Stephen Glover: The Big Apple’s Gray Lady is not on her death bed just yet

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The Independent Online

The New York Times is almost certainly the most famous paper in the world. It may be pompous and self-regarding, but it is also authoritative, serious minded and generally fair. Even journalists who dislike its liberal world view tend to respect it, and would be sorry if it disappeared.

Such an eventuality is, believe it or not, being considered by some media watchers in the United States. In common with other American newspapers, the New York Times has taken a battering over the past year by the side of which our problems in this country resemble an April shower. Its share price crashed after the company announced that profits in the quarter to last July had fallen by 82 per cent from a year previously. The paper has been hit, as have other titles in the US, by declining readership and plummeting classified advertising revenue, on which metropolitan American papers have a much greater dependence than do British national titles.

The company may now be in danger of defaulting on some $400m of debt in May. Given present financial conditions, and its weakening financial position, it may struggle to restructure. In October it stated that “based on the conversations we have had with lenders, we expect that we will be able to manage our debt and credit obligations as they mature”.

“Expect” doesn’t sound wholly confident, does it?

The company’s financial problems explain its decision, announced last week, to put a daily display advertisement across six columns at the bottom of the front page. According to one estimate, this could produce nearly $30m a year in extra revenue. If it is only half that amount, it will be handy, though scarcely enough to boost the paper’s fortunes. It is a |nice irony that our own Times upset some of its readers in 1966 when it

took classified advertising off the front page and replaced it with editorial. The New York Times is causing similar ructions by introducing a front page advertisement at the expense of editorial.

Could it really go bust? It hardly seems likely in the foreseeable |future. It could sell the Boston Globe, though that might not fetch very |much in the present climate, or its share in its new headquarters in |New York. Even after cutbacks, |its staffing levels remain much |

higher than those of any British newspaper, and more economies could surely be made that would |not undermine it. Perhaps the most likely outcome is that the Sulzberger |family, which controls the New York Times, its ancestor Adolph Ochs |having acquired the title in 1898, |will be forced to sell out to more predatory capitalists.

It is certainly possible to overdo the pessimism, though. A good example of this tendency is an article by Michael Hirschorn in the current Atlantic Monthly. The piece foresees the death of the print edition, disregarding the fact that an internet-only version would be unable to create the revenue to support more than a |fraction of the New York Times’s |present editorial staff. He also |incorrectly asserts that “most readers of the Times are consuming it online” with 20 million unique users in October in comparison with the “mere million readers a day” reading the print edition. He is confusing buyers with readers. Some three million people a day read the New York Times, which is still far greater than its online readership.

Many of us like to see the overmighty vanquished. When the New York Times was all-powerful, it was easy to resent it. Now that it is struggling, one realises how much the disappearance of this great newspaper would matter.

Could media bias over Gaza even itself out in the end?

I have been deluged with “evidence” purporting to show that the media are biased either in favour of the Israelis or the Palestinians in their coverage of Gaza.

Arab Media Watch complains that the Israeli ambassador in London, Ron Proser, is often in the media, whereas the Palestinian representative, Manuel Hassassian, is barely heard of. Proser was appointed at the end of 2007, and up until the end of 2008 Arab Media Watch has found 40 newspaper items either by him or quoting him, whereas Hassassian was only mentioned twice during the same period, in both cases by The Guardian. I have heard or seen Proser several times on the radio or television during the past week without catching a glimpse of Hassassian.

A fair point, it would seem. And yet on the other side of the argument the journalist Tom Gross has amassed many examples of what he regards as anti-Israeli bias in the media. Two stand out. He writes that the publicly-owned French television network France 2 has admitted that footage it showed last Tuesday of destruction allegedly caused by the Israeli air force was, in fact, taken from an incident in 2005 in which Gaza civilians were killed by an explosion caused by Hamas.

Gross also claims that Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor in |Gaza much quoted in the media last week enumerating grisly civilian casualties, is a Hamas sympathiser. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks in New York, according to Gross, Dr Gilbert told the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet that the attacks were “morally right”. “Terror is a bad weapon, but you have to look at the context.” He is not, it would seem, an impartial observer.

Is it possible that both sides are right, and that far from there being a uniform bias, it sometimes works one way, and sometimes another?

Oxford seems to love Rupert but hate Maggie

Oxford University famously refused to award Margaret Thatcher an honorary doctorate in 1985. The dons objected to cuts in higher education. One may surmise that many disliked her for wider political reasons.

So it is a little difficult to make sense of a piece of information I recently stumbled across. Rupert Murdoch’s funding of a professorship of language and communication at Oxford, as well as a visiting professorship of broadcast media, is well known. Less well known is his endowment of three lectureships in the department of English Literature and Language. Your daughter or son studying English at Oxford may be taught by a don paid for by Mr Murdoch.

I personally have no qualms. Let Oxford get its money from wherever it wants, so long as it is legal, though it is slightly disturbing that Murdoch’s representative should help select the professor of language and communication. But it does Oxford no credit to take money from such a culturally controversial figure as Murdoch while snubbing Margaret Thatcher.