Next Move for the New York Times Co: More Investing in Boston’s Sports Franchises?


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By Kyle Austin

Shira Ovide of the Wall Street Journal has some interesting quotes from New York Times Co. CEO Janet Robinson in her piece today on B4 of the Journal.  Robinson’s remarks come from a presentation she delivered at the Bears Sterns media conference.  

Robinson admitted publicly that they company may consider selling off its other businesses and assets and investments outside of the flagship paper.  Her acknowledgement of this possibility seems to be a direct response to criticism from hedge funds (Harbinger Capital Partners and Firebrand Partners), which now control 19% of the New York Times Co. and have been suggesting this strategy from months.  They want an increased focus on investing in Internet companies like About.com, to greatly increase digital revenue:  

The dissident hedge funds have suggested the New York Times might be better off divesting its properties outside the company’s flagship brands. Noncore assets include the Boston Globe, regional papers in the Southeast and elsewhere, and a stake in the Boston Red Sox baseball team. 

Robinson did admit however that the New York Times Company’s investment in the Boston Red Sox has been a good investment. The Times has a 17.5% stake in New England Sports Ventures, which owns the Sox and 80% of New England Sports Network (NESN). 

We believe the Red Sox have performed very well as a team and as an investment,” she said. 

Perhaps Robert Kraft and Wyc Grousbeck should expect calls?

Meanwhile, Jeff Jarvis is over at the Media Summit at the McGraw Hill building in New York and posted on this interesting panel discussion on what the New York Times should do:

Next, a panel with big, old media companies: Howell Raines, former editor of the New York Times, Julia Wallace of  The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Jon Klein of CNN,  Kinsey Wilson of USA Today, David Westin of ABC.  

Asked about the Times, Raines says they need to decide whether to go head-to-head nationally with Murdoch and the Journal. I thought it was the other way around? Isn’t the national report the high ground? Raines says no. He points to the Washington Post’s contraction strategy, pulling back into inside the Beltway. He says that the Times may need to come up with a contraction as opposed to an expansion strategy. “Common sense tells you that when your stock was at $54 in the mid 90s and it’s now at, what, $18 and the son of an Alabama construction millionaire has bought 20 percent of your company… your stock price cannot sit there.”

What should the New York Times do? Lightning Round. Klein: “Stop writing about themselves.” Wallace: “Become that voice for the intellectuals of America on any platform.” Wilson: Long pause. Then he agrees with Howell — contraction. Westin: “It sounds right … that they’re in a middle ground that is not sustainable right now, neither fish nor fowl.” He says he doesn’t know whether the contracting is about local or a set of subjects of readers. Raines: “I think Julia’s idea of going for that elite, intellectual audience is a sound one.”

The future of the Times is certainly water cooler chatter around here these days and Wallace probably has the best point.  In a discussion with colleagues the other day we noted that the New York Times can no longer think of itself as a newspaper but rather a media company.  They need to drop the pedestal that they put the actual “print copy” on and understand that they must put equal wait in distributing across all channels. 

In addition they need to embrace who they are as a paper rather then trying to lament that they are the “national paper of record.”  The New York Times is a liberal, left wing publication that caters to an elite and highly educated audience.  They need to embrace that message and echo it across all mediums.

More on the future of the New York Times in the next week.

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