Three readers have just asked Jill Abramson about the future of print journalism in a web-driven marketplace. As Patrick McAlister of Fort Wayne, Indiana put it, perfectly: "How can quality, privately funded journalism survive with so many ways to get it free, unencumbered by ads?"
Smart question, and another opportunity for Abramson to let loose with her unique brand of corporate bullshit-speak:
The Times is successful and remains profitable. In print, our newspaper has successfully pursued a highly educated, affluent, national readership. Because of our national reach, our newspaper has not been impacted in the same way as regional newspapers, which are more closely tied to the vicissitudes of their local economies and to cutbacks in classified advertising....
With the severe downturn in the economy, The Times is facing challenges, though ones that are not as daunting as those confronting smaller, regional newspapers. We have had some buyouts and layoffs, but nothing like the wholesale slashing of staff that has so visibly narrowed the ambitions and weakened the news-gathering abilities of some other publications.
Once again, Abramson uses the worse fortunes of other papers to prop up the image of her own failing enterprise. But McAlister knows better; he reads the paper. That means he saw CBS ad splayed across the front page yesterday, and read the depressing Richard Perez-Pena story that reported on it:
The New York Times Company, like newspaper publishers around the country, has taken several steps to cut costs and increase revenue in the last two years, including reducing staff through buyouts and layoffs, cutting the physical size of its pages, selling or closing subsidiaries and raising subscription prices.
The company recently reported that in November, revenue from continuing operations fell 13.9 percent from November 2007; from January through November, it was down 7.6 percent. Advertising revenue at The New York Times Media Group, consisting of The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, the radio station WQXR-FM and Baseline StudioSystems, an online database, declined 21.2 percent in November from the same month in 2007.
Sure, the Times is profitable. With a depressed stock price, declining revenues, shrinking budgets, nearly $1 billion in bank debt, drags on the balance sheet (like the Boston Globe) that drop in value daily, swanky new offices it already wants to sell, a hiring freeze, and a website that -- however widely read and beloved -- has no hope of generating profits in the foreseeable future.
"I suspect that new models for charging for quality news will become Topic A within the journalism profession this year," you tell McAlister.
Come on, Jill, why try to delude readers? Topic A for the Times in 2009 is going to be saving itself from total economic disaster. And you know as well as anyone that charging for the internet isn't going to be the answer.
It's only Tuesday. How about some real honesty for the rest of the questions this week? You never know, readers might just like hearing the unvarnished truth from the managing editor of The Times, about the Times.