Media

New York Post Stands Out as Newspaper Carnage Grows

By almost all measures, the U.S. newspaper industry is in a flat spin. Newspapers continue to close. The industry has shed tens of thousands of jobs in the past decade. There are “news deserts” across the country, which are communities that have no daily newspaper at all. A few papers have survived, and in some cases they have grown. The New York Post, perhaps improbably, is one of these.

The papers that have done the best since the Great Recession include The New York Times, which has been controlled by the Sulzberger family for over a century. The paper has expanded its newsroom to more than 1,500 people. It has the means to produce such a high-quality paper online and in print that it has 6.5 million subscribers, of which 5.7 million get the paper digitally. The paper is among the few in the country that is profitable. The Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos, the richest man in America, also has thrived, as it has added to both its newsroom and subscriber counts. It does not release exact numbers, but it is also profitable.

The New York Post is one of the few daily papers owned by billionaires, or the companies they control. In its case, the owner is News Corp., which Rupert Murdoch controls. He has funded the paper despite a multiyear string of losses.

One reason the New York Post is unusual is that it is still very large by U.S. newspaper standards. The Alliance for Audited Media puts it fourth in circulation after USAToday, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. USAToday and The Wall Street Journal are national papers, so they do not offer a reasonable comparison to city-based dailies.

Most estimates are that the New York Post loses millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars a year. Yet, as many daily newspapers have laid off a large portion of the employees, the New York Post has let go of very few people. Reports are that it furloughed and laid off 20 people at the start of the year and 5% of staff in April.

Murdoch’s support has allowed it to be an editorially complete paper. This includes coverage of national and local news, tech, business, sports, entertainment, shopping and real estate. The paper’s ability to publish gossip is an abiding strength because it is such a large reader attraction. Gossip and celebrity news is routinely among the most widely read parts of the paper. Indeed, this is an important reason the New York Post has survived.

One widely held theory is the Murdoch wants an opinion beachhead in New York because it is America’s largest city and the country’s business and financial capital. That may be part of its appeal to him. However, he has kept money-losing media properties before, so there are precedents. That makes the incentive to keep the New York Post editorially healthy less easy to determine.

Whatever the reason, the New York Post is nearly unique among American newspapers. Fewer than a dozen papers that cover large cities have not had brutal staff cuts. And the New York Post’s current situation will be even rarer as the industry continues to crater.