I’m tired of sitting in the basement of 620 Eighth Ave. bailing out Pinch. It’s no secret that we’re in trouble. In fact, it’s barely been six weeks since Jeremy Peters wrote the pre-obit for the paper, and already the ropes dangling from the newsroom are filled with departing rats. Net income down 57 percent? Losses in every franchise? That’s news that fits? I told Pinch to kill the story, but the kid told me the upside part of the story would sell:
The Times did report growth in one significant area. In the first glimpse at how its digital subscription plan is faring, the company said it had signed up more than 100,000 subscribers since March 28, when it began limiting the number of articles that visitors to NYTimes.com could read free. While it said the program was still too young to be declared a success, early signs indicated that readers were responding well.
Well, 100,000 subscribers! Except for this:
The New York Times has built in one more loophole to its online pay-meter scheme that it did not mention yesterday: Interstitial ads from Lincoln on The Times’ website are offering some readers “Free, Unlimited Access to NYTimes.com” for the rest of the year.
The value of that offer is close to $150. There’s no catch, either — you just have to be selected.
The offer will be made to about 200,000 of the Times’s heaviest online readers who aren’t home delivery subscribers, according to Lincoln, which expects about 100,000 people will actually activate it.
“Pinch,” I said, “it’s not good news when you offer a $150 subscription to the paper to 200,000 people and only half take it. But to admit that all your paywall ‘customers’ have climbed over with comp tickets in their hands?”
He didn’t want to hear it. “The Lincoln stuff isn’t in there, Walter,” he said.
“But the Dollar-Tree traffic is,” I said. “How are you going to convert them to Tiffany customers?”
He puts on his best quizzical face: “What’s Dollar Tree?” Sometimes, I feel like he’s the one who’s been dead for fifty years. Anyway, when Peters’ piece ran, which ad did Google serve up on the page? As Lucifer’s my witness: an ad for the-end.com. True story.
So now it’s first-rat-to-the-rope. First, it was the drama critic-who-wanted-to-be-Dowd, Frank Rich. Not even the paper’s stalwart tribe of aging, pet-doting women, the cat-talkers, could stand to read that guy.
Then it was that Schott kid. Ben. You have to figure that when even the funny-words columnist decides it’s time to go, it’s time to go. You don’t need a walking Roget’s when the writing on the wall says, “Emergency Exit.”
As the jumpers lined up on the window ledges, Pinch panicked and started loading the place with helium hacks. The new Frank Rich is the restaurant guy, Frank Bruni. How is he better than Rich? To quote the paper, “Mr. Bruni, 46, is the first openly gay Op-Ed columnist in The Times’s 160-year history.” That’s the kind of line that makes closets scream. (Dan Schorr was telling me he could hear Frank Rich saying, “Dang!” all the way down here.) To really boost Bruni’s self-esteem, his boss, Andy Rosenthal, pointed out that the new guy was “not a replacement for anyone or anything.” Anything? Not even an office chair? Not even Frank Rich?
Then yesterday, Pinch calls. He’s in one of those self-pitying moods of his: “Do you know the story of beauty and the beast?”
Yeah, Pinch. What about it?
“Beauty has left the building.” And five minutes later, Keller’s down the rope. Better down it than at the end of it, I say.
This morning, Gerry Boyd comes shuffling up, all depressed about Jill Abramson taking over for Keller: “Ms. Abramson will be the first woman to be editor in the paper’s 160-year history,” Peters wrote.
And obviously, she’s a replacement for something, as she was once before. “It wasn’t enough for her to be the new Gerald Boyd,” Boyd says to me. “Now she gets to be the new Howell Raines, too. Some people have all the luck.”
Jill’s not one.