MediaFile

Mr. Sulzberger goes to Amazon

When Massachusetts Democratic Senator John Kerry convenes a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday to discuss the fate of U.S. newspapers, don’t look for the man who controls the fate of Kerry’s hometown Boston Globe on Capitol Hill.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr, whose New York Times Co is threatening to close the Globe, will be at a press conference in New York City where online bookseller and retailer Amazon.com plans to release a new version of the Kindle electronic book reader. At least, that’s what The Wall Street Journal says. Amazon and the Times declined to talk to us about the Wednesday event or Sulzberger’s planned appearance.

Senator Kerry need not worry that he can’t question Sulzberger in person. As much as Sulzberger probably wants to limit his talking points to the Kindle, we’re in a Globe state of mind. After all, talks resume tonight over $10 million in cost cuts it wants to wrest from the Globe’s biggest union. We would be happy to ask Kerry’s questions on his behalf.

(Photo: Reuters)

Boston Globe, still alive

When we went to bed late last night, the state of play on The Boston Globe didn’t look so hot. Since then… it’s still not looking so hot.

The short story: Some of the Globe’s union appear to have reached tentative accords with the Globe and its parent company, The New York Times, which has threatened to shut down the money-losing paper if it doesn’t win $20 million in concessions. The Boston Newspaper Guild, which is on the hook for $10 million alone, said it has offered more than it has to, but it appears to not have been enough so far. The Times Co, meanwhile, said it would file a federal government notice that it intends to shut the paper. The big issue? Lifetime job guarantees that the Times wants to eliminate.

Here’s the latest from the sleepless reporters at its smaller competitor, the Boston Herald:

Mr. Sulzberger, your son ROCKS

The New York Times’s hyper-energetic reporter Sewell Chan fielded a question in a mediabistro.com Q&A about what it’s like working with Arthur Gregg Sulzberger on his City Room blog staff at nyt.com. Sulzberger is the son of Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and an heir apparent to the Times company.

Regardless of Sulzberger’s talent at City Room or in his previous reporting gig at The Oregonian, I’m not sure Chan had many options on how to answer the question. Here’s what he said:

Arthur Gregg Sulzberger joined the Times staff as a reporter, and he’s been working continuous news. He’s already been working with metro, and he’ll continue to work with metro. He has been absolutely impressive, gracious, smart as a whip, hardworking, full of energy, full of ideas, and has a great sense of language. His writing sparkles, and he’s a charm and a pleasure to work with.

Help The New York Times save $$!

An investor at Thursday’s 2009 New York Times annual meeting came up with a heck of a way to save money. But first, a recap of all the serious stuff that executives brought up at the meeting (Read the whole thing on the wire):

    We will stay public. We will not be sold. There is no one solution to what ails the newspaper business. We’re trying everything. Stop asking about us closing The Boston Globe or selling it. We won’t tell you until we’re ready. (By the way, it only took the Times nearly a month to reveal what the Globe has reported for ages: It is on track to lose $85 million this year.)

Now for money-saving tips for the struggling TImes, courtesy of an investor whose name I didn’t get a chance to catch. Here’s what she said to Times Co Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr during an investor Q&A:

As to savings on newsprint, I see belabored articles taking almost full pages on obscure topics… perhaps [about] someone in the Brazilian forest I cannot do anything about. So if you’re trying to save newsprint, perhaps you could edit these things to a more reasonable size… [Then] there is the expense you incur editorially in aspects that are really not necessary. [Times food critic] Frank Bruni had to go to Texas to write about a pork restaurant which most of your readers will never go to… Cathy Horyn had to go to the Dominican Republic to interview Oscar de la Renta who is here 90 percent of the time.

An aggressive sales plan for The Boston Globe?

The first question one of my editors asked me on Friday night when hearing that The New York Times Co threatened to shut down The Boston Globe was whether it was a negotiating tactic. That’s an easy one, for sure. Unions causing you problems at your business? Need to cut costs? Threaten to kill the whole business. It helps your adversaries reorganize their priorities right quick (Though sometimes they really mean it. Look at Hearst in Seattle).

Here’s a hypothetical recipe for how you could do it if you were running The New York Times:

    You spent $1.1 billion on a paper that, thanks to the sunset on the newspaper business, is worth far less now. In fact, it’s dragging down the whole company, and you would rather let it rot than eat away at the fortunes of your flagship paper. The last time someone hinted that they would be willing to pay — about half  of what you did — you said “no.” Oops. Now no one will buy it, even though you’re also selling free tickets to see the Red Sox in the form of your stake in the company that owns the team. Tell the union reps that you need $20 million in cost cuts, that your loss on the paper will be $85 million this year and that you need it done pronto. If not, no more paper. To make it really crazy, do this on a day when the paper’s editor is across the country in Oregon, delivering a lecture to journalism students that deals with the sorry state of affairs that the journalism world is in. Wait for someone in the union to leak the threat to the nearby alternative paper that follows the Globe’s goings-on like white on rice (The Boston Phoenix in this case), then let the Globe’s editors run their own story. (PS: I won’t link to the Phoenix because it’s throwing a pop-up ad at me whenever I visit the page that invites me to download anti-virus software. I won’t inflict that pain on readers.) When other reporters call, decline comment. Watch the story go around the world. Watch a buyer emerge, someone who fulminates long and hard about civic responsibility and not letting a hallowed journalistic institution go to ground. Sell it to that buyer at a massive loss, which one of the in-house tax geniuses can find a way to write off in a way that’s advantageous to the company.

I’m not saying that the Times wouldn’t let the Globe die or that it wouldn’t be a big loss to Boston. Still, The New York Times Co wants to protect one thing: The New York Times. That’s what the Ochs-Sulzberger family’s trust is all about. The shares in that family’s trust control the company but it’s really about the paper, and it’s not certain that a huge offer to buy the company out could persuade the family to get rid of it (despite prior evidence). Heck, the Times even lists the trust as one of its risk factors in its securities filings.

Could Google buy Twitter? Ask Arrington, then ask Swisher

******We sprinkled updates into this blog. We’re highlighting them like this.******Thanks to TechCrunch, U.S. tech reporters are about to spend another weekend working instead of playing. UPDATE: Or maybe Kara Swisher at All Things D will save them!******Two sources told proprietor Michael Arrington that Google “is in late stage negotiations to acquire Twitter.” He wrote:***

We don’t know the price but can assume its well, well north of the $250 million valuation that they saw in their recent funding.

***

Twitter turned down an offer to be bought by Facebook just a few months ago for half a billion dollars, although that was based partially on overvalued Facebook stock. Google would be paying in cash and/or publicly valued stock, which is equivalent to cash. So whatever the final acquisition value might be, it can’t be compared apples-to-apples with the Facebook deal.

***

Why would Google want Twitter? We’ve been arguing for some time that Twitter’s real value is in search. It holds the keys to the best real time database and search engine on the Internet, and Google doesn’t even have a horse in the game.

Yu, Zuckerberg and the Facebook fallout

Why do we care about Facebook? People you know and respect use it. That includes you. People you know and respect who scoff at it still know what Facebook is. Facebook, like Google, is popular enough to have become a verb as well as a noun. If the public ever got a crack at buying shares in it, lots of people would get rich.

That’s why mass clucking ensued among the technology press when the word came out Tuesday that Chief Financial Officer Gideon Yu is splitting. The Wall Street Journal, so far as we can tell, broke the news. It said:

The departure of the 37-year-old Mr. Yu and the ensuing search for a replacement are likely to renew speculation that Facebook is stepping up plans for a public offering, despite the rocky economy. The company, which has turned down several acquisition offers in the past, has said it is hoping to go public in the next few years.

But some employees and investors, who have poured roughly $455 million into the company, according to VC Experts.com Inc., are eager for Facebook to start planning an offering and have raised questions about whether it has enough money to sustain its growth. Many others have said the company is over-valued, which — in addition to the economic downturn — hampered its efforts to fund an employee-buyback program last year.

Now showing: The cable show

The big story in the media for the rest of the week is the annual National Cable Telecommunications Association Show, or “the cable show,” as its commonly called.

This year’s primary topic looks like it will be how the big, traditional operators in the business will adapt to an age when the Internet is giving people more options to watch shows, and not always in a way that feeds the bank.

Here is our own take on the show from the Reuters wire:

Both sets of companies will be brainstorming on how to cope with or benefit from disintermediation: consumers can now watch decent-quality video online whenever they want, and often for free.

New York Times brings IHT into the fold

It’s no secret that the International Herald Tribune is part of The New York Times Co, so why not flaunt it? Visitors to nytimes.com and iht.com saw evidence of this thinking Sunday (or Monday, depending on where you are).

When you visit the IHT website, you now see a Web link on your Internet browser that says this: http://global.nytimes.com/?iht. The flag at the top of the page now reads: “International Herald Tribune: The Global edition of The New York Times.” The layout of the website also has been adjusted to resemble that of nytimes.com’s homepage. If you visit nytimes.com, a banner across the top of the page invites you to “try the new global edition,” which, of course, is what iht.com used to be. If you’re a regular Reuters reader, you can’t say you’re too surprised, as we told you last June that this was coming.

We’re curious about whether bringing the IHT closer into the fold allows the Times to cut its costs in any significant way, and will update this blog entry once we get some clarity on that. The Times is dealing with falling advertising revenue and also has had to take other steps such as selling its interest in its headquarters building and borrowing money at a high interest rate from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim to help pay off debt. It also cut 100 jobs in its business operations, it said on Friday, and said it is cutting staff pay by 5 percent (and in the case of union workers in its newsroom, is asking them to agree to that pay cut to avoid news staff layoffs).

Fox, New York Times sue U.S. government

The latest by-product of the financial crisis? Media lawsuits. More specifically: Government agencies deny or fail to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by media organizations, which then sue to force the government to own up.

The two latest cases are from News Corp’s Fox Business Network and The New York Times (both outlets’ complaints are pasted below). Fox sued for what it said was the government’s failure to respond to a FOIA request, filed on February 26, 2009, which sought records relating to information that the Securities and Exchange Commission received regarding the potential violations of the securities laws or any other potential wrongdoing by R. Allen Stanford, or Stanford Financial Group and its affiliates. This request included, but was not limited to, the SEC’s response to complaints, tips or information and any resulting audits, inquiries and investigations.

The Times’s complaint, filed by investigative reporter and Washington Post alum Jo Becker and her editor, chides the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Dept. for stalling or failing to disclose documents related to the financial crisis, including communications between some of the top dogs in the bailout program over the Troubled Asset Relief Program, better known as TARP.