The New York Times, since 1851 a chronicler of world history spanning three centuries has turned its final page.
The global definer of news, the cultural arbiter of the civilized world, the defender of free speech, has as it were, kicked the bucket. It has croaked, snuffed it and flat-lined. This paper is, as it were, dead.
Some believe the reason for the paper’s eventual demise was that its vaunted exceptionalism turned out to be a chimera. In the final analysis it was no different than any other self-described "great" American newspaper. The problem at its core was a far-flung and as it were, dysfunctional family which produced neither the unanimity nor the heirs necessary to lead the publication through challenging times. Says historian and conservative "media squeeze" Niall Ferguson: “the Times’ decline was not unlike that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.”
The newspaper went to many lengths to stay alive. One example: putting the word “f-ck” in articles and columns. The thinking was: "f-ck" had worked for the New Yorker. Why not for the Times? A recent David Brooks column was the first use of what had previously been referred to as ‘an obscenity which cannot be printed here’.
"We spend a fuck of a lot of our time debating political events and the choices our fucking leaders make. But the most important changes are shifts in culture ideas and mentalities that people don't even fucking notice until after the fact. For example in 1960 it would have been absurd for colleges to have co-ed dorms. A short time later no one gave a fuck."
Intensive market research revealed that ‘f-ck’ had no measurable effect on any metric. No-one, researchers concluded, read beyond Brooks’ anemic interchangeable titles or as it were, gave a f-ck about his obsessive need to bring the sensible ever-so-slightly right-of-center together with the sensible ever-so-slightly left-of-center.
In the urgent search for revenue, corporate advertisers were approached with all manner of, some felt, degrading premiums. An infamous example was offering to sell space in the Times' iconic masthead. McDonalds was offered the M in ‘Times’; the Oprah Winfrey Network the O in ‘York.’ No one bit. Nor did they when the online edition offered to put an option button on every article: ‘Skip this story.’
As revenues plunged The Times’ fabled foreign bureaus shrank, then shriveled then expired altogether. As of this final edition going to press the paper had only one surviving foreign bureau - in Tel Aviv.
To make a virtue of its growing losses, the paper sought to register as a non-profit. The IRS promptly responded that there was an enormous difference between a non-profit institution and one that made no profit. Finally two weeks ago in one last act of desperation The Times declared itself tax-exempt on the grounds that it was a religion. Its IRS brief argued that:
1. The New York Times has a hermetically insulated, tone-deaf and ossified hierarchy; 2. The New York Times promotes a fixed set of beliefs and a dogmatic version of truth; 3. The New York Times originated and presides over a time-honored Sunday ritual.
The paper was denied an exemption.
There is little that remains of value. E-bay is flooded with various Times memorabilia: hundreds of obscure Pulitzers are being offered for pennies. Items like William Safire’s rejection letter from the New York Athletic Club and David Carr’s old bong are finding few takers.
What is not for sale and may be of considerable value are the re-naming rights to Times Square. However the paper may not own them. “They’re mine” said ex-publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr from an undisclosed location. “Anything of value is mine.”