The New York Times Places a Bet on the Bay Area

I cancelled my home delivery of the New York Times about 3 years ago, after they raised the subscription rate for the second time in a single calendar year. Having read a hard copy of the Times nearly every day for more than 15 years (not to mention having worked there for about 5), I expected the absence to be a shock to my system, but in fact I have hardly missed the paper edition. I read some of it online, and the stuff I no longer read apparently wasn’t as indispensable to me as I once believed.

Since I haven’t really missed getting a dead-tree edition, I never expected that I would feel any temptation to restart my subscription, but I have to admit that the Times’s launch of expanded Bay Area coverage on Fridays and Sundays is slightly enticing, and I feel some temptation to support their efforts by subscribing again:

The Bay Area pages initially will be written and edited by New York Times journalists and contributors and will include enterprising coverage of local concerns, focusing on public affairs, culture and lifestyles in San Francisco, the Silicon Valley, the East Bay and the region. The pages will expand on the work of The Times’s 10-person San Francisco news bureau and its already extensive coverage of the Bay Area.

A longer-term objective of this initiative is to work with local journalists and news organizations in a collaborative way, first in the Bay Area and then in other major markets around the country. The Times is in discussions with news organizations in the Bay Area about supplying journalism for these pages.

The first Bay Area section will appear tomorrow, and next week the Times website will start a blog called “The Bay Area” as well. When it comes down to it, I probably won’t end up resubscribing because it’s quite expensive for me (just getting the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday paper costs a whopping $10.40 a week—more than $500 per year!), but even if I don’t start taking the paper again, I can see myself buying a hard copy on the occasional Friday or Sunday, which I never do these days. And just the fact that I feel even a slight temptation to resubscribe suggests to me that this is a smart move for the paper—this region is full of the sort of educated, well-to-do people that make up the NYT’s target audience, and if expanding local coverage tempts even a few readers to drop their subscriptions to the atrophying Chronicle or BANG papers, and switch to the NYT, then it’s probably an experiment worth trying. (Even if it doesn’t attract a significant number of new subscribers, but draws more people to the website, then it may still be worth it.)

As newspapers wobble and topple around the country, there are definitely vacuums to be filled, and it remains to be seen how much of the void will be filled by local blogs, or by the non-profit journalism startups that are popping up here and there, or by other so-called “new media.” (I’m dubious of many distinctions between “old media” and “new media”—there’s good journalism and there’s bad journalism, and that’s the more important distinction to make.) It makes sense, though, for a paper with the national reach of the Times to try to step into the space left by shrinking newsrooms at local papers around the country, and the Bay Area seems like a sensible place for them to start. I won’t predict whether this bet will ultimately pay off or not, but I’m glad to see them trying—as far as I’m concerned, the more regional reporting there is, the better off we are, whether it’s being done by local blogs, j-school students, non-profits, or a newspaper based on the other side of the country.  I for one hope they manage to pull it off—whatever complaints I may have about the Times, I certainly don’t want it to shrivel up and disappear.

11 Responses to “The New York Times Places a Bet on the Bay Area”

  1. m says:

    Interesting news (ha, no pun intended there), Dave. I had no idea about this.

    We usually buy the Sun. Times on Sat. nights but other than that we read it (and any other papers we read) online. We tried to read the Sunday paper online too but I find it too difficult. It’s too easy for me to miss stories I want to read when I just scan the Sun. paper online (through the Times’s ” Today’s Paper” format).

    I need to see the accompanying pictures and glance at the article along with the headline to be able to determine what it’s about and whether I want to read it. The headline alone–which is all I get in the format I use to read the Sun. Times online–often isn’t enough to even determine the topic of the piece, much less to know if I want to read it or not. And I am not about to click on every headline just to see if the topic is one I want to read about, that would take an eternity! I think for now at least the $5 or whatever it costs on Sundays is still worth it to us.

    Thanks for posting about this, I’m definitely going to check out their coverage. I think it’s a good idea for them. I remember reading some time ago that the Bay Area had the most NYT Sun. subscribers outside of the NY region or something like that? If that is true, then it’s an even better idea for them, I think. As it is they cover A LOT of Bay Area stuff, at least on Sundays, in my opinion, usually several stories each week and many of them big features. Or maybe it seems that way to me since those pieces stand out to me a lot.

  2. wordnerd says:

    The Times started enhancing its coverage of the Boston area about 20 years ago, and then they met their “longer-term objective of this initiative…to work with local journalists and news organizations in a collaborative way” by buying the Globe. This had its ups and downs, but recently they re-bought the Globe in a way (decidng not to sell it). Maybe the Chronicle is next…

  3. wordnerd says:

    If you read the Times article about Oakland’s new police chief, you are advised to check out this one, “of related interest”:

    Critic’s Notebook: Wine Lists That Elevate the Cellar

  4. ruth gutmann says:

    As for the NYT and its relationship with the Globe: yesterday they told the Globe staff that they will not sell (perhaps no one offered them even close to what they paid), because the Globe’s situation has improved. The Globe announced this in a front page headline.
    But today they came back and said that more salary and benefits cuts of around 10% (!) are likely.

    It has struck me — and a lot of others more expert in newspaper production than I, that the Globe, despite all the discouragement the NYT has dished up, has on the whole done a very good job in covering the Commonwealth, often in unexpected ways. Unfortunately too often there are too many sob stories for my appetite for this stuff, but perhaps the Globe feels a special sympathy for those folk.

    In the NYT a couple of days ago (?) Peter Baker reported that Joe Biden has been joined by others in his opinions on Afghanistan. That is what the headline said. The article contained not a single name.

  5. dc says:

    I doubt the Times company was even hoping to get close to what they paid for the Globe. If I remember correctly, they paid a little over a billion dollars for the Globe in 1991. I wouldn’t be so sure that you could get anyone to pay 1.1 billion for the entire NYT Company these days: that Mexican multibillionaire paid $128 million for a 6.4% share of the company a little over a year ago, which would put the total value of the company at about $2 billion—but the company’s stock (not to mention the prognosis for the newspaper industry) has gone significantly down since then, so the whole company really may not be worth any more than what they paid for the Globe almost 20 years ago (it’s hard to really judge how much they could get for the NYT Co, in part because they have an unusual public/private ownership system, and in part because the cachet and prestige of “The New York Times” might enable them to sell the company for more than it’s worth in strictly business terms).

    I assume the Times Company wrung some big profits out of the Globe in the early years of ownership, but it seems like they’ve been having significant buyer’s remorse over the past couple of years. The Globe is better than a lot of other regional papers around the country, that’s for sure—but it’s also not necessarily saying much.

  6. MontclairOak says:

    Today I picked up a print copy of the Grey Lady to get a read on this very-first Sunday paper with the new Bay Area section. There’s a little sticker on the front page enticing buyers. Then you flip behind the New York pages, and is basically two pages’ worth of editorial. How much of a splash will this make?

  7. dc says:

    Two pages twice a week certainly won’t entice anyone who wants comprehensive coverage of local topics, but I could see it luring people who are mostly looking for the more substantial national/international/business/arts coverage that the Times provides, with just a bit of local coverage to supplement the local TV news or websites or wherever else they get their local news. Lots of people in Oakland subscribe to the NYT without subscribing to the Tribune (or the Chronicle), and for some of them, 4 pages a week of Bay Area coverage could be one factor in deciding whether to cancel their subscriptions or not

    I hope the Times makes an effort to cover local stories in a timely way, rather than the typical NYT practice of coming into these regional stories on the late side, after they have been thoroughly covered by local media. I thought the article on our new police chief did a pretty good job of summing up the challenges he faces, but it was pretty much a rehash of stuff that was covered by the local press a month ago. I was surprised to hear that the NYT’s SF bureau now has 10 staffers in it (a decade ago, I think it was about half of that—maybe one national reporter, two tech/business reporters, one stringer and an office manager, or something like that). So they certainly have enough people to do real-time coverage of local issues—it just depends whether they choose to actively compete with the local papers, or are content to sit back and cover stories in a more Timesian fashion.

    Obviously the twice-a-week publication schedule makes it harder to do daily coverage of stories, but if they push their reporters to be aggressive, and use the new “Bay Area” blog in a good way, then it’s not impossible that they could actually break local news or cover some local stories as thoroughly as the local papers. (And it’s not as if the Chronicle provides comprehensive coverage of the East Bay either!)

    As I said in the post, I have no idea whether this effort will be a success or not (in journalistic terms or in business terms), but I’ll definitely be following their efforts with a fair amount of interest.

  8. Carol Polk says:

    In the early 1960s, my first husband and I had a home delivery service for the NYT in Dallas TX (I may have mentioned this before in another context). We lasted several years, during which the Times circulation people tried to get us to move to California and begin a home delivery service out here. They wanted us to come here but we were focused on grad school and academia so we declined. That paper has long-term ambitions, for sure.

  9. dc says:

    Carol: I actually don’t think you ever mentioned that to me before. I’m curious: was this same-day delivery of the daily paper? Where were the papers printed and distributed from? I didn’t know that the Times had any kind of national home-delivery programs back in the 60’s. I always assumed that national home-delivery came later, in the 80’s, when they started transmitting pages by satellite to printing plants around the country (local copies are printed in Walnut Creek).

    As for their ambitions, they are certainly long-standing and long-term, and they don’t stop at the national border. The Times is well on their way to transforming the International Herald Tribune—which until a couple of years ago was jointly owned by the Washington Post—into “The Global Edition of The New York Times.”

  10. nnyhav says:

    I get my news about NYT in SF via VQR:
    http://www.vqronline.org/blog/2009/11/23/bay-area-editions/

  11. dc says:

    I agree with his assessment. The Bay Area coverage is decent enough, but only a couple of articles have been noticed much around here. As I noted in my comment above (10/18), the two-day-a-week publication schedule makes it hard for the Times to do anything except follow up on news which has already been covered by the local press. They could make better use of the new blog to fill in the gaps, I think.

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