If the recession lasts another year, the New York Times will probably survive. If it lasts two more years, analysts aren't sure. That's one way of reading the latest reporting about the paper's future from the New York Times itself. By borrowing $250 million in January from a Mexican billionaire at what it calls "punishing terms," the paper, according to analysts, "has positioned itself well to ride out another year of recession, maybe two." The trouble is that the analysts also say that the Times accepted the punishing terms because they expect they will only be able to get even worse loan offers as the recession progresses. "Maybe two" years isn't a comfortingly distant horizon.
Another official revelation in the article: Somewhat morbidly, the longterm health of the New York Times is now understood by those who guide it to be conditional on the death of other newspapers across America. "There is a feeling among analysts that there is merit to the last-man-standing strategy," the Times reports. In 2010 or 2011, one analyst suggests, "there could be dramatically fewer newspapers," and absent those competitors, the Times should be able to prosper. To me this sounds a little bit like saying that in the event of a plague, there will be proportionally speaking a lot of canned food left over for survivors.
After editing the late John Leonard for sixty-nine months, during which despite regular chemotherapy he never missed a deadline, Jennifer Szalai of Harper’s magazine looks back to their first month working together (subscription required):
I had the young editor’s tendency to err on the far side of caution. My queries to John weren’t many, but their phrasing was that of someone who had never met a hair she wouldn’t split yet was shy about wielding the knife. I recently opened up the Microsoft Word document on which we did most of our edits for that [first] column, last saved at 8:22 P.M. on February 11, 2003, and I saw a bold-faced query of mine after John’s reference to “a techno-rave, ZyloFlex body armor, and some stun-gun sex.” I had bolded “stun-gun sex” and added, “John: Just to clarify: Is ‘stun-gun’ meant metaphorically here?”
No, it most emphatically wasn’t.
In Bookforum, Craig Seligman, author of the brilliant Sontag and Kael, wonders what to make of the sexual revelations in the first volume of Susan Sontag's journals, which he likens to an explosion and which, like me, he finds "riveting":
So, surprise—she was human. The inverse parabola that Reborn traces—the high of her sexual initiation, the low of her marriage, and her eventual reawakening (her real rebirth)—constitutes a gay-liberation paradigm so obvious it borders on the banal. Except that, as we all know, the story didn’t end so crisply. Sontag came no further out of the closet before the wider public until she was forced to by a pair of hostile biographers in 2000. There’s been endless speculation as to why she remained so tight-lipped. A lot of people have called her a coward.
I don’t think there was anything cowardly about her, though. It was more complicated than that. Her sexuality wasn’t what she wanted the conversation to be about—and she always thought she could control the conversation.
In October, the Christian Science Monitor announced that as of April it will no longer be printed on paper. The Newark Star-Ledger announced a 40 percent staff cut. Radar closed, for what seemed like the fourteenth time, and Culture and Travel closed for the first and probably only time. Time, Inc. announced it would be laying off six hundred staffers, and the Gannett news chain announced it would be laying off 10 percent of its workforce. Condé Nast shrank Men's Vogue into a Vogue supplement, pruned Portfolio down to ten issues a year, and asked its other magazines to cut budgets by 10 percent.
In November, the publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said it was not going to purchase any new manuscripts in the foreseeable future. U.S. News and World Report announced that it, too, would go all-web, except for consumer guides.
In December, Fine Books & Collectibles said it was trading in its print magazine for an electronic newsletter, and the Rare Book Review ceased publication altogether. On so-called Black Wednesday, Simon & Schuster laid off thirty-five staffers, Penguin and Harper Collins froze salaries, and Random House underwent a massive consolidation, turning five divisions into three, a change expected to lead to many more layoffs. A few days later, the New York Times quietly announced it was putting up its new building as collateral for a loan of cash. Then Tribune Company, the owner of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune filed for bankruptcy. And today Macmillan, owner of FSG, Picador, and St. Martin's, joined Penguin and Harper in a salary freeze.