Chinese scrap mogul Chen Guangbiao took to the op-ed page of China’s Global Times Sunday to reiterate how serious he is about buying The New York Times, despite the Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. “emphatically” declaring the newspaper is not for sale.
Chen first announced his interest in the Times at a news media award reception Dec. 30, but the move was soon called out via social media channels in China as a publicity stunt. His response, titled “I intend to buy The New York Times, please don’t take it as a joke,” outlines why he wants to buy the Times and what he would change if he did.
If he could purchase the Times, Chen’s says his plans for the future include fiscal and editorial changes, particularly in the Times' coverage and relationship with China, which has been rocky in the past.
“The ultimate goal [of the acquisition] is to make the paper’s reports more authentic and objective, thus rebuilding its credibility and influence,” said Chen. He goes on to say “the tradition and style of The New York Times make it very difficult to have objective coverage of China. If we could purchase it, its tone might turn around.”
He said he wants to pull the paper out of its “declining advertising revenue [and] developmental and credit crisis,” and that he believes “the acquisition will also increase the circulation of the paper, enlarge the readership and attract more advertising.”
Chen values the Times at $1 billion, a low estimate of a company with a $2.31 billion market capitalization, and says he has persuaded an unnamed Hong Kong investor to contribute $600 million. He also said he would not hesitate to risk bankruptcy to purchase the paper.
Despite Chen's apparent sincerity, Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, says it’s “impossible” for Chen to buy the Times with its current share structure, which is intended to assure Sulzberger family control. Still, Chen insists in his op-ed that “as long as the price is reasonable, there is nothing that cannot be bought.”
According to the South China Morning Post, Chen was spotted at New York’s JFK Airport, but a Times spokeswoman had “no information” about any negotiations with Chen.
Chen is known in China for his creative and sometimes eccentric business moves and stunts like giving out cans of “fresh air” to smog-choked Beijingers. Despite this, he is widely admired for his extensive charity work in his home country.
Last week Chen told Reuters that if he was unable to buy the Times outright he would settle with becoming a controlling stakeholder or buying a stake in the company. In his op-ed however, Chen says he will try to other “influential media,” until one bites.