What is the surest sign of a revolution that can’t be rolled back?
When the Establishment begins not just to copy some of the actions of the avant-garde, but to speak in the same tones and register . . .
When are the last nails being hammered into the coffin of the old order?
When the most enterprising, ambitious and successful leaders of the crumbling hierarchy — the people with the sharpest trendspotting wits — change sides . . . or wish to convey the impression of having done so.
Tina Brown, the only British editor The New Yorker has ever had (1992-8), asked on December 24:
[A]s Big Media fights for its life, are the right people leaving?
Answering the question, I believe that she gave BaronCharlus and Sean Murray the authoritative confirmation they wanted for views expressed in earlier posts on this site about the harm done to literature by the corporatisation of book publishing — including Since when was a newspaper strictly a capitalist tool? and Max Perkins wouldn’t have confused editing with counting beans — or spreadsheet nerdery.
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. There are floors of these creatures in any behemoth media company, buzzing about each day thwarting new ideas or, worse, having “transformative” ideas of their own when what is usually required is to revive, with a bit of steadfast conviction, the originating creative purpose of the enterprise.
I have never seen any power in publishing express herself so frankly, and in public, on this subject. Tina Brown dipped one foot into the blogging world last October, when she started The Daily Beast (yes, a nod to Waugh and his peerless Scoop) – less a blog than a blog-zine something like an all-online version of The New Yorker focused on politics. That followed an earlier experiment in being an editor-entrepreneur, when she founded the magazine Talk. She came by her anger with corporate obtuseness honestly, as this quotation in her Wikipedia entry suggests:
Despite the magazine’s ability to attract a steady stream of leading stars for its covers, it failed to find its niche, and Brown found that Talk’s corporate backers were less patient than the Newhouses (the owners of Conde Nast [and The New Yorker]) when the magazine ran up losses estimated at $55 million (£38 million). Weinstein [Talk’s chief investor and overseer], to prevent further losses, canceled the venture in January 2002, with Brown receiving a half of her £1.4 million contract.
She happens to be a legendary magazine editor married to a British newspaper editor and legend in his own right, Harold Evans. They have both won multi-million dollar book contracts — and are also insiders in Manhattan book publishing.
Trying to lighten the mood on one critical thread on this site, BaronCharlus, quoting friends in that world, suggested that things might improve once the financial crunch could be relegated to the past tense. Tina Brown has spotted the same attempt at casting blaming elsewhere:
[T]he recession is giving many of them air cover. “It’s not my fault, it’s the times we live in.”
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 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.
Language is provenance and culture. It also exposes any habitual and reflexive mental frame. I couldn’t help noticing the proof, in her prose, of how much time she — like everyone of her status in journalism and the corporate book industry — must spend in corporate meeting rooms. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I can’t conceive of anything written by Harold Ross or William Shawn reflecting the mercantilist argot of their day to quite the same degree:
Joe’s at an offsite but he’s on his BlackBerry. Karen’s at a sales meeting but she’s on a conference call. What happened to Kevin? Oh, he’s no longer officially around, but yeah, he’s still “in the mix.” You bet he is.
When a meeting finally convenes, there are still more people. Tramp, tramp, tramp—in they come with their laptops and their forecasts of why it’s not going to work. [. . .] Nobody notices that in this behemoth they’d been dimmed sometime before the meltdown. Meanwhile, inside the company a “major restructuring” is announced and heads start to roll. That skill that took a lifetime to acquire—can he or she please cost it out on an hourly basis?
. . . and in a quotation in the Wikipedia:
According to Brown, “I want this to be a speedy read that captures the zeitgeist. We’ll be smart and opinionated, looking to help cut through the volume with a keen sensibility. We’re aiming for a curious, upscale and global audience who love politics, news and the media world.”
. . . Oh please let’s not capture the zeitgeist on acciaccature, whatever else we do, and may we remain dim, reticent, incurious, downscale and as narrow as possible. . . Tina Brown, if you ever enjoy a little giggle — I just know that those are clichés you wish that you’d never learnt. There’s a price for everything, innit?
Enter . . . the future: can it be freed from corporatespeak, somehow? I suspect that Lady Evans is only able to say, ‘Up to a point, Lord Copper,’ today. But she’s coming along nicely.
Pixels in the wind: traditional publishing vs. the blogosphere (part 1) can be read here.