After 12 years, Peter Carlson is leaving his job as a journalist covering magazine culture, and taking the buyout offer from the Washington Post. This is my update on the print media's metamorphosis. Peter's farewell article, with some self-referential irony, describes creative destruction in the industry:
In the magazine business, as in nature, life is a Darwinian struggle that is frequently nasty, brutish and short. Every year, more than 500 magazines are born and nearly as many die. During the past 12 years, Life died. So did Civilization, My Generation, Spy, George, Talk, Brill's Content, Punk Planet, Doubletake and Mademoiselle, plus Lingua Franca, a smart, funny magazine about academia, Gadfly, a lively pop culture magazine and recently, the music magazines Harp and No Depression.
Replacing the dead on newsstands was a crop of newborns -- Maxim, Portfolio, Real Simple, the Week, Blender, the American Conservative, Hallmark, Found, Mental Floss and a fine literary mag called the Believer. Meanwhile, the Oxford American, a magazine of Southern culture, died and was reborn. And Radar, a snarky pop culture mag, died, was reborn, died again and was reborn yet again.
Joel Achenbach's blog covers the story, and tipped me off to Howard Kurz solid article covering the early-retirement plan's impact: 100 journalists out the door. Still, I dislike the snarky "we get the media we deserve" whine that "the next generation blew us off in favor of Xbox and Wii and full-length movies on their iPods." It's anecdotal. Sure, you can point to some youngster who watches YouTube and scoffs at newspapers, but that person is an idiot. What about the other million youngsters who are compulsively RSSing the news, and are deep into the long tail on foreign affairs, climatology, or gee, the U.S. presidential election? Kurz precedes his anecdote with this:
In one sense, the Web is a blessing. Daily circulation for the newsprint Post, now 673,000, may be down from 813,000 in 2000, but we are drawing an eye-opening 9.4 million unique visitors online each month, 85 percent of them from outside the D.C. circulation area.
My guess is that the online readers simply ain't linking to the Health or Business or Style sections. The Post is a powerhouse in political (Capitol Hill) and military (Pentagon) coverage, and that is probably where the paper will have to focus its reporting. Bigger question (and keep in mind that I am ignorant of the WaPo's particulars, so this comment is general in nature, not aimed at the Post):
Is a company downsizing via early-retirement the best way to handle financial distress? Would you rather lose your least productive 100 employees or your 100 employees who have the best outside options? Yes, RIFs are better for morale than layoffs. Or are they? When the Air Force had a RIF, my morale was hurt by the departure of the top mentors and role models. I submit that it hurts any organization deeply when it reduces staff by effectively carroting out its most entrepreneurial people. Maybe Jack Welch should become an editor?
The silver lining, perhaps, is that lost entrepreneurs may be lost to the organization, but not to society! The fact that they leave and start new businesses is a net plus, right? Indeed, Kurz points to Politico.com, founded by ex-WaPo staffers.