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As the Globe Turns

Mar 4, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 24
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The Scrapbook believes that the wounds afflicting the newspaper business are, for the most part, self-inflicted. Not entirely, of course: The rise of the Internet has been problematical for newspapers, and to the “news business” generally. But the decline of newspapers—in circulation, revenue, quality, influence, and service to customers—began long before anyone had heard of the World Wide Web. The overnight success of “alternative media” such as talk radio and cable television in the 1990s is proof of that.

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So we were intrigued last week to see that the New York Times Company is trying, once again, to unload its handful of properties in New England, notably the Boston Globe and some smaller publications. Of course, one can hardly blame the company: The Times bought the Globe from the Taylor family in 1993 for the staggering sum of $1.1 billion, and neither the dollar nor the Globe has held its value during the intervening two decades. If the Times Company finds a buyer​—​and that’s a big if​—​it will be lucky if the sale yields one-tenth of the 1993 purchase price. 

To be sure, the Times is putting a good face on it. “Our plan to sell the New England Media Group,” says Mark Thompson, the new (British) CEO of the Times Company, “demonstrates our commitment to concentrate our strategic focus on the New York Times brand and its journalism.” Translation: Our accountants, and especially our Mexican billionaire co-owner, Carlos Slim, keep telling us that we’re on the verge of bleeding to death, and we need to limit the flow of blood. Concentrating “our strategic focus on the .  .  . brand and its journalism” undoubtedly explains the mass layoffs and buyouts at the New York Times in recent weeks.

The Scrapbook doesn’t intend to be unduly malicious, of course, but if one publication personifies the tone-deaf arrogance, gluttony for power, partisan bias, institutional condescension, and unremitting self-regard of the modern media conglomerate, it is the New York Times. And it is hard not to derive some satisfaction from seeing it taken down a peg or two. 

If they’re lucky, they will find a buyer somewhere​—​some starry-eyed entrepreneur, civic-minded Bostonian, or perhaps another rich Mexican​—​for the Globe, and the Times Company will be free to retreat toward Manhattan to lick its wounds and “concentrate [its] strategic focus.”

We hope they succeed, for despite its manifold faults the Times remains a newspaper worth reading​—​some of the time. The question, however, is whether the New York Times will learn anything at all from its brush with oblivion, and the answer is: probably not. 

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