Speaking of The New York Times, which is pretty much all we’ve been doing these past few days, have you read Mark Bowden’s piece in the upcoming Vanity Fair on Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.? It’s a good long one — despite the fact Sulzberger refused to talk to Cuban, and refused to allow his employees to do so either — and worth the read, particularly since troubles at the Times appear to be reaching a nadir these days. Here’s a taste:
Having squandered billions during the newspaper’s fat years — buying up all that stock, buying up failing newspapers, building a gleaming new headquarters — Arthur is scrambling to keep up with interest payments on hundreds of millions in debt, much of it falling due within the next year. To do so, he is peddling assets on ruinous terms. Arthur recently borrowed $250 million from Carlos Slim Helu, the Mexican telecommunications billionaire, who owns the fourth-largest stake in the Times Company. Controlling interest is held closely by the Sulzberger family, which owns 89 percent of the company’s Class B shares. These shares, not traded publicly, are held by a family trust designed to prevent individual heirs from selling out, and ultimately to shelter editorial matters from strict concern for the bottom line. The family owns about 20 percent of the Class A shares, which is about the same percentage owned by the hedge funds Harbinger and Firebrand. The third-largest Class A shareholder is T. Rowe Price, with 10 percent. Slim comes next, with 7 percent. Given the current state of the investment and credit markets, Slim would appear to have the inside rail should the paper ever be sold, a prospect once unthinkable. It is now very thinkable.
Many people are rooting for Arthur Sulzberger, and many people like him. It can be hard to persuade those who know him to talk candidly on the record. For this story, Arthur stuck by his decision to get out of the business of being interviewed, and he also declined to permit his employees to talk to me. Nevertheless, many did. I interviewed dozens of current and former Times reporters, editors, and business managers, as well as industry analysts, academics, and editors and publishers at rival newspapers. Nearly every one of them hopes that Arthur will succeed. Few expect that he can.