There have been some major headlines in the past week that have largely been ignored for their meaning by the same denizens of the world they live in. Newsweek has been killed off. The Boston Globe, which was purchased for $1.1 Billion, was sold off for $70 Million by the New York Times, a staggering 93% loss. And just a short while ago it was announced that Jeff Bezos is buying the Washington Post’s primary newspaper operations for $250 Million in cash.
It is deeply ironic that the Times chose to run a crocodile tears article about Newsweek this morning. But then, the problems and cluelessness at the Times have been evident for many years.
In visual media, CBS and Time Warner Cable are at daggers points over programming fees, the ones that continue to inflate your cable bill as viewers seek refuge with Netflix, Roku and other alternatives.
Tina Brown, the publisher of Daily Beast/Newsweek said “It doesn’t matter how talented you are right now. You used to be judged by your performance, but now it doesn’t matter what you do,” she said. “It is quite a business.”
Except that in each case these media empires have run themselves into the ground. The first step was in alienating huge swathes of the demographic base. A merchant, whether of news or other products, must appeal to the most profitable audience it can in order to survive. In the case of the newspapers the alienation was political in nature.
The newspapers and magazines simply stopped caring about presenting objective news. Their political views seeped from the editorial pages to the hard news sections. It is hard to recover when almost 50% of your potential audience will not purchase your product.
The networks face the problem of poor content and poor return on investment. There are a very few winners but with hundreds of channels, most of those networks are scraping by. And with each of them adding a surcharge onto the customer’s bill, the wheat must eventually be separated from the chaff.
Hollywood is crying the blues as well. Spielberg, Lucas and Clooney decry what Hollywood has become and yet their entire careers have been made on big money productions including some very expensive vanity projects. Salaries for the top talent are still in the $20 Million per picture range but somehow it is the financiers fault.
In a way, the same trends in defining downward we see in industry and commerce we are now seeing in the media. Inferior product is driven by inferior thinking and especially in today’s groupthink bubble, there is a crisis not only of content, but of rational thought.
In the case of each of these media meltdowns the old adage has been reversed. Failure has many fathers and mothers.