City Looks To Bolster Media Industry

The most recent high-profile study undertaken by the city was the so-called McKinsey report, a review of barriers faced by the financial industry completed by consultant McKinsey & Company. Its recommendations, released in early 2007, centered around keeping New York competitive with global rival London, and would probably have a less receptive audience today than a few months ago: The report called for loosening federal requirements and regulations on financial firms.

For now, with the media industry, the city seems to have established itself as a center of content, both digital and print. Newer new-media companies like the Huffington Post and the Daily Beast are based in the city, as are the traditional outlets with a national and international presence: NYTimes.com, WSJ.com, the network news sites.

Today the broad media sector in its various forms—publishing, film, broadcasting, communications, cable, advertising—has been growing in recent years, but still, despite a major boom cycle, employment is down from just before the last recession. According to numbers from the state’s Department of Labor and the city, about 144,000 people were employed in the city’s private media sector in 2007, up substantially from 129,000 in 2005, but about 7 percent lower than the high of 155,000 seen in 2001. Publishing, television and radio broadcasting have seen minimal job growth in the past four years or so.

As for the future, the overall picture is mixed, as digital jobs should increase while traditional media jobs continue to dwindle, though total employment seems likely to decrease.

“Recently, with the exception of motion pictures, the sectors have been flat to declining,” James Brown, a labor market analyst with the state’s Department of Labor, said of media employment in the city.

The driving problem, at least with magazines and newspapers, is the declining ad revenues as advertisers and readers shift to the Internet.

“Right now, the ad revenues on the Web, compared to the ad revenues that are lost in print, is like comparing nickels to dollars,” said Mortimer Zuckerman, publisher of the Daily News, who said he was bullish on the long-term future of New York as a media center. “In no way, at almost any newspaper that I know of, have the Web revenues, even though they’re going up consistently and continuously, and by big percentages, made up in real dollars what they are losing off of conventional advertising.”

 

PERHAPS NO AREA of the city better showcases the trends in the industry, positive and negative, than Hudson Square. In the past three years or so, media firms have flocked to the former printing district west of Soho, where office space is at a steep discount compared to midtown—some to shrink in new, low-cost space, and some to expand in the company of other creative firms. Newsweek, Viacom, WNYC and The New York Review of Books all have taken space in the area since 2006.

By and large, many of those media firms have come to take space in buildings owned by Trinity Real Estate, by far Hudson Square’s largest landlord.

“Over time, we’ve really made this a core of our strategy,” said Carl Weisbrod, president of Trinity, “to make this the hub of creative industries, and to make this neighborhood appealing to this industry and these clusters of industries on grounds other than price point.”

Despite the declining workforce of the larger, old publishing and print media companies, Mr. Weisbrod and many in the real estate and business communities do see the broader industry as one that will see much growth in the long term.

“With all creative industries, probably as with all industries, there are twists and turns,” Mr. Weisbrod said. “We really think that these kinds of companies are the ones that are creating jobs, and where the future of the city’s economy really lies.”

Indeed, New York is certainly well positioned. The advertising industry has a huge operation in the city; the young, creative and artistic population is high; and proximity to the country’s financial center never hurts for any industry.

For those who are confident in the media industry’s future, the Huffington Post stands as a poster child. A site that rivals the Drudge Report in traffic, the company has its base not in Washington, D.C., or California, but on two floors near the corner of Prince Street and Broadway, beside a Dean & DeLuca. 

“New York is a magnet for people who are creative and involved in both the culture and the politics of our time,” said founder Arianna Huffington, who herself is based at the company’s California offices. “What happens is a convergence: It’s not that new media is going to replace old media, but it’s really old media that really moves online.”

ebrown@observer.com