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This holiday season, a lot of journalists contemplating their wonderful media lives are still waiting for the happy ending. It’s taking a good long time. Granted, it doesn’talllook like George Bailey teetering on the edge of a truss bridge. Some of our most vital journalistic institutions, theNew York Times-esandWashington Postsof the world, are killing it thanks to their digital subscription mojo, which seems to have offset the once unthinkable print-advertising fallout that nearly brought them to the brink of death. Likewise, TV news continues to benefit from the supercharged headlines of theDonald Trumpera (for the moment, at least). And the adjacent business of streaming entertainment is in the midst of a veritable gold rush—or a massive content bubble, depending on how you look at it—with titans like Netflix, Apple, and AT&T writing huge checks in pursuit of the next breakout hit.
For everyone else, it’s a mixed bag at best, especially in the digital space, where 2017 and 2018 both drew to a close with a wave of cullings, fire sales, and unrealized revenue targets at some of the industry’s largest and most talked-about darlings. As one astute executive put it to me this same time last year, “You’ve got that kind of thing going on where everyone’s for sale.”
Which brings us to 2019. Over the past 12 months, the darker moments for media were as dark as they come, at times almost shockingly so. It was the year when the U.S. news business was on pace to shed more jobs than it has since the Great Recession a decade ago—roughly 3,000 in the first five months alone, according to data from an executive recruitment firm. A separate Business Insider tally of media jobs overall, including 4,000 that resulted from Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox, as well as some in Canada, clocked in at 7,800. “I’m considering moving back to my home state and getting a job on a factory floor where a couple of my siblings work,” one laid-off writer told my former colleagueMaya Kosofffor an article this week titled, “The Human Toll of the 2019 Media Apocalypse.”
It was the year when private equity tightened its stranglehold on local journalism, with GateHouse gobbling up Gannett, Alden Global Capital taking a 32% stake in Tribune Publishing, and McClatchy’s fate now largely in the hands of Chatham Asset Management. “The speed and sweep of that control by private equity and hedge funds is now breathtaking,” industry analystKen Doctorwrote in November. “The impact is obvious. As America has moved from jokey indulgences in truthiness to a point where fact fights for its very life, it’s the bankers who are deciding what will be defined as news, and who and how many people will be employed to report it.”
It was the year when a group of seemingly out-of-touch media managers, at the company formerly known as Gawker, effectively murdered Deadspin—literally every member of the publication’s newsroom resigned in a blaze of protest over the course of a couple days—through a ham-fisted policy overhaul that ran counter to everything which made the beloved sports website valuable in the first place. (“The height of cluelessness,” as one digital executive put it. “Talk about not knowing what you’re buying or how to manage what you’re buying.”) And it was the year when a legendary title calledSports Illustratedstruggled to find a new home, eventually landing in the hands of owners who quickly gutted half of the editorial staff in order to make room for what sounds like a low-rent content mill. (“If you told me two years ago thatS.I.wouldn’t be able to find a single rich guy who wanted to buy that thing for vanity reasons,” another veteran media big shot lamented, “I would not have believed you.”) Not to mention any number of smaller but no less painful indignities, like the abrupt shuttering of Pacific Standard, orOC Weeklygoing
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