New York Times Covers St. Petersburg Times: Misses a Few Things
Here's what I know now that I didn't before reading the New York Times' surprisingly bland profile of our business model in Sunday's newspaper.
Our payroll is at $90-million this year, with $6-million paid back to the Poynter Institute to help run its operation.
The Times investment in our youth-oriented tabloid, tbt*, was $6.3-million last year alone. And the company plans to match that investment this year.
We spend $250,000 each year to send copies of the Times to 350 subscribers in Tallahassee. (of course, it helps that many of those readers are probably among the state's most powerful politicians. But still.)
The story does a good job of talking about our commitment to investigative journalism and our intent to try hard not to skimp on aggressive news coverage, even in these awful economic times. But the story didn't note a few things -- we recently lost 11 positions in our IT department, including four already empty jobs, and our six-days-a-week Largo edition was cut back to two days weekly on Sunday.
It also didn't answer the one thing I've wondered: Does the Times' insulation from market pressure -- owned by a non-profit, we don't have to jump to Wall Street's demand for profit -- allow us to avoid the cost-cutting seen at other newspapers, or simply delay it?
Things I'm seeing us do now -- reducing our newspaper size, struggle to avoid layoffs by limiting staff size through attrition, slimming down or eliminating some sections -- are strategies some newspapers employed five years ago, when the bottom first began to fall out of the newspaper advertising market. What happens if markets don't improve over the next few years?
I hope the moves will be enough to make up for the lack of real estate advertising, the inroads free online classifieds have made in our business and the soft retail advertising market. As our chief executive Paul Tash said in the story "You have to keep the ball in play long enough until you see how you might win the game." Perception is a big part of that success, so a New York Times story positioning our model as the way of the future helps a lot -- thank you.
But whether our business model will allow us to completely avoid deeper cost-cutting -- that we may only learn with time. For some reason, I was hoping the New York Times might come up with a better answer than that.
I think the reporter might have come up with better answers, had he bothered to talk to any rank and file reporters (or editors) beyond our Pulitzer-winning feature writer Tom French. Tom is a great guy, but he inhabits a different sphere than most writers at the newspaper; the concerns of more average employees might have given the New York Times reporter a better feel for the challenges facing Times staffers, even under our unorthodox business model.
Talk about preserving journalistic integrity...