After taking a 23 percent pay cut -- which is supposed to go into effect next week -- The Boston Globe's reporters had the pleasure of headlining today's paper with news that its parent, The New York Times Co. (NYT) has hired Goldman Sachs (GS) to find a buyer. Why would anyone want to buy a business that's on pace to lose $85 million this year?
The answer is: because it's a newspaper. This somehow makes it an exception to the rule that a business is worth the current value of its future cash flows. It was the magical appeal of a newspaper that got real estate mogul Sam Zell to take good money made from selling real estate at the top and pour it into The Tribune Company -- which is now bankrupt.
But if nobody wants to buy The Boston Globe, maybe the U.S. should bail it out. After all, it has spent $12.8 trillion bailing out banks and around $60 billion keeping the auto industry from completely imploding. What is so special about those two industries? Could it be that they contribute lots of money to political campaigns? If that's why they got bailouts, then the newspaper business won't get one.
The newspaper business has never been a big money maker, and it can't make contributions to politicians without sacrificing the appearance of objectivity. And no doubt there are many politicians who would love to see all newspapers go the way of the dodo so they wouldn't have to answer embarrassing questions about their misdeeds.
But America needs newspapers -- or at least the information that investigative reporters produce. How so? I think that investigative reporting is essential to keeping a democracy safe from its politicians and business leaders.
Unfortunately, even though The Boston Globe would probably need around $200 million to keep it going -- 0.002 percent of the amount we gave to bail out the banks -- I doubt there is any chance that the U.S. will help keep it afloat.
Peter Cohan is president of Peter S. Cohan & Associates. He also teaches management at Babson College. His eighth book is You Can't Order Change: Lessons from Jim McNerney's Turnaround at Boeing. He has no financial interest in the securities mentioned.