Like everyone else I’ve seen the headlines remarking on the fact that a New York Times Company which bought The Boston Globe for over a billion dollars is selling it this weekend for just $70 million. But if you read the body text of those articles you’ll see that the paper actually sold for much less than $70 million. It in fact sold for a negative quantity of money.
That’s because the terms under which John Henry is buying the paper stick the New York Times Company with the Globe’s pension obligations, which are said to amount to around $110 million. Which is to say that the worth of the overall Globe enterprise is negative $40 million, not $70 million.
That’s shocking. What’s even more shocking is that the Globe has been doing great journalism—winning Pulitzers, etc.—and even turning a modest profit. But that’s the difference between a growing industry (where Tumblr can sell for $1 billion with no profits or even meaningful revenue in sight) and a shrinking one.