ASNE Notebook: Take Me Out to the Old Ball Game!

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By: Joe Strupp

Ask Arthur Sulzberger Jr. about the state of The New York Times Company and he is quick to tell you why it is not in trouble. Declaring recent shareholder angst, ?is behind us,? Sulzberger admits, ?we face the same challenges that everyone is facing,? but with a firm positive outlook.

?We have doubled our readership in the past 10 years [through Web and print],? he said during a chat with E&P Sunday night at a Parade magazine gathering held to kick off this week?s Capital Conference of ASNE/NAA/NEXPO. ?That is the point — the point isn?t how they come to us.?

Sipping a Diet Coke and enjoying the gathering at the new Washington Nationals ballpark, which included a session of batting practice and dugout open bars for guests, Sulzberger countered any criticism of recent Times financial uncertainties, and even talk of his own future, recalling stories dating back decades that had predicted the Times? demise. He then continued with data showing the paper is actually expanding.

?We just hit 800,000 of those print loyalists that have gotten The New York Times home delivered for two years or more,? he bragged. ?That used to be 550,000 just a few years ago. That is a really stable base. If you have them for two years or more, you have them for life.?

Sulzberger admitted that much of it comes from expanding its national edition reach, but also the paper?s continued efforts to cover news completely. ?One reason is national expansion,? he said. ?One is that this becomes a unique value product when most newspapers are cutting back.?

As he left, Sulzberger noted that he would not be among the editors and other newspaper executives lining up on the field below to take swings at the plate. ?I?m a rock climber and ride motorcycles,? he quipped. ?It is just not my thing.?

But that did not stop dozens of other party-goers who, after dining on lamb, sushi and shrimp cocktails in the National?s luxury suite area, flocked down below to stand in for the local college players and some National?s office staff who pitched to the guests for the entire night. Among the fist to take swings was Donald Graham, CEO of The Washington Post Company, complete in an authentic ?Nats?? cap.

?They didn?t sign me,? is all Graham would say after taking his swings. Others in line to do their part did slightly better. Among them, Bill Ketter, former editor of the Eagle-Tribune in Andover, Mass., and now vice president of news for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.

?This is fun; I got six hits,? Ketter reported after his turn at the plate as the line of would-be Cal Ripkens grew longer and longer. ?I was out in front of the ball.? Bob Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and a devoted Cleveland Indians fan, mixed hits and misses, but with good humor. ?It?s great fun and a lesson of what it is like to play here.?

As those in line waited for their turn, talk turned to some newspaper ups and downs, along with baseball facts and fun. ?I am hearing talk of news and tough times, and a little baseball,? said Anthony Moor, deputy managing editor/interactive, for the Dallas Morning News.

For Parade, the event was great promotion, with the magazine?s image, logo and promotional slogans blaring from the outfield scoreboard that usually displays batting averages, highlight clips and upcoming fan events. The party, which began with a red carpet entrance at the stadium?s main gate, ended with each guest receiving a Tiffany crystal baseball paper weight.

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