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3/3/2005
02:35 PM
Mike Elgan
Mike Elgan
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NYT May Kill 'Circuits' - Here's Why

The New York Post published a rumor today that quasi-rival, The New York Times, is planning to kill its popular Thursday 'Circuits' section and -- horror! -- replace it with a fashion and shopping section. The question is: If true, what's a blogger to make of it?

The New York Post published a rumor today that quasi-rival, The New York Times, is planning to kill its popular Thursday 'Circuits' section and -- horror! -- replace it with a fashion and shopping section.

The question is: If true, what's a blogger to make of it?

The Post implied that the section was a byproduct of the giddy hype about technology that emerged during the tech boom of the late 1990s, and that it's being killed off because the concept is now old and stale.

I don't buy this theory for the simple reason that nothing is too old and stale for The New York Times.

Another theory, first voiced by PR blogger extraordinaire Steve Rubel, of "Micro Persuasion" fame, is that gadget blogs like Engadget and Gizmodo may have played a role in the decision.

Again, I don't agree. Gadget blogs, if anything, drive major hits to the online version of "Circuits" though links to stories in the section that are fresh enough or scoopish enough to warrant them. Duplicated readership of the print edition of The New York Times and the gadget blogs pretty much rounds to zero -- they're totally different audiences. Besides, The Grey Lady is famous for its snobbish apathy toward rivals. If The New York Times doesn't care what The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times print, why would they care about Engadget and Gizmodo?

My theory is that, if the rumor is true, it had nothing to do with readers, but rather advertisers.

Readers of newspapers tend to think of their favorite daily as a one big newspaper with a bunch of different sections -- Current Events, Sports, Business, Fashion, The Arts, etc. But that's not how newspapers look at them.

Publishers see it from a business perspective. So to them a publication is two things: 1) a real newspaper that fulfils the paper's mission to inform and educate; and 2) fluffy topic sections like fashion, food, and lifestyles designed to maximize advertising dollars in order to subsidize the real newspaper.

The Times' "Circuits" section falls into the latter category. If the newspaper kills the section, it will be because they've determined that some other topic can make more money.

TV networks used to look at their programming this way. The nightly news was a public service money loser that gained the company credibility and was supported by idiotic-but-lucrative sitcoms and the like. (Nowadays it's all about entertainment-for-money on TV.) If a sitcom isn't bring in advertising dollars, you kill it and replace it with another one.

Which raises the question: Why doesn't "Circuits" bring in as much as fashion and shopping? The reason is that technology advertisers with money -- IBM, HP, Dell, etc. -- tend to want to be associated with the business section, rather than the gadget-and-geek section. And NYT ads are expensive. Most category advertisers either can't afford the NYT, or, if they can, want the credibility and audience they'll get in the business section.

For this longtime Times reader, the end of "Circuits" will be a sad day -- no matter what the reason.

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