For many years, Slate has been one of the best sites for commentary in America. One of the stupidest things that intelligent team ever did was to sack their media columnist Jack Shafer, who now writes at Reuters.
His trenchant style hasn’t yet quite recovered from the transfer, but he continues stubbornly to refuse to think with the herd. For this alone he is required reading.
As evidence, here is Shafer’s column on Warren Buffet (left), the uber-guru of counter-intuitive investors everywhere, and newspapers. Buffet has owned newspapers on and off over the years and his commentary on their profitability or otherwise happens to write the twentieth-century history of printed media pretty well. And not just in America either. Once upon a time, newspapers could price their advertising space pretty much as they wished because their position in their markets was strong, bolstered by lack of competition and brand loyalty. Now that “franchise” has weakened. A cold-eyed view? Yes, but that is no bad way occasionally to look at newspapers which have more often been seen through rose-tinted spectacles of sentiment.
Journalists like to think that they are above grubby matters of business. But if you don’t understand what went wrong in the business model for printed news media, how are you going to figure out what will work in the future?