The New York Times, which last month mortgaged itself to a shady Mexican media mogul, this week suspended its dividend, as its market value descended, dipping below $4 a share, to a half-billion dollars. I can remember a time not long ago when people spoke of $12 a share being crisis territory at the Times.
But this column is not about the Times' sorry financial state. It’s about whatever they’re smoking there as the business goes down the drain.
First of all, there’s the letter from the Times threatening criminal prosecution that arrived in our offices at Newser the other day. It seems that the Times doesn’t want us using an itsy-bitsy T logo to identify the Times as one of our sources. Out of the hundreds and hundreds of media organizations we link to at Newser only the Times has raised this as an issue. Given its perilous financial state, you’d think the Times should surely be spending its money on solving other problems. The larger point, probably, is not their little logo, but their irritation or confusion over the fact that Newser, as a news aggregator and curator, links to the Times—and, to boot, summarizes the Times' long and windy stories. This is a sensitivity on the Times' part, which might indicate that the company, although it has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to understand the Internet, has less than a clear idea about what happens here. Or, in the manner of so many formerly great modern media companies, the Times is divided in what it understands—some people at the Times get it, but others don’t, and each group pulls against the other.
Or, to speculate with as much curiosity as paranoia (more theirs, I’d argue, than mine), maybe it’s about me. The Times seems ever more conscious of its enemies, one of whom—by paying annoying and diligent attention to its decline—I seem to have become. My razzing, along with our efforts at Newser to replace the Times (trust me: our summaries of the Times stories are all you need), have earned us this ham-handed lawyer’s letter.
And then there’s the ironic fact that, while the Times is busy implying that we're ripping it off, it is rather more blatantly ripping us off. In a spectacular act of bringing up the rear, the Times has developed something it’s calling an "article skimmer."
"It is easier and more relaxing to scan a surface of information than flip through a stack, so information is laid out in a rigid two-dimensional grid," explains the Times.
What is this article skimmer, this grid? Hmmm, it’s, well… Newser! Or a bad Newser. It’s a theft, is what it is. It’s not even an honest theft. Somebody at the Times named Andre Behrens, a software designer, is even giving interviews about how he and the Times have invented a new way of reading news online—just 18 months after Newser invented it. Andre, pleeease—a little grace and humility.
Let us consider the levels of incompetence and denial and grandiosity at the Times. Let me suggest that the place is spinning out of control, that, as the end draws near, a sense of reason and reality has begun to depart, that weird legal letters, and wild claims of invention and transformation, not to mention the sudden appearance of a billionaire Mexican of dubious provenance, indicate a terrible desperation.
Their world is ending, but not before everybody gets a chance to make a fool of themselves.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org