Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Michael Wolff's "attack" on the NYTIMES and Pinch.

Media: I put attack in quotes because its still a leftist seeing the evil shareholders/corporations/White House/right wing groups putting so much pressure on the media they have to bow down to President Bush.

During the Bush years, the entire media has been so much easier to threaten because every company is under such relentless shareholder, financial, advertiser, and interest-group pressures—media organizations will do anything not to have politicians and prosecutors sniping at them, too. While the Times—historically, more like a branch of government than a mere commercial enterprise—has often operated as an exception to the rest of the media, it's hard to be a Cadillac in a fading American auto industry, and hard to be even the Times in the imploding newspaper business. The Times's current predicament—its share price has fallen by 50 percent since 2002; almost 30 percent of its shareholders protested the company's slate of directors at the annual meeting this spring—gets closer and closer to that of the Knight-Ridder papers, forced into a sale; the Tribune company, publisher of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, locked in a more or less mortal boardroom war; and Dow Jones, with its worried family members fretting about a sale of The Wall Street Journal. The Bush people cannot be unaware of this. In such a state of play, the Times is also doing that one thing that so often calls attention to a corporation's weaknesses and vulnerabilities and inflated sense of grandeur—a classic precursor to calamity. It's building a fabulous new corporate headquarters on Manhattan's West Side—a Renzo Piano–designed $850 million tribute to itself. The calculation in the White House may well be that the Times is one of the few organizations that the weakened Bush people are strong enough to go after.
Its the second part of the article where it focuses on the real problem at the NYTIMES which is Arthur Sulzberger Jr running of the business. Wolff points out that Arthur Jr has put his face and opinion smack dab in front of the paper giving it a much easier target for critics. Also having the personality on the same line as say Barry Bonds doesn't help the cause.
The Times, famously impersonal, suddenly has a flamboyant, hard-to-control, easy-to-dislike face. The right-wing editorialists at The Wall Street Journal, which also printed the story about the banking secrets, hurried to distance the Journal not so much from the story but from the Times, and particularly from the 54-year-old Sulzberger, by quoting gleefully from a self-aggrandizing commencement speech, delivered this spring at SUNY New Paltz, offering a vapid political message about the glories and disappointments of the 1960s and how they related to the Iraq war: "Sorry. It wasn't supposed to be this way." The vulnerability that the Times critics see here—one that causes people inside the Times to gulp—is that difficult, less-than-humble, not-ready-for-prime-time descendants of 19th-century newspaper owners have been the cause of the decline and fall of a great many newspapers. At the height of the Judy Miller business, just after he had fired her, after operatically standing behind her, Arthur appeared on The Charlie Rose Show. The most riveting thing about this appearance, more than his relative inarticulateness, was that there was no scenario under which it would be possible to imagine Arthur's father, Punch Sulzberger, the company's chief executive for more than 30 years and the steward of the modern paper, having done this—that is, publicly claiming to be the voice and the exemplar of the Times and its journalism. The Times has prospered, and maintained its not-a-little loopy tradition of primogeniture, because the family, which holds voting power, has exercised it so lightly. If at all. The Sulzbergers—according to a former Times Company executive who was one of the designers of the Times management and shareholder structure—are supposed to be the British monarchy to the parliamentarians who actually run the show. But there was Arthur on Charlie Rose—defending his company, his newsroom, his editorial decisions, his team. I remarked to this executive, an eminent and longtime Sulzberger adviser, on the oddity of a member of the Sulzberger family's actively managing the policies and editorial decision-making in the newsroom—in fact, representing the newsroom. My interlocutor drew back and said, "Editorial?… He's running the business side too! This wasn't supposed to happen!" Arthur, on his own say-so, has accomplished a radical management restructuring of the company. He's consolidated, under his control, executive, shareholder, and editorial power—subverting the traditional autonomy of the Times newsroom. Indeed, executive editor Bill Keller is probably the weakest editor in the history of the paper. A company with a historically diffident management structure, where lines of power were always purposefully obtuse, now has a by-the-book, top-down org chart. With such a figure—attention-seeking, immature, verbally feckless—at the center of the stage, it's hard to maintain a suspension of disbelief, let alone a straight face, about the rights of the firstborn. (This situation must have some resonance in the Bush White House.) The Times, with the scion insisting on his protean leadership, becomes, like any other corporation, judged by its top executive—it's not stronger than he is. Except, profoundly complicating matters, if he turns out to be weak, you can't easily replace this one.
As for the NYTIMES internet business, this is why they are holding on the print.
The Times, in newsprint form, with its daily 1.1 million circulation, and Sunday 1.7 million, makes between $1.5 and $1.7 billion a year (the company does not break out the exact figure). Times.com, with its 40 million unique online users a month, likely makes less than $200 million a year. Cruelly, an online user is worth much less—because his or her value can be so easily measured—than a traditional reader.
Overall, a mixed bag of an article which doesn't explode the doors off the NYTIMES operation, it just affirms that Pinch is a self-centered immature over his head dip. But for a defense of Pinch, head over to Poynter where Charles Kaiser rips into Wolff who responds.

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