Pity the poor promotional gurus at the New York Times Company. Just as they were wrapping themselves around a kinder, gentler digital subscription pitch — keyed to the notion that reading The Times can feed civil conversations among those who disagree — a Twitter mob descended on a headline that wasn’t sufficiently anti-Trump, even while chief executive Mark Thompson was warning that ad revenue may be soft in the third quarter. So the stock got thumped for a 12.17 percent loss Wednesday, notwithstanding a fairly good second-quarter earnings report.
Such is the reward for trying to be nice, and honest, in the contemporary news business.
Those promotional gurus hadn’t abandoned their previously mentioned never-ending “deadline” sale, offering digital subscriptions to the Times at a steeply discounted $1 a week. But the latest version, which “expired” last week (oops, it’s back again this morning, “Today Only”!), was much warmer and fuzzier than earlier sales, which had pushed “groundbreaking reporting,” “thought-provoking journalism,” and “the truth.”
This time around, the deadline sale emails featured a series of cute little mismatched cartoon creatures. A white sock and a black sock. A puffer and a starfish. An apple and an orange. “What did you think of that piece in The Times?” one would ask the other — as if a question like that wouldn’t turn someone into a sock full of sushi marmalade in this deeply angry era.
Anger from the left appeared to knock the Times off balance on Tuesday. In the wake of mass murders in Dayton and El Paso, the paper ran a headline that read: “Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism.” Those who blame Donald Trump for said racism pounded the Times with a Twitter campaign tagged #CancelNYT. Between editions, the headline was changed to: “Assailing Hate But Not Guns.”
But the happy fruit campaign no longer looked like a winner. When the New York Times Company reported earnings on Wednesday, it could point to a rise in revenue, up 5.2 percent, and in paid subscriptions, to 4.7 million, a new high. True, operating income was down more than 5 percent, to $37.9 million from $40 million a year earlier. But digital subscriptions – helped along by the never-ending deadline sale – had increased yet again, with a gain of 131,000 for the core news product.
All for naught, however, at least for the moment.
Thompson’s caution on future ads, plus a disputed headline — a slip on a digital banana peel. That’s all it took. On a day when the broader markets held steady, New York Times Company shares closed down $4.33, at $31.25.