The Times in two years will be Coulter-thin

Isn’t it the society ladies’ saying, you can’t be too rich or too thin? Will the Times staff is neither rich, nor yet thin. But it’s getting there due to the editors stacking the remaining loyal ads they have on fewer pages. Yesterday, The Times editors announced they will finally be trimming the width of the paper by 1.5 inches… in about two years, that is.

Excerpts by Tom Scocca and Gabriel Sherman of the NY Observer

On the evening of July 17, The New York Times announced plans to cut the width of its pages by one and a half inches, or 11 percent.

On July 18, New York Times stock dropped from 23.18 cents a share to 22.67 cents–a decline of 2.2 percent.

In joint memos announcing the page shrinkage, executive editor Bill Keller and Times president Scott Heekin-Canedy both described the smaller format as “reader-friendly.” Mr. Keller also described it as the emerging “industry norm,” which was true: Whatever readers may or may not think of the floppy (or generous) old broadsheet size, the newspaper business has agreed that it is too much–a symbol of archaic inefficiency.

Cutting, then, has become an efficiency ritual: a way of demonstrating that a newspaper is not too attached to … well, to newspaper.

Or to employees. When the smaller Times appears in April 2008, according to plan, the company will have consolidated its printing at its College Point facility, closing its Edison, N.J., plant and eliminating 250 of 800 printing jobs. Pressmen’s Union No. 2 signed a 12-year contract extension with The Times in 2004, agreeing to a 50 percent reduction in its ranks by 2017. Those cuts were supposed to have come through gradual buyouts, after one major initial cutback.

Mr. Keller wrote in his memo that the announcement had come late in the day so that the company could first break the news to the production workers when they arrived for the night shift.

“We just found out,” said John, a pressroom clerk at the Edison plant, who declined to give his last name, when reached by phone July 18. “We’re just trying to digest this.”

The Times’ own news story about the move described papers cutting size industry-wide “as the price of newsprint climbs and newspapers lose readers and advertisers to the Internet.” But correlation is not causation–and in this case, it’s not even correlation. Last year, Slate’s Jack Shafer, following on the work of Philip Meyer in the Columbia Journalism Review, noted that inflation-adjusted newsprint costs are well below their historic peaks.

The Times liberal bias is part of the equation, but that is to be read between the lines. The editor-centric management of The Times Empire, believe they are proving that they can manage expenses by putting out press releases about a cut in newsprint two years from now. What? Can you imagine if Borden Milk sent out a press release saying they would cut down on the use of cardboard by 1.5 inches in total, two years from now?

Note to Times editors: Your readers, advertisers and stockholders are not going to fall for your false belt tightening. NY Times stock will continue to fall.

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