Files under General | Oct 28th


You can be the owner of a great newspaper like The New York Times, but this doesn’t mean that you have the talent and character to lead a newspaper that it’s an institution.

A newspaper institution that, at the end of the day, “belongs” to thousands of loyal readers.

So here there are more stupid comments from the capo di tutti capi.

The New York magazine had a brief cocktail encounter with “Pinch” Sulzberger and he made these lousy comments comparing print newspapers to the Titanic!

He thinks that physical newspapers will stick around as well. “The best analogy I can think of is — have you ever heard of the Titanic Fallacy?” he asked. We hadn’t. “What was the critical flaw to the Titanic?” We tried to answer: Poor construction? Not enough life boats? Crashing into stuff? “A captain trying to set a world speed record through an iceberg field?” he said, shaking his head. “Even if the Titanic came in safely to New York Harbor, it was still doomed,” he said. “Twelve years earlier, two brothers invented the airplane.”

“We are trying to convert shipping companies to airplane companies,” said Sulzberger. “Same business: transporting people safely across long distances. Different cost structure, different way of doing business, but the same core business. There is still a very vibrant business in shipping. It’s just not taking masses of people across the Atlantic. It’s now taking families around the Seychelles, or something like that. There will still be passenger ships, but they’re not going to be in the same business. So print will still be here, I believe, decades from now. But will it be the driving force? No.”

As one reader of the pice said:

Airplanes did not surpass ships as the primary means of crossing the Atlantic until 1958. The TITANIC was not trying to set a speed record (it would have been physically impossible). Her construction was hardly shoddy. Airplanes in 1912 were little more than flimsy toys. The Atlantic was not crossed by commercial airplanes until the late 30s and then in hops. Lousy analogy!

Yes, a lousy analogy from a lousy publisher.

So with this kind of “friends”, the newsroom of The New York Times doesn’t need any enemy.

The enemy is inside.

It’s the owner!

(Picture by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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  1. Ben Compaine says:

    Juan Antonio,

    Putting aside whether Sulzberger is a poor owner and publisher, I think you are much too harsh on the analogy. In 1960 Theodore Levitt wrote his classic Harvard Business Review piece, “Marketing Myopia.” He argued that the reason the railroads were in trouble was that they thought of themselves as being in the railroad business when in fact they were in the shipping business. Thus, while long haul trucking was starting to eat their lunch, the railroads didn’t get it. Since then, great railroad names have disappeared, the survivors have learned to go multi-modal and they are doing well.

    Newspaper publishers are not in the news-paper business. They are in the news business. Now, Sulzberger and most of his publisher peers didn’t hear that message back in the 1990s when they could have gotten in front of wave, so they, like the railroads, have to play catch up. But Sulzberger is also right when he says we still have large liners, but their mission is different than hauling passengers across the oceans. And the printed newspapers of tomorrow will also be geared to a narrower mission for a smaller audience. I am watching the transition of Newsweek from a news magazine to an Economist-like opinion and analysis journal geared to a narrower audience. That’s going from hauling passengers across to the Atlantic to taking vacationers to the Bahamas.

    On Sulzberger, don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. I can’t fault him for the analogy to ocean liner (the human tragedy of the Titanic put uneasily aside).

  2. Dear Ben,

    That’s the point.

    39 year later, the New York Titanic publisher explains to us, poor ignorants, something that all of us knew very well.

    The question is why he and his managers didn’t start the transition from print to digital before it’s too late and the New York Titanic sinks?

    Don’t blame to the newsroom.

    They didn’t take any strategic decision.

    And the publisher and managers either.

    So, we don’t need explanation.

    The New York Titanic needs action from the top.

    Less memos and more demos.

    And a new publisher.

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