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Times Publisher Compares Print Media to the Titanic

So, we asked New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. at last night's benefit for The News Literacy Project, what advice did he have for young people who want to go into journalism these days, you know, given the job market? "Why don't we not go there?" he laughed. Then he went there anyway. "Um, what I would tell them is the industry is in the midst of a massive transition," he said. "But the core of the fundamental job is critical. We have to re-create ourselves, but the heart of what we're going to re-create is still journalism. The way people get information is changing, but the need for information will remain constant."

He thinks that physical newspapers will stick around as well. "The best analogy I can think of is — have you ever heard of the Titanic Fallacy?" he asked. We hadn't. "What was the critical flaw to the Titanic?" We tried to answer: Poor construction? Not enough life boats? Crashing into stuff? "A captain trying to set a world speed record through an iceberg field?" he said, shaking his head. "Even if the Titanic came in safely to New York Harbor, it was still doomed," he said. "Twelve years earlier, two brothers invented the airplane."

Okay, so let us get this straight. The publisher of the New York Times is saying that getting into print journalism is like getting on the Titanic?

"We are trying to convert shipping companies to airplane companies," said Sulzberger. "Same business: transporting people safely across long distances. Different cost structure, different way of doing business, but the same core business. There is still a very vibrant business in shipping. It's just not taking masses of people across the Atlantic. It's now taking families around the Seychelles, or something like that. There will still be passenger ships, but they're not going to be in the same business. So print will still be here, I believe, decades from now. But will it be the driving force? No."

Awesome. So, we asked awkwardly, how are those layoffs going?

"Oh, I haven't gotten there yet."

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Photo: Patrick McMullan