How New York City's Seven Newspapers Are (Nearly) Surviving

Print is undead—and NYC is the only city where you can still read all about it

Still, seven dailies is a lot, especially these days. The question is, Why? Well, people who work on newspapers love to hate their owners, but their jobs might only exist for the mammoth size of owner egos.

Owning a newspaper "allows wealthy individuals the opportunity to be important," says Moss, a professor at NYU's Wagner Graduate School. "Without New York, who would take their phone calls?"

Even if papers aren't lining their owners' pockets with as much money as they used to, the papers are "providing status," he says. "We shouldn't underestimate the social and psychological purpose they serve. If you want a newspaper, you're doing it for the persona. It's a lot better than being a real estate developer."

NYU professor Mitchell Moss
Caleb Ferguson
NYU professor Mitchell Moss
Pete Hamill
Caleb Ferguson
Pete Hamill

Moss's not-so-subtle reference is to Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman, who makes his fortune as a real estate tycoon at Boston Properties, Inc.—he's the only local newspaper mogul whose main income flows in from outside the media business. The other local big shots are Rupert Murdoch, international media baron and owner of the Post and Journal (not to mention The Simpsons and Fox); Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the Times and scion of the family that has owned the paper for a century; and James Dolan, son of Cablevision founder Charles Dolan and head of the company that owns Newsday and amNew York (and also the Knicks and Rangers).

The most visible and politically powerful media mogul in town, of course, is Mayor Mike Bloomberg, but his financial-news empire exists entirely on TV and computers and uses practically no newsprint. It helps that New York City is also the magazine- and book-publishing capital; the other moguls do get their share of ink in the only big city left, in which newspaper owners can still claim that distinction.

Lucky guys—they're too rich to take the world's only 24/7 subway system, but they benefit from it. "This is an information junkie's paradise, and as long as people ride subways, they will read newspapers," Moss says. "This is a city in which newspapers are an important part of our culture. The major newspapers in New York are not read by young people. Fortunately, we still have enough older people for whom it's part of a daily habit."

In addition, the city is more vertical than any other big U.S. city. Most other megalopolises, particularly in the West, sprawl, and covering them with newspapers is logistically difficult and no longer makes financial sense, says Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst with the Florida-based Poynter Institute, a major journalism think-tank.

"The areas in question are so big that if they try to really cover each locality, you have to have a lot of zoned editions, and it's very expensive," Edmonds says. "New York City is compact."

And huge. With those huge egos. "The size of the market is number one," explains Ken Doctor, an industry analyst with Outsell, Inc., in Burlingame, California. "But it is also the peculiar interests of the owners of the Post and the Daily News. We don't have a lot of data, but we believe there's a significant subsidy of money-losing operations there. It's the anomaly of the egos and the ownership that is permitting it."

These days, it's possible to "maintain a competitive daily press" only if you're willing to subsidize it to the hilt, says Doctor, adding, "For the Post and News, the question is just what the appetite is for continuing to lose money."

Over the past six months, each local mogul has floated, or actually set in motion, actions they say will preserve their investments, no matter how much red ink they're bleeding.

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Owner Mort Zuckerman continues to show that he has the will to make the Daily News survive, despite its 14 percent drop in circulation since 2005. This summer, Zuckerman went all counterintuitive and bought new color printing presses with $50 million from a stock sale and $150 million from other sources. He told the mayor's Bloomberg News from Morocco that the new presses will make the newspaper look a lot better and thus bring readers and advertisers back to the paper.

"Beyond that, it's a commitment I made two years ago," Zuckerman was quoted as saying. "I can't just walk away from it, and I don't intend to walk away from it." Reflecting just how much the paper's existence means to him, he added, "I think it will make a great deal of sense for the Daily News, to which I'm also personally committed."

Boston Properties, his real estate firm, which generates most of its money from vast amounts of office space in the nation's cities, is currently trading at $66 a share, an increase from last March, when it had dropped to $32 per share. Just one year ago, the stock was worth more than $100 a share, but the commercial real estate market in general is in for some rough times, according to many Wall Street observers.

Nevertheless, Zuckerman plunged ahead with the new presses, which some observers take as an encouraging sign for the general state of the printed-newspaper industry.

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