EVEN WHEN IT’S GOOD, ‘NEW YORK TIMES’ GETS SLAPPED

What Everyone Is Talking About Today

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- It is hard to distract investors, or media reporters for that matter, from the dominant trope of newspapers in atrophy; just this month, New York Magazine’s Kurt Andersen described papers as “an endangered species.”

But The New York Times Co. offered some evidence to the contrary in its Jan. 24 financial report, which included a fourth-quarter ad-revenue increase of 7.9% at The New York Times Media Group. Janet L. Robinson, president-CEO, said during a conference call that the gains resulted from more color capacity and strength among transportation, telecommunications and financial-services advertising.

Was Wall Street impressed? In a word, notsomuch.

Bear Stearns analyst Alexia S. Quadrani noted that the late-year growth had not carried over into January, which has suffered from weak studio entertainment and classified auto advertising.

Lauren Rich Fine, the Merrill Lynch analyst, told investors in a research note that she was looking for “sustainable” ad momentum. “In our view, management’s tone on the Q4 call changed from their more cautious stance in previous quarters to one expressing more optimism, which could be a sign of improved trends to come,” she wrote. “However, we also cannot forget the optimism expressed in past years/quarters that was not borne out.”

On the whole, fourth-quarter profit at The Times Co. fell 41% as increased revenue was undercut by costs related to the company’s ongoing job cuts -- themselves an attempt to cut costs and thereby please, yes, The Street. The company also announced that it will raise home-delivery rates by about 4%, effective Feb. 6.

Its closely-watched TimesSelect premium service, which allows access to Times columns and other content that was free online before September, grew a bit. About 156,000 people have signed up to pay for TimesSelect, the company said yesterday, up 21,000 from about 135,000 in November. Another 234,000 subscribers to the paper, who receive TimesSelect access free, have registered for the service. Online-only members pay either $49.95 annually or $7.95 monthly.

Forgetting Wall Street, which considers TimesSelect revenue so small that it is "non-material," media critics won't be won over by TimesSelect numbers like that. Slate’s Mickey Kaus wrote yesterday that 21,000 new paying subscribers is slow growth at best, adding: “It's a quagmire!”

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