Monday, October 24, 2005

one by one

seems the entire l.a. media world, and probably the new york one and others elsewhere, is talking about the "merger" of new times inc. and village voice media, announced yesterday. the rumors have been flying for months. speculation rose to a fever pitch with salvos fired at NT by publisher bruce brugmann up at the sf bay guardian. this run-up reminded me quite vividly of 1996, the first time NT came to the city of angels -- first buying the village view, and then the los angeles reader, where i worked for 8 1/2 years, my formative media experience ... the years that ruined me forever in terms of ever being able to work a straight job. (uh, ok, except maybe for that stint at disney.com.)

reading the memo from VVM CEO david schneiderman to the staff of the VVM-owned l.a. weekly (which someone emailed to me last night) and the many links that l.a. observed has been amassing to the different stories about this event, i see this is more of a "takeover" than a merger (which is how the NT described it). first off, that's what most independent observers are calling it. and way down somewhere in this new york times piece is this bit of info:

None of the current investors [in VVM] are exiting as part of the merger, although [new times chairman/CEO] Mr. Larkin said the expectation was that he and his partners would buy out the financial backers in five years.

(btw, that should be "none of the current investors IS exiting," but whatev.)

total control is the goal. sounds a lot more like the voice, the l.a. weekly, et al., will be assimilated into the borg-like hive-mind that is the NT papers.

whatever. there will be tons of speculation about what this all means. my own projection is that they are creating an actual nationwide "alternative" entity; maybe someday in the far-projected future, a chain in which all components in the different cities will be unified under one name. (somehow, i don't think that name will be "village voice," but that's just me.) new times sees itself as an alternative to the dailies, so it makes sense to me that, in order to actually compete with the dailies, it would want to have as much national muscle as possible ... and, eventually, the same kind of name recognition as the new york times or washington post. you can't achieve that if all of your publications have different names.

different accounts have already detailed how the new VVM hopes to provide a more attractive vehicle for national advertisers. and i also wonder if the company will farm out to its smaller papers the better-known and higher-profile writers from the bigger papers (something they did in a limited fashion when they had new times l.a.), at least the ones who will play in their more podunk markets. and probably it will attempt to hang onto any of those writers deemed so valuable by filling their heads with notions of nationwide fame/notoriety in the job they already have. i guess this wouldn't work as well with the regional reporting, like with local news. but it sure could work with national stories, not to mention the arts, especially film, and even music.

the online component is not to be underestimated, either -- i am not sure if anyone can compete with free services like craigslist, but the new VVM seems to be positioning itself to try.

finally, on a purely human level, i feel for the people at the l.a. weekly. the uncertainty of the future alone has to suck, a lot. and it isn't going to be pretty when the final deal is done. also from the new york times story linked above:

[NT executive editor Michael] Lacey lamented that during that period [of waiting for justice dept. review of the deal] he and Mr. Larkin would have to refrain from sharing specific plans with employees at Village Voice Media, a silence that he said would only enhance the perception they are the industry's bogeymen.

huh. my impression was that they actually enjoy being scary. now, obviously, i do not know if michael lacey will go into his first meeting with the weekly staffers in the same unpleasant fashion that he approached the staff of the los angeles reader in the summer of '96. trying to be funny, he said to us after we'd filed dutifully into the conference room, "well, the rumors are true. you've been bought by the evil empire!" our stony faces indicated we didn't find that amusing. things went downhill from there. oh, sure. he talked about how talented we all must be, and blah blah blah. but he was there, in part, to stage a very public execution.

at that time, i was on the second week of the two weeks notice i'd given to go off seeking my fortune at an internet company (that is, being the copy editor for disney.com). i had taken that opportunity because i'd wanted to learn more about this newfangled thing called the world wide web, and i'd already done every job at the reader that i wanted to do or could do in the more than eight years i'd worked there. i worked hard at that paper and helped editor/publisher/owner james vowell bring it back to life when it was drowning in the toilet back in 1988. nearly a decade later, i was ready to move on. but when i'd started searching for another job, i'd had no idea the reader was soon to be marked for death. in fact, i was looking forward to maybe contributing sometimes, and to picking it up every week and seeing how it was doing without me. (it only published one more issue after i left.)

lacey went down the line of us sitting at that conference table, shooting figurative bullets into most of my friends: "we don't have a place for you ... you ... you ... ," he said, pointing his lethal finger at each of my colleagues in turn. he paused at me and said, "and you're out, because you don't want to deal with us." hahahaha!! no, actually, mr. lacey, my departure from the reader had nothing to do with you or your company. i said as much. my clarification was, of course, not welcome. after all, he'd made up his mind. why bother him with the facts? this seemed more or less the NT approach the entire time it was in l.a.: that this non-l.a.-based company somehow knew the l.a. market and the readership better than anyone who had worked in l.a. media, ever. of course, that's why it was so wildly successful the first time.

2 comments:

conrad said...

I preceded you in the toilet; I was the music listings guy/junior editor/junior rockcrit guy from '86 to '87. I'm still sad every time I think about the Reader. They hired me about the time the decline started (they lost the bunny, etc.). I'm glad you guys had another run at it and did it so well. And glad to see so many familiar faces on the Citybeat masthead. Maybe we'll do it again!

Mick said...

faster, sister, kill kill!