Media Fairy Tales: Wealthy Colleges to Buy NYT

newyorktimes.jpgWith The New York Times facing declining revenue and worse expectations, media watchers across the industry are developing strategies to prevent the Gray Lady from suffering the fate of The Wall Street Journal. The latest: colleges and universities to the rescue.

In the current issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Lee Smith, a former senior writer at Fortune, makes an impassioned plea that the seven wealthiest private universities should pool their resources to purchase the paper:

What if the Sulzbergers could sell their shares to a trustworthy investor, one that was interested in maximizing intellectual value rather than financial value? The endowments of the nation’s seven wealthiest private universities — Harvard University, Yale University, Stanford University, Princeton University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, and the University of Pennsylvania — would be that reliable proprietor. At the end of the most recent fiscal year their combined endowments totaled just under $114-billion. If each university put three percent of its endowment in a pool, the sum of $3.4-billion would very likely be enough to buy the paper. At that price the current shareholders, Sulzbergers and non-Sulzbergers alike, would receive a premium of $1-billion above the market price.

Smith writes the goal of purchasing the Times “would be to help ensure the continuing availability of the kind of information that helps make intellectual life possible,” but doesn’t abandon the money aspect completely, advocating that “for the CEO to keep his or her job, the Times would have to pass some sort of financial test, such as being at least marginally profitable in any five-year period.”

Our favorite line: “If the Bancrofts thought the news business had a financial future, they might not have sold to Murdoch.” Agreed.