Despite the president’s regular protests to the contrary, The New York Times is not “failing.” The Times announced Wednesday that it added 109,000 new digital-only subscriptions in the latest quarter, contributing to a rise in revenue from subscribers that more than offset declines in advertising. The paper now boasts 2.9 million digital-only subscribers; add print, and total subscribers number 3.8 million.
Less than a decade after serious questions over whether it would survive, the Times has executed a financial turnaround that places it on solid footing going forward. It has built a subscription base that now accounts for nearly two-thirds of the company’s total revenue, and has integrated new offerings, like the podcast The Daily and the review and recommendation website Wirecutter.
Out in Chicago, the picture is less positive. The Chicago Tribune’s Robert Channick reports that the paper’s parent company, Tronc, is considering selling its newspaper holdings to a private equity company. After years of mismanagement, Tronc recently completed the sale of the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune to billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong. Last month, it slashed the staff of the New York Daily News by around 50 percent. Channick reports that a bid of between $19 and $20 per share is on the table, representing a total offer that could be upward of $700 million for the entire company.
Tronc is thinking about selling its newspapers to a private-equity firm, which would probably be the only thing worse than being owned by Tronc. https://t.co/67FacgInmw
— Matt Pearce 🦅 (@mattdpearce) August 8, 2018
Tronc’s management of its papers has been continually marked by a lack of coherent strategy, absence of communication, and rounds of layoffs. The sale of the LA Times earlier this year was preceded by a contentious unionization battle with the paper’s staff, and in March, Michael Ferro stepped down as chairman of the company hours before the it was reported that two women had accused him of sexual harassment. With its future in doubt, Tronc—which also owns papers including The Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, and Hartford Courant—will report its second-quarter earnings this afternoon.
While the Times has shown that digital subscription can generate sustainable revenue, the question facing other outlets, including those owned by Tronc, is whether they can make a similar pivot on a smaller scale. Not everyone can offer the breadth and depth of the reporting of the Times or The Washington Post; whether consumers prove willing to pay up for access to their local papers will go a long way to determining what the landscape of news looks like over the next decade.
Below, more on business news from the media industry.
- A note of caution for the Times: The 109,000 additional digital subscriptions represented a decline in growth from previous quarters. The Times added 139,000 digital subscribers in Q1, and 157,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017.
- Hanging on to the “Trump bump”: CNN’s Tom Kludt notes that Times CEO Mark Thompson said Wednesday that the paper had been successful in retaining subscribers who signed up in the months following Trump’s election.
- Tronc stock soars: Bloomberg’s Nick Turner writes that Tronc stock was up as much as 17 percent yesterday following news of its possible sale, its biggest rally in six months. Private equity ownership of other papers, especially those owned by Alden Global Capital, has led to severe cutbacks.
Other notable stories
- Freelance journalist Austin Tice has been missing in Syria for six years, and CJR columnist Joel Simon writes that drawing attention to Tice’s plight has become increasingly difficult. “Many journalists stay in touch with us, but without a new development, their organizations seem more and more reluctant to devote space to the fact that one of their own continues to be held against his will,” Tice’s father tells Simon.
- Reuter’s Tom Lasseter tells the story of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were arrested in December after uncovering a mass killing by Myanmar government troops and villagers. “Their incarceration would become a test of press freedom in Myanmar, and how far the country has traveled toward a more open society,” Lasseter writes.
- Responding to Todd S. Purdum’s criticism of “Jim Acosta’s dangerous brand of performance journalism” in The Atlantic, The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple defends the CNN reporter’s approach, writing that “instead of contemplating Acosta’s ‘dangerous’ ways, it’s far better to encourage replication of his work.”
- Elle’s Molly Langmuir profiles Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt, who has become a daily presence on the president’s morning television schedule.
- Apprentice star turned White House aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman secretly recorded conversations with President Trump, report The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markey, Asawin Suebsaeng, and Maxwell Tani. Manigault-Newman will promote her upcoming book, UNHINGED, on Sunday’s Meet the Press before doing Today on Monday.
- Politico’s Jason Schwartz reports on the precautions news organizations are taking to protect their reporters at Trump rallies. “Networks deployed security at Trump events as far back as the 2016 campaign,” he writes. “But in the wake of the shooting in the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, and with the president ramping up both his rally schedule and his rhetoric against the media…news outlets now find themselves increasingly facing the question of whether they’re doing enough to keep journalists safe.”
Correction: The author of The Atlantic‘s “Jim Acosta’s dangerous brand of performance journalism” is Todd S. Purdum, not Purham.