When I've made a list of the top U.S. media stories in past years, many involved major scandals. So far in 2008, the industry has remained free of embarrassing, self-inflicted wounds. Plus, the Internet continued to provide relief for beleaguered media companies.
Now, the bad news.
The newspaper and magazine businesses have arguably never experienced an economic malaise like this before.
In a piece featured on the Romenesko Web site, blogger Mark Potts noted that the Boston Herald is laying off 130 to 160 employees, the Daytona Beach News-Journal is slicing 99 jobs, the Palm Beach Post is cutting 300, and there will also be newsroom cuts in Detroit, Hartford, Conn., Baltimore, Md., San Jose, Calif., and Portland, Maine.
Add those depressing figures to the buyouts already announced at the Washington Post's Newsweek, and you've got a very gloomy summer at hand.
Here, then, are my nominees for the 10 most intriguing headlines of the year so far:
I doubt that any other media-related story received this much attention in any one-week period in 2008, or maybe any year in memory. The beloved host of NBC's "Meet the Press" suffered a fatal heart attack on June 13 while working in the Washington bureau of NBC News. A respected journalist, Russert was also a dedicated family man with hailed from Buffalo.
Then there was the inevitable speculation about who would succeed Russert on "Meet the Press." To its credit, NBC didn't capitalize on the media's heated parlor game and drag out the process. The network named Tom Brokaw to handle the election coverage.
In the early stages of this bruising Microsoft Corp. vs. Yahoo Inc. takeover tango, you couldn't tell the winners from the losers -- even with a scorecard. Still can't, come to think of it.
At various times, it seemed like every presidential candidate (or her spouse!) railed against the unbalanced, biased, disrespectful and downright dumb coverage. And you know what? Each of them had a case.
Some fretted that this development was a worrisome trend. Others chalked up the reduction as a sign of the times in a bruising election year, as news divisions struggle to follow events around the world on tight budgets.
The Wall Street Journal has been sparking intense reactions since News Corp. took over Dow Jones and Robert Thomson took the helm of the paper. Supporters welcome the shorter stories, increase in international coverage and a reworked front page. Traditionalists prefer the way the paper has always been.
Gradually, the new Journal seems to be winning people over. Sylvia Nasar, co-director of Columbia's business-journalism program, told Portfolio.com last week: "I love the Wall Street Journal even more these days," saying the newspaper looks "sharper." (News Corp. is also the parent company of MarketWatch, publisher of this column.)
There has to be a separate and distinct category for the single worst news story of the year. The Times' story was so unfair and awful, it's hard to know where to begin passing around the blame for it. The issue is not whether McCain, as the story hints (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), had an inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist. The point is that the Times published a shoddy piece of work using weak sourcing.
This saga had the makings of an extended New York City newspaper war, pitting Rupert Murdoch's New York Post against Mort Zuckerman's New York Daily News for control of the Long Island newspaper. That was the scenario until Cablevision , another media stalwart based in Long Island, swooped in and won the sweepstakes in the 11th hour.
After nudging out the incumbent Leonard Downie Jr., Post publisher Katharine Weymouth looked for his successor. Depending on which blog you believe, the finalists consist of Washington Post Managing Editor Phl Bennett and former Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Marcus Brauchli, with the New York Times' Deputy Managing Editor Jonathan Landman on the outside looking in.
Zell's Los Angeles Times appears to be in a free fall from its former grandeur. (A skeptic would say it has been that way for a few years now.) The latest blow to its civic pride and journalistic standing is a report that a developer told a Times reporter that the Times' building "is virtually worthless as a piece of real estate." Oh well. Back to journalism at the paper now, I guess. I wonder if the real-estate-mogul-turned-newspaper-owner ever scratches his head and muses, "What the hell did I get myself into?"
: What do you think was the most important media story of the first half of 2008?
: Bill Gates has left Microsoft to concentrate on his philanthropic work. The co-founder of the software titan was probably the most dominant player in the technology boom -- sorry, Steve Jobs of Apple -- of the last quarter of the 20th century. But as with all celebrities, Gates has a tangled legacy, as Microsoft has declined in recent years and been eclipsed by Google . The media shouldn't be blinded by Gates' fame and fortune when they assess his legacy.
to about Don Imus:
"Jon, maybe the same remark before the Clinton/Obama primary season might have had a different result. Maybe now we truly are in a postracial era. Maybe? Just a little? Just my thought, but you decide."
-- Ira Lee Newlander
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By Jon Friedman