New York magazine’s recent profile of New York Times Co. (NYSE:NYT) Chairman Arthur Sulzberger does a great job portraying the family drama and economic pressures that led to the ouster of his one-time friend CEO Janet Robinson. Perhaps hoping to end the depressing story on an optimistic note, the article raised the notion that Bloomberg L.P., the private media company founded by New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, would ride to the rescue of the beleaguered publisher “and save the paper from itself, a kind of best worst-case scenario for the Ochs-Sulzberger family.”
This is wishful thinking.
Bloomberg, where I worked for seven years, doesn’t need The New York Times even if the company were for sale, which from all appearances it isn’t. Though pulling another prestigious brand — having already acquired BusinessWeek in 2009 from McGraw-Hill (NYSE:MHP) — under its umbrella would be a feather in Bloomberg’s cap, it’s hard to imagine a compelling case for an acquisition that would likely top $1 billion and provide no significant benefit to its bottom line.
Moreover, it would create gigantic public relations headaches for Bloomberg the mayor, who still controls the company he founded.
For one thing, the news service’s content is as good if not better than the Gray Lady’s. The closely held company already has a network of 146 bureaus stretching from Abuja to Zurich that’s the envy of many in the media world. At a time when scads of news organizations — including the Times — are retrenching, Bloomberg has added coverage, including Bloomberg View, its op-ed page. The company now employs what it describes as more than 2,300 news and multimedia professionals that provide real-time financial information to more than 310,000 subscribers.
One way that Bloomberg keeps these people glued to their Bloomberg Terminals is by telling them everything that they need to know, such as what’s in The New York Times. All the paper’s main stories are summarized every day, along with those of other major outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and CNBC, making the actual purchase of the Times unnecessary.
Managing journalists is like herding cats in the best of times, and integrating the 1,200 or so reporters and editors who work for the Times into Bloomberg’s investment-bank-like corporate culture would be a nightmare. There would be tons of duplication with Bloomberg’s existing news infrastructure, so it’s not clear how many Times staffers would be offered jobs at the new company. Following the BusinessWeek acquisition, about 100 employees were not offered jobs with Bloomberg News.
A Times deal would also represent a departure from previous Bloomberg acquisitions, which either were small, such as the BusinessWeek purchase, or last year’s $990 million acquisition of BNA, which bolstered its legal research and regulatory coverage.
The Times would present other gigantic hassles for Bloomberg. For one thing, it’s unlikely that the company would have much use for New York Times Co.’s other businesses, such as About.com, which, as the New York article pointed out, is in big trouble because of a change in Google‘s (NASDAQ:GOOG) search algorithm. Bloomberg would also likely dispose of the company’s New England Media Group, which includes The Boston Globe. Finding suitable buyers for those properties wouldn’t be easy,
Finally, buying the Times would place Mike Bloomberg in an untenable situation. If the paper praised the mayor, its competitors would paint it as a sycophant on issues both large and small. To avoid any semblance of favoritism, the mayor would have to go out of his way to court the Times‘ rivals.
New York Times Co. is adrift. Its share price is in free fall, and it lacks a CEO. Neither Bloomberg nor any other suitor owns a big enough magic wand to make the company’s problems disappear.
Jonathan Berr is a former Bloomberg News reporter. He doesn’t own shares of any companies mentioned here. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.