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Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, the new boss-in-waiting at The New York Times, is facing a big challenge: plotting the future of a national treasure in a journalism industry where nobody has the secret sauce for making money with online content.
Yes, The Times and The Washington Post are lapping most general interest papers with resources, ambition and standards. But what should the 36-year-old Sulzberger, who was appointed deputy publisher on Wednesday, do? For answers, I talked to some veteran journalists, analysts and media entrepreneurs.
Bill Keller, former editor of the paper and now editor of The Marshall Project: "I'm pretty sure he knows the challenges and is up to them. (My pension depends on it.) The glaringly obvious one is holding fast to Times values — be fearless, get it right, tell it fair — when the dynamics and economics of online journalism make time a luxury and pandering a temptation."
"For the past decade or so the Times newsroom has been a laboratory for both new ways to tell stories and new products to produce the revenue to fund good journalism. That's a good thing. But I suppose there's also the risk that the search for a magic charm — virtual reality or podcasts or cruises or conferences or native advertising or whatever — could distract from what really matters. But I think the people who run The Times are well aware the brand was not built on cruises."
Steve Brill, journalist, author and media entrepreneur: "If trying to establish your business as having great content, 24-7, online, around the world, and count on reader revenue more than advertiser revenue, they're in better shape than anyone but The Post."
"The bad news is that ad revenue will continue to decline because CPM's (cost per thousand) for ads online keep going down. And what they think is their salvation, CPM's for video ads, will prove to be a short-term illusion. They will come down since since there's so much more video online and everybody will realize that nobody watches them. It's sort of like magazines thought tablets would be their salvation. That didn't work out."
"But they are well served by not completely decimating the only thing they have of value, namely their journalism. They will continue have to adjust downward (economically), which is taking a hard look as to whether we need to cover every business story like we used to or just those we can be distinctive."
Alan Mutter, industry analyst: "When and how do you pull the plug on print, where advertising has dived relentlessly for the last decade and where the median age of the audience is 60 years old? Industry-wide, newspaper ad sales plunged to approximately $18 billion in 2015 from a record $49 billion in 2005."
"How do you reach sufficient scale through digital subscriptions to make up for the ad and circulation revenues when print is scaled back or terminated? The Times has 1.4 million digital subscribers vs a global addressable audience of 3.5 billion Internet users. While the audience represents the world’s elites, can this tiny group be enough to sustain the sort of journalistic resources that make the NYT what it is? And fun fact: Even digital ad sales have fallen in the first half of this year."
Jon Steinberg, founder, Cheddar.com, a CNBC for millennials: "The Times will have to grow the video business dramatically to satisfy advertiser demand, while at the same time continuing its world-class journalism. A balancing act of servicing the advertisers' product needs and bolstering the journalism which draws advertisers to The Times in the first place."
Austin Beutner, former publisher, Los Angeles Times: "He faces 3 big challenges (with lots of tactical bits in each) as they seek to replace print dollars with digital pennies, nickels and dimes."
"1) Product: Accelerating the transformation from one size fits all (one newsroom, one print deadline, one product — either printed or on the website — to sell to both customers and advertisers) to a business which serves the needs of many different types of customers, providing them many different types of products, and delivering them in many different ways. They're in the second inning of the transition from 'one paper' to 'thousands of products.'"
"2. Culture and organization: They will need an organization with a different leadership structure and people with different skill sets than they currently have to manage the business transformation. The question is often asked: 'Can the newsroom adapt?' when it's the business side which needs to adapt and become much more entrepreneurial."
"3. Values: They have an unparalleled reputation and ability to provide knowledge and insight which creates real engagement from its audience. Long term, that has enormous value. Will they stay true to this mission or dilute it in search of clicks?"
$200 million for BuzzFeed
"A year after making a major investment in BuzzFeed, NBCUniversal is doing it again. Sources say Comcast’s TV and movie arm is finalizing a deal that will put around $200 million into the digital publisher, at a valuation of around $1.7 billion." (Recode)
Fox kicks butt
When it came to the third presidential debate, there were a record 72 million viewers and "Fox News is the big winner in terms of not just total viewers, but also in the key 25-54 demographic...The total number of viewers tops not just Fox’s cable competition but also all of the broadcast networks. (Mediaite)
Oh, the third debate "reached roughly 400,000 more viewers than did the 2015 Academy Awards, Grammy Awards and Golden Globe Awards broadcasts combined." (Ad Age)
Netanyahu and Trump
So what's on top of Benjamin Netanyahu's hit list. Hamas? Iran? Apparently not, according to a biting analysis that likens him to a failing American politician of some notoriety:
"No, the lethal enemy that Netanyahu is devoting his energy, his resources and his political capital to defeat — you will know this already if you’ve been listening to Donald Trump — is the Israeli media. The spearhead of the vast conspiracy devoted to harming Netanyahu, defaming him and trying — futilely as it turns out — to defeat him at the polls." (Haaretz)
Chemi Shalev writes further, "Netanyahu is smarter, better-educated, better spoken, way more sophisticated and therefore ten times more effective and lethal than Trump, but at their core, they are birds of a feather, two of a kind."
Bezos on Thiel
At Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit in San Francisco, Amazon and Washington Post boss Jeff Bezos said Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist who funded Hulk Hogan's Gawker suit, "is a contrarian, first and foremost" but “you just have to remember that contrarians are usually wrong.” (Vanity Fair)
From the United Kingdom comes this: "The Supreme Court has ruled that the former head of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs broke the law by talking to journalists 'off the record' about a multi-billion pound tax avoidance scheme." (Press Gazette)
An expensive trip abroad
For a mere $81,950, The Wall Street Journal and National Geographic will display their populist streaks with a "first of its kind, 19-day exclusive expedition across four continents by private jet." You can join Journal and National Geographic Editors in Chief Gerard Baker and Susan Goldberg" in "Celebrating Human Ingenuity: An Exploration of Technology and Creativity by Private Jet" in Silicon Valley, Kyoto or Nara, Singapore, Jaipur, Seychelles, Kigali and Volcanoes National Park, Jerusalem or Dubai, Barcelona."
It will climax in Spain where "The Wall Street Journal Europe, Middle East, and Africa Editor Thorold Barker and National Geographic magazine Deputy Editor in Chief Jamie Shreeve greet us in Barcelona, the vibrant and beautiful capital of Catalonia, perched on Spain’s Mediterranean coast." Perhaps the journalists will exhibit further fidelity to readers by shining any shoes left outside the lucky guests' hotel room doors.
ISIS spins Mosul
By most accounts, Iraqi forces are making serious headway intruding to retake Mosul. But the Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency was claiming that the reports were all false, and that it had, contrary to the lies peddled by the 'crusader media, managed to 'absorb the momentum' of the encroaching forces before subsequently 'repelling' them." (The Atlantic)
C-SPAN feast for politics junkies
Political reporters, take note: C-SPAN is airing U.S. Senate debates starting with Sunday's between incumbent Washington Democrat Patty Murray and Republican Chris Vance at 10 p.m. Eastern. Monday brings Pennsylvania Republican incumbent Pat Toomey vs Katie McGinty at 7 p.m., with Florida's debate involving incumbent Republican Marco Rubio on tape delay Wednesday at 10 p.m., and Thursday featuring New Hampshire debate with incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte.
The reviews are in!
Forget the political reporters, former consultants, campaign flacks and unknown Trump backers-turned-anemic talking heads. What do theater and debate experts say about the grand Clinton-Trump finale in Vegas? Hint: there's a link to "Hamilton," while the coach of the college debate team that leaves Harvard in the dust with championships explains how Trump broke key rules was whupped by Clinton. (U.S. News & World Report)
The morning babble
There was lots of repetitive stuff this morning on Trump still refusing to accept the election results, with "Fox & Friends" likening Trump already to Al Gore's protest of the 2000 presidential election. Huh?
Then came lots of repetitive stuff on the few decent jokes from Clinton and Trump at the Al Smith Dinner for Catholic charities in New York City last night. Lots. Yes, simultaneously "New Day, "Morning Joe" and "Fox & Friends" ran essentially the same highlights.
I'll vote for the one: Trump declaring, "Michelle Obama gives a speech and everyone loves it, it's fantastic. They think she's absolutely great. My wife Melania gives the exact same speech and people get on her case."
Have a great weekend. Three kids soccer games and two final fall baseball games at my hand. But no snack duty...whether we win or not.