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Home The Last Days of the Media

The Last Days of the Media

The magazine business isn't what it used to be. In the last ten years, Newsweek lost 2.5 million readers, and its newsstand sales are hardly worth mentioning. A full-page ad in it costs less than the price of a luxury car. Sold for a buck to the husband of an influential Congresswoman, merged with an internet site, it survives only by building issues around provocative essays and covers.

If you want to understand why Newsweek put a badly photoshopped picture of Obama with a gay halo on its cover or features Romney doing a number from The Book of Mormon, you need only look at those numbers. Fifteen years ago desperate tactics like that were for alt weeklies like The Village Voice, but Time and Newsweek are the new Village Voice. Or the new Salon.

There is no news business anymore, just media trolls looking for a traffic handout, feeding off manufactured controversies that they create and then report on. Magazines and sites struggling to stay alive while preaching to a narrow audience which likes essays by leftist cranks and mocking pictures of conservatives. And they're not alone; any magazine that still covers politics, covers it in the same exact way.

There are house-style differences between the New Yorker, which still features its trademark cartoons, and Vanity Fair and Esquire, and Time and Newsweek, but they are all basically the same. The same essays repeating the same views for the same audience; all of them fighting for that small slice of urban yuppie audience which DVR's Mad Men, has Michael Chabon novels on the shelf that it hasn't read yet and is forty percent gay.

The real 1 percent is right there. That small elitist fragment of America which writes books for itself, makes TV shows for itself and writes outraged articles for itself about a tiny 1 percent elite that runs everything. It has its own books, its own TV shows, its own music, its own stores, its own stations, its own brands and now it has most of the magazines to itself. It's a claustrophobic village raising its own inner child with inane repetitions of its narrow-minded views.

If I'm reading through a long mocking piece on Midwestern Republican primary voters who support Michele Bachmann, a sensitive piece on gay teenagers being bullied in school or an essay by a Muslim columnist on American Islamophobia, how can I tell which magazine I'm reading? Easy, is it the one with a gay Obama on the cover or the one with a woman breastfeeding a three-year-old?

The story is no longer the story. Now the cover is the story with magazines reporting on their own covers, which become the story. And the story? Who cares about the story really. You can know everything about the story by glancing at the cover. And then you don't have to buy it anymore, which explains why newsstand sales aren't doing too well.

Magazines like to tell advertisers that every single subscription sale actually means five or six readers across a family. That's wishful thinking. Families with five or six members are not buying Time or Newsweek these days. They might be subscribing to Popular Mechanics or Ebony, but the Newsweek subscriber is lucky if he has two people in the house, at most three, and one of them is probably a cat.

Don't weep for Newsweek though. It's a brand and brands never die. They just get dumbed down and sold and resold. Five years from now Newsweek may be an airline magazine or just an internet portal tracking Twitter news trends, but it will be around in one form or another. For now there's Newsweek Polska with a six figure circulation, Newsweek Korea with 40,000 readers and Newsweek Pakistan with 15,000 readers. Perhaps one day Newsweek will be remembered as a Pakistani news mag that got its start in the States.

The brands may have a future, but the content doesn't. There are only so many provocative essayists around and only so many people willing to buy badly photoshopped covers featuring the controversy of the week. The friction of the controversy makes dull people seem interesting and stupid people seem smart. It makes the kind of people who moved to New York to be able to see Will Ferrell make fun of Bush on Broadway feel that they're relevant, but there aren't enough of them to support a magazine with international news bureaus and all the trappings of a serious news organization.

There's barely enough money in that market to cover the expenses of Salon, Slate and The Nation, reliably lefty publications which cravenly feed their audiences its prejudices back in small doses. Time and Newsweek muscling into that same turf, not to mention every other site and magazine following that same business model, is a bit much.

Advertisers only need to reach that same audience so many times. There's money in selling Bose stereos, Cancun vacations and AMC shows to them, but you can only sell it to them so many times. When every magazine is elitist and when the elite is narrow and inbred, there are suddenly too many llamas in a single paddock.

The biggest problem for the media is that no one is paying attention anymore. The iPad and Kindle haven't meant salvation for the magazine business, because any media device fragments focus. It's hard to engage readers when they're not engaged with any one thing, when they're reading six sites and glancing through your latest Fareed Zakaria or Andrew Sullivan screed just to be able to tell their friends that they read it.

In a diminishing marketplace every outlet boasts of having the smartest and most influential readers. The truth is that no one has those readers anymore. The media makes its own influence because it is playing on an empty stage. It isn't influencing anyone, it's repeating back to its readers what they already believe because they already believe it. If they didn't already believe it, it wouldn't tell it to them.

The media knows that they have many options and that they're barely paying attention, so it capers like a court jester to try and capture their attention with another showstopping attack on Republicans. But even as it trots out Andrew Sullivan or Tina Fey or any of the other players in the vanishing line between entertainment and journalism, it knows that the attention is fleeting. Today its gay Obama cover makes the headlines, but what will it do next week?

An inbred elite is dull and in constant need of sensation. It has a brief attention span because it is always bored with itself. It feeds off a diet of constant mockery to reassure itself of its own fragile superiority. It wants the appearance of ideas, without the hard work of digesting them. Most of all, it wants the legitimization of its own right to rule. The theme of every elite is its own superiority, and the one we are saddled with is no different. Its message is that it has lifted up our society from a dark time of repression to a new era of enlightenment and that only it can lead us into the light.

The media is an echo chamber for people who work in the media. Its greatest reach is internal, within the complex of people who live or work in a few major cities within the publishing and broadcasting industries. Beyond them is a great void of purple mountains that they occasionally report on but have lost contact with.

America is a foreign country to them. More so than Indonesia or Pakistan. And the 1 percent that they still speak to feels much the same way. A foreign colony on American shores that disdains the natives with their queer morals and prejudices, and fears what might happen if they should rise up against their rightful rulers. That leaves the rulers with little choice but to redouble the propaganda barrage defending their right to rule. And that means another Newsweek cover coming up.

Newsweek might as well become a full-time Pakistani magazine because it isn't an American magazine anymore. It's the David Remnick New Yorker with all the class of the Tina Brown New Yorker. Its only signature feature is the transcontinental sneer and that's the signature feature of the entire media class, which knows more about Indonesia than it does about Indiana, and believes that the problem with America is all the Americans.

But even that is a sham because not only do they know nothing about Indiana, but they also know very little about Indonesia. The pretense at being globe trotting journalists that fills the pages of magazines and newspapers is a sham. Theirs is not the age of the classic correspondents who could cross a war zone and telegraph in a report. It's the age of media trolls who put a picture of a nuclear-armed North Korean leader under the headline, "Lil Kim". The Muslim Brotherhood can twirl them around its fingers because they're fools who can spend years in a country without learning anything more about it than the common knowledge at the expat bar.

The only function of the media is to spin talking points into something more glamorous. It always knows what the story should be, the only thing to do is dress it up and take it out for a night on the town. But no one reads it or pays attention to it anymore because it has nothing to say. The antics of Time or Newsweek are signs of desperation from media brats who know that the only way to hang on to their vanishing audience is by clowning around for them.

They can't engage the audience, no matter what they promise advertisers, because they have no intellectual or journalistic capital with which to engage them. All they can do is tell their audience what it already believes in an entertaining way. That is the traditional function of a court jester and it is the new function of the media, which may style itself as a "Protector of Democracy", but is in reality just the tyrant's capering fool in the rainbow halo.


  1. There is a elitist attitude in the media that looks down on the lowly reader/viewer.
    The media are dazzled by their own importance in the same way that Hollywood adores itself.

  2. We need the simple who,what,when,where and why of pure reporting and less of the Op Ed/ Think pieces that dominate the news today as well.

  3. Felix Lovejoy24/5/12

    When are you going to stop the belly aching about everything?
    You don't like anything. You find fault with everything and everyone too.
    Brighten up boy!

  4. Anonymous24/5/12

    " yuppie audience which DVR's Mad Men,"

    Mad Men is quite possibly the most boring, pointless TV show ever made. Sure, it looks beautiful, but the show itself is a pile of sh*t. No one I know who watches it can explain what happens in it past "it's about an ad agency". That's because nobody knows.

  5. I never watched mad men, but I have glanced at a few reality shows like dancing with the stars or the apprentice. All these shows are idiotic. Made me think that everyone around has turned into some idiot zombie.

  6. I just sent this brilliant piece to my contacts in France and in Australia. It transcends frontiers and speaks of the "sneering wankers" that exist in France, Germany, Australia, just like they exist in and pollute the US.

    Thanks for articulating so well what reduces me to frustrated pronouncements like: YUK YUK YUK.

  7. Anonymous said...
    " yuppie audience which DVR's Mad Men,"

    Mad Men is quite possibly the most boring, pointless TV show ever made. Sure, it looks beautiful, but the show itself is a pile of sh*t. No one I know who watches it can explain what happens in it past "it's about an ad agency". That's because nobody knows.

    Good. I'm not the only one who feels that way. It's really mind-numbing. It goes nowhere at a decelerated rate of speed. Truth be known, I only watched a second episode for Christina Hendricks. Still, too droll.

    1. Anonymous25/5/12

      I originally meant to add "the red head is hot, though..."

      It's tedious in the extreme. Unfathomable. But I keep hearing "it's wonderful!"

  8. Anonymous24/5/12


    I thrive on Knish's work and so do you. I read him because he portrays what a POS country the US has become. You read him for the same reason. Sultan gives voice to our rage and sorrow. Obviously you read his pieces of reality. I never recall him writing anything about creating the perfect meal or how to decorate your digs for the perfect soirée.

    This nation has fallen off the cliff and isn't coming back. I can't say when things break down-but it is soon. Romney or Obacko Rama...it makes no difference. Gloom baby. Honest in your face break downs are found at the SK blog.

    Daniel does a great job of pin pointing the downward trajectory of a country that was like a shooting star-now no more than jetsam floating after crash.

    Grow up. The joke is over. If you don't like the gritty realism which you find in his realistic break down of our downfall, go read Highlight magazine.

    Bad times are here-and more is coming. Enjoy someone who can accurately describe the smoldering crash. It's a goodtime to have tribe, and the 3 Bs.

    Am Yisra'el Am Yisra'el


  9. angie, Israel24/5/12

    how true. this is an accurate description of the situation in the italian media. but they have found the perfect solution, albeit for as long as it can last, given the financial hole they are fast sinking into, courtesy of the EU and the "Euro" madness. years ago they, the italian media, with the help of the lefties, have cunningly got the state to finance them, and the whole "culture" circus among others - small wonder the country is going bankrupt.
    now, I wouldn't want to be putting ideas into obama's pretty little head.... like someone said "..the best is yet to come"
    thank you daniel, for your lucidity, always

  10. Thank you all, I do however try to report not just the breakdowns, but to point the way to where we need to be

  11. Steve24/5/12

    The media has, essentially, been stripped of its news reporting function. If you can get news free and swiftly (and to be honest, most 'journalists' merely rewrite the Reuters feed) then the likes of Newsweek have to be something else.

    That something else is simply becoming an opinion sheet. I live in the UK and two of the supposed top newspapers here are little more than platforms for writers -- usually lefty with a hazy grasp of life outside their laager -- to spout their hyperbole. They can be (and often are) inaccurate and biased writings but they have a 'passion' to which we are supposed to be in thrall. Truth is we aren't any more.

    Newsweek is just one of the morass of what was once proud outlets for information and revelation. You are right, it and they will keep going in some form for a while yet but we are weary of their invective and urgent misunderstandings.

    A lot of newspapers are little more than future homes for used cat litter and potato peelings. You could use the magazines like Newsweek but the paper they print on is nowhere near absorbent enough.

  12. And even that won't be viable once the print magazine completely dies and it's all just sites.

  13. Anonymous24/5/12

    Perhaps Daniel I was a bit too bleak. I was a bit to heavy on lumping you in on my gloom.

    Inherent in criticism and critical thought is that by pointing out flawed behavior and problems, you are in fact pointing the directional course to correcting the problems.

    I find what you brilliantly expound on is what I am in league with 90 percent of the time. You do it better than almost anyone I have read. You are in league with VDH.


  14. That's high praise. Thank you.

    The times are bleak, but revolutions come in dark hours. It's when we are drifting to the bottom, that we gather that last lungful of air and strive to break the surface of the waters.

  15. Anonymous24/5/12

    Amazing writing and analysis!

  16. Badly Photoshopped covers, tacky subjects, badly written articles (when one bothers to read them), badly managed marketing, and just a general philosophy of appealing to the lowest common denominator – no, magazines aren't what they used to be. I stopped reading Time, Newsweek and even U.S. News and World Report decades ago. (I'm not even certain the latter is still around.) I haven't bought a newspaper in years. I used to read the New York Times Book Review section, which I could buy separately, just to read up on how the Times' reviewers plugged or shot down authors and their titles – until one day I gagged and said enough is enough, and have never read the section since. If I think an article is interesting, I'll go online and read it, and if it contains information I can't find elsewhere and need it for a column, I'll cite it. The MSM has rendered itself superfluous in the Internet Age, but that's news that hasn't quite sunk into their brains yet. Maybe someone should tell them. Columns such as Daniel's here won't, because MSM editors shun all truth tellers.

  17. What a bummer, Mister Sultan, that writing of this literary calibre, insight, and passionate intensity, which you somehow manage to crank out almost daily --excepting of course, on the the Sabbath-- precipitates only a dozen comments at most, for the majority of your postings.

    Meanwhile that devoid-of-intellectual-content/merit rag, Salon, which just ran a mea culpa, sort-of, by the execrable and hyper-butch Michael Fumento, who came out as a closet lefty in today's posting, entitled (and subtitled), with breath-takingly trenchant originality. "My break with the extreme right: I worked for Reagan and wrote for National Review. But the new hysterical right cares nothing for truth or dignity", generates a thousand reader responses... Most of them, however, kicking Fumento while he's down, for collaborating with the Nazi wing-nuts for as long as he did. Read it and weep:


  18. He's a bit late to the party and poorly timed. Hacks announcing that the Republican Party today is just too wild and crazy for them are a dime a dozen.

    But there's always room for more collaborators. Maybe he can get a slot at Media Matters.

  19. Anonymous25/5/12

    Some of us just read and enjoy without necessarily commenting, but I do agree that more people should get to read Sultan's extremely thought provoking writing. Well worth it for even those coming from a different direction. I read it often, but don't always have much to add, so when I do comment it's usually just to thank Mr. Greenfield. There's really no one quite like him.

  20. Anonymous25/5/12

    What? Oh, nos!

    Michael Fumento has come out as a closet lefty? Omigawd, we must all hang our heads, and weep!

    If we've lost Michael, what's the point? We have no choice, but to become lefities ourselves, because Salon magazine published him, and Salon is infallible! We know it is infallbile, because it gets lots of reader comments! Yadda, yadda, yadda, so on, and so forth.

    /Okay, sarc. off.


  21. Anonymous25/5/12

    it is the gay takeover of the media that has given rise to hysterical, nonsensical stories...it is an agenda not reporting....and because this country has lost its moral will we deserve what we get...the loss of moral willpower is the first sign of the end...it is amazing to me that other empires who fell through decadence hasn't served to enlightened America...instead they call themselves progressives...and its the Jews, supposed masters of the press, who will get the backlash...and the same thing happened in Weimar Germany bringing about the call for a strongman to clean up the mess...

  22. Anonymous25/5/12

    the gays are running this president...20 to 30 per cent of his bundlers are gay...

  23. "It has a brief attention span because it is always bored with itself. It feeds off a diet of constant mockery to reassure itself of its own fragile superiority. It wants the appearance of ideas, without the hard work of digesting them."

    That perfectly describes John Stewart of The Daily Show and his other peers, IMO.

    Since somebody commented that places needs more commentators, I decided to weigh in....however, I am one of the (hopefully legions) of followers who prefers to read and greatly appreciate what you do, in quiet silence.

  24. It does help to know that people are reading. Thank you James.

  25. Anonymous26/5/12

    "Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself." Joseph Pulitzer, May 1904 in The North American Review.

    From a former Newsweek reader and subscriber

  26. Michael Devolin26/5/12

    Great writing, Daniel. Keep up the good work! And as they say up here in rural Canada, "Keep your stick on the ice!"

  27. Anonymous26/5/12

    Two historically anti-Israel magazines - I never had much use for either one of them

  28. Anonymous26/5/12

    "Fifteen years ago desperate tactics like that were for alt weeklies like The Village Voice, but Time and Newsweek are the new Village Voice. Or the new Salon."

    Very well and accurately put!


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