photo: Ramin Talaie/Getty Images
By Mathew Ingram
April 26, 2016

The yin and yang of the traditional media world can be seen in two recent announcements from the New York Times. In the first, the newspaper said it would invest $50 million over the next three years in a project called NYT Global, an international expansion plan to gain new readers. In the second, the Times said it would shut down its print operations in Paris and that about 70 people would lose their jobs.

The point of both of these announcements should be fairly obvious. Readership and advertising is moving to digital, and the New York Times very much wants to be a global media property, so investing in a digital expansion in Europe makes sense. At the same time, print is in decline—both in terms of readership and in terms of advertising revenue. Managing those two things at the same time is the hard part.

The Paris operations that the Times is shutting down no doubt seemed like an obvious place to achieve some cost savings, since they are left over from a previous print-based expansion plan. The unit used to belong to the International Herald-Tribune, a joint venture between the NYT and the Washington Post, a project the Times took over in 2003. Before that, it was a division of the New York Herald, which started printing in Europe in 1887.

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In an internal memo sent out about the Paris cuts, assistant international editor Joe Kahn said that they were necessary for one reason: Because “the cost structure of print wasn’t viable.”

The challenging thing for the New York Times is that those words are arguably just as applicable to the rest of the newspaper’s business, not just the part of it that was taking place in Paris. The cost structure of print is becoming increasingly non-viable even for globe-spanning giants like the Times, and managing the decline of that business is something the paper is spending a lot of time on.

Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the Times, told his own newspaper in an interview that the cuts boil down to “needing to free up resources to build a digital report,” which the paper is trying to do with NYT Global and its other efforts. According to the reporter who spoke with him, Baquet said that this would mean “the Times newsroom would probably be smaller and configured differently in the future.”

The NYT executive editor denied that there are any plans for layoffs in the Times newsroom this year, however—something that has no doubt been coming up a lot since a report in the New York Post said the paper intended to lay off “hundreds” of staffers this year. A number of senior executives at the paper have said the report is inaccurate and that there are no large-scale layoffs planned.

In an internal memo earlier this year, however, Baquet said that the newspaper was going to look at all areas of the company for cost reductions — and that the newsroom would not be immune. “To secure economic success and the viability of our journalism in the long term, the company has to look for judicious savings everywhere, and that includes the newsroom,” he said.

The Times announced a company-wide strategic review in February designed to look at the paper’s operations and recommend areas of investment and also areas where costs could be cut. Baquet is leading the review along with editor David Leonhardt, who helped create the paper’s digital feature, The Upshot. In its financial results earlier this year, the Times reported virtually zero revenue growth, primarily because of the decline of print.

“Do I think we’re going to have to figure out ways to cut things that are legacy print without hurting the print New York Times? Yes,” Baquet told the NYT reporter writing about the Paris cutbacks. “Do I think that The New York Times will end up having a ginormous, robust newsroom? Yes, absolutely, it will.”

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Coincidentally enough, the Wall Street Journal took an interesting step on the same day that the Times announced its Paris restructuring: The News Corp.-owned financial paper named its first ever “print editor.” Bob Rose, a former New York bureau chief, takes on responsibility for the Journal‘s print editions and print products, leaving editor Gerard Baker to focus more on building the paper’s digital operations.

Could the Times benefit from a similar approach? Perhaps. Like almost every other traditional media entity, it is trying to grow one side of its business—the digital side—while simultaneously cutting costs and managing the decline of the print side, which continues to generate the bulk of the revenue and profits. And that is not an easy job for anyone, not even when you are the New York Times.

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