The Spine

Low Circulation


I hope that my old friend David Geffen buys the Los Angeles Times and lifts it out of misery. If David doesn't buy it, the paper will not disappear but it will be forced deeper and deeper into misery ... misery for its readers and for its journalists.
Of course, the L.A. Times is not the only major newspaper in trouble. Whole chains have been sold because their old owners despaired and the new owners thought they had some plan ... or some gimmick ... or some great illumination. There's no reason to repeat here the reasons why the country's daily printed press is floundering.

Even the New York Times is floundering. It may even be that the Times Company is up for sale, although it's had to imagine that the Sulzberger family would agree to put up the family jewels at auction. They once did that with their also ancestral Chattanooga paper. But, well, Chattanooga is, after all, Chattanooga. Anyway, the Times released bad numbers last week, and the analysts have focused on the contributions of the Boston Globe to the lackluster financials. It's not that the home base had done so well either. I happen to have my own seat-of-the-pants analysis (which is really not much of an analysis) as to why the situation of the Times gets worse and worse. And it's about journalism at the Grey Lady. The truth is that I wish she were still grey. Maybe I'll write about that some time.

What the Times is like means a lot to me. But I can't depend on it at all the way I used to. Along with tens of thousands of other readers, I now go for The Sun which covers news that the West 43rd Street publication doesn't begin to cover. I also am tired of the soporifics on the op-ed page (there are days when I even have nostalgia for Anthony Lewis) and the predictably goofy editorial politics irritate me because they don't seem to me to go beyond the belief that, if only America would behave in a more gentlemanly manner, the rest of the world would also. Even North Korea and Iran. I've read that Andrew Rosenthal (son of Abe) is about to take over the opinion page from Gail Collins, and that can't but be an improvement. But we're not losing her. After she finishes a book on American women since 1960, she'll be on the op-ed page with its other scintillators.

Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. is certainly pondering the future of the Times: he has no option since some of the folk on his board are insisting. He is probably doing the pondering with his old friend Steven Rattner, a brilliant and imaginative banker who also cares about the public good. One of the items on their agenda must be the Boston Globe, owned by the Times and hemorrhaging money. Down, down, down. Wednesday's Globe carries a front-page, right below the logo article reporting that a "local group may bid" for the paper.

This is my breakfast newspaper. So, again, I care or should. But, frankly, I've been so alienated from it that I read it largely to see how irrelevant it is or how silly. And how predictable. It is not just a Boston daily. Its public goes deep into the suburbs to the south and west of the city and north into New Hampshire. The city of Boston is no longer made up of enclaves of racism. That's one reason (and a welcome one) why Deval Patrick will win the governorship by what looks today like a landslide. There are Asian and Latino minorities, and roughly a quarter of the city is African-American. No one would begrudge the Globe a decent amount of attention to these sectors. But my guess is that many present-day and past readers feel that the editors have an obsession with racial matters and an indifference to them. Boston is still a largely Catholic town, and the suburbs and the outlying areas are mixed Protestant and Catholic, with some of them having a large Jewish percentage in the population. The Globe doesn't seem to speak to them ... or it doesn't speak to them enough. That's at least what the circ figures say. Down 25 percent.

Massachusetts is a blue state. It is a liberal state. But the politics of the Globe is the politics of a Friends' school. In this light, the leading figure in the group seeking to buy the flailing paper is quite salient. He is Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric, a right-wing Catholic who I believe tried to have NBC, a subsidiary of GE, throw the 2000 election to George Bush. Closely associated with the potential owners is Mike Barnicle, a former columnist for the newspaper who had been pushed off the staff as a result of charges that he had fabricated a story. Many locals attribute his absence to the editors' repulsion at his populist right politics.

The Globe admits that it has been valued by J.P. Morgan at somewhere one half of the $1.1 billion the Times paid for it. This is quite a write-down.

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