30 May 2012

Why Newspapers are Dying

Because their owners are draining them dry. First, it was the Bancroft family and the Wall Street Journal, and now it's the Ochs-Sulzberger family the management and the New York Times:
About $11 million of [former NY Times CEO] Robinson’s exit package was from her pension and retirement plan. Another roughly $7 million consisted of her yearly compensation and awards, and stock options she was entitled to after her years at the Times. But she also received a $4.5 million consulting contract, a kind of gratuitous bonus that didn’t look or smell right to anyone who was toiling on Eighth Avenue and worrying over pensions in danger of being frozen in ongoing labor negotiations. That payout has since become the centerpiece of rancorous disputes between the Newspaper Guild of New York, the newsroom’s union, and management. The intense discussions are still in progress as of this writing, hung up on a suggestion made by the Guild to redesign the Times’ pension system.

In the era of Arthur Sulzberger Jr., when newspapers have flailed under new digital realities, the New York Times Company has shrunk dramatically. Once it was a wide-ranging media empire of newspapers and TV stations and websites, and even a baseball team, that was worth almost $7 billion; today it’s essentially two struggling newspapers and a much-­reduced web company, all worth less than $1 billion (for comparison, consider that the Internet music company Pandora is valued at almost $2 billion). Despite the shrinkage, the company has retained essentially the same top-heavy management, which it has kept well compensated. Even though the paper froze executives’ pensions in 2009, as it is threatening to do with union employees, the company created two loopholes, called the Restoration Plan and the Supplemental Executive Savings Plan, which allowed certain high-earning executives to take money out anyway. As a result, Janet Robinson received an additional lump-sum payment of over half a million dollars upon exiting the Times.
And the family wants to re-institute their $20+ million dividends.

Newspapers have a problem, and it's largely Craigslist eating their lunch on classified ads.

Cutting reporting staff to make a crappier product won't fix this in the long term, though it might get those damn dividends flowing for the nest few years.


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