How the New York Times’ first round of buyouts signals the end of …something.

By Andrew J. Pridgen

Part of my weekly ritual is taking my son to get a coffee and a New York Times on Sunday morning. He likes to put sugar in the coffee, one. Pack. At. A. Time. And I like the expression on the barista’s face when she lugs a Sunday Times up onto the counter with an audible “oomph” as if she could use a pulley system. She is always surprised at the amount of newsprint that can be had for $6 and I oblige with something like, “It’ll take me a week just to get it into the house.”

The ritual continues once the breakfast dishes are cleaned and I’ve eaten the last of my son’s disregarded French toast. I start with the Business section, but at the back where they do the real estate part. I skim the story at the top of the fold about the Broadway playwright and his airy rent-controlled since 19doesn’teffinmatter studio in the West Village filled with attractive mementos of how life used to be when New York’s creative heartbeat had not yet been silenced in favor of a pop-up retail space. Then I cruise down to see what kind of magnificent turn-of-the-century 140-acre spread you can buy in Londonderry, VT with only $900K.

Next, the Style section, where someone who lives Ojai and makes textiles in a teepee and dresses like Stevie Nicks but with more turquoise is featured; or some former roustabout talks syrupy about a summer of love lost under charging Wyoming skies in Modern Love. Then it’s on to Sports, to see which parts of the world FIFA or the Olympics are exploiting this week and finally to the Arts (as long as there’s nothing about Hamilton) or the front page (as long as there’s nothing about Trump). The Travel and Book Review sections are saved for mid-week reads at the dinner table or evenings on the couch.

It is a cherished routine. One that forestalls the creeping dread of Sunday afternoons. And it’s the anticipation I feel just before purchase, the heft, the sections that will find their way to unoccupied corners or couch cushions, that seem to both delight me and annoy my partner. In cliched terms, it is exactly what a newspaper should feel like.

As a newspaperman, I never quite made my dream of joining the NYT a reality. I did time in the pipe smoke-filled loft of the Point Reyes Creamery building for the Pt. Reyes Light, poring over EIRs with a dictionary while a Pulitzer medal sat glowing beneath five inches of steel in a safe behind me. I watched it all fade away in a Costco warehouse-sized newsroom in Carson City as reporters slipped out midday to Carl’s Jr.—and like deadbeat dads, did not come back. And finally, I gave in, attempting to learn the dark arts of SEO (hint: just write something kind of funny that someone wants to read, and hope that someone is important…and has a big Twitter following.)

When my sister and her family were in New York last summer, she sent me pictures from the Times building, with the caption, “Jealous?” …Yes. Because no matter what, whether it’s the closing of CBGB’s, the relocation of The New Yorker into that upward-reaching, antennae-like gravestone marker called the Freedom Tower, or the Warhol’s Factory selling for $50 million, I know that there’s one place in town Bill Cunningham still chains his bike up in front of before disappearing into a hive of creativity, investigation, alluring conversation, typing in the dark and waking only to find the world has changed completely—again.

Then this on Wednesday: In an effort to further revamp the New York Times as a digital-first company, the paper will offer buyouts to newsroom and business department at the end of the month: “These plans will no doubt lead to new initiatives and investments,” wrote Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and executive editor Dean Baquet, in a memo. “At the same time, we will also need to make tough decisions about what to stop doing. Wherever we can reduce costs without damaging the values, and value, of Times journalism, we will do so.”

…No word on whether layoffs will follow but like a stomach ache after a wet burrito lunch, job elimination is the one thing surely to come. Investors will be happy to learn that NYT stock after an early rise, then dip, was up two pennies to $11.97/share Thursday.

It has long been known that The New York Times Company has used its diversification—several TV stations, thirteen dailies and one weekly newspaper, real estate, plus investment in web development companies (Automatic), venture capital (Betaworks), online news platforms (Blendle) and multi-media platforms (Seen)—to balance out its bottom line. The paper that I pay $24/mo. to desecrate my coffee table is a write-down.

“Old” media enterprises are the lazy-eyed kid that gets picked last for dodge ball of the 21st Century business hierarchy, but the New York Times—because it was fastidious and swam against the next-best-thing digital current which left traditional outlets chasing and, in most cases, eventually bankrupt—had resisted, until now, the urge to trim from the newsroom.

The brand they managed to sustain was not just for nostalgia’s sake or silly holdovers like me, it was the one place you could still go to for actual news. Not re-shaped news. Not bits of news. Not rumor and conjecture re-skinned to look like news, but well-thought, well-researched, expertly crafted….um, artisanal news.

It grounded America, gave us heft.

…And now, one final cut check from HR at a time—it disappears.

 

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