The newspaper industry is in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The biggest kiosk seller this month was a highbrow liberal weekly that featured a tabloid satire of a presidential candidate and his wife. The biggest newsmaker this month was a supermarket tabloid that caught a former presidential candidate visiting his extramarital baby mama, and the major journals of record won't even blog about it. Surely this is the End Times of big media. What is to be done? Where are our journalistic standards headed? And how long before what you see above becomes an actual New York Times Magazine cover? It may just be the economy, but all the apocalyptic chatter about the "death of the MSM" is starting seem prescient. For years, newspapers have been struggling to reconcile the Internet's up-to-the-second information spigot with old-fashioned standards of reporting. It's hard to keep track of how many "blogs" the Times now has, or how indistinguishable most of their substance and style are from what you'd find in the print edition. Apart from writing cloyingly and belatedly about the new media revolution and its cultural implications, what has the Gray Lady really done to ensure its continued relevance? Judging by its books, not much—it actually asks more of its shrinking readership. By close of trading Thursday, the stock of the New York Times Co. was listed at $12.48 per share, half the price it was a year ago. The paper then announced it'd be increasing its daily newsstand price by 25 cents, beginning August 18. Oh, the company also posted double-digit losses in ad revenue this quarter, citing the worst month so far as June, with July fast closing in. Circulation is down (profits here are only up because of previous price-gauging), 100 reporters were laid off this year, and everyone's wondering whether the Sulzberger clan will simply call it quits and switch to a small soy agribusiness in northern California. It'd be more wholesome than acknowledging that this century's Huey Long got his freak on. Other media empires are hurting, too. McClatchy Co., Lee Enterprises Inc. and E.W. Scripps Co. all claimed profit falls by almost half of last year's earnings. And most industry analysts expect the locust year to extend into well next. That must mean more bullshit trend pieces.
Meanwhile, remember how vilified David Remnick was in cyberspace, like, five minutes ago for allowing a lampoon of the paranoid reactionary's conception of the Obamas besmirch the handbook of East Coast liberal elitism? There was even talk of Conde Nast's firing him, despite his otherwise terrific stewardship of the New Yorker, once a cash hemorrhaging glossy like all the others. Remnick insists he didn't run the Blitt cartoon for shock value (judging by the look on his face after during all those late-night pundit inquisitions, he's telling the truth), but clearly everyone else was into it, and shock value may have been his saving grace. As New York Post reports:
The issue went off sale on Monday and preliminary estimates show single-copy sales surged 80 percent over average weekly newsstand sales, or around 75,000 copies, compared with average newsstand sales of around 43,000.
So that's how Eustace Tilley stays in the black. Don't count on Remnick even pretending to not know he's slumming it again, at least not anytime soon. But might this be a lesson for other publications high on their own brand supply: it pays to take risks when the only American ideology is taking umbrage. Blogs help magazines and newspapers by objecting furiously — and linking even more furiously — to what's being printed in magazines and newspapers. They're frenemies, and the dead-tree press should learn to exploit the relationship. Take the case of American Media, the debt-ridden publisher of Star and the now kind-of-influential National Enquirer, which broke the major story of John Edwards' affair and love child with Rielle Hunter on Wednesday. Again, it was all over the blogosphere, which per force sent precious ad dollars the Enquirer's way at particularly crucial time in its accounting cycle. According to the Post, "While talks are at a sensitive stage and could still fall apart, American Media's owners, THL Partners and Evercore Partners, are working on firming up a deal that would reduce the publisher's debt by around $200 million and hand a sizable minority equity stake in the company to its lenders, sources said." Any guesses as to how that deal's looking right about now?
So a trash rag crawls out of the dumpster and into the spotlight, and the outlets that should be reporting misbehavior by public figures are simply refusing to. Slate's Mickey Kaus, who rang every alarm bell about the Edwards-Hunter rumors before they were photographically substantiated this week, has reproduced an email sent by L.A. Times editor Tony Pierce to his blog staff:
Hey bloggers, There has been a little buzz surrounding John Edwards and his alleged affair. Because the only source has been the National Enquirer we have decided not to cover the rumors or salacious speculations. So I am asking you all not to blog about this topic until further notified. If you have any questions or are ever in need of story ideas that would best fit your blog, please don't hesitate to ask Keep rockin, Tony
Is this liberal media bias, Kaus asks, or a dying MSM mastodon's way of playing "gatekeeper" between juicy information and an eager public? We would add: Can the L.A. Times really afford to take such a magisterial attitude given its financial woes and shit-canning of 250 employees? Keep rockin' indeed, Tony. [Photoshop credit: Steve Dressler.]