The New York Times as comeback kid

Joe Pompeo

What better way for New York Times executives to celebrate the news that 281,000 subscribers are now paying to read the publication in digital form than with a magazine cover story about the paper of record's comeback?

A comeback is indeed the premise of Seth Mnookin's feature in New York Magazine this week.

Remember back in the '00s, when the Times had lost a fair chunk of its credibility thanks to a former intern who made up stories and a seasoned reporter who believed stories other people made up? When the advent of online news began to suck the life out of the Gray Lady's business model? When some media watchers thought it plausible that the iconic news outlet might not even exist in another few months?

No more!

The Times is back "from the brink of extinction," Mnookin writes, explaining of the paper and its publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr:

A funny thing happened on the way to the graveyard. Though the Times' circulation dipped during the crash years, much of the lost revenue was made up for by doubling the newsstand price, from $1 to $2—evidence, the paper insisted, that its premium audience understood the value of a premium product. [...] In fact, less than 48 hours before my interview, the Times announced it would finish paying back the Carlos Slim loan in full on August 15, three and a half years early. When they were released last week, the company's second-quarter financial results showed an overall loss largely owing to the write-down of some regional papers, but they also contained a much more important piece of data: The digital-subscription plan—the famous "paywall"—was working better than anyone had dared to hope.

Meanwhile, a phone-hacking scandal was engulfing Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. This was not in itself relevant to the Times, but it carried its own symbolism. Murdoch had made a point, after his purchase of The Wall Street Journal, of suggesting that the Times was vulnerable. "Let the battle begin," he wrote in a note to Sulzberger. Sulzberger would not be quite human if he didn't take some satisfaction in his rival's troubles, especially because an aggressively reported investigation the Times published in its magazine last September was critical in bringing the scandal to light

You can read the rest of the piece here.

In other Times developments, outgoing executive editor Bill Keller has given up his oft-controversial Sunday Magazine column and will instead focus solely on contributions to the op-ed page after he steps down from the top masthead perch on Sept. 6.

Keller tells WWD's John Koblin: "The magazine column has been fun ... but op-ed has greater license to have opinions, and a day-before deadline," adding wryly of his apparent 41.6-percent correction rate: 'Thanks for noticing the corrections. I don't think any of them undermined the point of the column, but every one made me wince. And I've gotten better with practice, so there's probably hope for me."