MediaFile

New York Times *still* thinks about charging

Editors think it’s the kiss of death to include words like “still” in headlines and “continued” in first paragraphs. It’s like admitting to readers that you didn’t have anything new to report. So why do I say that The New York Times is still thinking about making people pay to get news on its website? Because Times Executive Editor Bill Keller told readers on Tuesday that the Times is still thinking about doing this — and that made for a lot of news.

Here are the headlines:

    Times executive editor hints at online access fees. (The Associated Press) New York Times Considers Charging for Its Web Site (Bloomberg) Bill Keller Examines the NYT Business Model (Portfolio.com) Should the New York Times Charge for its Website? (Gawker)

Of the four, I like Portfolio’s best. Felix Salmon hits on a key point, the very one that I was thinking after reading these headlines Tuesday night: This is not news. Salmon writes:

Bill Keller’s musings about online subscriptions are causing something of a storm in the blogosphere, and even making the MSM. But I’d highly recommend you read the long version of Keller’s comments, rather than the soundbite version. Keller spends 2,164 words on what he calls “navel-gazing”, and the overall impression is twofold. Firstly Keller does not think that he has any answers to the questions posed by falling circulations and ad revenue. [Emphasis ours -Ed.] He’s thinking about all the options, in quite a sophisticated way — as he should be.

Here’s the soundbite part of what Keller said:

As most of you know, a few years ago The Times introduced a subscription service called Times Select. We put our columnists and our archives behind a wall and charged admission to anyone who was not a print subscriber. Times Select generated something like $10 million a year, which was real money, but in the end the company calculated that we’d be better off taking down the wall and letting the flood of additional visitors to the Web site attract advertising dollars. The lesson of that experiment, however, was not that readers won’t pay for content. A lot of people in the news business, myself included, don’t buy as a matter of theology that information “wants to be free.” Really good information, often extracted from reluctant sources, truth-tested, organized and explained – that stuff wants to be paid for. So far, it gets paid for mainly by advertisers, but a lively, deadly serious discussion continues within The Times about ways to get consumers to pay for what we make. [Emphasis ours. - Ed.]

In other words, this is something that the Times crew talks about all the time. Just like every other news outlet that’s trying to figure out how to make money online as their print newspaper business decline

Write this down: News Corp

News Corp is many things to many people. Its latest incarnation? Pinata.

Everyone is taking a whack at Rupert Murdoch’s international media empire these days as its stock languishes and it gets ready to report second-quarter financial results on Thursday. Newspaper advertising revenue is falling, the movie season hasn’t looked so hot so far, MySpace is unlikely to friend Facebook, the euro and the pound are hurting European operations, DVDs are dying and cable networks revenue doesn’t look like it will be able to compensate.

On top of all that, people are beginning to wonder if the company will announce a writedown, and how soon. My story, which ran on Friday, says the newspaper business looks ripe for a writedown, and quotes Pali Capital analyst RIch Greenfield saying that part of the company’s problem is Murdoch’s sentimental attachment to old media:

If Murdoch wants to keep the business healthy, it is time to make “hard decisions” and prune older media like papers, Pali Capital analyst Rich Greenfield said.

Financial Times finds new way to save newspapers

Maybe the real headline should be, “Financial Times finds old way to save newspapers.” It’s called the lawsuit. As reported by Cityfile:

You know we’re in a deep recession when even billionaire financiers can’t afford to pay for subscriptions to the Financial Times. In what will go down as one of the more bizarre (and unintentionally hilarious) lawsuits we’ve seen in quite some time, the newspaper filed a lawsuit against Steve Schwarzman’s Blackstone Group on Wednesday for sharing an FT username and password instead of setting up separate accounts for its employees. Yes, an unknown “senior employee” at the colossal private equity firm “authorized the initiation and repeated renewal of an individual, personal subscription to FT.com” and then distributed the login details to company employees so they could all join in on the fun. (The court documents list the username as “theblackstonegroup” and the password as “blackstone,” although FT says it has since “disabled the credentials to mitigate damages.”)

The New York Post gives us the background on why the situation is absurd on its face:

Saving newspapers: The PR campaign

Brian Tierney doesn’t dispute that U.S. newspapers are in trouble; he just wants to know why they can’t tell the good side of the story. That led to this article in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, the paper he owns along with a group of investors:

The pundits and cynics who believe that newspapers are dead are dead wrong.

So says a small group of newspaper executives who this month organized an ad hoc group to alter perceptions and get the facts out…  Dubbed the Newspaper Project, the grassroots effort includes the CEO and publisher of Philadelphia Media Holdings, Brian P. Tierney. [And executives from Parade, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc and others --ed]

Acknowledging that the newspaper industry faces challenges, the group roundly rejects the notion that newspapers have no future.

Hi, I’m Gregory Lee, banker for The New York Times

We’ve heard in recent days that The New York Times has gotten some interest in its stake in the Boston Red Sox, but it seems like whatever offers are being discussed, they must not be enough for the publisher.

In the murky, mysterious world of mergers and acquisitions, companies and their bankers and financial advisers tend to operate far below the radar — only surfacing to leak the news in The Wall Street Journal that a deal is close at hand.

Not this time. While the Journal did get the tip-off back in December, the Times on Wednesday simply issued a press release inviting all comers to take a look at the stake. Not only that, the Times published the name of the Goldman Sachs banker handling the sale, along with his phone number. Usually, as a reporter, you have to cash in lots of chips to get digits like that.

Bartz’s idea of a joke: Yahoo could buy New York Times

Wall Street analysts pestered new Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz with all kinds of questions during her first quarterly earnings call, and she answered as candidly as she could, frequently pointing out the fact that she’s still learning the ropes and getting to know the business.

But Bartz couldn’t resist the chance to crack a joke when Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster asked her about Yahoo’s roadmap for 2009, and whether investors can expect any guidelines about when things might start rolling.

“Well, Gene, I thought I’d buy The New York Times tomorrow,” Bartz said.

Lee joins newspaper privation train

Lee Enterprises, publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and owner of a bunch of small U.S. daily newspapers, is learning the public relations benefits of making its executives do without.

The Davenport, Iowa-based Lee released its annual proxy filing with the U.S. government on Monday, in advance of its annual meeting. I was expecting to see the usual details buried deep within about the pay raises, bonuses and other monetary rewards that executives tend to earn even when times turn tough.

I was wrong. Here is what I found instead (the following are “named executive officers” or “NEOs,” including Chief Executive Mary Junck:

New York Times, GateHouse blink on links

The New York Times and GateHouse Media arrived at a general understanding on Monday of how Web links work. That’s good timing because they were supposed to go to trial over it today. Here’s the brief back story, courtesy of The Associated Press:

GateHouse sued the Times, the parent company of The Boston Globe and its Boston.com Web Site, last month, claiming the Globe’s new community websites use GateHouse’s newspaper headlines and lead sentences without permission.

Here’s what the Boston Herald said:

The Times agreed to disable the computer tool it used to automatically copy and display GateHouse headlines and lead sentences on Boston.com’s recently launched “Your Town” Web sites. Meanwhile, GateHouse will implement a “technological solution” to prevent Boston.com from copying its content. GateHouse has set up such a barrier in November that kept Boston.com from “scraping” Wicked Local sites, but the “electronic security measure” was quickly circumvented, according to GateHouse’s original civil complaint.

Newspapers: These are a few of my favorite playthings

The story of rich billionaires buying troubled newspapers is one that has been told before, but never with headlines that practically nod and wink at you like this one from the Financial Times: Playthings for rich men could be unsafe toys

Tell us about it!

The story by Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson explores the ups and downs of selling troubled, publicly traded newspaper companies to impossibly rich buyers. As he says, would-be press barons might find to their dismay that the old business model is dying. That means taking over a paper could be a reputation killer, not an enhancer.

The most interesting but sad item in the story is this tidbit:

The $5.6bn Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp paid in 2007 for Dow Jones, owner of the Wall Street Journal and several local papers, would now be sufficient to buy Gannett, the New York Times, McClatchy, Media General, Belo and Lee Enterprises, even at twice their current share prices.

Allan Sloan spots New York Times tax genius

The New York Times might not have figured out its long-term strategy to survive just yet, but Fortune columnist Allan Sloan discovered that someone working for the company is a genius when it comes to taxes.

The Times this week said it will borrow $250 million from companies controlled by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, also the world’s second-richest man. Slim also is getting warrants that he can convert into stock, something that will make him one of the company’s largest shareholders. Aside from questions about whether he will take over the TImes, the aspect of the Slim deal that turned business reporters’ heads was the crazy interest that the Times will pay — 14 percent.

Sloan has a way of explaining how there is a way around this. Here are some excerpts, but for the full effect, go read his column. While Sloan is a master of converting complicated financial practice into plain English, this one is pretty tough for the layman.