For so long, mine was the lonely and vilified voice saying that the New York Times was doomed—vilified most hotly by people at the Times. But the end of the New York Times has now become a conventional forecast, taken up most recently by my friend Michael Hirschorn in the Atlantic.
I don’t know of anyone now—at least anyone who isn’t employed by the Times—who believes that the business, as currently organized and managed, can survive. If it had some chance of ignominiously limping along before the recession, that’s gone with its entire advertising base in freefall.
Hirschorn’s concise, by-the-numbers analysis is more precise: The Times could go out of business in May. That’s when $400 million of the Times’ $1 billion in debt comes due—and it only has $46 million in the bank.
Hirschorn remains, however, a Times believer, or a believer in the thing the Times represents—some DNA that he sees being preserved and having a future in the new world.
Along with everyone employed by the Times, there is a further segment of the journalism world that continues to believe in the Times' right to exist and in the logic that it should exist—despite the evidence that it does not have the wherewithal to exist. Its existence is necessary for the good of… well… journalism.
This is the last shibboleth, that the Times, which no longer puts out a necessary newspaper, nevertheless has some special understanding of reality and language that must be preserved for the common good.
Hirschorn, optimistically and comically, sees this Timesness being preserved in what he calls digital-only distribution. That is, the Times, shedding 80% of its staff and much of its news-gathering abilities, would nevertheless continue honorably online. It would become something like the Huffington Post, Hirschorn argues. In this he is actually stating another evolving piece of conventional wisdom—that the Huffington Post is the new New York Times (a Times reduced by 80%). The obvious corollary: If you want a website go to website makers.
Hirschorn’s point, and the point of other diehard Times believers, is in the value, really, of sentiment. If the Times is no longer the Times, what is it worth? This involves a modern, pre-recession theory of the value of brand removed from function.
Forgive me: If the Times can’t work as a newspaper, it doesn’t work, and the rest is just trying to raise the dead.