The Times Covers the Times' Financial Struggles

Objective business headline or NYT Co. press release?: "Resilient Strategy for Times Despite Toll of a Recession."

As the New York Times Co. struggles along with the rest of the media industry in these challenging times, media reporter Richard Perez-Pena took on the thankless task of covering theNYT Co.'sconference call with stock analysts. The result, on the front page of Monday's Business section, is somewhat more revealing than the usual whitewashing that occurs when a media company covers itself, finding fault with some of the company's business moves. But some media analysts still found it lacking in heft. Perez-Pena wrote:

In a conference call with analysts late last month, Janet L. Robinson, the president and chief executive of The New York Times Company, laid out a vision of how the company would survive the downturn that is crippling the newspaper industry.

"As other newspapers cut back on international and national coverage, or cease operations, we believe there will be opportunities for The Times to fill that void," she said, for both readers and advertisers.

But before it can execute what the industry regards as a "last-man-standing" strategy, the company has to get there first.

Interesting that when it comes to their own incomes, the bleeding hearts at theTimesare so sanguine about the prospect of companies shutting down and people being thrown out of work, leaving the NYT Co.with a monopoly on newsgathering.

Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review pitied Perez-Penahis thankless task.

I'll bet you every editor in the building looked at that piece when it was in the can and had some quibble. This was probably the most edited story in the paper today.

But in end, Chittum argued, "the piece is too sanguine about the prospects for the Times. Much as I want to believe it will fend off these markets, it doesn't look good right now."

He also claimed the story's headline, "Resilient Strategy for Times Despite Toll of a Recession," sounded like a "corporate press release."

Reporter Perez-Pena looked on the bright side for the Times, at least relatively speaking:

Unlike much of the industry, the Times Company, which publishes The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The International Herald Tribune, does not carry the kind of crushing debt burden that has led other publishers to default or file for bankruptcy, and it has fared better than most of its peers at holding on to revenue from ads and circulation.

But the company reported last month that its newspaper ad revenue fell 14.2 percent in 2008, for a drop of 19.5 percent in the last two years; industrywide, the declines were about 16 percent and 23 percent.

And unlike almost every other major paper in the country, the flagship Times newspaper has not significantly reduced the size of its newsroom or the content of its pages; its newsroom staff of almost 1,300 people and budget of well over $200 million are easily the largest in the country.

He eventually relayed criticism of the NYT Co.'s recent business moves:

The company's clearest and biggest mistake, analysts say, was spending $2.7 billion to buy back its own stock from 1998 to 2004, despite historic high prices. That figure is more than three times the company's current market capitalization, it outweighs the prices of all the other second-guessed moves combined, and it would be more than enough to ensure the company's security for years to come.

Six years ago, the company paid $65 million for the half of The International Herald Tribune that was owned by the Washington Post Company, taking full ownership of a money-losing paper. The Times Company does not disclose The Herald Tribune's performance, but executives say that after significant investment, it still loses money.