Tina Brown’s March Into Media Quicksand

Posted on September 18, 2012. Filed under: Media Commentary, Public Relations, Society | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Arianna Huffington and Tina Brown

Arianna Huffington and Tina Brown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tina Brown, famed British bluepenciler who took Manhattan by storm yo some years back, takes a whipping in Michael Wolff’s USA Today Media column of Monday, Sept. 17, 2012 (Is There A Place For Tina Brown?.  Doyen of the old media, now on her last editorial legs, immersed in a merciless fight to the death to save Newsweek, all thoughts that come to mind about Ms. Brown after reading the piece.

Lawdy, lawdy, Ms. Tina sure do give it her all though, Wolff notes.

Newsweek may be a dying media beast, and the Daily Beast may be a wounded beast, but Brown is still fighting the good fight for traditional, e.g. quality, journalism, argues Wolff.

He makes a good point.

Another Time, Another Place

No use pining for the good old days of journalistic largesse, with its giants of the trade — too numerous and mind-numbing to mention by name. Those days are good and gone, kaput, faded as an old Soviet Red Star flag. In their place, sheer chaos, punctuated by the screams of the drowning. (Have you heard the one about how all the old-time journos are snarfing up those penny-per-pound article-writing jobs advertised so freely – and paying about the same — on freelance writer sites across the Internet? Not happening, so far as I can tell. Work-at-home eighth-graders can do a lot of that type of writing, and the pay will just about equate to what they would have got decades ago by taking on a paperboy job.)

Where Have All The Must-Reads Gone?

Well here’s some ways the media has changed:

  • New York Magazine once was a must read, no matter where you lived. (Assuming you worked in the advertising and PR fields.)
  • Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report were the holy triumvirate of U.S. news weeklies. Get a placement in one of those pubs and you were a star of incredible proportions.
  • Reading the Village Voice was to wallow weekly in the byzantine complexities of New York City municipal government, a monstrous operation that made for fascinating reading even in Far Stuckaway, North Dakota. Oh I know, nobody out in the hinterland really cared who was bribing who in the Big Apple – most of us just assumed everybody in New York was on the take — but it was like a soap opera for political junkies and conspiracy theorists. And the Voice personal ads, in that long-ago age of innocence, were more aimed at people wanting to find Mr. or Mrs. Goodbar, rather than a well, you know, short-term relationship of a more commercial nature. I always read the damned Voice — buying it off the late-lamented Shinder’s Newsstand on Hennepin Avenue — because I did so much media work in New York City and felt it gave me an edge to know what was up in the city. (And yes, I know there could be dire consequences to those engaged in the search for Mr. Goodbar as Diane Keaton’s character discovered in the movie Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Life in the age of The Personals was not always fun and games either.)

I could go on, but what’s the point? The media world has changed, long live the Big Media Age, and yet Tina Brown fights on, seeking relevancy at a time when very few people could name you even one major print media journalist. Go ahead. Throw some names out there. Niall Ferguson? How many folks in Peoria would know a Niall from a Ned Ferguson? What about Michael Wolff? Even Dear Abby’s not who or what she used to be.

When Newspapers Ruled

Oddly enough, just yesterday I was researching some material out of some really old back copies of the Minneapolis Tribune — by really old, I mean 1910-22 — and I was floored by how much stuff the newspaper covered. I mean, there were stories from all over the place, mostly wire-service, as if people back then were really interested in what was happening in other parts of the world. The Tribune even had a writer who went on a tour of Europe after the Great War and wrote about it. (McNally was his name, and he apparently did not much like the food they served visiting journalists, not quite up to snuff, although plentiful, even though vast numbers of the post-war population in Europe lived on the edge of starvation. At least one thing has not changed all these years later – food better be good, no matter whether it’s for a gathering of traditional journos or a bunch of new media upstarts pawing away at their smartphones.)

So we return once more to the fate of Tina Brown, exemplar of the old way of doing media, and her seemingly Sisyphean dream of creating a new media juggernaut at Newsweek. Wolff is sanguine, noting that Brown, as a self-confessed technophobe, is probably not ever going to get the new world of digital media right.

And yet, he says, the world as we know it has become a larger media wasteland since the fall of the old media. Now it’s chock-full of look-alike content creation, little of it notable, much of it under-funded, rudderless. The barbarians have over-run the gatekeepers. What’s needed, he argues, is a new Tina Brown for a digital age, someone to put quality, connectivity and profitability back into the journalism world. That’s not such a tall order as it seems. There are plenty of well-qualified writers and journalists about. What’s needed are more venues that can pay for their talents.

(Visit my website too: Big Thunder PR.)

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