The decline and fall of the New York Times

The disgraceful full page General "Betray Us" ad published Monday was a new low for both and the New York Times. Newspapers can and do decide to reject advertisements which are below acceptable standards. It might be the case that the Times is deeply in thrall to its obsessions that it saw nothing wrong with "General Betray Us." Or maybe the Times is so hard-pressed that standards no longer matter, in both advertising and editorial dimensions. The figure of one hundred thousand dollars was mentioned by one commentator as a rough price for the ad.

Those pieces of silver did no good for the company's stock price, which hit a five year low Monday and then fell even further yesterday, down about 59% from its 5 year peak above 50, and now perilously close to the going below $20 per share.

The editorial content of the Times betrays a similar confluence of economic stringency and ideological obsession. Despite downsizing its news hole, physical size, and editorial staff, the paper keeps on publishing redundant material, hammering away at ideological points.

The paper's magazine on Sunday had an article about Jack Goldsmith who wrote The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration, that covered much of the same ground as 9/11's book review by Michiko Kakutani does. Short-changing its readers by using up space on the same topic does not seem a particularly intelligent strategy for making the most of the remaining space

On that score, how about the paper's full-throttl defense of Dan Siegelman, the former Democratic Governor of Alabama who was imprisoned in June on Federal corruption charges?  It is just one of many such articles regarding this Democratic Governor. This type of campaign should be waged by his lawyers in the appeals process, not by a national newspaper whose agenda is to protect Democrats at all costs. The paper ran a column Monday in its editorial section on the same topic. At least in that column, the paper tipped its hand: the case riles Democrats because it was one of the few putative so-called "red states" that had been held by a Democrat governor and the Democrats are seething over its loss and the scandal that may harm the Democratic party.

Even Pinch Sulzberger must, by this time, understand that the newspaper industry is dying. But a canny strategist could, as Rupert Murdoch is doing, leverage assets like a famous name and a national distribution platform into a multi-media platform that could thrive in the new technological environment of news. Despite the ineptness of the company's diversification strategy, the venerable brand name and worldwide reputation of the paper, a legacy he inherited from his ancestors, remains the company's most valuable asset. But this sort of cheapening of the company's standing, publishing scandalously scurrilous ads and devoting its diminishing supply of space to redundant stories with attitude, is undermining the remaining value of that brand.

Unless members of the Sulzberger/Ochs family decide to protect their patrimony by removing their incompetent cousin, something of a Greek tragedy will play itself out at the company, and it will be devoured by Pinch's lethal combination of hubris, youthful political obsessions, and lack of business acumen.

Hat tip: Rosslyn Smith, Ed Lasky