Fri, Feb 14, 2020 - Page 9 News List

‘New York Times’ success lays bare the media’s disastrous state

By Emily Bell  /  The Guardian

The financial health of journalism has been deteriorating in such an acute way that every spit and cough emanating from its institutions is anxiously pored over to ascertain whether it is a death rattle or a sign of miraculous recovery.

An outcome few would have predicted for the future of media has been the resilience of a handful of decidedly old-fashioned legacy institutions, at the cost of the shrinking of the supposedly more innovative digital players.

The new gatekeepers of the global media, which are mostly US and Chinese mega-platforms such as Facebook, WeChat, YouTube, Google, Apple and co, have created a business environment that is inherently hostile towards free, advertising-supported media.

Costly journalism is the first casualty of an advertising model that favors these online platforms. Those organizations that have unbelievably survived the past 15 years of digital onslaught are defined by both the presence of mission and money.

Take for instance the New York Times, the midtown Manhattan local news organization that is transforming itself into a global digital news brand.

Historically characterized by its preponderance of seersucker suits and Mont Blanc pens, the “Grey Lady” was on the critical list a decade ago.

Weakened by the financial crisis, its market capitalization had halved to US$1.5 billion and its lavishly staffed newsroom numbers were heading south of 1,300. When it introduced a paywall in 2011, it felt like a last roll of the dice.

Even as recently as 2013, former publisher Arthur Sulzberger noted that it was a “very low moment” when the New York Times’ biggest rival, the Washington Post, was sold by the Graham family to Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos.

Last week, the New York Times emerged from its period of digital transition as a financially stronger, editorially robust organization. It hit its very ambitious target of earning US$800 million per annum through digital revenues 12 months early and its share price rose to a 15-year high.

The newsroom, no doubt too busy to celebrate as it documents the unravelling of US politics, is at a historic high level of 1,700 journalists.

Ironically, this remarkable revival in both its subscription base and its share performance stems from the policies of US President Donald Trump. Digital subscriptions have boomed as the progressive audience sees support for institutions like the New York Times as the only effective opposition to a corrupt government.

And the stock market boom, as we are constantly reminded by the president’s Twitter feed, is peaking on the basis of an economic policy that largely favors rich business owners at the cost of everyone else.

The revolving door between media organizations is in constant motion, but as the layoffs in local and digital news outlets continue, the New York Times is hiring many more than it is firing.

Many of those who have joined as either staff or columnists come from the world of digitally native publishing.

Ben Smith, former editor-in-chief at BuzzFeed, left the newsroom he founded to join as a media columnist.

Pioneers of journalism start-ups such as Kara Swisher, the US’ best-known technology reporter and commentator, joined the huge roster of writers. Choire Sicha, a key founder of defunct, but highly influential sites such as Gawker and the Awl, now heads the styles section.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top