By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

More powerful than Googlezon!*

One of my favorite bomb-tossers, John Ellis, has uncorked a doozy. In a column for the Web site RealClearMarkets, Ellis proposes that Google make an offer to the New York Times Co. that it can’t refuse. Ellis’ arguments:

  • Mega-wealthy Google could easily afford to buy the Times Co., the price of which will only keep dropping.
  • Even though the Times Co.’s controlling stock is owned by members of the Sulzberger family, who don’t want to sell, there’s a point beyond which the family can no longer screw other shareholders.
  • Rupert Murdoch seems determined to transform the Wall Street Journal into a serious competitor to the Times on all kinds of news, not just financial — and he can afford to run the Journal at a loss.
  • Google, like Murdoch, doesn’t need to turn a profit with a small investment like the Times — but may make money anyway if it can leverage Times content across multiple platforms.
  • Times Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. isn’t getting it done, and has been in charge for so long now that it seems clear that’s not going to change.

Ellis, a former Boston Globe columnist, offers some provocation for us locals as well, suggesting that Google could get the price down to a mere $3 billion or so by selling off the Times Co.’s other properties, including the Globe, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and its share of the Red Sox and of New England Sports Network. (If the right buyer for the Globe can be found? Go ahead, make my day. But that’s a big if.)

Ellis’ piece is a suggestion, not a prediction. Still, it’s worth noting that in October 2006, when it looked as though a group headed by retired General Electric chairman Jack Welch might buy the Globe, Ellis wrote: “Mr. Sulzberger would be a fool, of course, to sell the Globe to anyone at this juncture.”

He was exactly right. Which raises the question of whether Times Co. executives now would be fools not to sell the Globe.

Ellis’ proposal is logical, if unlikely to happen. But given that all of our great news organizations are going to have to find new, once-unthinkable ways of surviving, I can imagine a worse fate for the Times than landing in the arms of Google, which generally, though not always, lives up to its “don’t be evil” philosophy. Better Google than Murdoch, certainly. (Via Romenesko.)

*Click here for reference.

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  1. mike_b1

    Murdoch can afford to run the Journal at a loss but why would he?Put another way, he didn’t get that rich by losing millions (or billions) of dollars.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: Murdoch has run the New York Post at a loss for years. But certainly the Wall Street Journal is a more serious investment.Saying he can afford to run the Journal at a loss is shorthand. Think about it more broadly. Let’s say he runs the Journal extravagantly, loses money but really building the Journal’s brand in the process.Now he’s got something he can co-brand with the Fox Business Channel, which, in the long run, he no doubt intends to be fabulously profitable.

  3. Bill

    Murdoch got more ink (out of what really is a minor investment for him)by buying the WSJ than he ever did for all his other acquisitions combined……He’s spent millions every year on the Post just to have a ‘presence’ in NYC……don’t ever underestimate the power of ego in these things…….BTW, I’m a (union) delivery foreman for the Times; I’d love to see Google snatch us up……..I’m more than ready for the buyout……and one more thing……why, really, is Michael Golden coming back to NYC? Does the family think it’s time to put Young Arthur out to pasture? “Michael Golden, the publisher of The International Herald Tribune, said Friday that he was leaving the newspaper and returning to New York to focus on his position as vice chairman of The New York Times Company.”

  4. Bill

    Forgot to mention….Michael Golden is Young Arthur’s cousin…

  5. Anonymous

    And John Ellis? Where is the mention of his relation to the family Bush? And to the 2000 election scandal?Yes, the young Arthur Sulzberger is incompetent, but the NYT is not going to be sold. This is a pure maturbatory exercise by a Times-hating fraud, and I am disappointed to see you involved in promoting it.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 5:49: You know nothing about John Ellis, and it’s clear that you don’t understand his role in the 2000 election. Go forth and educate yourself. I will not help you. Perhaps others will. I don’t think Ellis hates the Times, but even if he did, it is possible to do so without being George W. Bush’s cousin.

  7. Anonymous

    I think the problem with this article and the response is that there really is no solid reason presented for why Google would want to buy the New York Times. Instead, we’re presented that they would because they could (ie, breaking news! Google has enough money to buy the Brooklyn Bridge!) or the downright surreal notion that they would because as the publisher they’d be able to dictate coverage in the newspaper (yes, that’s what the New York Times’ journalistic reputation is for…), or that Google which has made a business so far of not being a content producer (instead they’ve indexed content) is desperately in need of direct control of AO Scott’s movie reviews and Frank Rich’s op eds…

  8. Amusedbutinformedobserver

    Does this mean that every time The Globe makes a reference to “google” as a verb, it will have to add “Googling is named after the Internet search engine, the parent company of which owns The Globe and 17 percent of the Red Sox?”

  9. chrisestrada

    Googlezon…I remember that movie. That was trippy.

  10. Anonymous

    Interesting attack, Dan. I don’t know Ellis personally, but I have read him pretty steadily over the years. Herewith a few of his choicer comments just from the past four years or so:”From Farenheit 9/11 to Kitty Kelly to the daily onslaughts of The New York Times to Eminem to the fabulists at CBS News, the so-called “media elite” painted a caricature of President Bush that was truly frightening.””The President Bush I read about in the papers and the newsweeklies and the blogs bears almost no resemblance to the President Bush I know and visit with from time to time. (I’ve never seen media as blatantly dishonest and biased as we have all seen this year.) The man I know is smart, extraordinarily disciplined, enormously hard-working, open to new ideas and approaches, decisive, shrewd and gifted with a keen sense of the possible. He is decent and honest and true, which cannot be said of many of his critics.” “What we are looking at is a scandal, an attempt by the Democratic Party and a number of its news media megaphones to smear the President of the United States. This is potentially a big scandal; one that might do real damage to the Kerry campaign and cost Dan Rather and his producer their jobs.” “The house organ of the Democratic Party enters full panic mode this morning with this piece from Nagourney and company. No more wind-surfing! No more wind-surfing outfits! And lose the sun-glasses! Ellisblog thinks wind-surfing is responsible for half of Kerry’s swoon.”Friendship should not trump the standards one applies to non-friends.

  11. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 2:48: My God! You mean he doesn’t hate his cousin? What is this country coming to? The Times Co. is in desperate straits financially. Ellis has come up with an intriguing proposal for how the Sulzbergers might get out of this mess.

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