Commentary

Scrutiny Of 'New York Times' Editors Won't Hurt Revenue

The New York Timeswas in the news again over internal matters that are unlikely to have a negative effect on subscription revenue, a key source of growth for the paper. The bigger unknowns are whether digital news consumption will decline as coronavirus vaccinations allow for less time in front of screens, and former President Trump doesn't drive the news cycle.

Two journalists this month left the paper amid internal and external criticism of their past behavior, but the incidents were isolated and mostly of interest to a handful of other journalists who fret over "cancel culture."

Donald G. McNeil Jr., a revered science writer who covered the pandemic, and Andy Mills, an audio producer who co-hosted the paper's flawed "Caliphate" podcast, submitted their resignations amid growing scrutiny.

While working as an expert guide on an NYT-sponsored student trip to Peru in 2019, McNeil used a racist slur in a discussion with a student who had asked for his opinion about a classmate who had been suspended for using the term. At least six parents complained about McNeil, but Executive Editor Dean Baquet determined after an internal investigation that the journalist's intentions weren't "hateful or malicious," the Daily Beast first reported.
Amid a growing outcry about the newspaper's handling of the incident, McNeil wrote an apology letter and submitted his resignation. If anyone is interested in more details about what happened inside the newspaper, NYT media columnist Ben Smith offers a more comprehensive account.
Mills submitted his resignation after the NYT issued a lengthy correction of "Caliphate," an award-winning podcast that contained numerous errors. The correction led to resurfaced complaints about Mills' alleged behavior at his previous job at the WNYC show "Radiolab." It also exposed the newspaper to criticism that it hadn't punished him as severely as another reporter who hosted the podcast.
Critics have said the NYT's handling of the incidents is another sign the Twitter mob makes the editorial decisions for the paper. It also renews the idea that the publisher is too dependent on a narrow group of paying subscribers whose political views affect its editorial coverage.
It's an interesting question, considering that news outlets like the NYT typically have maintained a strict separation between their journalism and business interests. The separation meant that journalists were free to report unflattering stories about businesses that bought advertising space in its print or online versions. But the company sells less advertising than it used to as media buyers shift spending to paid search, social media and retailer ad networks, which have deep troves of consumer data.
The NYT has more than 7.5 million subscribers, giving it a more diverse source of revenue that's more stable than advertising. The ad market tends to be highly cyclical, though publishers also are coping with secular shifts in media spending that won't reverse. Having a broader reader base also helps to buffer the paper from threats of cancellations when people object to its coverage or handling of internal disputes.

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