NY Times Publisher: “I Really Don’t Know Whether We’ll Be Printing The Times In Five Years”

Found in today’s Haaretz (via TechMeme) an interview with Arthur Sulzberger, owner, chairman and publisher of the New York Times company. In this interview, he gives readers honest answers to tough questions. Here are the highlights:

  • Given the constant erosion of the printed press, do you see the New York Times still being printed in five years?

“I really don’t know whether we’ll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don’t care, either,” he says. He’s looking at how best to manage the transition from print to Internet. “Internet is a wonderful place to be and we’re leading there,” he adds. The Times has doubled its online readership, and now has 1.1 million subscribing to the print edition – and 1.5 million readers online, each day.

  • Asked if local papers have a future, Sulzberger points out that the New York Times is not a local paper, but rather a national one based in New York that enjoys more readers from outside, than within, the city.
  • Classifieds have long been a major source of income to the press, but the business is moving to the Internet.

Sulzberger agrees, but what papers lose, Web sites gain. Media groups can develop their online advertising business, he explains. Also, because Internet advertising doesn’t involve paper, ink and distribution, companies can earn the same amount of money even if it receives less advertising revenue.

  • The New York Times recently merged its print and online news desks. Did it go smoothly, or were there ruffled feathers? Which team is leading the way today?

“You know what a newspaper’s news desk is like? It’s like the emergency room at a hospital, or an office in the military. Both organizations are very goal-oriented, and both are very hard to change,” Sulzberger says. Once change begins, it happens quickly, so the transition was difficult, he says. “But once the journalists grasped the concept, they flipped and embraced it, and supported the move.”

  • How are you preparing for changes to the paper that are dictated by the Internet?

“We live in the Internet world. We have, for example, five people working in a special development unit whose only job is to initiate and develop things related to the electronic world – Internet, cellular, whatever comes. The average age of readers of the New York Times print edition is 42, Sulzberger says, and that hasn’t changed in 10 years. The average age of readers of its Internet edition is 37, which shows that the group is also managing to recruit young readers for both the printed version and Web site.

  • In the age of bloggers, what is the future of online newspapers and the profession in general?

There are millions of bloggers out there, and if the Times forgets who and what they are, it will lose the war, and rightly so, according to Sulzberger. “We are curators, curators of news. People don’t click onto the New York Times to read blogs. They want reliable news that they can trust,” he says. “We aren’t ignoring what’s happening. We understand that the newspaper is not the focal point of city life as it was 10 years ago. “Once upon a time, people had to read the paper to find out what was going on in theater. Today there are hundreds of forums and sites with that information,” he says. “But the paper can integrate material from bloggers and external writers. We need to be part of that community and to have dialogue with the online world.”

What it means: I think it’s the first time I read an interview with a print media executive that clearly states that their goal is to manage the transition from print to online. I believe it’s a very candid view at what’s happening behind the scenes in the New York Times Company boardroom and possibly at all newspapers around the world. I also like the concept of the New York Times, as a trusted brand, being the curator of news, i.e. an aggregator of trusted news sources (including blogs). Finally, the NY Times chairman seems to embrace the fact that the New York Times is an authoritative international newspaper brand.

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