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By Tessa Stuart
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News Corp. strategists are probably having a difficult time figuring out what to do with the Post. "There must be pressure inside News Corp. about where the Post is going," says Doctor. "The conclusion has to be that it's not going to contribute to the growth of the company." Moss takes a broader view of the Post, noting that it has "a certain following." "It has a national audience," he says. "It's really a British paper with a New York twist. They understand the appeal of headlines and cleavage."
The company that once published a separate Pulitzer-winning paper in the city, called New York Newsday, has retreated to its Melville citadel, where the bosses focus on preserving the newspaper's grip on the Long Island market. Despite its monopoly, the paper's circulation has dropped 36 percent since 2000.
Beginning in 1995, with the closure of its city paper, Newsday has gone through a long series of cutbacks, layoffs, and staff buyouts as it has moved from control by Times-Mirror to the Tribune Co. and now to Cablevision, which also has a cable monopoly on Long Island.
The paper was still profitable enough that a bidding war for it erupted in 2008 among Murdoch, Zuckerman, and the Dolans. Cablevision wound up spending $650 million to buy it. Newsday also owns the free subway weekly amNew York, which essentially has replaced its New York City bureau.
"Newsday has retreated to Long Island to make a stand," says one of its many former reporters. "Newsday's struggle is not with another newspaper. It's with generational change, and somehow convincing a new generation to buy the product."
Wrestling with the same problem faced by other newspapers—how do you make money off the Web?—Newsday is currently working on a scheme that would require non-subscribers to pay for some articles. Details haven't yet been disclosed, but the paper may have enough specialized content in its monopoly market to pull it off. "Newsday has a better shot with the pay site than other papers because it dominates the Long Island market," says Morton, but he adds, "I think it's going to be a struggle at first."
Doctor notes that Newsday meshes well for its cable owners. "What I liked about the Newsday idea," Doctor says, "is that they force you to take newsday.com with your cable television, and they assign a value to that bundle—say they charge an additional $2.95 a month for newsday.com access on your cable bill."
In any case, the Dolans can now play hardball with their new-technology competitors. Last month, the cable company's newspaper refused to accept advertisements from arch rival Verizon to hawk its FiOS Internet service.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
The Times won five Pulitzers in April, but the Sulzberger family can't pay its debts with those trophies. Shortly after the good news, the New York Times Co. disclosed that revenue had dropped nearly 19 percent in the first quarter of 2009. Other less-than-prize-winning news: The debt load was at $1.3 billion. Operating profit was $6.2 million, with an operating loss at $61.6 million. The paper blamed the global downturn, a decline in ads, and what it called "secular changes" in the news biz. In January 2004, the company's stock was trading at almost $40 a share, and, as recently as April 2008, it was still in the $20s. Now, it's at $8, up from a low of $4. Not immune to the industry's continual shedding of jobs, the Times laid off 100 business-side employees this spring and ordered a 5 percent pay cut for the survivors. The New York Times Foundation stopped giving grants; the company sold its New York City radio station and is mulling the sale of its portion of New England Sports Ventures, which includes the parts of the Boston Red Sox and a regional cable sports network. The Times is still trying to unload the Boston Globe, for which it paid $1.1 billion in 1993.
Amid other belt-tightening, including the shuttering of some of its extensive foreign bureaus, the paper folded its Metro section into the A section. Readers used to feast on the paper one section at a time, which lent each separate section a certain gravity, so this change was a big deal when it came to the Times. "The Times is the way that the elite talks to the elite—the people in Manhattan, Chappaqua, Montclair, and Brooklyn Heights," Moss says, and the decision to do away with a separate metropolitan-news section has cost the newspaper some clout.
"Ever since it got rid of the Metro section, its local presence has suffered," Moss says. "The Times has the lowest penetration of any major daily in its own city. It's a national newspaper with a local name."
Shrinking as other papers are, the Times has also folded its sports section into its business section, and editors have sharply reduced its Sports of the Times column from five writers to two, with one of those about to retire.
Murray Chass, the paper's veteran baseball writer who took a buyout last year, is sharply critical, writing in his blog: "It's like parents, knowing they are going to die, killing their children because they won't be able to live on without them. The problem with this warped thinking in the case of the newspaper is the demise of the column, and the thinking behind the act will help hasten the newspaper's demise."