The medieval practice of bleeding patients in order to improve their health hasn’t gone away. It’s simply relocated to Wall Street and its tributaries, where an analyst like Henry Blodget can suggest, without being laughed out of the room, that the way to cure the financial ills of the New York Times is to open a few veins and wait for the Gray Lady to turn blue.
Normally this would be my cue to start screaming and throwing coffee mugs at the wall. Fortunately, Felix Salmon can deal with Blodget in a more temperate but still scathing manner:
Blodget’s first idea for cutting costs is to cut editors rather than writers: maybe he thinks that since his blogs manage to get by perfectly well without editors, then the NYT should be able to as well. But the NYT’s editors are its most important employees: as a paper of record, it’s vastly more important that the NYT bends over backwards to be error-free than it is that Blodget, say, not make any mistakes. The New York Times is the most scrutinized newspaper in the world: it needs its editors.
But Henry’s only getting started. Next he starts going down the pay-per-view road:
Productive writers can be retained and unproductive ones can be released (thanks to the web stats, this can be determined scientifically: look at a several years of click data and it will be crystal clear).
Got that? If you don’t have the “click data”, fear for your job! If you snark about the president, or how to analyze your husband “the way a trainer considers an exotic animal”, then you’re probably fine. If you’re an investigative reporter who spends months at a time uncovering secrets, not so much. And if you’re a war correspondent putting your life on the line to cover important conflicts around the world, well, remember to include lots of pictures of kittens to boost that all-important click data.
“Yes,” says Blodget, “some sections that some readers love might disappear”. But those kind of fluffy, feature-driven sections — the ones that might be cut — aren’t expensive: by contrast, they’re profitable. That’s why they exist: they subsidize the important news hole, which is less attractive to advertisers.
Less attractive to advertisers but very attractive to readers. Got that, all you Wall Street sharpies out there?
I’ve seen the effects of Blodget-style dumbassery up close at the newspapers I once worked for, and from a distance elsewhere. It’s killing American newspapers. Newspapers can be run at a profit, just not the kind of profits that appeal to the constant-growth-at-any-price crowd. Wall Street and Fleet Street have to be kept separate.