Dear New York Times

Spend any time (and I really don’t recommend this) watching Fox News or wading through the cesspool that is the conservative blogosphere, and you’ll detect a palpable Schadenfreude when it comes to the financial struggles of old-world media. And chief among the targets of that right-wing glee has to be the New York Times.

The Grey Lady of American journalism, our national newspaper of record, with at this point, precisely zero credible competitors, finds itself ten years into the third millenium in a strange position. It has, by dint of its undoubtedly superior writers, research, and journalistic standards carved out a place on the web as the most visited newspaper site in the world. A site that has, for at least the last two or three years, been totally free of any sort of paywall. And yet in the last quarter, the Times managed to lose $25 million in the third quarter of 2009.

Now, losting $25 million in a quarter doesn’t mean the company is going to fold up and disappear anytime soon. (A closer look at the Times financials reveals they actually threw off almost  $90 million in cash in that quarter. Much of the loss is attributable to depreciation in the value of some of their non-core assets.) But obviously the company cannot continue indefinitely losing money. How then is the Times going to remedy the situation?

I can’t answer that question. If I had the gold-plated answer to newspaper’s financial problems, I wrap it up in a shiny business plan and sell it to a bunch of investment bankers.

But I will say this: The NY Times is the most prestigous newspaper in the world. I pay 75 cents a day for my local newspaper – buying it from a box near my favorite coffee shop. That paper probably provides me about 10 minutes of actual news reading. Roughly five minutes on local stories – and the rest on national and international. But those “non-local” stories – almost all of them I’ve already seen on the Times website. Columns by Tom Friedman or Maureen Dowd show up a day or two after they’ve been published in the Times. Most of the “value” I get out of my local paper is the (laughably easy) crossword, a couple of other puzzles, and reading the comics. The “news value” I get from the local paper is close to zero. But I willingly pay almost a buck a day for the convenience of a paper to hold n my hand as I sip my coffee and fill out the crossword.

Dear NY Times: We love you, we need you. Figure out a way to get that 75 cents a day from me, and the millions like me.

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