The Death Throes Of The Traditional Media

Via DougJ, I read this Politico piece on the decline of Newsweek editor Jon Meacham's star:

Jon Meacham has had the kind of charmed professional life that other journalists can only envy: Newsweek managing editor at 29, editor at 37; author of four books, the latest, “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House,” awarded the Pulitzer Prize last year in biography. So it was not without a certain schadenfreude that the media world seemed to take special relish in what turned out to be what his friend Sally Quinn called “a week from hell,” for Meacham some days short of his 41st birthday.

Personally, I never cared for Meacham's work, but he is not much worse or better than the rest of the Media. Pompous and tedious? Sure. But so is George Will. But I was struck by the silly reaction of Howard Fineman (admittedly an employee of Meacham's):

"His rise was meteoric and nothing is easy," says Howard Fineman, Newsweek’s chief political writer. "He's studied leadership and he knows that people like Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Andrew Jackson had tough times, too. It's not all gravy."

Say what? Meacham's pedestrian and uninteresting failure at Newsweek is comparable to the leadership challenges faced by Churchill and FDR? My gawd, Fineman. What an embarrassing thing to say.

The funny thing is Meacham will land somewhere and preside over the decline of some other Media entity, and then another one after that and so on. He's got a decade yet to go before he becomes a Fox analyst. Fineman will be ok too. I predict Politico in his future within a year.

The real moral of this story is no one outside of the Beltway cocktail party circuit cares about this. Newsweek, like network news, and most of the rest of the Media are quickly sliding to irrelevance.

For all the teeth gnashing over the financial viability of the Traditional Media, I wonder if they think about the fact that their relevance is in even worse shape than their financial statements.

Speaking for me only

< The "Appearance" of Judicial Impartiality | Greenwald On ABC's This Week >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Meacham's responsible for Newsweek's decline (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by LCaution on Sun May 16, 2010 at 06:24:36 PM EST
    Since Meacham became Editor of Newsweek, and I say this as a very, very long-time subscriber, he has moved the magazine fairly far to the right of center (he believes that's where Americans sit) thus depriving weekly magazine readers of a somewhat liberal alternative to the traditionally conservative Time.

    Worse, from my perspective, he has drenched the magazine in religion, most particularly Christianity.  I've lost track of the number of Christian cover stories & articles.  Worse, his religious fingerprints have turned up regularly in what are supposed to be articles on science.

    The column that stirred up the latest kerfuffle was all too typical of his editorial judgment.  That PBS is replacing Bill Moyers with Meacham makes me sadder & angrier than I can express here.

    I agree (none / 0) (#21)
    by Zorba on Sun May 16, 2010 at 08:05:19 PM EST
    I canceled my subscription to Newsweek because of the direction Meacham took it.  And I don't know what PBS was thinking.

    The "traditional media" isn't terribly (3.66 / 3) (#8)
    by tigercourse on Sun May 16, 2010 at 01:56:20 PM EST
    good. The "new media" is much, much worse. I'll take Newseek, the Times, the Journal, etc. over Huffington Post or MSNBC/FOX any day of the week.

    The weeklies are going the way (none / 0) (#1)
    by andgarden on Sun May 16, 2010 at 12:56:18 PM EST
    of a landline phone. Just like the dailies.

    Not quite. (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Cream City on Sun May 16, 2010 at 01:04:06 PM EST
    Those who figure it out will survive the transition -- this is not the endtimes but yet another transitional time.  Mass media history (or for that matter print history) teaches us that every time the death knell has been rung, it actually was ringing out signs of rebirth.  For each of one form of technology (in production, in delivery, in other ways), it was the beginning of a new one.

    See: the introduction of the telegraph, the introduction of the first broadcast medium, the introduction of the next broadcast medium, etc.  

    The end of this transition will not look like online today, like the internet toobz today -- that much we know.  If only I had the crystal ball to tell me where this all will take us in ten years, in twenty year, etc., I could be the world's wealthiest woman.  (And you could be the world's wisest communication lawyer.:-)


    Can't remember who was talking on NPR (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by oculus on Sun May 16, 2010 at 01:08:43 PM EST
    this week, but the speaker did say "no more books."  I don't believe it.

    A lot of unhappy campers if they go to (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by MO Blue on Sun May 16, 2010 at 01:51:10 PM EST
    "no more books" before old bookaholics like me die off.

    So many Nostradamus' (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by jondee on Sun May 16, 2010 at 02:12:53 PM EST
    in this country..it's become a regular cottage industry. The Tom Friedman's of the world giving everyone The Big Picture: from the "flattening" of the earth for yuppie, "it's the economy stupid" millennialists to 2012 for those with a more apocalyptic bent..

    Yet, most of them thought there really were wmds and that deregulating Wall St meant prosperity was just around the corner for all of us..

    Maybe the best policy at this point is to start practicing a little preemptive ignorance of what all these company men and women are telling us we think or should be thinking and start going to the library more.


    Still awaiting the paperless office (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by caseyOR on Sun May 16, 2010 at 04:57:21 PM EST
    What was it? 20 years ago? the arrival of the Paperless Office was just around the corner. Still waiting for that to hit.

    Given that, I don't think we are anywhere near the endtimes for books. Yes, e-readers will improve and proliferate, but, seriously, who is going to hand their new iPad to their adorable 18 month old niece? Or take that same iPad to the sunny and sandy beach? Or use it to teach a sticky grape jelly covered 5 year old to read? And maybe it's just me, but when I curl up with a good book I don't want to be worrying about it crashing to the floor and breaking should I nod off.

    Change will come, is coming, but the big changes arrive over time.

    By the way, is it just me or does the iPad bear a striking resemblance to the reader used by Capt. Picard on Star Trek: Next Generation?


    Yes, "no more books" is not new (none / 0) (#9)
    by Cream City on Sun May 16, 2010 at 02:00:26 PM EST
    either, actually -- nor the "nobody reads anymore" mantra so popular among print media sorts.  Actually, people are reading more now, just not newspapers on paper; they are reading more online newspapers, they are reading more magazines, etc.

    The real problem for newspapers, especially, has not been a drop in readership.  The problems have been a drop in circulation -- again, of paper- format newspapers -- but especially a drop in advertising in this economy.  That's the real source of financial success, of course.  So once they finally figure out how to truly capture readership online (readership not being the same as circulation -- and online for a fee hasn't quite been figured out yet, anyway), and once the economy comes back, we will see what the mass media world will be.

    Btw, too many students interested in journalism are getting bad advice to get out of the major.  They just need to be sure to go to a school that trains them for more than 19th-century newspapering and instead for backpack aka multimedia journalism.

    The best j-school students, the best multiply prepared and best minds, still are landing jobs in this, the transitional Information Age.  And we wouldn't want the worst ones to be in charge of providing us with information we need, anyway.


    I remember people saying this in the 60s (5.00 / 1) (#22)
    by esmense on Mon May 17, 2010 at 08:09:30 AM EST
    "No more books." "No one reads anymore." Yet, there are many more outlets for the written word today than in the 60s -- and more people who pursue higher education.

    Newsweek's problems illustrate the difficulty facing enterprises that grew up in, and are today still trying to sell and distribute a product to -- whether it's news, an automobile or a sneaker -- a mass market.

    But the news media has a further problem -- as the mass market for news has dwindled and diversified they have all taken their cues from, and tried to position themselves to appeal to, the same lucrative yet niche market (not, it seems, recognizing that it is a niche market) -- the market that Limbaugh and Fox News have exploited so successfully. But that market isn't an especially literate market -- or one that is even in the market for actual news -- and no number of Jesus covers and sex scandals can make it so.

    In the meantime, news seekers outside that niche have fled to the internet.


    I think the opposite. Once the right (none / 0) (#12)
    by observed on Sun May 16, 2010 at 03:28:08 PM EST
    Kindle type device is out there, people will read tons more, IMO.
    I look at it this way. There's a lot of classic literature out there I haven't read, which if I could sample in my own e-book, I would devour.
    It's about motivational threshholds.
    I think I might like reading Proust,for example, but  my interest level isn't high enough to check him out at bookstores or libraries.
    However, if I could just open up Proust in an e-book, I might just dig in.

    And so, just like newspapers (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Cream City on Sun May 16, 2010 at 04:33:50 PM EST
    . . . publishing houses (good if too-brief piece recently in the New Yorker on this, I think it was) also are in transition owing to new technologies.

    Some will not survive.  Some will figure out how to morph and will make it.  Which ones?  Who knows just now?  So investment in (and by) publishing houses also is up in the air, especially in this economy.

    I wish I could be around a century from now, even a half century from now, to read the works by the historians of print culture about all this.  I think that they will not be historians of the equivalent of hieroglyphs, i.e., there still will be a print culture.  But just how it survives, in which forms and technologies -- including, no doubt, many not invented yet -- will make a great book . . . even if it is mainly read on Kindle by then. :-)  


    I think pure writing will survive. Multimedia (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by observed on Sun May 16, 2010 at 04:36:51 PM EST
    is sexy, but words are absolutely the most compact way of transmitting information from one person to another.

    The history of ownership of (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by ZtoA on Sun May 16, 2010 at 05:37:09 PM EST
    authority via words is fascinating. Writing is now produced by individuals, and not just anointed authorities. The internet seems to be an invention akin to movable type and re-distributes authority. I'm with CC in that I'd love to see how this shakes out in a hundred years or so.

    Don't discount visual communication. Same issues tho.

    Newsweek just got boring. It was seen as competing with People and in the dentist's office People Magazine became more popular. Newsweek lost its ownership of authority and didn't have that prurient punch.

    Blogs have authority because of the bloggers. At TL the two bloggers are highly respected authorities in their fields, tho neither are professional journalists. The commenters (herded by Jeralyn) add dimensions of expertise from differing povs. I find that specialized information is more available often than actual general facts! Information is still being hoarded.

    I have this whole theory about the very structure of culture changing from a pyramid top-down authoritarian structure to one that is akin to an amoeba. Amoeba = a web structure in 3D. Pyramid is extremely stable, amoeba is always changing and adapting --and it is organic. At this point these two structures of authority are battling. I won't get started.... :)


    I am the only person under 30 I know (none / 0) (#5)
    by andgarden on Sun May 16, 2010 at 01:52:45 PM EST
    with subscriptions to one or the other. One is a subscription to the Wall Street Journal (my mom got a deal and signed me up without consultation). The other is a subscription to the Economist. Its provenance remains a mystery (though I did subscribe years ago).

    And two years from now... (none / 0) (#7)
    by EL seattle on Sun May 16, 2010 at 01:55:22 PM EST
    ... the current new media formats like blogs might be just as dead, replaced by new(er) variations of things like twitter and social networks like MySpace.  

    To me, the trend seems to be moving towards a "judge and rant first, read and research later" approach to discussion and debate.  But maybe that will change over the next few days or months or years.  Who knows?


    Exactly. Well (none / 0) (#10)
    by Cream City on Sun May 16, 2010 at 02:01:40 PM EST
    probably a bit more than two years from now.  But who knows?  That's the uncertainty that, in this economy, is making investment in media so chancy.

    For most of us... (none / 0) (#6)
    by ruffian on Sun May 16, 2010 at 01:53:53 PM EST
    if the 'rise of our star' had so closely coincided with the decline of our business enterprise, we would have been drummed out of our business by our colleagues. Not in the news media though- just another born leader having a rough patch, like Churchill. LOL.

    Meachum may be a sign of the end of PBS (5.00 / 2) (#17)
    by caseyOR on Sun May 16, 2010 at 05:02:14 PM EST
    PBS has been on the decline for some years now, and replacing Bill Moyers with Jon Meachum may well be the final shove over the cliff of mediocrity. On second thought, mediocre may set too high a standard for Meachum and the current incarnation of PBS' public affairs programming.

    The only thing I continue to read (none / 0) (#15)
    by Coral on Sun May 16, 2010 at 04:55:03 PM EST
    with as much interest as I did a decade, even two decades ago, is the New Yorker. They have an eclectic mix of articles, some topical, some quirky, most well-researched and well-written.

    The New York Times used to be a must-read, must-subscribe for me, but we realized last year that most was going into the recycling bin without being read, and decided to save the money. I read the front page and Krugman, a few others, online.

    I don't think it's my changing tastes or my transition to the computer for news, as much as it is that the newspapers have gone down in quality. There's just less "there" there. The New York Times lost a lot of my respect with their reporting on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction during the Bush era.

    With the oil spill, I find myself wishing there were a reliable source of breaking news. I am increasingly dissatisfied, though for politics, I tend to go online, sometimes download Rachel Maddow.

    Even online sources that I used to like seem less robust these days. TPM is a good example. Josh Marshall was a whole lot better before the site exploded into a massive operation.

    It's not the only thing (none / 0) (#20)
    by Cream City on Sun May 16, 2010 at 06:25:31 PM EST
    that I still read, and the New Yorker has slipped here and there and then and again (and lost some of my respect as well a while ago) -- but it comes back again and again to what it is about and supposed to be.  So it also remains a must-read for me.

    I had to give it up for the first few years after divorce, nigh-welfare years and grad-school years, but I vowed that it would be one of my first rewards when I could afford it again.  I missed it so much.