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Can Content Save the NY Times Co.?

CNBC.com

Today the New York Times Co. held its annual shareholder meeting at its sleek new modern headquarters in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday.

With shareholders concerned about the company's dissapointing earnings miss announced last week, company chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. kicked off the meeting with an impassioned speech -- trying to convince shareholders that the company is becoming as sleek and modern as the wood, steel, glass and tangerine-colored walls they'd passed through to hear his remarks. (This my analysis, not Sulzberger's.)

Sulzberger started off by dispelling rumors that the company could be bought or taken private, insisting that the company "is not for sale" and that it'll continue operating in its current structure for the unforeseeable future.

He attributed the company's recent shortfall partly to the economic downturn and industry-wide pressures, but he insisted that beneath all those negative numbers the company is adapting and changing far better than it appears.

Sulzberger whipped out all sorts of numbers illustrating the company's online growth, laying out a strategy for cutting costs while increasing the company's products, like the "T" style magazine, which always seems to be the go-to example of a new venture that's snagging ad dollars...

One big issue on today's meeting agenda: electing two new board members who represent the two hedge funds, Harbinger Capital and Firebrand Partners, which now own 20 percent of the company's shares. The company leadership's decision to support two of their representatives for the board is part of a compromise to end a proxy battle the hedge fund folks were waging.

Can the New York Times Co. turn itself around? The shareholders I spoke to en route into the meeting were optimistic that this new blood on the board would impose a new discipline, perhaps pushing the company to sell its less-profitable papers and non-core divisions.

I was in an on-air debate along with our Dennis Kneale and Vanity Fair's Michael Wolff, with Wolff arguing that the publishing industry is dead. While the business is certainly challenged and changing, I have to disagree with him on one key point: companies like the Times are big content creators, and while the monetization model may change, the business of producing content will remain key.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.