Private Equity is Doing to Digital What They Did to Newspapers

This is a familiar tune: 

This man is not the adult in the room at the former Gawker Media, just as Kendall Roy was not the adult in the room at Vaulter and Alden Global Capital executives are not the adult in the room at any of the 100 newspapers they are destroying. Sending a copied-and-pasted company handbook, issuing vague edicts about becoming sites for “enthusiasts,” and making inexplicable changes for the sake of making changes are the professional equivalent of a small boy dressing up in his father’s suit: He is role-playing, deluding himself but no one else.

The editors and writers and video producers and artists and sales reps and product managers and so on—the people who made this a successful company while also making it the best place I can imagine working—are its actual leaders, and the reason that, despite it all, these websites will continue writing things the rest of us want to read. But none of those people are the richest person here, which means they will keep succeeding despite—not because of—the man who is. He doesn’t know what they know; he doesn’t have to know. No one like him does.

It’s almost like the problem isn’t the format or the “business model” but the idiots running the things. It’s almost like you can send your news out on the internet or publish it on someone else’s platform or print it out on pulped-up dead trees but either way if you take all the money you make and give it to anything but the news you’re screwed in the end.

If you spend a bazillion dollars on real estate. If you rob the place blind. If you care more about double-digit profit margins than getting the paper on the porch or making the site good. If you refuse to pay for journalism, if you spend all your time screwing with journalists, you’re not going to be successful and there’s only so long you can get away with blaming your customers for not liking the thing you made suck on purpose.

I’m not happy that we’re finally paying attention to this shit 20 years too late to save the institutions that could have saved us. There’s a direct line between the ongoing decimation of local news and the rise of what all our thought leaders are calling “post-truth America” and everybody acted like it was just the weather, like it just happened to us. Like it wasn’t done on purpose to immense profit for the worst people in America and like the only people screaming about it 15 years ago were steadily ignored until the pattern repeated itself online.

And lest anyone think I’m letting my own generation of newspaper journos off the hook for missing the real story about their own demise, far, far too many of us took management’s subtle encouragement to hate the internet and Kids Today and journos younger than we were for destroying the industry that management was gleefully skullfucking in the boardroom while we fought amongst ourselves.

Far too many of us spent our days grumbling about younger reporters just out of college “taking” jobs from veterans, as if that 23-year-old Mizzou grad is the one who refused to give Howie a decent raise or offered Cheryl a buyout after her health insurance got too pricey.

Meanwhile, they blew all their money on sex offenders and rebranding. 

It shouldn’t have taken another generation of journalists having their careers destroyed for us to finally notice it wasn’t the Kids or the Internet or the “digital paradigm” or the union distribution drivers who were the problem with news. It was always the people running the thing being total idiots because failure is just as profitable for them as success and has zero consequences.

They could fuck up a baked potato and we gave them the keys to half of Idaho after they told us that famine in Ireland was just some kind of fluke.

A.

 

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