Joe Nocera, business op-ed columnist for the New York Times, frequently fires indignant salvos at corporate chieftains who appear to act in their own best interests at the expense of their shareholders. Imagine, then, how he would react to a public company that had jiggered its ownership structure to protect one family’s interests, keep the corporate leadership firmly in that family’s control, and thwart any effort by the shareholders to loosen that family’s stranglehold?
As a red-blooded capitalist, I understand why dual classes of stock are frowned upon. They deprive ordinary shareholders of the chance to have any say in how a company is run or who sits on its board.
And if that happens, you might get a company whose shareholders lose 4/5ths of their money (while the Dow Jones was doubling) over the last ten years — like this one:
Oops. Careful observers have by now noticed the ticker symbol in the upper right corner of that chart: “NYT.” Yup. “New York Times.”
Well, says Nocera, the Times is different. You see, when you invest your money in the stock of the New York Times, you shouldn’t really expect to make a profit. That’s for chumps. Instead, according to Nocera:
If you buy New York Times stock, you are buying into the notion that you’ll let the family run the show, as it has done for more than a century. And the Sulzbergers will put The Times’s journalism ahead of all else, because that is what is in the family’s DNA.
Also, apparently in the “family’s DNA” is a gift for catastrophic investments (the Boston Globe), a blind eye to the nose in front of their face (the internet), a clumsier-than-a-clubfooted can-can-dancer approach to management and an appalling disregard for the journalistic ethics and practices that made The Times at one time “the paper of record.”
Part of the problem is the same attitude that justifies their stock structure, and permeates much of the behavior of the self-appointed elite. This attitudes presumes that certain people and organizations should be permitted to do and say things that others must not do or say, because they and they alone have both the moral and intellectual credentials to use these methods responsibly and properly. What authority confers this privilege is unsaid; it is, in fact, self-assumed, and generally as badly abused and selfishly misused it would be in the hands of any other mortal agency.
This same arrogance excuses misleading the public, and deceiving, either through omission or outright commission (also called “lying”) the public, because the public is too stupid and too selfish to be counted on to behave properly without the exercise of some discretion where reporting the facts is concerned.
And now Nocera has gone into the tank, despite his “red-blooded capitalism,” and pulls a Tony Ortega by attempting to defend an indefensible scheme. He’s right about one thing: anyone who buys this stock without knowing they have nothing to say about who runs their company deserves what they get. If The Times were even a shadow of what used to be, I would consider buying shares as something of a public service. But I have no interest in financing what the Times has become, or, worse still, what it continues to degenerate into.
But, Joe, feel free. Buy a few shares. Consider it an investment in your future. At this point, it appears that few others are willing to do so.