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

Chass acknowledges that newspapers have to change in the Internet age, "but why would the Times want to hasten its demise by eliminating a staple that attracts readers and prompts them to buy the paper?"

Doctor says the Times has been "dodging bullets, doing what it needed to do." This includes raising money from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim (whom it once savaged in its news pages as a shady character), trying hard to rid itself of the money-losing Globe, and eventually selling other regional newspapers that it owns.

Still, the paper's circulation has held steady in the past 10 years, in part because it has sought subscribers across the nation. "They've been on a program for at least a decade to replace New York metropolitan subscribers with national subscribers," says Poynter Institute's Edmonds. Indeed, figures comparing 2004 with 2009 show that while the Times' circulation within New York State has slipped, the numbers of subscribers outside the state has increased, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

Newscom

Doctor criticizes the company for not diversifying (the Washington Post, for example, rakes in cash from its Kaplan schools subsidiary): The Times, he says, is "wholly dependent on news. Most of the revenue comes from the U.S., but a third of their online readership is outside the U.S. Most of their revenue still comes from print."

Back in May, the New York Post claimed that the Sulzbergers had lost more than 86 percent of their fortune, and suggested that the family might have to sell a controlling stake to an outsider. Family members may rush to sell their holdings before the worst happens, the Post intimated.

But Carroll says Sulzberger is committed. "You may argue with a lot of what they have done, but he's fighting tooth and nail to keep the newspaper in the family," says Carroll.

Henry Blodget, banned from the securities industry in a famous scandal earlier this decade and now a respected blogger of Wall Street's doings, wrote last spring that the Times will reach the ceiling of its ability to borrow money by early next year. A couple of months later, though, Blodget lauded the Times for weathering a 32 percent plunge in advertising revenue during the second quarter of this year by cutting costs, selling assets, and successfully restructuring its huge debt load.

But to save itself over the long term, Blodget insists, the Times should charge for its highly influential online content. The newspaper tried that a few years ago with TimesSelect, but even though it attracted 200,000 subscribers, it was dropped.

Now, the paper's execs have begun to talk openly about a new paid-content scheme, possibly geared toward "special content" or one that would kick in when readers want to delve further into a subject with the paper's exhaustive archive of stories.

The paper seems to be preparing for the possibility of even more significant changes in how it markets its valuable product, which other news organizations and bloggers depend upon. Executive Editor Bill Keller noted last month in a letter to the New York Review of Books "a lamentable decline in the supply of professional journalism." He predicted a "journalistic landscape five or ten years from now that will be a mix of survivors and start-ups," with the distinction between mainstream and new media diminishing.

Ominously, for readers who don't at all mind the ink rubbing off on their fingers, Keller added, "We will survive in print as long as the revenues justify it [and, thanks in part to growing circulation revenues, they still do], but we will grow, adapt, and ultimately prosper on all manner of nonprint platforms." In sum, it seems as if Keller would have no problem going all-online, if necessary.

amNEW YORK and METRO

True throwaways, amNew York and its main competitor, Metro, were blamed for being the significant cause of track flooding—subway tunnels get clogged with newsprint tossed by readers—and were partly responsible for the massive subway flood back in 2004.

Of the two, amNew York (owned by Newsday) seems to be doing somewhat better than Metro, whose roots are in a European chain of similar little tabloids. CUNY's Jarvis says there's probably room in the market for only one of them to survive.

"Free papers are having real problems," Doctor adds. "Print advertising is going down. When the economy was good, their pitch of reaching younger readers worked. But as advertising dried up, free papers were seen as a discretionary buy by advertisers."

In the next year to 18 months, assuming the economy recovers, Doctor says, newspapers will feel as if they got something of a reprieve. "Not all of the advertising will come back, but some of it will," he says. Indeed, Murdoch said at a Goldman Sachs press conference recently that the advertising market has improved in the past couple of months.

"I'm not an economist," Murdoch said, "but my guess is that the consensus is about right, and [the economy is] going to get a nice bump, and then it will settle back to a fairly slow recovery."

Which means that none of the city's dailies, aside from the two free ones, are likely to die anytime soon. Moss is optimistic: "If you survived this downturn, why would you sell a newspaper now?" he says. "These are very resilient newspapers. If you've survived this economy, you can survive anything. And there's a lot to be said for New York as a place to own a newspaper."

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