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New York Times Plans To Sell 'Boston Globe'

Feb 20, 2013
Originally published on February 20, 2013 6:11 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

The Grey Lady is shedding more of its assets. This afternoon, The New York Times Company announced that it intends to sell The Boston Globe and other properties it owns in New England.

For more on this, NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik joins me from our bureau in New York. And, David, what can you tell us? Why this sale, and why now?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, think about what a come-down this is. You know, The New York Times, two decades ago, bought The Boston Globe for $1.1 billion. I'm told that actually it quietly shopped around The Boston Globe in recent years twice but couldn't get the asking price they wanted. They just wanted 100 million in cash after taking care of some pension and debt obligations. Obviously, it's been a very tough year both if you consider the recession but also the climate for advertising and print newspapers in the economy right now is really tough.

It wasn't improving even though, you know, New England makes a modest profit for them. They've got a new CEO, Mark Thompson. He came in. He used to be the head guy at the BBC. They're focusing on a more global strategy. He has no attachment to newspapers, no attachment to the U.S., no attachment to The Boston Globe and the easier thing for him to do.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk more about The Boston Globe. It's a shrunken version of its former self. Any notion of who might be a possible buyer?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, there seemed to be, you know, as there often are in such circumstances, kind of two clusters of people of interest, and it does seem that primarily, because The Globe is a big newspaper but not an exceptionally profitable one, you're not seeing a lot of outside interest. But there'd be two kinds of groups. One might be civic-minded group of investors who might want to stay modestly in the black or even just paper-thin margins of profit but operated essentially as something for the good of the community. Other people have looked at it as possible investment. The Globe, you know, is down 40 percent from its peak in terms of the staff in the newsroom.

BLOCK: Forty percent?

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah, 40 percent.

BLOCK: Wow.

FOLKENFLIK: So that's a real hit and yet has done extraordinary journalism if you think of the crisis in the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. They've really led the way there. If you think about coverage of politics not only in the state and local level but of national politics, they've really excelled. They've done that amid a time of cuts. And some investors have looked at that and say, hey, we think we can wring a good 25, 30 percent in cuts out of that newspaper and still be able to make a profit, still get readers to come in. So you've got the very binary choice confronting this very proud newspaper.

BLOCK: Well, with The New York Times deciding to sell The Boston Globe and these other New England assets that we've been talking about, what does that tell us about the future of The Times Company?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, The Times is betting in a sense that less is more. They seem to have focused very strongly on their core identity as The New York Times Company. They've shed a lot of properties in recent - last year or two. There was about.com. They got rid of some regional newspapers in the South, here in New York, WQXR classical radio. And Mark Thompson came in really to say this should be a global enterprise in the biggest possible way. It should be more digital, more video.

You know, it's not clear exactly what that means. He's promised, in coming months, that he'll offer more detail. But if you're thinking about global growth, you know, sure, there's a lot of English language speakers in the U.K., in Europe, in India. But if you think about Brazil and China, those are two big ones, bureaucratic red tape kind of snarled an effort in Brazil in its sort of pre-nascent state. And in China, as we've spoken about on the air, you know, authorities there have tried - had successfully blocked access in China to the Chinese language site for The New York Times, and thus, advertising is withered. So, you know, it's going to be a tough go when this new strategy The New York Times focused on a global digital, not so much in the newspaper business.

BLOCK: OK. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thanks so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.