The announcement that the New York Times Company wants to sell the New England Media Group (including the Boston Globe) and focus on its flagship title illustrates how the New York Times is leaving the U.S. newspaper industry behind.
The paper that Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Sr. worked to transform from a Manhattan-based operation into a national operation through satellite printing and regional editions his son Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. now works to turn into a truly global news content company through an emphasis on digital subscriptions and new Portuguese and Chinese language editions oriented towards cosmopolitan elites in emerging markets.
This transition from metropolitan newspaper with national aspirations to metropolitan news organization with both national and international readership is not an easy move for the New York Times. But it is an impossible move to even contemplate for the Boston Globe, let alone the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, the two titles that, with various related operations, make up the bulk of the New England Media Group.
By putting the New England Media Group up for sales, the New York Times Company and its new CEO, former BBC General Director Mark Thompson, has implicitly acknowledged that searching for a way forward for the Globe and the Telegram & Gazette, important as that is in itself, is an unwelcome distraction from the company's primary objective of moving the flagship title forward by building the national and international audience.
It is no longer clear that the Times has much in common with these titles, or that the synergies sought when they were bought in 1993 (in joint advertising sales, for example) matter very much anymore. It is, however, clear that these titles do not have the resources or the brand to cater to the global audience the New York Times itself seeks, and that they are now probably losing money or at best breaking even.
The Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and hundreds of other metropolitan and local daily newspapers around the U.S., will have to find their own way forward instead. Proud titles from the LA Times and the Dallas Morning News to the Tulsa World and the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey, and countless smaller newspapers, face many of the same challenges of declining print readership, flagging advertising revenues, and unprofitable digital operations that the New York Times has struggles with. But they cannot go global.
Their future, in all likelihood, involves a move in the opposite direction, with a greater focus on being the most trustworthy source of news about local issues. It probably also involves further downsizing as local news organizations try to find a sustainable model based on local readers rather than the advertisers who are leaving in droves and/or paying less for ads. It may also necessitate investors less focused on short-term quarterly profits and more towards building a long-term sustainable model for local news production, even if it may never be as lucrative as it was in the 1980s and 1990s. It could well see the most successful American local newspapers become more like their much more robust German counterparts, who have, with their strong connection to their local communities, substantial paying readerships, and less advertising-dependent business models, so far fared better during the digital transition than many other newspapers.
Whatever that future is, it is not the future of the New York Times, a news organization that is leaving the U.S. newspaper industry behind.