Times Co. memo blasts, contains bad info

Like Dan Kennedy, I'm curious about what "incorrect information" today's much-discussed Times Co. memo is supposed to correct. (Disclosure: my recent comments to NPR's On the Media may be involved, though if they are, I'd dispute said involvement.)

But as a commenter at Gawker notes, the memo--from Times Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and CEO Janet Robinson--doesn't just condemn the (unspecified) bad information peddled by others. It distributes its own bad info, too.

Write Sulzberger and Robinson:

To Our Colleagues,

The month of May came and went and, contrary to the prediction of one writer, we did not stop printing The New York Times. But given all the speculation and incorrect information that has been reported about our Company, we think it is important to create a regular letter written so that you get the facts directly from us — on the record.... [emph. added]

That one writer would be the Atlantic's Michael Hirschorn, who offered a grim assessment of the NYT Co.'s current and long-termprospects earlier this year. Problem is, Hirschorn didn't actually say what Sulzberger and Robinson claim he did. Here's an excerpt from his piece:

But what if the old media dies much more quickly? What if a hurricane comes along and obliterates the dunes entirely? Specifically, what if The New York Times goes out of business — like, this May?

It’s certainly plausible.
Earnings reports released by the New York Times Company in October indicate that drastic measures will have to be taken over the next five months or the paper will default on some $400million in debt. With more than $1billion in debt already on the books, only $46million in cash reserves as of October, and no clear way to tap into the capital markets (the company’s debt was recently reduced to junk status), the paper’s future doesn’t look good....

Granted, the odds that The Times will cease to exist entirely come May are relatively slim. Many steps could be taken to prolong its existence. The Times Company has already slashed its dividend, a major source of income for the paper’s owners, the Sulzberger family, but one that starved the company at precisely the moment it needed significant investments in new media. The company could sell its share of the brilliant Renzo Piano–designed headquarters—which cost the company about $600million to build and was completed in 2007, years after the digital threat to The Times’ core business had become clear. (It’s already borrowing money against the building’s value.) It could sell The Boston Globe—or shutter it entirely, given what the company itself has acknowledged is a challenging time for the sale of media properties.... [emph. added]

In other words, Hirschorn floated a dramatic possibility to get our attention; explained why his scenario merited consideration; and then backtracked by saying it probably wouldn't pan out. Inflammatory, sure. But a "prediction" that ain't.

My executive editor, Peter Kadzis, argues that the memo in question is aimed less at correcting mistakes then at imparting calm. That makes sense. Still, this could have been accomplished without fudging the facts.

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