Saturday, May 17, 2014

Nothing Personal, Just Business -- Really Stupid Business by Bad Businessmen

Took a quick run-through of this morning's A section of the New York Times, not to read the world news, not on Saturday, but to take a gander at the display ads.

On pages two and three, there were ads for Gucci, Dior, Chanel and Tiffany and Co. The first full page ad was for Thermador kitchen appliances.

Class, what class of people use, purchase, or influence the purchase of the products of these fine companies. You there in the back, did you say women? Very good. Who said rich and well-to-do women? Extra credit! Somebody said middle-aged or older well-to-do women? I'm putting you in for a fellowship!!

We covered advertising positioning last semester. Advertisers put their ads where they think their customers are. We can therefore deduce that these very successful sellers of luxury products think many readers of the Times are middle-aged or older women of affluence, as well as men married to them. We can also deduce that those advertisers spent time and money verifying that assumption.

OK, now for the final question of the pop quiz. We know advertising revenue is essential for the Times. One former editor noted that the money off advertising from one of its fashion Sunday supplements paid the nut for all foreign news coverage for a year. So if you were a stockholder in the New York Times Co., what would be your reaction to the news the paper had fired in the most public and humiliating way possible the first woman executive editor in its history in what appears to be pique over said woman questioning gender discrimination in salary and an open and shut case of wrongful termination. Moreover, said woman is an exact match of the demographic all those advertisers are looking for.

I love to hear students shout the right answer in unison. Say it again "SELL,.SELL, SELL!"

OK, enough with the schoolroom conceit. The dismissal of Jill Abramson by Times publisher Pinch Sulzberger is that paper's worst move since it bought the Globe for $1 billion only to sell it for almost nothing. Or was the worst when they turned down the chance to get in on Google at the start? I can never decide.

Abramson's firing can be condemned on social grounds, as evidence that an institution known for its progressive editorial views remains as grounded in sexism as it was when it got sued for the same in the 1970s. It has been.

It can be condemned as a matter of journalism. In its damage control leaks to itself and other media, the Times let it be known Abramson was brusque and demanding with subordinates and superiors alike.

To this ex-newspaper hack, all that means was that the Times objected to Abramson because she acted like an editor. In a deadline driven trade, most instructions tend towards the brusque. If Abramson didn't suffer fools gladly, that's inherent in her job, too. Sussing out fact from nonsense IS editing. A good editor probably ought to have been fired at least once. Questioning authority is the second imperative of journalism, right after getting the facts. People good at questioning authority usually aren't good at being company drones.

Most of that also has already been said elsewhere. And journalist Abramson will do just fine, thank you. If she wants to work, she'll have offers. At worst, she'll get paid a goodly sum to sit atop the organizational chart of some journalism school. If not, well, unless her attorney was guilty of malpractice, her settlement of her termination with the Times had to be for serious fuck-you money.

No, to me what's most notable about Abramson getting fired and how it happened isn't social or moral, it's economic. It was a needless affront to a large number of the customers the Times, in case it hasn't noticed, could use more of these days. It was a wake-up call for whatever media buying service execs ponied up for the ads I scanned just an hour or so ago.

The newspaper business has structural problems that might be incurable. What happened the Times this week didn't have anything to do with those. It was about a structural problem with ALL of American business that's getting closer to incurable by the day..

The people, most but not all men, at the top of our companies are very, very good at amassing personal wealth, and very, very bad at everything else to do with business.


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