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Carlos Slim’s investment in The New York Times

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I’ve never met Mexican Carlos Slim, but he’s ubiquitous in Mexico through his numerous businesses that have made him one of the richest men in the world. He’s also obtaining a larger stake in what is arguably the symbolic heart and soul of U.S. journalism, The New York Times (read a BBC story about it here).

Depending on which side of the spectrum you sit on, Slim is either a shrewd opportunist who obtained his fortune south of the border largely from the kind of political connections that aren’t available to most Mexicans or he’s an astute businessman who exemplifies Mexico’s democratic principles. I assume the truth is probably somewhere in between.

Traditional media isn’t the best investment these days. Just ask real estate magnate Sam Zell who attempted to resuscitate the Tribune Company and then filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. So what’s in it for Slim?

This could be a case of Slim seeing a business opportunity. There are other potential payoffs: His investment in The New York Times might recast him as a savior. It also – frankly – makes the paper somewhat indebted to him. Regardless of the motive, Slim’s interest in the Times highlights the troubles of traditional news media and the opportunities for global investors in the United States while raising questions over who will control the news in the future.

To read a business story about Carlos Slim, here is a story in Fortune Magazine by my former Northwestern classmate Stephanie Mehta.

You can also read an opinion piece that ran in The New York Times in 2007 that alludes to Slim as a “robber baron.”

This story posted Jan. 20 on Slate’s website – “Slim’s Pickings” – is a thoughtful piece that handles this tricky subject deftly. It was written by Andres Martinez.

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