I was reminded of a very good quote that fits journalism perfectly:
“More people would learn from their mistakes if they weren't so busy denying them.”
― Harold J. Smith
Or more accurately, repeating them.
I remember doing extensive research in the mid-1990s about new magazines that were cropping up at a time when circulation for old magazines were going down. From Brill's Content to Vent to Might to Talk, journalists were getting excited and thought that these brash magazines just might pull in younger readers and save the profession.
There was big hope in the industry as all of a sudden, a bunch of rags were coming out that had a distinct and posh look, a unique voice, and were seemingly doing things differently.
That super-secret organization called They were coming to save the day.
I was not convinced it was going to be enough because the differences were cosmetic.
These magazines made bold declarations. They were aggressive in many ways, and creative.
They hired good talent. Might magazine got the ball rolling with fake celebrity death news. They were very Spy magazine in so many ways.
But what needed to happen with these magazines never did. They were still doing the same thing the old guard was doing, but with sleeker production values and a snarkier demeanour without actually doing anything remotely revolutionary with journalism.
Not a single one of these magazines is still in circulation.
They are all gone.
At this stage of the game, there should have been real panic.
The old trick of bringing in a fresh cycle of audiences failed, and the legacy titles were eroding.
If ever there should have been a radical departure from the old model, this should have been it.
But it wasn't.
There was always the next They to come around.
I deliberately kept an eye on this part of the industry for a reason because this was the critical time when a new distinctive generation of outlets needed to emerge with healthy numbers to sustain itself.
Talk had Tina Brown with then white hot powerbroker Harvey Weinstein. Brill's Content was hyped and was pushed. Might was a media darling with a devoted following.
But they were all non-starters.
I would include George magazine in this as well, and it was a very good magazine, and I had every single issue from the first.
It had John F. Kennedy Jr. as its editor and founder, and he put his soul into that magazine and it showed. He could generate buzz, and was cagey enough to put A-list celebrities on the cover and inside the magazine.
Yet he interviewed relevant players. It has an excellent circulation, topping the old guard's numbers with ease. He created a hip and smart publication. I was in j-school when the first issue came out, and one of my favourite professors borrowed it from me, and flipped over it. I think we talked about it for an hour.
If any one publication should have pulled a rabbit out of a hat, George was it.
And then JFK Jr. was killed in a plane crash, and the magazine crashed right along with him, and it folded as well.
No one had interest in George if John wasn't involved in it, and then meant the man, not the magazine was the primary draw all along.
At that should have been the wake-up call. That should have been the sign every person in the profession of journalism should have taken to heart because the last man who could have literally resurrected journalism's fortunes could not create an outlet that could outlive him.
And with McClatchy yet again reducing their staff by 3.5%, you would think journalists would finally say, we obviously have no idea what we are doing. Time for a change -- as in a real change.
You have reporters getting giddy because the new owner of the Los Angeles Times is hiring.
This is not a sign of hope. It is a sign of someone who thinks they can do the same thing and expect a different outcome.
The job ads call for the same flawed and defective qualifications. The job titles are no different.
Nothing is different.
Not a single thing is different. Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss.
If one million people walk in front of a truck and get killed, the one million and one person cannot honestly expect to survive.
They can wear different clothing. They can run. They can sing a different song or use a different power phrase as they are stepping in front of a truck.
They get hit. They go squoosh. They seriously die. The end.
If reporters believe this is the They that will save them, they are in for a rude shock.
It is the new magazines all over again.
If you don't want to get killed by a truck, you keep out of the truck's way.
And if your They who you think is going to save you is strutting in front of the truck, you are in trouble.
It would be refreshing if journalists for once and for all, acknowledged their mistakes. It would be their liberation because then you can make changes.
But they must want to fail and be losers as they keep waiting for the Great Pumpkin fly in to give them an industry.
There is no other way to explain their collective insanity of denying the very mistakes that did them in...