Hypermedia next gen venture ultra super click bait - future of news
August 24, 2019 10:05 AM   Subscribe

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.
posted by sammyo (23 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
What is happening to journalism is like what is happening to universities, and vast swath of other professions, I'm sure. Once they were largely managed by people embedded in their respective professions, with years of deep experience in their fields and a commitment to their values. But now they are run by people (mostly white men) with MBAs who flit around from position to position, institution to institution, building their resumes by declaring they are instituting some visionary operational change at each. Usually these are destructive or, if we are lucky, pointless wastes of time, but it doesn't matter to them, because they have moved on to their next job, at an ever-higher salary, while the actual employees watch their positions disappear and their professions fall apart.

Basically, business schools have trained grads how to extract all the value out of the professions, and they will keep engaging in doing that until they have sucked all the blood from us. Then they'll crow about creative destruction. Yay rapacious capitalism!
posted by DrMew at 10:52 AM on August 24, 2019 [44 favorites]


The numbers apparently do not matter to my ostensibly numbers-obsessed bosses, for reasons I can’t quite understand.
I don't even work there and I understand it just fine.

Those bosses know numbers. They are all very stable geniuses and they have the best numbers.
posted by flabdablet at 11:09 AM on August 24, 2019 [10 favorites]


“The numbers apparently do not matter to my ostensibly numbers-obsessed bosses, for reasons I can’t quite understand. When I have told them that the data show that non-sports content brings more traffic and more revenue opportunities, I have been ignored. When I have told them that the data show that readers prefer publications with a distinctive point of view, that Deadspin succeeds precisely because it doesn’t try to be all things to all people, I have been told that being all things to all people is in fact exactly the way to grow pageviews. The reason my colleagues are not going to suddenly start sticking to sports is not about editorial purity, it’s about the opportunity to grow the audience and make more money for Great Hill Partners. But the adults in the room know that we’re wrong, despite all evidence, because they just know.”

That was the best fuck-you article I have ever read. I regret that I had the opportunity to read it and I wish the author all the best.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:24 AM on August 24, 2019 [22 favorites]


Apologies for the duplication.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:26 AM on August 24, 2019


Oh look, it’s the same useless MBAs running clinics and hospitals into the ground by treating doctors and nurses like machines who can see patients in neat orderly fifteen-minute slots.

Here’s my radical idea that I would instate if I were queen of the world; large institutions may only be run by people with extensive direct experience in whatever the institution does. Media outlets by journalists, nursing homes by nurses, hospitals by doctors, schools by veteran teachers or principals, etc. Take the idea the business knowledge gives you any insight into running these complex organizations and throw it on the fucking garbage heap where it belongs.
posted by ActionPopulated at 11:53 AM on August 24, 2019 [27 favorites]


Private equity ruins everything: media, retail, restuarants, real estate, and I'm sure the list goes on. The most maddening part to me is that in many cases these businesses were actually thriving before being taken over and laden with debt, as the author describes so well.
posted by mikek at 12:03 PM on August 24, 2019 [12 favorites]


Here’s my radical idea that I would instate if I were queen of the world; large institutions may only be run by people with extensive direct experience in whatever the institution does.

Minimum age for enrolling in an MBA program should be 30.
posted by Etrigan at 12:11 PM on August 24, 2019 [4 favorites]


Minimum age for enrolling in an MBA program should be 30.

It should be 90. Make it a 10-year program.
posted by maxwelton at 12:42 PM on August 24, 2019 [15 favorites]


Aw, heck, private equity has killed Governing? That was a great view into the constraints on civil life.
posted by clew at 12:45 PM on August 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


large institutions may only be run by people with extensive direct experience in whatever the institution does

Large corporations in Germany are compelled to fill up to half of the boards of directors with elected workers from within the company. This wonderful idea is attempting to work its way into EU-wide directives on corporate governance, though it's being met with pushback in some countries by those same "adults" mentioned above.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 2:33 PM on August 24, 2019 [21 favorites]


The stupidest idea ever invented is that the same set of skills can be used to effectively run any enterprise from a slaughterhouse to a semiconductor fab to a Courthouse. MBAs arrive at a new enterprise, having not the slightest clue about how it works, so they do the only thing they vaguely understand: reduce it to numbers on a crappy spreadsheet and attempt to "optimize" the bottom line.

Business schools should be moved to the Dadaist department of the nearest art school. MBAs will make great performance artists!
posted by monotreme at 3:27 PM on August 24, 2019 [6 favorites]


When the MBAs took over the large US-based publisher I worked for, such was the due diligence and sector expertise they brought that they didn't even know it had an international division until they went through the books after the sale.

Nor, it soon turned out, did they care. They turned us over for twice what they paid, and the company bled to death paying off the loans the next buyer took out to get us.

You don't want genuinely engaged and capable execs in this game, any more than you want a vegan cattle farmer. It gets in the way of the slaughter.

The trouble with all the tales of corporate vandalism is they underplay the scale of the issue.
posted by Devonian at 4:00 PM on August 24, 2019 [11 favorites]


I was on the campus shuttle many years back listening to a bunch of soon to be MBAs discussing their future plans, talking about what their concentrations in school had been and where they were headed. 3 of 5 of them had taken a concentration in "consulting". I have to admit that up until that point I had assumed that "consultants" were people who had spent so many years in a particular industry and had amassed so much specialized knowledge that they were able to spend the last 10 years before retirement hanging out their shingle as a consultant in that industry, passing their knowledge on. That day I learned that you can be a 22 year old consultant who has never worked in any industry before in one's short life, and I was (and continue to be) baffled as to why anyone would pay for such a person?

I mean, I'm hiring in my department right now and even for a non-managerial role we still want to see that you've had some experience in at least one of the major areas in which we work. Why does this not apply to the people who run the entire show?

Anyway, I read this yesterday and it was a very very good fuck you, you can't fire me, I quit kiss off.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:46 PM on August 24, 2019 [14 favorites]


Money doesn't talk, it swears.

BD
posted by adam hominem at 7:14 PM on August 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


I get the private equity is vampirism thing, I feel like we beat it into the ground, but I don’t understand why this isn’t a more direct explication of the systemic destruction of all reliable forms of journalism that’s happening in our country.
posted by sibboleth at 7:21 PM on August 24, 2019


Because in large part this is the direct explication of the systemic destruction of reliable forms of journalism that is happening in the USA. Journalism has never really been a massively profitable business, even in its heyday, in comparison to things like the auto industry or the defense industry. Newspapers and magazines spent most of the 1800's being subsidized by the US government in the form of free postage anywhere in the country and cost a lot more in adjusted dollars than we would even think of paying today. The media boom of the late 1890's and early twentieth century resulted from technical innovations that interacted with post-WWI culture to change how journalism made money and by the mid-twentieth century the way things were was thought of as normal. It was not. The ad revenue that powered newspapers especially was a fluke that allowed journalism to look like a for-profit business. As we leave the fundamentally weird ways things worked in the middle and late twentieth century in the the USA behind we need to keep in mind that we should be looking to the fractured and hostile media landscape of the last Gilded Age as a model of what we can expect. Click-bait is just the new yellow journalism. The need for publicly funded public interest journalism will only become more obvious to us as time goes by.

The idea of a for-profit business will only draw the MBA's and MBA-like entrepreneurs out to, 'fix,' the various industries they have no clue about. Due to the ideas of how the market is supposed to function and businesses should be run that they are inculcated with in B-school all the weirdly shaped business pegs must be pounded into the same dollar shaped holes. Rather than a set of abstractions which should be adapted to the realities of an industry the different industries are instead analyzed for their aberrance from the ideal and corrections are then instituted. See the aforementioned hospital/medical field, higher education, local government, federal government, the tech industry, and anywhere an MBA can dazzle someone with an Excel sheet and some Power Point slides.

Business schools can serve as a valuable resource if their graduates are well informed about the idiosyncrasies of of a field. Otherwise they just send out monkey-wrenches to the engines of human improvement and endeavor which then value profit over people, ROI over duty to community, and golden parachutes over long-term viability of enterprise. The first two of which can be clearly seen in the article. It is all made worse when so many of the individuals who have MBA's seem to be inveterate man-children who seemed to think that adulthood and frat-life are the same thing. Then again this is not unlike the fat-cat press barons of the past. We have choices and chances ahead of us. We can sponsor services like ProPublica, the Palast Investigative Fund, even public television and radio services or we can let the generosity of billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Sheldon Adelson keep chosen outlets alive and trust that there is not to much bias.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 10:16 PM on August 24, 2019 [15 favorites]


The need for publicly funded public interest journalism will only become more obvious to us as time goes by.

Here in Australia we have the ABC. It's not perfect by any means but it craps all over all the commercial media for thoroughness, fairness and objectivity. Everybody understands this except the deluded wingnuts on the Right who have been carping endlessly about the ABC's "left-wing bias" for as long as I can remember.

The ABC also does a pretty bloody good job of holding the Government to account, which is why there's a very strong negative correlation between the integrity of any given Government's leadership and its desire to nobble the ABC with budget cuts. The currently incumbent clown car has been particularly anti-ABC, which tells you a lot about the standard of the clowns behind the wheel.

Some years ago, a thought bubble blooped forth from our most deluded right-wing think-tank that the ABC was "competing unfairly" with commercial "journalism" and that the public interest would be best served by selling it off. This was immediately seized on by the Murdoch press and you still see it trumpeted about; it's a view that also has supporters inside the present Government.

Fortunately, the Australian public has still not quite succumbed; for now, the ABC retains widespread popular support. But it's always fragile.

It seems to me that the need for publicly funded public interest journalism is in no way guaranteed to become more obvious to the public at large over time. It has always been obvious to those of us who choose to pay attention to public policy.
posted by flabdablet at 2:08 AM on August 25, 2019 [9 favorites]


This line from Spanfeller’s official bio kinda sums it up:

Jim has led comparable media platforms and positioned them for successful strategic exit.
posted by valkane at 4:53 AM on August 25, 2019 [4 favorites]


Capitalism *has* finished eating the world and now we're having to live with its burps and farts.
posted by Mrs Potato at 8:16 AM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


I mean, I'm hiring in my department right now and even for a non-managerial role we still want to see that you've had some experience in at least one of the major areas in which we work. Why does this not apply to the people who run the entire show?

There is always one very experienced person with 20+ years relevant expertise. That person's job is to get the consulting contract signed, then they move on to the next opportunity while the 22 year old consultants move in to deliver the consulting.
posted by COD at 8:49 AM on August 25, 2019 [5 favorites]


Why does this not apply to the people who run the entire show?

Because they run the entire show.

If you ran the entire show, and could therefore get away with not imposing onerous requirements on yourself, the only thing that would make you do that would be the fact of being a fundamentally decent and fair-minded person. And requiring a demonstration of basic competence from somebody who utterly lacks it is certainly onerous.

MBA courses make no attempt to teach the skills required for acquisition of basic domain competence, and are in large part devoted to training out whatever vestiges of fundamental decency remain in the kind of person who would even consider signing up for one in the first place.
posted by flabdablet at 9:19 AM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


I am heartbroken that the pacific standard is no more. It produced exceptionally good journalism.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:02 AM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


Presumably that kind of “consulting” means signing on at one of the big consulting firms, where like big law firms the senior consultants make the rain and the associates do the work. Still, the senior consultants are only experts in consulting (although I guess the big consultancies may have dedicated groups within them for different industries etc., with the senior consultants there at least experienced in serving those clients ).
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:20 AM on August 26, 2019


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