Does the future of journalism hang on a Tiffany bracelet?

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Wanted: readers with disposable cash
  • tiffa130
  • Wanted: readers with disposable cash
The Sunday New York Times is always hefty, but this past Sunday half the weight was T, the paper's style magazine, which measured in at 225 glossy pages.

Starting from the front of the book, I trekked through a forest of models—page after page of lanky trees flaunting Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Prada, Calvin Klein, Hermes, Dior, Burberry, Bottega Veneta, Celine, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, MaxMara, Missoni, and Babette—until, on page 70, I emerged into a clearing with editorial flora (a letter from T's editor).

Such a long chain of stern models makes a journalist think of only one subject: money.

According to the magazine's online rate card, a one-page ad in T goes for $91,025.

Just four ads in T would cover my salary and leave a few hundred grand for the salary of my colleague Mick Dumke. (Ben Joravsky makes more than Mick and I combined, but he's paid out of a special TIF fund.)

I counted 136 ad pages in all in T. At $91,025 per, that would be $12,379,400. Because advertisers get discounts for volume contracts, the Times may only walk away with a mere $10 million or so. T is published 13 times a year.

Thus does the acquisitive 1 percent keep journalism alive—at least for news companies like the Times who have access to the well-heeled herd.

Speaking of heels, in this issue of T, a feature called "A Cultural Compendium" breaks the news that "the classic pointy-toe heel is back." The four that are shown range from $595 to $1,220, all offered, serendipitously, by T advertisers.

The NYT's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, wrote last month about the company's financial struggles. She noted that in last year's third quarter, operating profit was down 60 percent from the previous year for the company's newspaper group, which also includes the Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune. The villain? "Print advertising continued its downward spiral, dropping by 11 percent," Sullivan observed, "and nothing in the digital world—neither advertising nor subscriptions—was coming close to making up the difference." A recent report on the fourth quarter showed ad revenue continuing its decline.

Imagine how bad the bad news would be for the Times without its T. If only all news shops had such a lifeline. But the lifeline has its limits: as much as the NYT might want to occupy the rich even more, it can't simply run T twice as often, since it would drain ads from the rest of the paper. (As it is, the move to 13 issues a year, announced by the T editor in her letter, is a drop from 15.)

The good news for the Times, as Sullivan noted: circulation revenue is up. In 2012, between the circulation good news and the advertising bad news, the NYT for the first time made more from people buying the paper or digital access to it than from ads.

"The challenges are complex," Sullivan wrote, "but, in the end, a newspaper company's success still comes down to the reader: the person who chooses to subscribe, who clicks on the advertising or buys the Tiffany bracelet, who finds the reporting impossible—or quite possible—to do without."

"The reader has always been the most critical element," Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. told Sullivan. "The idea is that quality journalism produces a quality reader who attracts quality advertising."

Quality journalism is a subjective thing. But not quality readers; they're the ones with the quality bank accounts.

UPDATE And this just in: responding to criticism over the interminable whiteness of T's models and article subjects, the mag's editor promises "to celebrate quality and beauty in all its diverse forms" in future issues.

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