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NEWS ANALYSIS

In Famed Paper's Decline, No One to Blame

By JOHN E. CACHE

With the publication of the final issue of what many considered the most important newspaper in the history of the world, one remarkable fact has surprised even the most seasoned media observers: Namely, that no one was at fault. 

Everyone behaved just wonderfully.

Certainly advertisers couldn’t be blamed. Firstly, in the advertising business, the people making the big strategic decisions are all really smart. Otherwise they wouldn’t get paid so very, very much. And it was that intelligence that led Madison Avenue to a totally valid, really smart method of valuing the attention of different types of readers. For example, readers who, in the year two thousand and eleven for God’s sake, still insisted on paying sizeable sums to have an ink-soaked tree-carcass gasoline-delivered to their doorstep each morning. Advertisers believed those hidebound brain-dead neanderthals to be more valuable than 30 million unique readers a month with the brains to get the same thing for free online.

So all the really smart advertisers are off the hook. 

Also among the 100-percent non-responsible: Craig Newmark, the homunculus media visionary whose eponymous List merely accelerated but in no way singlehandedly killed the newspaper classified business, and with it, the entire financial underpinning of civic journalism. Some may have suggested that back in 1994 Craig should have, for the good of society, simply sat on his idea for unlimited, free computer-searchable ads or alternatively, taken a very long walk off a very short pier. Then again, as the ghost of multiple-Pulitzer-winning Times executive editor A.M. Rosenthal whispered to a terminally sozzled reporter late last night, “If wishes were fishes we’d eat no knishes.”

The search for other scapegoats has proved no more successful. “News aggregation sites did nothing blameworthy,” said an anonymous but authoritative News Analysis voice, who spoke on the condition it be described in just that way. “What’s wrong with parasitic cut-and-paste drones who siphon revenue from the outfit that did all the hard work?  Not to mention the decades that outfit spent developing and protecting its greatest asset?” added the crisply enunciating but trying-not-to-try-too-hard baritone voice.

The asset in question was thought to be the Times’ hard-won reputation as an impartial presenter of reliable facts and intelligent, relevant opinions, as opposed to the tossed-off blowhard blog-twaddle one could find on so many other sites when they weren’t just harvesting pageviews and clickthroughs like they were bathtub-surgery kidneys.  All of it based on work of thousands of people who are now unemployed. Not that they mind. No, they’ll be fine. There are several excellent jobs they can compete for in academe and think-tanks and nonprofits and NGOs.  Besides it’s nice for them to have so much free time to re-read their college alumni notes and clip coupons from – oh sweet Jesus, Sunday Newsday??

And definitely Times readers couldn’t be held accountable for the paper’s demise. How could they, since Times readers are the brightest, best educated, most affluent, nicest all-around awesomest people in the entire world. More than 30 million of them a month for whom all the hard work of Times reporters (and editors, some might parenthetically add) was valuable enough to spend their precious time with every damn day, though  not quite valuable enough, we learned post-paywall, to pony up the daily cost of an unbuttered bagel from a Pakistani in a two-wheeled doughnut trailer.

No, the customer is always right. And if Times customers determined they’d sooner let the Old Gray Lady die of money cancer than behave like grownups, it’s cool, and no one’s upset or angry. That’s their prerogative. 

Besides, we’re sure you'll all be better off without us. We just hope you’re happy you leprous fuckbags.

 

 

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