Bill Keller, the editor of the New York Times, is answering questions from readers this week on the NYT website. He extolls the virtues of good journalism and explains the pressures facing his paper, while also throwing cold water on that media boomlet over the claim that the Los Angeles Times website takes in enough online revenue to cover the costs of the newsroom payroll. (But only the payroll, and only the newsroom.) The relevant part:
There are other major costs — in the newsroom budget, and in other budgets not attributed to the newsroom — that do not go away just because print goes away. There is the cost of equipment — computers, cameras, telephones, etc. There is the cost of travel. There is the cost of real estate; even a decentralized newsroom has to work somewhere. There is the cost of foreign bureaus, including the cost of security in places like Baghdad and Kabul. Beyond the newsroom itself, there is the cost of an ad sales department, the cost of lawyers who negotiate contracts and help keep reporters out of jail, the cost of the people who manage the money and file the tax returns and oversee compliance with the Securities and Exchange Commission, among other agencies. None of that disappears just because you stop publishing on newsprint.
To reach its current payroll, The L.A. Times had to eviscerate its reporting and editing staff. Not that many years ago, The L.A. Times had approximately as many journalists as The New York Times. It had a robust network of foreign bureaus, and a truly competitive Washington bureau, and a free-standing book review. It now has approximately half the journalists of its heyday, has subjected its foreign and Washington bureaus to wrenching cuts, folded its book review, and so on. I've read The Los Angeles Times since I was a college student in Southern California, I admire the editors who are trying to weather a period of ruthless ownership, and I still follow its coverage. But it is not what it once was.