David Carr’s column in the New York Times criticising Katharine Weymouth, the publisher of the Washington Post, for her handling of the venerable Watergate paper strikes me as a little off-target.
Carr, the NYT’s respected media columnist, focuses on how Ms Weymouth, niece of Don Graham, the former publisher of the family-controlled paper, provoked the departure of Marcus Brauchli as the Post’s executive editor. He suggests she lacks the gravitas and people-handling skills of Mr Graham:
Mark Thompson – image by Getty
I don’t know Mark Thompson, outgoing director-general of the BBC, but I have my doubts about how well his long career at Britain’s public-service broadcaster – interrupted by just two years at commercial Channel 4 – will equip him to run the New York Times Co.
Critically, his new employer has to generate its own revenues, rather than simply pulling money in from a mandatory television licence fee and then spending it.
Management is management, whether in the public or private sector. Mr Thompson is obviously talented and will arrive in Manhattan battle-hardened, not only from his fights with the UK government, and the unions, but from regular set-tos with the New York Times’ biggest rival, Rupert Murdoch, and his clan. Co-blogger and former FT media correspondent John Gapper – currently on holiday – has tweeted that Mr Thompson is “a good choice for the NYT – former hack, strategic, tough, down-to-earth. Used to opinionated employees and controversy” and “also experienced in running a media icon that thinks a lot of itself – mostly justifiably, sometimes not”.
The travails of old media businesses are well-known but I’m starting to feel sympathy for advertisers and media buyers.
That sentiment was brought on by looking (in old media fashion) at the front of the print section of the New York Times today. The lead article is about Madison Avenue’s scepticism on whether Facebook is a good advertising medium and underneath that is a piece on Dish Network’s new ad-skipping digital video recorder.
Facebook’s advertisers have been struggling with whether display ads on the social network will produce results, with General Motors pulling its $10m Facebook ad budget ahead of the intial public offering.
Meanwhile, Dish has upset US television networks in the “upfront” season where they show off their next season wares to advertisers but producing a box that automatically skips all the commercials between network shows.
This time last year, I wrote a New Year column with seven predictions for events that would occur in business in 2011. It is time for reckoning and I must say that I scored poorly, with only three out of seven correct.
To be fair to me, the predictions were deliberately provocative. As I noted at the time: ”They are intended to be adventurous enough to be interesting – even if I turn out to be wrong, they should at least be things to watch.”
I was at least right about that. With no more excuses, let’s take a look at my predictions and what happened.
The success of the New York Times metered paywall – it has gathered 224,000 digital-only web subscribers in its first four months (as well as 57,000 Nook and Kindle subscribers) – raises one obvious question: who will be next?
I was sure enough that the NYT’s experiment, in which readers who access more than 20 articles a month have to pay a subscription although articles accessed through social media links remain free, would work that I made a bet on it with Felix Salmon, a vociferous sceptic.
Felix backed down gracefully this week, acknowledging that I am extremely likely to win. My bet was that the NYT would have at least 300,000 digital subscribers after two years, so my bet should go into the money fairly soon (and Felix will owe me $100 for every 100,000 NYT digital subscribers above that figure).
The New York Times paywall (or pay fence) goes up today and there has been an enormous amount of speculation/analysis about it. For what it’s worth, I think it will succeed.
This is not because people “should” pay for the NYT’s journalism any more than they should buy any other product, but because the organisation does produce a lot of valuable and unique information. That means it can attract paying customers online as well as in print.
One of the main arguments deployed against the NYT asking at least some of its readers to pay (it is erecting a fairly porous barrier that allows people to click on 20 articles a month free, and an infinite number if they arrive at an article through a link) is that news is now a commodity.
The New York Times’ plan to charge users online, which it unveiled today, has been dubbed by Ken Doctor a “pay fence” because it is easier to get over than a “pay wall”. The NYT’s fence is also rather low.
There is nothing quite so entertaining – or so illogical these days – than an old-fashioned newspaper war such as the one that Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal is picking with the New York Times on the paper’s home turf.
The Journal recently launched its Greater New York section, in which it has invested heavily (although Mr Murdoch insisted on an investor conference call on Tuesday that the reputed figure of $30m was too high). Since then, it has been competing head-on with the NYT’s metro section.