Wednesday, February 14, 2007

NY Times' publisher does care after all,
but about what exactly?

I really don't know whether we'll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don't care either. —Arthur Sulzberger Jr., as quoted in Haaretz on Feb. 8, 2007.

Well, it now seems as if Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the New York Times, does care — or has at least realized that he ought to look like he does.

Sulzberger planned to speak to his employees today about the future of the newspaper, according to the New York Observer, which received a portion of his remarks on Monday and posted them on The Media Mob blog.

The text includes Sulzberger saying that "newspapers will be around—in print—for a long time," adding that the company continues to invest in its newspapers. But here's the catch: his attempt to "clear the air" about his I-don't-care-if-the-newspaper-is-printed-in-five-years moment only clouds it even more. "My five-year timeframe," Sulzberger says according to the advance text, "is about being ready to support our news, advertising and other critical operations on digital revenue alone ... whenever that time comes." Whenever that time comes! Well, that's exactly the attitude plaguing the newspaper industry: it's not "if" but "when." So, seeing the change from the printing press to a digital medium as inevitable, newspaper publishers are essentially waving the white flag in defeat. While such a complete transformation is anything but inevitable, subscribing to such a philosophy might just bring it to fruition — sooner rather than later. Too many with the power to reinvent, reimagine, and reinvigorate the printed newspaper are focused instead on making sure they can survive solely on a digital product "whenever that time comes."

So yes, Sulzberger, like so many other industry insiders, cares — not about whether the Times is still printing a newspaper in five years but that the company is prepared not to print it (while surviving and profiting). For those of us concerned with his original comments earlier this month, his clarification doesn't offer much comfort.

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