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Ben Smith's Testimony
About Working at The New York Times


The American journalist Ben Smith in January became a media columnist at the New York Times. Smith was previously employed at BuzzFeed News, where he was editor in chief for eight years. Now Smith is giving his testimony about working at The Times and about the type of journalism that the newspaper of New York produces every day.

Smith talks about the consolidation of the NYT in the media industry. According to the most recent data, the company has gained more digital subscribers than The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the 250 local Garnett papers combined. The Times employs 1,700 journalists and it has absorbed many of the people who once threatened it: the former top editors of Gawker, Recode, and Quartz are all at The Times, as are many of the reporters of Politico.

Even Smith spent his whole career competing against The Times "so now coming to work here feels like a bit giving in" says the journalist.

"The New York Times is going to basically be a monopoly," predicted Jim VandeHei, the founder of Axios, which started in 2016 with plans to sell digital subscriptions but has yet to do so. "The Times will get bigger and the niche will get nichier, and nothing else will survive."

Janice Min, the editor who reinvented The Hollywood Reporter, said that in the publishing universe people are talking about The Times the way Hollywood's people are talking about Netflix.

The rise of The Times from wounded giant to reigning colossus has been as breathtaking as that of any start-up. As recently as 2014, print advertising was collapsing and the idea that subscribers would pay enough to support the company's expensive global news gathering seemed like a pipe dream. "We sold off every bit of the company we could sell off to hold our journalism investment as flat as humanly possible" said Mr. Sulzberger, who became publisher in 2018, "Everybody thought it was financially irresponsible". Just a few years later, amid a deepening crisis in American journalism, and a sustained attack from the President of the United States, Times stock has rebounded to nearly triple what it was in 2014 and the newsroom has added 400 employees. The starting salary for most reporters is $104,600.

Now the paper is trying to gain dominance in another industry: audio. The Times is in exclusive talks to acquire Serial Productions, the breakthrough podcast studio that has attracted more than 300 million downloads. Serial was for sale at a valuation of about $75 million, according to two people who were briefed on the deal, though The Times is expected to pay significantly less. The dial could form the basis for an ambitious new product that, according to executives, could become the HBO of podcasts.

Mr. Sulzberger still cannot believe it when you mention the word "monopoly", he still sees plenty of competition for The Times. "What I actually think you're seeing is not a winner-take-all dynamic — what you're actually seeing is a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats dynamism," said Mr. Sulzberger.

What's more The Times has become a model for the weaker cousins. "The Times has shown the rest of the industry a path to some success," said Brian McGrory, editor of The Boston Globe, which has attracted more than 100,000 digital subscribers.

Smith reflects on his choice to join The Times: "I'm proud to be leaving BuzzFeed News as one of a handful of strong, independent newsrooms still standing amid the rubble of consolidation. But I miss the wide open moment 10 years ago, when we were among a wave of new players reimagining what news meant. My job as columnist here will be an exciting and uncomfortable one — covering this new media age from inside one of its titans".

Bianca Damato

[27.3.2020 - 12:08]



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