probably closer to $150-200 million. The company turned down an opportunity to unload the Boston Globe two years ago when it was valued at around $550-600 million. Today, the Globe is worth about $20 million.

The NYT has to sell something - anything - quickly. It is reportedly $1 billion in debt, with a $400 million credit line due to expire in May 2009. It might also want to think about selling about.com, which has been valued at around $600 million.

Grey Lady Selling Her Ball Team

Hard hit by the financial crisis and dwindling readership, the New York Times Co. is looking to unload its stake in a fabled sports franchise and its ballyard.

Why, it's the Boston Red Sox and Fenway Park, of course.

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The Times Co., according to the Wall Street Journal, is seeking a buyer for its 17.5 percent interest in New England Sports Ventures, which owns the Red Sox, Fenway Park and NESN, the dominant sports television network in New England. The company may also include the Boston Globe newspaper in the package.

It's well known that the New York Times is facing unprecedented financial crunch. In September, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim acquired a 6.4 percent stake in the company for $127 million. It recently put its Manhattan building up as a collateral in an effort to secure a new loan to replace a $400 million credit line that's scheduled to expire in May 2009. It's reported that the Times Co. is $1 billion in debt.

The problem is that short of selling its assets - and this would be a terrible time to sell - the Times Co. has very few options. Its ad revenue took a huge dive so far in the fourth quarter and its flagship paper is continuing to lose readers (at least the print editions) at an alarming rate. The latest ABC circulation report puts the Times at just over 1 million readers, down nearly 8 percent from 2007 and a net loss of nearly 183,000 readers since its peak in 1993.

Adding to the Times' woes is the continuing erosion of its prestige. Just earlier this week, it was forced to admit that it had published a fake letter from Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe criticizing Caroline Kennedy's senatorial bid. Its shoddy journalism was, well, appalling:

In this case, our staff sent an edited version of the letter to the sender of the e-mail and did not hear back. At that point, we should have contacted Mr. Delanoe's office to verify that he had, in fact, written to us. We did not do that. Without that verification, the letter should never have been printed.

Who knew it'd be so hard to find all the real news that's fit to print?

White House vs. New York Times

Seems like the Bush White House is willing to take the heat on Iraq, Guantanamo, Katrina, the bailout and a whole host of goings-on that it may or may not have been the culprit.

But when it gets blamed on the housing meltdown, especially coming from the New York Times, the gloves are off.

The White House issued a blistering 500-word rebuttal accusing the self-styled Paper of Record of "gross negligence." The statement, released by White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, called the hit piece relying "on hindsight with blinders on and one eye closed.

The White House accused the Times of framing a hypothesis - "It's Bush's fault" - and going about proving it by ignoring any countervailing evidence:

There are many more reporting failures in this story -- failure to consider the impact of monetary policy; ignoring the regional nature of housing markets; and ignoring the Bush Administration's historic proposal to overhaul the nation's regulatory system, for example. But then a review of these issues would wave complicated the reporters' myopic point of view that only Bush Administration policies could possibly be responsible for the housing and finance crises.

White House counsel Ed Gillespie was more glib, telling Fox News: "They've had to mortgage their building in Manhattan to help make ends meet, and they've been reduced to junk-bond status. I don't know if the New York Times' shoddy reporting is the result of being in junk-bond status, or if their junk-bond status is what's resulting in their shoddy reporting."

The Times, meanwhile, offered a terse response with a plug to boot. Said Executive Editor Bill Keller:

The piece that has driven the White House spokesmen to such a show of apoplexy was based on on-the-record interviews with dozens of current and former officials of the current administration. It is part of an ongoing series that examines in depth the accountability of numerous players in the economic meltdown, including Congress, rating agencies, brokerage houses and the Fed. The series is available in full on our Web site, nytimes.com.