Is Olympic Coverage Worth $412,000?

The New York Times has 32 reporters covering the Olympics in Beijing. Thirty-two! That's quite an investment from a company in the newspaper industry. Any big cash outlay is risky these days. Without relying on the crutch of "official budget numbers," we combined our sophisticated economic estimation skills with a patented "Media Value" formula to determine: Is this Olympics coverage worth the cost? Read on!

How Much Does It Cost?

Travel: Expedia is offering four-night packages to Beijing right now for $1570. The Olympics are two weeks long. Throw in an extra day on either end, and we'll call basic travel and housing costs $6,000 per reporter. Total: $192,000

Food and drinks: Plenty of the food will be free. The booze will be extra. And you know traveling reporters love to splurge on the expense account. We'll give a conservative estimate of $150 per day per reporter. Total: about $67,000

Security, guides and transportation: Americans are getting stabbed! Somebody has to keep an eye on these reporters' safety. Let's say $25k for protection. The Times needs handlers to show them around Beijing: we'll call that $50k over two weeks. Add in another $100 per day per reporter for taxis and whatnot. Total: about $80,000

Freelancers: Somebody has to cover the house fires, baseball games, political rallies, and whatever else the Times full-timers would have been writing about normally. Let's say each reporter at the Olympics would have written three stories per week that the paper had to freelance out at $300 each. Total: about $57,000

Miscellaneous: Laundry bills, souvenirs, pens, computer charges, phone bills, and other things reporters sneak onto expense accounts, legitimate or not. Call it an extra $500 per reporter. Total: $16,000

Total extra cost of sending reporters to Beijing, not including salaries, insurance, or bribe money: $412,000

What's It Worth?

Let's say, for ease of calculation, that each reporter writes one story per day on average for two weeks. That's 448 stories total for the Times' fancy Olympic section. Yes, some stories will be epic features and some will be throwaway coverage of particular events, but we figure that evens out. The total extra cost per story, then, is about $920.

Those better be some awesome stories, right? But divide it by a million papers per day, and it comes out to a total of less than three cents per day for the entire Olympic Times contingent. So the real question is: Would you pay three cents a day to read what the New York Times has to say about the Olympics?

It's a philosophical question.

[Any NYT people who'd like to correct our calculations, email us]