- A new day?
In a dramatic but not totally unexpected move, the billionaire owner of The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com is donating the financially troubled news group “to a newly created media institute, the core of a complicated transaction designed to ensure that quality journalism endures in Philadelphia for generations.” (Philly.com) It places them under the nonprofit Philadelphia Foundation and creates a so-called public benefit corporation that must operate at a profit but with a central mission of quality journalism. It’s akin to structures set up by the Kansas City Royals and Patagonia. “Of all the things I’ve done, this is the most important,” said H.F. ‘Gerry’ Lenfest, the local mogul and prominent philanthropist who is owner of Philadelphia Media Network, which runs the newspapers and website. “Because of the journalism.” Subscribers, other readers and union employees won’t see any real change, at least not in the near term. The big difference will be the overriding ownership and a “new, nonprofit journalism institute, created at Lenfest’s request by the Philadelphia Foundation and operating under that agency’s special-asset fund. That structure opens philanthropic avenues to fund the company’s journalism. Foundations, corporations, and other benefactors can give money to the institute to be used for specific reporting efforts and journalism projects and undertakings.”
San Francisco-based newspaper analyst Alan Mutter said it’s “an honest and public-spirited effort to try to ensure a future for one of the nation’s wobbliest metro papers.” Lenfest will donate an initial $20 million to the foundation, though he apparently doesn’t get tax advantages from that due to large and pending carryover deductions. The company will be operated by one board and the new institute by another. Of the 1,000 shares in the new entity, 999 will go to the foundation to create the institute, a source said Tuesday (Lenfest will keep one share himself). The institute’s board will include Sarah Bartlett, dean of the graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York; David Boardman, dean of the School of Media and Communication at Temple University; and Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Their job will be to help spur journalism innovation and fund individual projects, not run the news operations. The move doesn’t guarantee success since the operations will still need to find new readers and make money. But it appears to ease pressures while confronting the unavoidable industry challenge of investing in and producing content for which people will pay, especially digital. Still, “It’s an incredibly public-spirited act,” Inquirer editor Bill Marimow agrees. “Gerry’s decision to go forward with this nonprofit reinforces my belief that his goal is to perpetuate the best traditions and practices of public-interest journalism for generations to come.” Lenfest was known to have had many discussions for more than a year on devising a long-term alternative to the current ownership structure. That included investigating the structure by which the nonprofit Poynter Institute owns the Tampa Bay Times. Amid the newspaper industry’s desperate search for revenue and new business models, especially with its digital products, the change in Philadelphia will surely be watched closely for a long time. The success stories of similar nonprofit structures are few, so wish them well.
- The seeming death of the New Republic
Well, anybody want to now buy and save the New Republic, too? Writing in Vox, his own well-supported online creation, Ezra Klein writes correctly about the New Republic’s seeming demise as it’s put on the auction block. “The eulogy that needs to be written isn’t for the New Republic. It’s for the New Republic and The American Prospect and the Washington Monthly and their peers. It’s for the role once played by Washington’s small fleet of ambitious policy magazines.” He explains how serious policymaking discussion was once centered on a few elite magazines. The New Republic was arguably the best known, most ambitious and consistently strongest. For me, there was nothing better when Michael Kinsley was the editor. It was responsibly provocative and aggressively smart. Kinsley had few peers (think of The New Yorker’s David Remnick these days). But this species of magazine tends not to be the center of conversation any longer. “That conversation has spilled online, beyond their pages, outside their borders,” Klein writes. “The in-flight reading on Air Force One is probably saved to President Obama’s iPad.” And there’s lot of stuff for the president, or anybody else, to choose from.
Part of these magazines’ cachet involved, notes Klein, how “they simply cared less what the audience thought — they saw their role as telling their audience what to think, and they expected a readership in the low six or high five figures, not the mid-eight figures. That gave them a freedom to truly be themselves that more mass-market publications don’t have.” They weren’t about big numbers, they didn’t find the Holy Grail to be, in today’s parlance, pageviews. Chris Hughes, the current owner and a fellow rich from his early involvement with Facebook, was once so confident about turning an old media stalwart into a digital-first operation. (Re/code) Now he’ll have a hard time selling but might find somebody, somewhere. (Poynter) And even stipulating the changed competitive landscape and both Hughes’ hubris and seeming strategic stumbles, something is still lost as the likes of the New Republic and National Journal lose their potency. As with the decline of the daily newspaper, few seem to understand what they’re losing. “And,” writes Klein, “it’s still an open question how much of it can be regained.” (Vox)
- What Kinsley thinks
“I feel sorry for Chris Hughes,” he told me. “He was pretty inept, but it’s not as if anyone else has the magic formula that could put TNR on a firm financial footing. I’m totally in favor of tech zillionaires pouring their money into magazines, as opposed to sailboats and race horses, and I’m totally in favor of trying anything, including a bizarre 19-times-a-year publishing schedule, to see if something will work. Slate, under Jacob Weisberg, makes money, as does The Atlantic, apparently. So it’s not impossible.” It’s a reminder of how there is no better formula for being good, and having the spine to tell powerful interests to go screw themselves when appropriate, than turning a profit. Relying on charity and tax breaks has its limits.
- White House press corps misses jackpot
At the daily briefing, it asked once, then twice about the president and the Powerball jackpot. “A lot of state governments see this as an opportunity to try to make a little money — yes, to augment funding for infrastructure projects, or education, or other priorities that they’ve identified,” said Press Secretary Josh Earnest. “And I haven’t heard the President express a particular objection to that. So I guess that’s all I’ve got to say.”
- Who needs reporting when…
Kudos to the communications folks at Texas Tech University who quickly put out a release, “Experts Available to Discuss Life and Legacy David Bowie.” This included both “talking points” and pre-packaged quotes for the legions of stenographers disguised as journalists. The talking points included, “Bowie was one of the original musicians to push gender roles and boundaries, similar to what people today probably see in Lada Gaga.” The quotes included, “Obviously, having such people in the public spotlight can allow fans of them and their work to question and consider how gender performance affects how others see us and the role of gender stereotypes and expectations in our own lives and experiences,” according to Amelia Talley, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences. Now if they had only offered links to clickbait video, too! (Texas Tech)
- And there’s Bowie, Wall Street visionary
Here’s how you divine a topic of not initially perceived interest to your readers: “David Bowie will be remembered for pushing the boundaries of music and fashion. But he also blazed trails in finance. The British musician, who died Sunday after a struggle with cancer, in 1997 raised $55 million by selling off the rights to his future earnings. The groundbreaking sale of so-called ‘Bowie Bonds’ made Mr. Bowie the first musician to securitize the royalties from his back catalog, which, unlike many artists, he fully owned.” (The Wall Street Journal)
- Murdoch finds satisfaction
You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find you get what you need. So Rupert Murdoch, 84, and Mick Jagger ex Jerry Hall, 59, are getting married. (Jezebel) It’s his fourth, her second and was announced in a classified in The Times of London. That could have cost as much as $436. But The Guardian exhibits solid journalistic suspicion and instincts in noting that Murdoch owns the paper and thus “it seems reasonable to assume that he would not have paid full price.” (The Guardian)
- Sean Penn (cont.)
Journalists accelerated the questioning of the ethics and execution of his Rolling Stone piece. (Poynter) But it also raised the question of what was new in the 10,000-word opus. Says one longtime chronicler of druglord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, “The answer, surprisingly, is not much. I was intrigued to learn that Guzmán’s engineers trained in Germany for several months in order to construct the elaborate tunnel that allowed him to escape from prison. But otherwise, Guzmán seems to have managed, with the discipline of a Cabinet secretary on ‘Meet the Press,’ to talk a great deal while saying very little.” (The New Yorker)
- The State of the Union Address
President Obama gives his final one tonight. Punditry will run amok, especially on cable TV. As usual, the White House promises a different sort of speech, not the “laundry list” of the past. Its pre-speech spin is about issues shaping the future, not specific policy proposals he’ll try to push in his final 12 months. Perhaps that will be the case since the president knows he’s a lame duck and that the media’s interest is really focused on the 2016 campaign. He’ll need to summon all his oratorical powers to capture the public’s attention and imagination. It’s a tough challenge.
- Front page of the day, curated by Kristen Hare
Today’s front page of the day comes from The Guardian, which memorialized protean musician David Bowie. (Courtesy the Newseum)
- Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin
Dan Wilson will be news director for KPHO in Phoenix. Previously, he was news director for WPTV in West Palm Beach, Florida. Jeff Benscoter is now news director at WLWT in Cincinnati, Ohio. Previously, he was assistant news director for KMBC in Kansas City. (Rick Gevers) | Job of the day: The Las Vegas Review-Journal is looking for a managing editor. Get your resumes in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves: email@example.com.