Hey, one more ominous day in the increasingly ominous life of the New York Times Co. The fact that the Times Co. announced plans to mortgage or sell its fancy headquarters building on the same day that the Tribune Co. took a step towards bankruptcy is really bad karma. Check this out, people: The New York Times Co. will eventually go bankrupt if it does not make a drastic change. No amount of fanboy love for Frank Rich or outcry from the journalism establishment will change this fact. Who will step in with a plan to save the paper of record? We will, improbably!
What the New York Times Co. Should Do Now:
Sell all of its holdings except the New York Times. Get the hell out of the public markets. Turn the paper into a nonprofit.
The New York Times Company has a $400 million debt payment due in five months, and management has not yet explained how it plans to meet this. The company is nearly out of cash, its operations are now burning cash, and its attempts to sell assets have, so far, been unsuccessful.
As we noted a month ago, the New York Times Company now has a negative current net worth: Over the next year, it will be required to shell out more than twice as much cash as it has on hand. The New York Times' long-term assets and liabilitities, meanwhile, are roughly equal: The value of the Red Sox stake and corporate headquarters approximately offset the company's long-term debt, pension plan, and other liabilities (at least according to their carrying values.)
Now I didn't go to Harvard Business School or even satisfactorily pass calculus, but "negative current net worth" is not good. The NYT needs to realize this is serious. The Sulzberger family is already rich. Get over it. You Sulzbergers may have to sacrifice a good portion of your possible total lifetime earnings in order to save the paper. It's worth it.
You have this to sell: The Boston Globe; 16 regional papers; About.com; a stake in the Boston Red Sox; and various other small investments. Sure, now is a terrible time to sell any of those things. It's also a terrible time to be a newspaper in general. Forget about how much money you'll lose by selling now; concentrate on doing what it takes to scrape together enough cash to take the company private.
Once the Times is private, turn it over to a foundation concerned only with perpetuating its tradition of good journalism, similar to the St. Petersburg Times. The NYT will have to continue working just as hard to figure out the future of a great newspaper in a digital world; but they won't have to worry about being eaten alive by investors while doing so.
Screw everything except survival now, Sulzbergers. Don't fuck this one up.