There's no question that Motley Fool Income Investor pick New York Times
The bad news is that the heyday of newspaper operations is mostly over. The Internet, increasingly capable cell phones, and even some TV trends are taking the place in our lives that used to shelter a daily hunk of dead trees covered in ink. I can't remember the last time I bought a newspaper to read it -- though my wife gets the local Sunday rag for the coupons -- since all my information needs are covered elsewhere.
I'm not alone. The abandonment of daily newspapers is a lifestyle change throughout the developed world. Traditional phone lines from the likes of AT&T are being ditched in droves for cheaper and just-as-good 'net-based services or cell phones; GPS-based navigation tools from Garmin or TomTom are replacing the fold-out maps in our glove boxes; and printed media of all kinds is losing out to the immediacy of online resources.
You can see this trend in Times' numbers: net margins and returns on (pick one) equity, capital, or assets today are about half of what they were at the close of 2002. The former cash machine now has negative free cash flow, and the inevitable layoffs have begun.
It's not just New York Times' cross to bear, either -- Dow Jones
Even Times' would-be online savior is a laggard. About.com is being slapped around by the competition, and no, it's not Encyclopedia Britannica or the Smithsonian outdoing the wannabe research and advice center on its own turf. It's upstart Wikipedia, one student's English-class project class gone ballistic.
Let's face it -- New York Times' only defensible asset is its storied name. There's no discernible moat around the business otherwise, and it's clear that the company didn't embrace the online revolution quickly enough. Is it entirely too late? Maybe not, but I haven't seen any evidence that the mindset is changing.