viernes, marzo 09, 2007

NYT y el camino de la innovación

Por estos días, El Mercurio de Santiago está realizando cambios importantes en su plana periodística. Movimientos propios generados por una nueva dirección, la competencia y decisiones editoriales. Sin embargo, es decepcionante que los diarios chilenos apenas se fijen en el perfil de los nuevos consumidores de medios y que se plantean frente a internet básicamente rediseñando su página web cada cierto tiempo. No es noticia que los diarios son el chivo expiatorio para los inversionistas que observan los medios y el futuro (potencial) que les espera. No es nuevo, que las lectorías y los ingresos siguen cayendo. Hace unos días, El Tiempo de Colombia -después de 96 años- anunció la decisión de buscar un socio estratégico. En EE.UU. Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune y The Philadelphia Inquirer aparecen en un escenario similar o peor. Este artículo del AJR aborda los interesantes cambios que está realizando el NYT para incorporar tecnologías amigables a sus lectores en la red, la instalación de buscadores especializados y la compra de empresas online que potencien su negocio y los ingresos de la compañía madre. Estrategia que está comenzando a dar resultados.

Por Rachel Smolkin
In a small back room adjoining his office on the 14th floor of 229 West 43rd Street, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. lays out his vision for a New York Times Co. of the future.
In it, the New York Times newspaper and its siblings--the International Herald Tribune, the Boston Globe and 15 other dailies--have transcended their old ink-on-paper platforms, appearing as well in text and video via the Web, mobile phones, BlackBerrys and other digital devices. A cluster of Internet sites have cropped up around them, some far removed from newsgathering but offering readers accessible information about topics as varied as weight-loss tools and iPods.

Yet journalism remains the company's unshakable core, defined, especially for the flagship Times newspaper, by its continued international reach and ambitions. Sulzberger's great-grandfather, Adolph S. Ochs, bought the struggling New York broadsheet in 1896; through four generations, during some splendid highs and despite some mortifying lows, the paper has set the standard for journalism worldwide.

Sulzberger cannot foresee "always," he tells me with some exasperation as I continue to press him with that word on all manner of topics--unfairly, of course, because who knows what the media landscape will look like next month, much less in the distant future? Will the Times keep the Globe? Will Sulzberger and his family take the company private, away from Wall Street's punishing judgment of its worth? Will he hold on to both his titles, chairman of the company and publisher of the New York Times newspaper, or accede to the demands of a major shareholder and surrender one? Will a family member always fill both those positions or, in an era fraught with change for the industry, will an outside "professional" assume one?
"There are things that are impossible to know. So I can't deal with 'always.' Let me just deal with now and where the family is in its head now, OK?" he says in response to the last question. "And the answer is yes. The family has made it clear, to me and to others, that the two positions that they feel should be held by family members are publisher of the New York Times newspaper and chairman of the New York Times Company."

His father, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, had three titles, including CEO; when the younger Sulzberger, now 55, assumed control of the company in 1997 (he's been publisher of the Times newspaper since 1992), the CEO position went to an outsider for the first time. Janet L. Robinson, 56, who sits next to Sulzberger at the shining oval table during our interview, is the company's president and its second nonfamily chief executive. "For the foreseeable future, as long as I can see into the future, this family seems united, is united, around its commitment to this company and its commitment to this newspaper," Sulzberger says.

They are able to maintain control of both through a two-tier stock structure. The family dominates the powerful Class B shares, which represent less than 1 percent of the company's equity but shape its destiny: These shareholders elect nine of 13 board members. Only a decision by at least six of eight family trustees can alter that structure, something Sulzberger says they have no interest in doing.
"Why change it?" he asks. "It was built for times like this. It gives us the flexibility to be in the public market, to have access to the capital markets when you need them for, say, acquisitions, but it gives you the protection so critical to ensure that our journalism is kept really at the forefront of all that we do. So this is why we have this system. Now is when you need to use it, not to think about changing it."

But are you looking at taking the company private? I persist, citing recent media reports that claim he's doing just that. "No." No interest in it, whatsoever? "That would be no."
Other media companies in a similar financial situation but lacking the two-tier protection would be--and have been, and are--facing dissolution. In January, the Times Co. stock was trading at $23, down more than 50 percent from its 2002 peak.

For the six-month period ending September 2006, the Times newspaper's circulation had dropped 3.5 percent during the week and on Sunday from the same period a year earlier, bringing its Sunday total to 1,623,697 and its weekday average to 1,086,798. At the Globe, sales had fallen 6.7 percent during the week, to 386,415, and 9.9 percent on Sunday, to 587,292.
Dragged down by the Globe's lackluster performance in an unkind New England economy, the operating profit margin for the Times' newspaper division fell to 3.5 percent in the third quarter of 2006, the lowest of the publicly held newspaper companies, according to calculations by newspaper analyst and AJR columnist John Morton. (The Times does not break out its newspaper earnings separately from its News Media Group.) By contrast, the Washington Post's profit margin for its newspaper division that quarter was 7.8 percent; the embattled Tribune Co.'s was 14.8 percent.

In late December, Standard & Poor's cut the company's credit rating from A- to BBB+, a development that is not particularly significant from Wall Street's perspective but would cost the Times Co. more if it needed to borrow money in the near future, says Edward Atorino, a media analyst at the New York-based brokerage firm Benchmark Co.
"This has been a tough year," Robinson told two groups of financial analysts at annual media conferences in New York on December 6. "A tough few years actually, as we--like many other companies in our sector--have been dealing with a transformation unlike any we have seen in our lifetimes."

Dissatisfied with the results, Morgan Stanley Investment Management, which owns 7.5 percent of the Class A shares, has launched a public assault on the Times' stock structure and management. At last year's annual meeting, investors holding more than 30 percent of the Class A shares, including Morgan Stanley's London-based management fund, withheld their votes for directors to demonstrate their displeasure.

Led by Managing Director Hassan Elmasry, the fund commissioned a November 1 report by the consulting firm Davis Global Advisors that criticized the Times' financial showing compared with that of the Washington Post, another top-flight, family-owned newspaper buttressed by a dual-class stock structure. The report notes that over the past five years, the Post has "significantly outperformed" the Times on measures including revenue growth and stock performance.
It also skewers the Times' "governance" and its compensation packages for executives, citing average pay for Post CEO Donald E. Graham of $642,770, compared with Robinson's roughly $2.7 million. (In September, Sulzberger and his cousin Michael Golden, company vice chairman and publisher of the IHT, asked the board to lower their compensation last year and this year by not awarding them stock options; that money will be used instead for an employee bonus pool.)
Sulzberger's leadership has come under fire, not only through Morgan Stanley's attack but also in high-profile articles disparaging both his news and business acumen. A December 2005 piece by The New Yorker's Ken Auletta posited a "crisis of identity" at the paper and asserted that "Within the newsroom, there is a sense of rudderlessness and a fear that a series of business misjudgments may so weaken the company's finances that the brilliance of the Times..and, ultimately, the historic mission of the company will be at serious risk."

On November 8, Elmasry submitted a resolution that he hoped the Times Co. would put to a vote at its next annual shareholder meeting in April. Among his proposals were eliminating the company's two-tiered stock structure; separating the titles of publisher and chairman; and requiring that the chairman be independent of the company. But the Times Co. does not intend to include the resolution in its annual proxy statement to shareholders, which will be mailed in March, says company spokeswoman Catherine Mathis.
The day after Elmasry submitted his resolution, Morgan Stanley publishing analyst Lisa Monaco downgraded the rating of the Times' stock from "equal weight" to "underweight," effectively telling stockholders to ditch their shares.

Morton is underwhelmed by Elmasry's campaign. "My observation is that a snowball won't melt in hell before there's any change in that dual stock structure," he says, although he wishes the Times Co. would go private to quiet all the "brouhaha" about its financial performance. "Even though the family controls the shares, once you get into public ownership, you become to some extent a part of the culture," he says. "You have to listen to idiots like this guy at Morgan Stanley." (Elmasry declined to comment for this article.)
"You can imagine what happens to the New York Times newspaper if it was governed by people who were primarily concerned about the bottom line," Morton adds. "There's a reason that the Times has one of the lowest operating margins in the industry: because they spend more money on journalism."

In an era of dwindling newspaper ambitions, of paring back and turning inward, "local news" has become an unsettling mantra in a global world. While it often is touted as a way to add unique value unmatched by a cacophony of competitors, it also is invoked to provide protective cover when companies shutter costly far-flung bureaus to save money.

At the Philadelphia Inquirer, Publisher Brian P. Tierney, whose local group of investors bought the former Knight Ridder paper in June, told Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz five months later: "I don't see us sending 25 people to do me-too coverage of Katrina" and "I can get what's going on in Iraq online. What I can't get is what's happening in this region." This philosophy, from an owner whose paper is now privately held, is a stark reminder that refuge from Wall Street is no tonic for financial pressures and fading aspirations. In January, Tierney slashed 68 newsroom positions, 17 percent of the editorial staff.


1 Comentarios:

Blogger Carlos V dijo...

Admito que no leí el artículo, pero sí tu introducción. El tiempo no me favorece por estos días, pero me gustaría comentar algunas cosas, en un tema que he venido siguiendo. La integración de nuevas tecnologías de la comunicación a los medios escritos es una problemática que ya está alcanzando las redacciones nacionales. Como solemos copiarlo todo, no me extrañaría que partieran del concepto de "convergencia"...algo me ha tocado ver en el medio en que trabajo. El tema de fondo es que la inmediatez le está ganando la batalla a los diarios, cuyo nicho de lectores permanentes cada día se reduce. Las hojas ya no sirven para envolver pescado al día siguiente, sino que al mediodía de su día de publicación. En diarios como The Guardian, ese tema se solucionó con la integración de las salas de redacción: todos reportean y escriben para todo, sea diario escrito, internet u otro servicio especial. En este esquema, los editores son verdaderas válvulas y filtros, altamente especializados. Y los periodistas deben tener la capacidad de adaptación de una cucaracha: aguantar todo. Creo que la redacciones locales están justamente en este paso. Vale la pena ver el avance del NY Times en este tema..y lo que está haciendo Clarín en Argentina. ¿Por qué ambos? Pues hay un Edwards en el Times...y hace poco es uno de los motores principales de un acuerdo con el diario argentino.

2:02 p. m.  

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