By Christopher B. Daly
We are living through a period of great flux in the news business. There are new ventures, new hybrids, new devices for gathering and disseminating information, documents, and polemics. It’s a treat to have a front-row seat (Goodbye, Google Reader! Hello, Feedly!), but it can be disorienting at times.
To wit: the decision by the mighty Time Warner media conglomerate to abandon its shiny, still-new namesake building at Columbus Circle in Manhattan and decamp to a still-unfinished tower in a lower-rent district the developers refer to as Hudson Yards. (Does anybody really call it that? It’s really a vast wasteland on the Far West Side between Chelsea and Hells Kitchen, but it is slowly becoming a new media hub within Manhattan.)
But not to be missed is a more powerful trend sweeping through much of Big Media: the break-up of many of the big conglomerates. At Time Warner, at News Corp., and at Tribune Co., the same de-conglomeration process is underway: the division of those big companies into a print division and a (for lack of a better word) video division.
–Time Warner is spinning off its magazine division, which has been the cornerstone of the Time empire since Henry Luce founded Time magazine in 1923.
–News Corp. took out a double-truck ad in the NYTimes on Monday to signal its separation into two divisions. One made up of the Wall Street Journal, the NYPost and many, many other newspapers along with some magazines, almost all of which lose money. The other is a new company (called “21st Century Fox”) made up of the highly profitable television, cable, and movie-making subsidiaries. (The new video division began trading on the stock market on July 1; shares opened at $29 and basically stayed there all day. The new print division has not started trading yet.)
–Tribune Co., which traces its roots to the Chicago newspaper empire founded by Joseph Medill and taken over by his grandson, Col. Robert R. McCormick, announced this week that it is going to spend $2.7 billion to buy 19 local television stations around the country. At the same time, Tribune Co. is trying to sell “some or all of its newspaper properties,” including the cornerstone Chicago Tribune, according to a story in today’s NYT business section.
–The New York Times Co., which traces its roots to the founding of the New-York Daily Times newspaper in 1851, began selling off its broadcast units about six years ago and completed the process a few years later. The Times Co. is apparently pursuing a strategy of shrinking to its core business and trying to defend the castle keep with a paywall.
The big open question: What will any of this mean for the quality of the journalism that is carried out by these companies?