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from Jack Shafer:

Ben Bradlee, the last giant standing

Ben Bradlee, a former Washington Post executive editor discusses about the Watergate Hotel burglary and stories for the Post at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda

One of the great payoffs of having lived a long life arrives on the day the newspapers publish your obituary. By out-lasting your competitors and foes, the storyline naturally bends your way. Time blurs precise recollection in favor of generous feelings, which we tend to bestow upon most famous survivors, no matter what sort of lives they lived.

This principle applies to both heroes, such as Benjamin C. Bradlee, and villains, such as Richard Nixon. By wisely dying in 1994 at the age of 81 instead of the late 1970s or early 1980s, Nixon reaped better death notices than he would have otherwise. The groundwork for Nixon’s first obituaries was first laid in the 1950s when he was vice president, when a plane crash or an assassin's bullet would have required a comprehensive obituary on deadline, with the immediate circumstances of his death tacked onto the lede. When Nixon died, many preliminary obituaries later, obituary writers did not whitewash Watergate and his other crimes, but decades of distance from those events moved them to paint death notices in a softer hue. Contemplation doth make saps of us all.

Like most journalists, Bradlee fretted about how his obituary would portray him, certain for many years that the shame of 1981's Janet Cooke scandal would scream from the second paragraph of his. He needn't have worried. The New York Times first touches the topic in the 26th paragraph in its obituary, the Washington Post in paragraph 18, and the Los Angeles Times in paragraph 15, a sour footnote in an otherwise outstanding life.

Bradlee was all the things his obituarists and essayists claim today. He graduated from Harvard, got married, and was commissioned in the Naval Reserve on the same summer day in 1942. A cultural aristocrat, he knew how to mix with the commoners. He was brave, staring down administration after administration, fighting libel cases to the end. He pulsed with charisma, making women and men faint by merely entering a room, an attribute more common in cult leaders than editors. He rewarded that adulation with his trust. Had he chosen the career of warlord instead of journalist, he would have conquered all of the states from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River by the time he hit 65. He hired well and fired well, once bragging of the plagiarists and fabulists he bounced from the paper for their transgressions. And he put out a pretty good newspaper for more than two decades.

from Breakingviews:

Gannett split puts digital on wrong side of divide

By Jeffrey Goldfarb

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Gannett is redefining the digital divide. The media conglomerate unveiled plans on Tuesday to spin off newspapers, including USA Today, to showcase the value of its broadcasting operations. At the same time, the company will take control of the parent of Cars.com, paying $1.8 billion for the 73 percent it doesn’t already own. Instead of using that online asset to buffer the weaker half, however, Gannett is forcing print to stand on its own.

from Breakingviews:

Gannett carve-up is just a matter of Time

By Jeffrey Goldfarb

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

A Gannett breakup is really just a matter of Time. The $6.6 billion owner of USA Today and other newspapers isn’t getting much credit for its TV transformation. As Time Warner sets free its publishing arm this week, a Breakingviews analysis suggests Gannett should do the same.

from Jack Shafer:

The new Medicis funding journalism

 

Neil Barsky, a former Wall Street money manager, became the latest Medici of journalism this week when he hired Bill Keller, former executive editor of the New York Times, to head his new non-profit journalism enterprise, the Marshall Project.

The Marshall Project, which will scrutinize the criminal justice system, joins a busy flotilla of non-profit journalism organizations already patrolling the news beat. Everywhere you look, a rich patron has founded, funded or seeded a substantial non-profit journalism outfit in the last half-decade: Herbert Sandler and ProPublica, John Thornton and the Texas Tribune, Pete Peterson and Fiscal Times, the Koch brothers and the Franklin Center, John Arnold and WNET, scores of other local and regional operations funded by minor Medicis, and well-established enterprises, such as the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Center for Public Integrity.

from Jack Shafer:

Buzz off, Waxman — Congress can’t tell a newspaper how to do business

Oh to be a fly on the wall Jan. 15, when Tribune Co. executives meet with the staff of Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., in a command performance to explain the media conglomerate's plans to spin off its newspapers -- which include the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Baltimore Sun -- into a separate company named Tribune Publishing.

Waxman called for the meeting in mid-December after Tribune filed its blueprint with the Securities and Exchange Commission, arguing in a letter that the restructuring may not "be in the best interests" of his constituents, who live in the Pacific Coast-hugging congressional district that runs inland to include Beverly Hills. The spin-off will essentially defund the newspapers, Waxman argued, specifically the Los Angeles Times, which his district depends on for news. Under the terms of the restructuring, the Tribune Publishing newspapers will pay a cash dividend to Tribune Co. The newspapers will also lose their real estate holdings, forcing them to pay rent for their current facilities.

from Jack Shafer:

News never made money, and is unlikely to

Sometime in the mid-1990s, the Web began to peel from the daily American newspaper bundle its most commercial elements, essentially the editorial sections against which advertisements could be reliably sold. Coverage of sports, business and market news, entertainment and culture, gossip, shopping, and travel still ran in daily newspapers, but the audience steadily shifted to Web sources for this sort of news. Broadcasters had dented newspaper hegemony decades ago, absconding with breaking news and weather coverage, and inventing new audience pleasers, such as traffic reports and talk. But it was the Web that completed the disintegration of the newspaper bundle that dominated the news media market for more than a century. In addition to pinching the most commercial coverage from newspapers, the Web has also made off with the institution's lucrative classified ads market, simultaneously reducing its status as the premier venue for content and advertising.

This isn't to say newspapers deserted the commercial news categories. Newspapers have maintained their presence in the sports-weather-business-entertainment-culture departments to attract readers who attract advertisers. Even so, circulation has eroded and ad revenues have fallen to below 1950 levels in real dollars. The units of the newspaper bundle not yet ransacked by the Web -- international, national, state, local, and political coverage -- have (to paraphrase Frank Zappa) little-to-no commercial potential. Traditionally, newspapers have struggled selling space to advertisers by invoking these news varieties unless the news is absolutely spectacular or sensationalized. As the bundle fragments, it becomes more difficult for publishers to support non-commercial news.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Bezos needs to reinvent a business model, not journalism

It is now a week since Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon,  announced that he was buying the Washington Post, in what could be the most exciting case of convergence between the new media and the old since the merger of AOL with Time Warner. But how might Bezos re-launch this venerable flagship of U.S. journalism? And what could his ownership of the Post mean for news businesses around the world?

These may seem strange questions for a column devoted mostly to controversies in public policy and economics, but newspapers today are a declining industry comparable to the steel and shipbuilding industries in the 1980s, and employ even more people at higher wages. Newspapers are therefore of great economic significance, not to mention their importance to democracy. Yet public discussion often assumes that journalism is technologically doomed. The Internet, it seems, is ineluctably turning news and analysis from a thriving industry, gainfully employing millions on decent incomes, into an unpaid hobby for philanthropists or self-promoters who will earn their living by other means.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Jeff Bezos and the new publishing revolution

The last few days have seen a flurry of purchases of ailing print journalism flagships. The Boston Globe was sold. Newsweek changed hands again. And, most spectacular of all, the Washington Post was bought for chump change. Meanwhile, the Tribune group -- publisher of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune -- is readying itself for sale.

There is nothing new about rich men buying newspapers. The surest way to enhance personal prestige is to become a press magnate. As Rupert Murdoch’s second wife Anna replied when asked how she was enjoying Beverly Hills, “It’s not the same if you don’t own the paper.” But something more interesting is going on than social climbing. New technology billionaires are picking up old money properties for a song. Online is moving in on hard copy. This is not evolution, it is a revolution.

from Jack Shafer:

Jeff Bezos is an owner who knows how to deliver

As the American newspaper business began its red-ink slide in the late 2000s, I fully expected a billionaire to rescue the financially struggling Washington Post. But I never thought its savior would be Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who purchased the paper today for $250 million.

I put my money on Michael R. Bloomberg's money, in a July 2012 column titled "How Bloomberg can still run Washington" because he seemed like such a logical buyer. Unlike Bezos, Bloomberg already owned a media empire comprised of a news service, a cable channel, a weekly magazine, and more. Unlike Bezos, Bloomberg had toyed in semi-public with the idea of buying either the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, or the Financial Times. Unlike the 49-year-old Bezos, who has been building spaceships and an eternal clock with his mad money, the aging (71 years old) Bloomberg seemed to need one last great gesture in his career before called to paradise. He wasn't ever going to be president, a campaign he had gamed out. As for running the World Bank, a job Bloomberg was reportedly shopped to fill, well, that would be a step down from Emperor of New York City.

from Jack Shafer:

The long, slow decline of alt-weeklies

Alternative weekly colossus Boston Phoenix cracked and fell yesterday, ceasing publication after 47 years. According to a Phoenix executive quoted in the obituary in today's Boston Globe, the alternative weekly was losing more than $1 million a year, and a format switch last fall from newsprint to glossy had failed to attract the sort of national advertising it desired.

Once one of the leading alt-weeklies in the nation, the dead paper leaves behind $1.2 million in debt and roughly $500,000 in assets. The fact that its owner didn't -- or couldn't -- sell the publication to cover some of its debt signals the illness of the greater alternative weekly market.

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