Folks throughout traditional media should take heart from The New York Times Co.’s $550 million purchase of The Athletic today. The deal crystallizes The Times’ remarkable recovery from the dark days of the 2008 financial crisis, which accelerated a dismantling of a onetime print-and-TV empire into a single newspaper. A dozen years ago, you might have expected it would be The Times itself that would get bought and not the other way around. The company is now on track to become a fully digital operator, holding out the hope that other traditional media firms could do the same.
Young ’uns might forget, but back around 2008 the publisher’s situation was bleak. It was struggling with rapidly declining print ad revenue, an enormous debt load and little cash. Things were so bad it had to borrow money at onerous interest rates from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. It got through that period after a series of asset sales and eventually turned the corner when it began to emphasize selling digital subscriptions of all kinds (from news to recipes to crossword puzzles).