THE BLOG
07/30/2014 05:50 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2014

How To Save the 'New York Times'

The New York Times is in trouble.

The paper recently announced that earnings had declined by 54 percent in the second quarter. Then Wednesday, the paper said it was contemplating a 'shrunken' edition of the paper - a smaller printed edition.

It would be tragic to see a great institution like the New York Times disappear, but it is entirely possible, I suppose.

The problem with the newspaper is that they continue to see themselves as a newspaper, either a print version (smaller or larger makes no difference), or an online version of the same.

They are not.

The New York Times (and other newspapers and magazines) are in fact what we might call content creation machines. They are in the business of creating content. How that content gets processed, distributed and consumed does not matter, or at least should not matter.

For more than 150 years the best way to process, distribute and consume content was ink on paper. This was true for newspapers and magazines. Today, that is no longer the case.

Text online might also not be the most profitable way to process content, even if it is a simple step from print to screen. Revenue from online advertising is but a pale shadow of the old dependable revenue from print ads. So the Times, and other papers, find themselves in a bind.

But what then is the most profitable way to harness the extraordinary content creation machine that is the New York Times (and other newspapers)?

In 1992, I created a small, yet interesting content creation company called Video News International. It was the very first 'videojournalist' company in the world. I had equipped and trained 100 "VJs" around the world to shoot and produce video content on their own. In 1994, I sold that company to the New York Times and became the president of what was then called New York Times Television.

The paper had absolutely no interest in either video or TV. Joe Lelyveld, the managing editor of the paper told me quite proudly that he did not even own a TV set. And he forbade me from using the Times or its journalism for something so vulgar as TV.

Instead, we took the VJ concept and applied to to producing TV shows for cable. Like the journalism side, it was fast, very inexpensive and produced an excellent product. So excellent, that in our very first year we won the national Emmy for News and Documentaries.

In a very few years, New York Times Television grew to be the largest producer of non-fiction TV on the East Coast - a very profitable business with programs on TLC, Discovery, National Geographic Channel, Showtime, Travel Channel, etc.

That company no longer exists. The Times got out of the 'business' of producing TV shows in any serious way years ago.

Yet television, it turns out, is a very, very profitable business. The Discovery Network has a valuation of $19 billion. The New York Times has a valuation of $950 million.

Each day, the New York Times produces far more 'content' than The Discovery Networks - and, in my humble opinion, far better content.

What they don't do is produce it in a format that people want to see.

People want to watch TV. (Don't ask me why, but they do). The average American watches five hours of TV a day. If the average American read the newspaper for five hours a day, every day, we would be a very different country - but we don't.

What we do do, is watch TV.

Lots and lots of it.

How hard would it be to turn the New York Times into television - into a television network?

Not hard at all.

All of the major pieces, the really hard work is there already - and available by the boatload.

Arts
Music
Culture
Dance
News
Real Estate
Style
Science

How many networks do you want?

Could the New York Times be turned into the world's most powerful and profitable TV network? I think so.

Will they?

I think not.

As Joe Lelyveld once said to me: "we are a newspaper."

And therein lies the basic problem.