Readers weigh in on our 7-point plan to rescue the sinking New York Times–including at least one from the NYT’s newsroom. Here are some suggestions (and our responses).
Be less biased (i.e., less liberal). This was by far the most popular recommendation. We think it’s bunk. The New York Times‘s problem isn’t readership, it’s the business model (and the company’s alarmingly puny financial resources). If the New York Times stripped out its biases, most of its violently passionate readers would go read something else instead. And FOX viewers would keep watching FOX.
Don’t sell assets now–the market’s crappy. Wait until the rebound. Unfortunately, it’s too late for that. Management had oceans of time in the boom years to strengthen the company’s financial resources and pay down its debt, and they opted not to. Now, the company is running on fumes. Unless NYTCo’s debt holders treat it like a charity, the company is now being forced to sell assets–for whatever it can get.
Don’t bother trying sell the Boston Globe–no one would buy it. Good point. Jack Welch might buy it. He expressed interest a couple of years ago. He certainly won’t pay up for it, though. He’s no fool.
Hold off big changes until you really need them. Just reduce headcount year by year. This is called death by a thousand cuts. It is utterly demoralizing to the staff, and it never helps the brand. If the economy comes roaring back, the NYT will do better than it is doing today, but it will still be a business in decline. The more proactive the company can be about putting the print paper in milking mode and transitioning its primary focus to digital, the sooner it can get the ship headed in the right direction again. Unfortunately, this will require a major reduction in the size of the newsroom. The online business model just won’t support the current infrastructure.
Don’t try to renegotiate union contracts: That is bad karma, and it will alienate the staff. Yes, it sucks. It also, unfortunately, reflects the reality of the industry. Unions exist to make sure staffers get a fair deal from owners. In this case, and in the case of the car industry, the owners are getting clobbered, too. Having to radically restructure the business–and lay off staff or cut benefits in the process–is a major bummer. But it won’t help anyone to run the company into the ground. New York Times employees have every right to be outraged that management wasn’t smarter in the boom years about preparing the company for the pain of this transition. But there’s nothing anyone can do about that now. (Also, most union contracts vaporize when companies declare bankruptcy, and it’s for damn sure that, once the debtholders seized control of the company, they would lay waste to the newsroom and union demands.
The print business isn’t that bad. Once the economy recovers, the loss of revenue will be offset by the growth of online revenue. We don’t think so. The company’s fortunes will obviously improve for a while if/when the economy recovers, but this will only be temporary. Again, the industry’s real problem is that the business model that worked for 200 years–bundling expensive news with display ads and high-margin classified ads–is dying fast. For classifieds, especially, the online alternative is better in every way (unlimited space, photos, links, real-time publishing and editing, cost, accounability). The majority of print classified ads, which dropped a shocking 28% year over year at the NYT, just aren’t coming back. And the NYT is nowhere close to replacing the lost revenue online. So, yes, a strong recovery in the economy (don’t hold your breath) will provide a temporary reprieve. But that won’t last long.
More suggestions on how to save the Times or criticism of our plan? Put them in the comments below.