I doubt that Rupert Murdoch is quite monomaniacal in an effort to destroy the New York Times — since he’s just too smart a businessman to get too carried away; money is his check and balance — but if you were sitting on
43rd Street Eighth Avenue, you’d be forgiven for feeling paranoid and sweaty right now. As CJR points out today, Murdoch is tightening his strategic grip on the shape of the future of the Wall Street Journal with the imminent reported departure of Managing Editor Marcus Brauchli (damn, just when I learned to pronounce his name). And there are reports that Murdoch’s about to snag Newsday for $580 million. Add the New York Post, of course, and Fox News — not to mention the Times of London — and you have the New York Times cornered. Murdoch can attack from above — national and international — and below — local — and the the right flank — ideological — and the future — TV and digital.
But I think what really has the Times cornered is its tradition, its sense of history and preservation. Is the Times willing to reinvent itself? That’s what’s really necessary. But I fear they will treat their past as sacred and put preservation over reinvention. I don’t say that dismissively; they certainly do believe they are preserving the finest tradition of journalism in America and that’s a laudable goal. But preservation is not a strategy for the future. I’ve had my suggestions for the company but let’s reexamine the Times’ options as it faces Rupert to the right of them, Rupert to the front of them.
They could finally decide to be America’s liberal voice. But they won’t. My friends (and employers) at the Guardian stand in a better position to grab that title since they are unafraid to be liberal (hell, they trumpet it: “The world’s leading liberal voice,” that’s their mission).
I don’t think there’s a future in local for them (no, not even the blessed hyperlocal). They will be loathe to cede New York to the competitors but their audience here is tiny. I still think that metro should become a separate business.
The battlegrounds will be national and digital. There the Times is strong, thanks to the good work of NY Times Digital; they are a leader. But online, it’s easy to supersede leaders (see: AOL, Yahoo, MSN, MSNBC, MySpace, Friendster….). This is why I think the Times has to decide on radical reinvention, a new architecture. You can guess my starting points: a networked structure, a distributed strategy, a community plan. I’m not sure where I’d start but I do think they are all the more vulnerable today. I wonder how much they know that. And I wonder what you would do in their sweaty shoes.
: LATER: Nick Denton, media mogul, on why fellow mogul Murdoch is in such a hurry.
Here’s my appearance on the topic on the Brian Lehrer show: