Kvetch of the Week: ‘Media Zombies’ must go

There are days when I seriously think of changing the name of this blog to “Painful, But Necessary.” We keep hearing this phrase often, as newsrooms are hollowed out in rapid fashion because of all the red ink newspapers are bleeding as they try to stay alive. These reductions, we’re told, are “painful, but necessary.”

Painful to those of us who’ve been laid off, or coaxed into taking buyouts. Necessary, we’re made to understand, to ensure the viability of companies that employed us but are burdened with unsustainable business models. We shrug our shoulders and accept the hard reality of it all, feeling powerless about it and eager to move on.

We certainly don’t have the money, clout, social status or bravura of some of those few who have been calling out the folks who keep uttering the “painful, but necessary” mantra to others, but remain remarkably entrenched in their positions of power.

My aim in “awarding” the Kvetch of the Week is partly in fun; I do love a good rant, and with media industries imploding around us there’s plenty of kvetchy material to highlight here.

It is the pure kvetchiness of the rants, rather than whether I agree with them, that win out here. Kvetching is a true art form, and I choose only those examples that are especially well-done. So I offer that disclaimer as I introduce the latest Kvetch of the Week. Celebrity-media maven Tina Brown, proprietor of The Daily Beast, a recently launched news site, and former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, lets quite a few media industry deciders have it:


“As great newspapers, magazines, TV networks, and publishing houses dismember themselves around us, it would be marginally consoling if the pink slips were going to those who contributed so vigorously to their companies’ accelerating demise—the feckless zombies at the head of corporate bureaucracies who cared only about the next quarter’s numbers, never troubled to understand the DNA of the companies they took over, and installed swarms of ‘Business Affairs’ drones to oversee and torment the people ‘under” them.’ ”

Now, that’s really, really kvetchy, no matter how you assess how we got to this point. As I wrote earlier this week, I’m tired of pointing the fingers of blame. It does no good for those of us thinking forward to spend so much time and energy dwelling on what’s in the past.

Brown, of course, was regarded as something of a philistine for how she reshaped The New Yorker under her tenure, prompting one of its more venerable writers to flee not just the magazine, but also the country. For good.

In her latest venture, she encourages jobless writers to come work for her, so long as they can deliver celebrity-gossip goods. And the kings of snark have their own jaundiced take on Brown.

Others have argued that Brown breathed some life into moribund publications running low on creative oxygen. That’s what she accuses the legacy media of lacking at a critical time:

“In all these big, lumbering companies every effort at innovation or practical efficiency gets strangled by something called ‘the process,’ that long death march from an initial promising convergence of minds, not to rejection—rejection would be easier—but to indeterminate stasis.”

Oh, let the kvetchiness rain some more!

“Slowly but surely the talent drains away. It turns out that the two major best-selling authors only stayed at the mighty imprint because of that mousy middle-aged woman who really cared about their sentences—that’s right, the one who just got laid off. The talented TV director who made the network’s last hit series got tired of talking to a voicemail and took his next successful show to the opposing network. The investigative journalist whose Pulitzers the chairman bragged about at awards ceremony dinners was told to crank out five half-cooked additional pieces a week for the website and guess what, the paper or network doesn’t win prizes any more and the public finds it increasingly irrelevant.”

As always, the key is to keep looking ahead:

“But perhaps in the turmoil the bones of original principles will emerge at last from under layers of dead skin and rotten management. Or perhaps the diaspora of talent will re-form and succeed while the companies who ejected them collapse and disappear.”

There’s plenty more here. And the reader comments are almost as kvetchy as Tina herself.


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