By Christopher B. Daly
this oneIt may well turn out to be , announced with little fanfare a few days ago:
New York Times Company to Pay a 4-Cent Dividend
What that means is that the NYTimes newspaper has become profitable again — so profitable that the folks who run the company feel they have enough cash to pay their stockholders again. Most importantly, that means that the cousins of the current publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., will once again benefit financially from owning the NYT Company. For the past five years, that has been a losing proposition for them. The value of their shares of stock crashed, and the stock stopped paying a dividend.
Cousin Arthur has been in the same boat. But in his case, he at least has the fun and challenge of trying to run the world’s greatest news operation every day. The others, who are mostly not involved with the paper, had to just sit and wait. How long they would be content to do so was a question of some urgency for those who care about the Times.
By Christopher B. Daly
The new issue of the Columbia Journalism Review has a terrific piece by Clay Shirky about the current efforts to rescue journalism by finding a new business model for the news business. (Don’t get discouraged by the misleading — confusing? — headline.)
Shirky, who teaches about these issues at NYU’s Carter Institute of Journalism, compresses a lot of the points I made in my recent book, Covering America, in chapter 3 (about the rise of the Penny Press) and in chapter 13 (about the collapse of the “dual revenue stream” that financed journalism from the 1830s to the 1990s). In my book, the final chapter adds some recent success stories, showing how some digital natives are making a go of it in the new environment — doing great, serious journalism and, importantly, making money at the same time.
In my view, too many of us suffer from the historical fallacy of thinking that the present is “normal” and reflects the way things have always been. A lot of people, especially those over 35 or so, operate on the assumption that it is normal for journalism to be practiced by full-time employees of large, profitable corporations. In fact, by taking the long view, as I do in my book, it can be seen that the way journalism was practiced in the late 20th Century was not inevitable, not necessary, and certainly not permanent. It is already fading into the past as a distinct historical period, giving way to a present in which people are still figuring out the future.