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For sale or rent: Prime space at The New York Times?

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Beginning today, The New York Times is replacing its six pages of daily financial tables with two pages of what it calls “analytical tools and summary information on the markets and the economy.”

The Times is adding Web features for online readers. The Times will provide interested readers — meaning those registered at NYTimes.com — with “updated stock prices throughout the day, customized searches for investment ideas, detailed tracking of your portfolio(s) and e-mail alerts when your stocks are moving,” according to Tuesday’s two-page explanation of how the interactive site will work.

I don’t hang out in that tax bracket, so I’m not qualified to judge whether the change is a boon or a bust for financial types. I’ll leave that to others.

I’ll be watching something else: What will The Times do with the four pages of newsprint no longer devoted to financial tables? (Sunday’s Times will carry the full set of financial tables.) That’s 24 pages a week, 52 weeks a year, or 1,248 pages a year. At a circulation of 1.1 million on weekdays, that’s a ton, so to speak, of newsprint.

Will The Times use the space for advertising to bolster its sickly balance sheet? If so, in this coming age of national advertisers diving headlong into niches on the Web, who will step up to buy it?

Will The Times use the space for news, business or otherwise? If so, how? And who will report and write it? At six columns at 20 inches each per page, that’s 149,760 column inches of news copy a year. Figure each (usually lengthy and overwritten) Times story at 20 inches, and that’s 7,488 stories, not counting space for headlines and art. The Times newsroom is under intense pressure to justify its size, as are newspaper staffs everywhere. The Times cut 45 newsroom posts last year. Does The Times still have the staff horsepower to fill those four pages – and have that copy be meaningful?

Or will The Times just be four pages smaller each day? That’s a quick and easy way to save money, especially with newsprint costs per ton at a record $600-plus. (That’s why newspaper managements have been physically shrinking the size of their papers — to reduce newsprint costs.)

In this era of circulation growth slowing or circulation shrinking, saving money is foremost in the minds of newspaper execs. In fact, The Times predicted its first-quarter earnings per share to be down about two-thirds from a year ago. Gotta keep that stock price shored up, y’know.

As the saying goes, “watch this space” at The Times.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

April 4, 2006 at 10:22 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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