Magazine article Management Today

State of the Union

Magazine article Management Today

State of the Union

Article excerpt

The US news business may be stodgy, but not for much longer. Digital cable systems and the internet have opened up the market.

Think of the American press, and what comes to mind? JJ Hunsecker, the ruthless gossip columnist of Sweet Smell of Success, maybe; Walter Matthau as the insanely competitive editor of The Front Page; or Woodward and Bernstein in All The President's Men, pursuing the story that brought down Richard Nixon.

In Hollywood's imagination, American journalists may be boisterous, impassioned and fearless. But this reputation does not stand up. Most newspapers in the US are lazy local monopolies; the television networks underbid each other for the lowest common denominator; and they commit the cardinal sin of journalism, boring the audience.

The evidence? Newspapers design headlines to bury the story. They are so laden with abstract nouns or the passive voice they could be spoofs.

Try this: 'Anger Raises Concern About Bush Run in '04' - from the New York Times, no less. Heaven forbid that an article be interesting enough to offend.

So slow-moving are US news businesses that they make their UK counterparts look entrepreneurial. Time Out beat the Village Voice in the New York city listings market. The newest magazine category, the lad's magazine, was pioneered by Maxim, a UK import. And even the homegrown success stories rely on borrowed talent. The hot magazine editor of the moment, Bonnie Fuller, is Canadian; Tina Brown, of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, was British. The New York Post, the greatest of American tabloids, is not all that American: the last two editors were respectively British and Australian.

No surprise that American media organizations are gerontocracies. The most prestigious current affairs show, Sixty Minutes, has not refreshed its staff in decades. The average age of its five reporters is over 70.

Piers Morgan was 28 when he took over the Daily Mirror; that would be inconceivable at any US newspaper.

Given that the US media market is the most lucrative in the world, why is the journalism not more vigorous? It depends whom you ask. The shrivelled intelligentsia bemoan the poverty of public-service broadcasting; liberals cite ownership by media conglomerates; conservatives blame liberal bias and political correctness; and hard-scrabble reporters the effects of ethics courses at journalism schools.

The underlying cause is prosaic. The US spans a continent, its population is more dispersed than that of the UK or France, and its media market is geographically fragmented. …

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