When I worked as a journalist, most of my stories concentrated on the business of journalism. It was not exactly an easy gig. There was a lot of egos and even more secrets, and that usually hinted that things presented were far more shaky and sketchy in reality.
And those hints always turned out to be right.
The business end was always rickety. There was always some sort of scheme to prop up the true health of the industry, and it was always presented with a sunny spin. For instance, free newspapers were counted as part of the circulation, which was a very dodgy gambit meaning that those stacks of unread papers were counted as readership.
Journalism’s fortunes were already on unstable ground back then, but now, it is in a free fall.
The journalism part and the business part are two separate problems, but because the journalism side reports on their business side — and the business side has no qualms misusing the journalism side for self-promotion, score-settling, and lobbying, it is a good idea to look at how that toxic dynamic contributed to the profession’s collapse.
For example, the New York Times has one of their gushy Great Man profiles on new Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong. The puff piece is typical of how the Times perpetually shuts off its brain when doing free ad copy for a real or perceived Titan of Industry.
I go over this in more detail in my book, but the Times has a very bad track record of doing these kind of kid glove pieces, only for the test of time to prove they should have been more skeptical and critical in their coverage.
The headline is troubling to me as someone who has seen this game before:
L.A. Times’s New Owner Plans Big Moves. First Up, Relocating to the Suburbs.
When I wrote a profile of one up-and-coming newspaper owner, he tried to use the identical angle on me: “big plans” and some cutesy colour of how his wife thought they would have to “remortgage the house” for him to buy those pricey newspapers. I didn’t bite at either angle, and his tenure was fairly short-lived, and proved to be the tip of the iceberg of a much more serious problem.
But never expect the Times to do anything that resembles genuine research.
The exit of Michael Ferro is presented in a threadbare manner: there is much more to say, but don’t expect a Tronc property such as the Tribune to confess anything in regards to their own dirty laundry. Bloomberg’s piece scratches the surface, referring to Ferro’s tenure as “controversial”, but what really went down is not going to be examined with any authenticity. Even the Wall Street Journal’s article is milquetoast, calling his time as “short but rocky”.
Not that other news media has a clue. WBUR attempts to look at the collapse at local news, but nary a word on how the profession sowed the seeds of their troubles themselves. It is shallow, self-serving, and cannot do a thing to resurrect the dead profession.
It is not a well-oiled machine: one side of the equation should help improve the other side, but it is often used to hide the true state of affairs from the public. Journalism needed a better method, but when your own chroniclers of reality cannot unearth the reality of their own, there were doomed to crash and burn so horribly…