- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 11, 2008

The New York Times is not shy about airing its money woes. Like a determined matriarch with a meager purse, the Gray Lady has gone public with its debts.

Despite cost-cutting, the newspaper must borrow $225 million against its own headquarters building to stay solvent. Its stock has dropped 58 percent this year, and the company has been given a “below investment grade” credit rating by Standard & Poor’s. Come next spring, the newspaper will owe some $400 million to assorted creditors.

The Times has become the news.

The startling idea that the 157-year-old publication was possibly broke created much media hubbub. The Times - which owns 18 other papers - became a potent symbol of troubled print journalism along with the Tribune Corp., which declared bankruptcy on Monday. The papers were “toast,” said Fortune magazine; the Times is “broke,” according to the Drudge Report.

The coverage has been as intense as the dark days of 2003, when the Times’ top editors dramatically resigned over a plagiarism scandal, attended by a gleeful press eager to proclaim that the paper was failing.

Executive Editor Howell Raines walked out, and publisher Arthur Sulzberger publicly proclaimed his own “sadness.”

The paper’s tactics have changed since then. Cool-minded corporate transparency and the optimistic patois of marketing has become the practical order of the day.

Mr. Sulzberger declined to comment on the situation Wednesday. His business folks, however, were at the ready.

“There is no doubt that 2009 will be among the most challenging years we have faced,” said Janet Robinson, chief executive officer of the New York Times Co.

Revenue initiatives and expense cuts would ensure “financial flexibility”, she said, noting that “the Times Company is well positioned to weather the challenges.”

That said, the company released its income and expenditures numbers - plus news of a vigorous marketing campaign featuring video testimonies from Ben Stein, Kenneth Cole and other celebrities, revealing their affections for the Times’ Web site.

Bad news about news continues, however. Rumors of a federal bailout of the industry have surfaced, along with one new idea for salvation.

“I think it should be up to broadcasters - commercial and public, television and radio - to bail out the newspapers, especially the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Without them, they wouldn’t know what to report,” said Mark Pinsky, who suggested in a New Republic essay this week that the federal government resurrect the Federal Writers Program, a Depression-era effort which employed 6,000 out-of-work scribes.

“Yes, that’s an exaggeration. But if you read the Times in the morning, there is very little reason to listen or watch for news later in the day,” Mr. Pinsky said.



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