Rupert’s pincer movement around a trapped Times

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).

They could decide to become the great American marketplace of opinion, except HuffingtonPost and the Guardian each have a robust headstart on them.

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:

  • Harry

    I’d get rid of Pinch, and, no, I’m not being sarcastic. He’s clearly not up to the task of running the Times, and no strategy for renewal can succeed as long as he’s at the helm.

    But, you say, Pinch isn’t going anywhere.

    That’s why any discussion on what the Times should or shouldn’t do is pointless.

  • John

    My first thought on hearing about Murdoch’s strategy to take on the NYT by using the WSJ was that this created a great chance for the Financial Times to be the true global business paper, which to me is the direction Murdoch should take the WSJ in.

    The NYT will survive a Murdoch onslaught, because in the end credibility is what matters most to an audience like the NYT readers and any paper ruled by Murdoch is suspect.

  • Dean Wermer

    They already are America’s liberal voice.

  • http://ronmwangaguhunga.blogspot.com Ron Mwangaguhunga

    What about the New York Times becoming “The World’s Leading Centrist Voice” under the ownership of Michael Bloomberg?

  • nanute

    Jeff:
    I think that the consolidation of print and broadcast meida may just accelerate the end of “traditional” media as we know it. As you noted on the Brian Leherer show this morning, Clear Channel is a mess, The New York Post and other conglomerate owned companies are in real trouble.

    Furthermore, I would argue that what traditional outlets in print and broacast are providing is anything but jouralistic in nature. Even my once beloved NY Times has succumbed to the level of publishing stories that are no longer balanced journalistic reporting. Granted, the editorial page remains somewhat liberal, but that isn’t the same as reporting the news with journalistic integrity.

    Rupert Murdock may be a good buisnessman, but I think his ideological perspective will get in the way of providing a credible information network.

  • http://steveclancy.com Steve Clancy

    One thing I don’t understand is how/why Murdoch and News Corp. is considered so dangerous in the digital marketplace. I feel like all the Fox Interactive properties are very weak – even mySpace has been essentially run into the ground under their watch. If the Times needs to evolve as digital product, won’t Murdoch need to do so as well. Or are you simply saying that Murdoch couldn’t compete with a digitally savvy Times product?

  • http://www.subhub.com Evan Rudowski

    Jeff,

    Interesting analysis overall . . . however I think you give too much credit to the Guardian in this equation.

    As an American who has lived in the UK for 10 years now, I am skeptical of the Guardian’s ability to resonate with more than a small sliver of Americans. I consider myself to be politically left and liberal, but the British definition of liberal — embodied by the Guardian — is often far to the left of the American version. The Guardian’s take on certain subjects often makes me cringe. I don’t think the Guardian’s voice is right for the American left, except perhaps for what we Americans would consider the far left.

    The Guardian is beautifully designed and well written, but it often seems strident. If the Guardian wants to be the voice of American liberalism, they will need to tone it down a bit. If they remain faithful to their true voice, they will be unlikely to be relevant to more than a small audience.

    Kind regards,
    Evan

  • http://www.longislandideafactory.com LIIDEA

    Some ideas for a Web 3.0 citizen based media network here: http://www.onelongisland.com

    …may be a little far fetched, but who knows?

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