The Business of
Only a great white shark on speed is more frighteningly, mindlessly
ruthless than a profit-challenged corporate executive in search of a
new idea. It is, in fact, virtually suicidal to place yourself between the
average media company CEO and a dollar.
So wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten in 2005, as he contemplated the fate of television news, given the steady decline in viewership. He finished the column with a cynical, yet oddly hopeful admonition: “It’s commonplace nowadays to hear the three network news divisions compared to dinosaurs. But if they follow the giant reptiles into extinction, it won’t be because their brains were too small. It will be because they were too cheap to buy bigger ones.”1 I say “hopeful” because Rutten implies news executives can save mainstream news sources if they have realistic profit expectations and are smart enough to sustain a high-quality product, rather than succumbing to the latest corporate fad.
Rutten wrote that column just as the Times was starting a series of job cuts subsequent to the paper’s sale to the Tribune Company. Since then, the paper has lost hundreds of news positions, while also carving through a series of editors and publishers, most of whom quit or were fired over disputes regarding layoffs.
And, of course, the Times is hardly unusual. Newspapers around the world, and particularly in the United States, are experiencing sharp circulation declines, layoffs, and even closures. Some celebrate these numbers. Here’s a sample blog from the Huffington Post, written in response to James Boyce’s posting about newspapers’ decline: