Many people over 50 remember the affectionate nickname for The New York Times, “The Grey Lady.” The world’s most important newspaper got that name because in its 161-year-old history there has always been a higher than usual percentage of text compared to graphics. That has always been The New York Times way.
Now the unthinkable has happened. I can barely utter the words. I never thought I would live to see the day, but it has arrived. Our beloved bible for breaking news stories is considering publishing advertiser-sponsored stories on its website.
That means the average reader will not be able to tell the difference between a real story and a fake one. The Times says it will clearly mark the advertising-sponsored stories, but there is no guarantee that the public will comprehend the difference. Friends close to the company say desperate times call for desperate measures. The Times has suffered declining revenues for ten straight quarters in a row and has to do something fast to reverse its misfortune.
The New York Times reported that its annual advertising revenue has fallen almost in half, to $711.8 million last year from $1.27 billion in 2006. The recession, coupled with the proliferation of mobile devices, has devastated the newspaper.
Most newspapers that have a print edition can’t compete with digital formats. That’s why The Times is going to depend more on its web version to bring in the money. Thirty-five-million visitors a month is nothing to sneeze at.
While I can’t stand the thought of The New York Times going the way of tabloids and small town newspapers, I realize it’s a business. I worry for my friends who feel The New York Times is one of the last pure things in their life. I guess we all have to grow up.