by Whet Moser
I had a conversation with a peer in the local industry who claimed that I was known for being thoughtful about the media business. While it was nice to be misperceived as being known or thoughtful, I said that I'd mostly just written a thing largely to entertain myself and a few people had liked it, and that pretty much amounted to all of it, and that I'd lost interest in building on it at all.
It's probably entirely self-defeating, but I can't really bring myself to care very much about new media, monetization, branding, synergy, social media or whatnot when I look around at the wreckage that a brief rash of contemptible mismanagement created in this city, worsened by an economic crisis caused by similar financial mismanagement.
The ongoing troubles of the print industry tend to be accompanied by prescriptions aimed at journalists and ad departments. Be more biased! Be less biased! Learn multimedia! Aggregate! Learn computer-assisted journalism! Practice branding! All of which is fine and good. But if the end of these efforts is that whatever money the content producers (and the salesmen who monetize it) are able to generate ends up in the hands of upper management types who stand to earn bonuses outside their already substantial salaries by yoking their companies to unpayable debts . . . it's hard to get enthusiastic about whatever bright new stuff we create representing any kind of bright new future.
Why renovate the place if you're constantly living in fear that the landlord's going to torch it for the insurance money?
Is journalism, abstracted from the business of it, in crisis? Sure, I guess. But I can't help but think that it can't be any worse than what increasingly seems like a failed management culture in American business, particularly in the financial sector, which was knee-deep in the Tribune Company fuck-up.
Not that this sort of thing hasn't happened before. I just finished Liaquat Ahamed's excellent Lords of Finance, which details how various acts of financial arrogance (and outright fraud) led from World War I to the Great Depression, not to mention the economic rollercoaster Germany went on between the wars which, arguably, was the most important factor in Hitler's rise to power. Some of the decisions were on the world-historical scale, such as the division of war reparations between the great powers, but smaller crises, like the failure of a large New York community bank, and a housing bubble in the Chicago suburbs, contributed to the march towards disaster.
Perhaps the only thing to do is to continue in the thus-far-accurate assumption that nothing is the end of the world, and remember that building sand castles is a pleasure in and of itself, even if someone's going to come kick it down—or, more accurately, bulldoze it to build a summer house.