Gray Lady of newspapers ready for infusion of color

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Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the 46-year-old publisher of The New York Times, is ready to leave his imprint on the newspaper his family has run for 101 years, and it will be in color.

In the most significant redesign in 20 years, the Gray Lady on Sept. 15 will add two new sections to create a six-section daily newspaper, and every section every day will carry color, including the front page.

"People often say that they believe color is un-Timesian. I say only poor quality color is un-Timesian," Mr. Sulzberger said. Referring to the Times taking its time to add color, he said, "We wanted to wait until we could do it at the level of quality that people would expect from the Times."


A new flight of the paper's national TV and print ad campaign, under the tagline, "Expect the world," will air this fall introducing the new sections, via Bozell Worldwide, New York.

The New York Times Co. began working on suburban color-printing facilities 10 years ago, and over that decade has invested $750 million.

The plant in College Point, N.Y., will allow the Times 3 more hours for late-breaking news and sports scores, a key benefit in Mr. Sulzberger's view.

"We were trying to do a couple things with these changes," noted Mr. Sulzberger, "but one of the most important was to buy more time to collect the news, to shrink the time between when we speak and when readers listen. We've just bought 3 hours."

Other New York newspapers have started moving toward color by building their own printing facilities outside the city.

The Daily News will start printing color in its metro edition on Sept. 9, but won't start selling color ads until the editorial color is established, said Exec VP-Associate Publisher Les Goodstein.

Also adding color is the paper's Sunday Extra insert. The national edition of the News has had limited color for two months.

The New York Post, meanwhile, is adding an eight-page color listing of prime-time TV programming, put together by the editors of TV Guide. Both properties are owned by Rupert Murdoch's News America.

In addition to the move to color, The New York Times has boosted distribution and now boasts that it is the only national paper that publishes seven days a week. The Wall Street Journal and USA Today publish Monday through Friday.

The Times is averaging 1.7 million copies on Sunday, and a little more than 1 million copies on weekdays. USA Today averages 1.7 million copies, while WSJ reaches 1.8 million nationally.


The main factor driving the use of color is increased advertising, especially national ads. Last year, business and cultural advertisers were asked to run all their ads in the national edition in addition to the New York regional, and that led "to a strong uptick in our national linage," said Times President-General Manager Janet Robinson.

Overall, 1997 ad linage for the Times through July was up 4.3%, to 2,226,700 inches, with national ad linage up 7.2%, to 732,100 inches, representing 32.9% of all advertising, according to internal Times reckoning.

For now, however, color advertising in all sections is only in the New York regional paper.

"They seem to realize that this is bigger news to them than it will be to the rest of the world," said Lisa Seward, media director at Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis. "It's a bit of a catch-up, and they admit that."

Others are betting the Times' learning curve will be short, and that the paper will be able to benefit from the new format.


"I think it opens considerable new avenues for them," said Hugh O'Brien, executive director of marketing services at Temerlin McClain, Dallas.

"As they get more national, it makes them more viable for certain advertising rather than just being relegated to a local medium. And the color puts them into play for campaigns that may have been limited just to the Sunday sections," he said.

Mr. Sulzberger said the changes follow a time-honored family tradition. When his great-grandfather, Adolph S. Ochs, paid $75,000 for a then-failing newspaper in 1896, he created the "Book Review" and Sunday magazine. In 1977, Mr. Sulzberger's father, company Chairman Arthur "Punch" Sulzberger, created the four-section format that will be used until next week.

"We're using a formula that goes back to Adolph Ochs," the younger Mr. Sulzberger said last week. "In the past, when the company has reinvested in the editorial, profitability skyrocketed."


Times Co. profits have been sluggish and the publicly held company has been pressured by analysts to improve performance. With the capital investment for color behind it, the company's stock should see a boost, said First Boston media analyst Stephen Barlo.

"They've demonstrated that they have the ability to grow and change, which was important," Mr. Barlo said. "With the free cash flow they will now be able to have, I anticipate a major acquisition in the next year or two. I think they will be able to generate up to $250 million in free cash flow next year."

More important is the long-term outlook for the Times brand. In a world of Internet access and 24-hour TV news channels, the paper of record needs to maintain its image as one of the nation's trusted information sources.

Said Mr. Sulzberger: "We wanted to create the newspaper for the next century. The equipment we needed to do that has been paid for, and now we are ready to reap the benefits."

"Each generation gets just one chance to make their mark on this newspaper," he added. "This is ours."

Copyright September 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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