“The New York Times is going to basically be a monopoly,” Jim VandeHei, the Axios co-founder and C.E.O, said to Ben Smith, then the Times media columnist, back in 2020. “The Times will get bigger and the niche will get nichier, and nothing else will survive.”
I unearthed this dramatic, but entirely plausible, prognostication of digital media’s future by happenstance this week, while reporting on the status of both VandeHei and Smith’s respective digital media startups, Axios and Semafor, for my most recent column, Axios in Wonderland. But the discovery turned out to be well timed: On Thursday, ValueAct Capital, Jeffrey Ubben’s activist investment vehicle, announced that it had acquired a 7 percent stake in the Times Company, and would be advocating management to accelerate growth and “deepen NYT’s competitive moat.”
The moat is already quite deep, of course. As I’ve written before, Meredith Kopit Levien has turned out to be a transformational C.E.O. for the Times Company, elegantly discarding any of the internal bullshit that occasionally vexed her predecessors while clairvoyantly putting the company on a course of massive yet sustainable subscriber growth. And without making a display of things, she also embarked upon a savvy and aggressive effort to broaden and diversify the company’s asset portfolio, which I reported on six months ago, beyond the core news gathering organization.