The Media Misread the New York Times' Results

Revenue coverage failed to mention the company's own caveat.
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The Business Press Maven's head is bent in utter sorrow. Why this time?

Well, all the way

back on Monday, I was forced to lament the fact that sometimes it was better to just read a company's press release rather than the articles that follow it.

As you'll recall, the watermelon-sized merger of

Ingersoll Rand

(IR) - Get Report

and

Trane

(TT)

was announced just as Sunday night was turning into Monday, and since there were not many sober, experienced business journalists around in the middle of the night, what hit up on the wires for hours on end were regurgitations on the original press release announcing the $10 billion deal.

At least you know a press release is biased, I opined, but when you read the same stuff from a business journalist -- even with the company-issued bullet points rearranged for the appearance of independence -- you run a larger risk of being duped, lulled into a false sense that you are reading independent thought.

Today we saw a worse example, and it was as if the evil incompetence of the business media finally won out. Ask me sometime, and I'll tell you how I really feel.

On Tuesday,

The New York Times

(NYT) - Get Report

reported what at first appeared to be a small miracle: revenue that budged up. Then

the press release, about as forthright and appropriate as any you will see, mentioned right in the second paragraph the reasons why: The month had an extra week, and one of the company's few hot products came out in November this year instead of December. Their explanation was clear, concise and featured prominently:

"November's advertising results benefited from a shift in the Company's fiscal calendar. In 2006 the fiscal month-end was November 26 while in 2007 it was December 2, adding an extra "holiday season" week to the month. The New York Times Media Group's advertising revenues also benefited from a shift in the timing of T: Holiday, which was published in fiscal November this year compared with fiscal December last year. T: Holiday's advertising pages were up 8% over last year's publication and it was the first issue featured on the new T Web site at NYTimes.com/magazine."

And how did the business media pick up this key factor, one fed to them with a spoon? Uh, they dropped the spoon. And not to put too fine a point on it, the egg that was on the spoon cracked to pieces and turned rancid.

MarketWatch

From Dow(n) Jones came out with this: "

New York Times November revenue up 1.7%," it yelled in approval, with no time for a prominently mentioned caveat.

But surely, you say, the caveat was in the body of the article, right? Wrong.

Here's the lame article: "The New York Times Co. (NYT New York Times Company) said Tuesday that in November total company revenues from continuing operations rose 1.7% compared with the same month a year ago. Advertising revenues decreased 0.2% and circulation revenues increased 3.7%. The About Group again posted strong advertising growth in the month, up 23.7%. "

The Associated Press

was equally excited about that revenue rise, and equally loath to mention the extra week, even though its article was much, much longer. Here's the headline: "

Web Sites Carry Times to Revenue Rise." The callout crooned: "New York Times' November Continuing Revenue Edges Higher by 1.7 Percent; Web Properties Lead." And, again, you can dust the article for fingerprints, but you'll see no evidence of that extra week that the Times flaks, people paid to put the company in positive light, featured so prominently.

Forbes

, which mercifully

managed to mention the extra week and product, was possibly, in the end, as bad as those that didn't. That's because

Forbes

spoke about the "glimmers of hope" in the monthly numbers despite the caveats. Uh, an extra holiday week on the base of four ain't really as simple as a "caveat," and it does seem to outweigh any glimmer, no?

After the close,

MarketWatch

ran another story, this one making a motion toward the appropriate measure of caution with this headline: "Gannett, N.Y. Times see more classified woes."

But still no mention of the extra holiday week.

So it has come to this: a press release more open and honest about basic issues than the business media reports that follow. No wonder my head is so bent in sorrow that it keeps banging against my desk. And no wonder I always tell you, the savvy investor, to beware. And be aware.

At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.

Marek Fuchs was a stockbroker for Shearson Lehman Brothers and a money manager before becoming a journalist who wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column for six years. He also did back-up beat coverage of The New York Knicks for the paper's Sports section for two seasons and covered other professional and collegiate sports. He has contributed frequently to many of the Times' other sections, including National, Metro, Escapes, Style, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, Travel, Money & Business, Circuits and the Op-Ed Page. For his "Business Press Maven? column on how business and finance are covered by the media, Fuchs was named best business journalist critic in the nation by the Talking Biz website at The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fuchs is a frequent speaker on the business media, in venues ranging from National Public Radio to the annual conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;

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