Journalism’s long dark week of exits continues today with the announcement that John French, head of Bruce Wasserstein’s magazine empire Penton Media is stepping down. French informed a reportedly surprised staff of the decision saying that it was the result of numerous discussions with the board of directors “regarding the organization’s evolution and the leadership needs going forward.” And so, another one bites the dust, as they say.
One media investment type told the Post’s Keith Kelly that “The job of a CEO of a traditional media company these days has the life expectancy of a second lieutenant in Vietnam.”
It certainly feels like the industry is under siege this week what with the widespread departures and layoffs at the Tribune Co. followed by Greg Osberg’s exit at Newsweek, Gannett’s plummeting stock, and the purging of copy editors from the WSJ‘s New Jersey office. Over at The Nation Eric Alterman wants to know who is going to save the newspaper industry (and by extension, possibly democracy itself!) but for the most part comes up empty-handed.
The dearth of decent ideas designed to save newspapers — or reinvent them for the digital age in ways that preserve their crucial democratic functions — is curious and depressing. It’s curious because some of the smartest, most ambitious and most civic-minded people in America are deeply engaged with the problem. It is depressing because the only ones with the self-confidence to undertake radical measures appear to be completely off their respective rockers.