Promise, or threat? John Harwood declares "the New York Times isn't going anywhere." The Times correspondent, who also toils for CNBC, made his unconditional claim on today's Morning Joe in response to Joe Scarborough's envisioning of a future in which major news organizations, including the Times, might disappear. Scarborough was concerned that the public would be deprived of the media's investigative function.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: The problem is, though, that these people are all being fired. So what are we going to do without a New York Times or a Washington Post or an NBC News? The investigators that hold government accountable.
That's when Harwood sprang to his employer's defense.
JOHN HARWOOD: The New York Times isn't going anywhere.
A bit later, Scarborough, perhaps chastened by Harwood's emphatic declaration, responded with a somewhat modified view of the future.
SCARBOROUGH: New York Times isn't going anywhere, you're exactly right. But the New York Times of 2010 isn't going to look like the New York Times of 2000. I'm not picking on the Times; it's about every paper. And my concern is, they have to cut back. We all have to cut back. But reporters get cut and when reporters get cut there's less of the investigation powers.
HARWOOD: I have no argument with what you're saying. However, in the month of October, 750 million people visited the New York Times website, alright?
SCARBOROUGH: That's great.
HARWOOD: There's a business in there. It's a challenge to the creativity to figure out --
Harwood is right in the sense that 750 million people is a lot of eyeballs that should be able to generate significant ad revenue. I'd note that the Times's own press release states that in October, it had 52.6 million unique web visitors in the United States. But taking into account foreign visitors and repeat hits, Harwood could certainly be in the ballpark.
However, that same press release reported revenues that had dropped 9.4% from the previous year, with ad revenues falling off by 17.2% And just yesterday the Times announced it was borrowing against its HQ building to ease "a potential cash flow squeeze." That announcement came on the same day that the Tribune company, owner of the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, among other news organizations, announced that it was going into bankruptcy.
Harwood's unfettered confidence in the Times's future might be an admirable display of loyalty. But can he really be so sure, or was Harwood whistling past the worldwide web?
Note: John Harwood has been in touch to mention that in citing the 750 million figure, he had page views, not unique visitors, in mind, and indeed Nielsen shows the Times with 767 million page views in October, 2008.