Reason Writers Around Town: Matt Welch in the Wall Street Journal on The Deal From Hell


Writing in the weekend's Wall Street Journal, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch writes about former L.A. Times Editor James O'Shea's new book The Deal from Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers. The review begins like this:

With each passing year, the golden era of modern newspapers—roughly the four decades from 1960 to 2000—is coming to resemble the kingdom of Hungary during the dual-monarchy's salad days of 1867-1914. What once looked like a permanent empire is now revealed as an ahistorical lucky streak undermined by overreach and the desire among captive citizens to be free.

No one went to Hungarians for a dispassionate analysis of the Treaty of Trianon, the postwar agreement in which they gave up vast swaths of territory, so it's a bit much to expect newspaper lifers to be objective about the journalistic world crumbling around them. But that's exactly what their self-mythology—rooting out the truth, consequences be damned!—requires the rest of us to hope for.

This inevitable conflict of interest ultimately hobbles James O'Shea's otherwise interesting "The Deal From Hell." Mr. O'Shea, a writer and editor at the Chicago Tribune and, later, at the Los Angeles Times, uses the Tribune Co.'s calamitous merger with the Times Mirror Co. in 2000 as a stand-in for all that's wrong with the newspaper business. In his best moments Mr. O'Shea aims to highlight "the shortcomings and mistakes to which all parties" in the industry "plead guilty." But too much of the book gives his own party—the "fools, knaves, idealists, and dreamers" of the newsroom—a get-out-of-bankruptcy-free card.

Read the whole thing here.


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  1. Yaaaaaawwwwnnnnn.

  2. Yaaaaawwwwwnnnnn.

  3. Long version of Yaaaawwwwnnnnn spam filtered twice. How about just…Yawn.

  4. I think I figured out how the newspaper was killed. It was Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the internet.

    1. Newspapers committed suicide when they decided journalists would be “impartial.” Prior to that each town had a liberal paper, a conservative paper, a labor paper, a socialist paper, a free-thinker paper, etc.

      But if all the newspapers impartially print Associated Press stories you really only need one newspaper for the country.

  5. Also, why do I have to hit my back button five times after I post a comment to get back to H&R.

    1. Interesting, that is happening to me also….

      1. Check your watch. You’ve passed through a time portal. It’s the year 2058 and all your friends and family are dead. H&R is the sole survivor of the Blog Wars of 2057. The living will envy the dead.

  6. But daddy, why can’t we bring back the Dinosaurs?

  7. Did Tibor Michan suggest the opener to this?

  8. “”””One of the book’s recurrent subplots involves the industry’s focus on Pulitzer Prizes, with cost-conscious executives who prefer shorter and more local stories puzzled by editors’ single-minded focus on the sort of expensive, multipart reporting projects that win prizes from their peers. “””‘

    Since probably 99% of the papers are sold to locals it makes no business sense for a local newspaper to turn their nose up at local stories. And with the internet providing easy access to international and national news stories the local stories should be the place where the local newspaper has the best ability to compete against and in the internet. But shinny prizes given by insiders in your own industry are more important then serving the customer that pays ultimately pays your salary.

    1. I live in a small town with an almost-daily (6/week) newspaper that is mostly AP stories. It’s struggling to exist.

      We also have a weekly that runs nothing but local news, including city and county meetings, school board, local school sports, social events, etc. It operates firmly in the black every year.

  9. OK, so they do seem to know what the deal is. Wow.

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