World: Medium of the week - New York Times stays strong after turbulent year

Media buyers were patient in the aftermath of the Blair affair, James Hamilton says.

This month marks Bill Keller's first year as the executive editor of The New York Times, an anniversary he will no doubt be keen to play down for fear of rekindling the wild interest in the paper and the spectacular fall-out from the Jayson Blair scandal.

For those who spent the summer of 2003 locked in the Big Brother house, Blair was the NYT reporter who resigned after fraud, plagiarism and inaccuracies were discovered in 36 of the 73 reports he filed. The affair didn't just claim his scalp: Howell Raines, the NYT's editor, and Gerald Boyd, the managing editor, both fell on their swords in the aftermath, described by the NYT as the lowest point in its 153-year history.

A year on, the paper is keen to play down the impact of the scandal and the ensuing resignations. "The Blair situation had a minimal effect on our business, either from a circulation or advertising perspective," Kathy Park, an NYT spokeswoman, says.

But the fact the paper still cannot bring itself to say "scandal" or even "affair" indicates the "situation" is still a cloud on the horizon.

Semantics aside, the feeling in the New York media buying market is that the paper has broadly weathered the storm. "There were some initial concerns both from media agencies and clients, but I think that both were patient (and waited) to see how the NYT dealt with the situation to allow them to move on appropriately," Mark Egan, the media planning supervisor at Media Planning Group New York, says. None of his clients pulled their ads, but neither were they particularly vocal in their support. "There wasn't an eagerness to show their backing; they felt the publishing industry needed to deal with the issue itself," he says.

One of the ways the paper dealt with the situation was to employ Daniel Okrent as the ombudsman on the title, a position that roughly equates to the readers' editor on UK papers. Okrent's first major impact was to publish an apology to readers for being "duped" by the Pentagon over reports of Iraqi weapons of mass distruction; an apology that must have rankled an editorial team keen to stop making news and start reporting it again.

Despite this second bout of penitence, signs for the future look positive.

Advertising rates are up 6 per cent on 2003 across 30 categories and the paper is pushing ahead with a series of launches and relaunches. There's a new property section; the planned relaunch of the paper's magazines under the title T: The New York Times Style Magazine; international editions of the NYT which appear in The Daily Telegraph (Thursdays) and Le Monde (Saturdays) and the continued advertising growth of the NYT's sister title, the International Herald Tribune, which generated $2 million in incremental advertising in 2003 and had already reached that figure by June this year.

First published: 1851

Average 12-month circulation (to December 2003): 1,132,000 (weekdays),

1,682,100 (Sundays)

Page rates: Vary, depending on advertising sector and newspaper section

International versions: Weekly NYT supplements published in The Daily

Telegraph (Thursdays) and Le Monde (Saturdays)