By paulgillin | May 1, 2008 - 7:16 am - Posted in Facebook, Google

As the story of Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Marcus Brauchli’s abrupt resignation last week continues to unfold, media critics are piling on with withering commentary about the Journal’s toothless “Special Committee” on editorial independence. At a time when commentators should be training their guns on Murdoch, they’re focusing instead on the group that’s supposed to protect the paper’s editorial integrity from Murdoch.
Jack Shafer’s column in Slate is snarky commentary at its best. Shafer says the committed was publicly humiliated by Murdoch, and isn’t it curious that no one has resigned in protest?

“The denutted Dow Jones Special Committee issued its wimpy statement yesterday…What they meant to say was, ‘We’re each paid $100,000 annually, a lot of money for very little work, so if Rupert wants to drive by and hose us down with a swift, hard piss again, just make sure the checks clear.'”

“Denutted?” Brilliant.

Shafer makes no effort to hide his contempt for Murdoch, but he gives the man his due: Murdoch owns the Journal and he’s entitled to do what he wants. The half million a year the owner pays the Special Committee is basically hush money and his recent actions have only demonstrated how little respect he has for the group.

Dean Starkman writes in Columbia Journalism Review that the saga is “getting awfully close to clown-car territory.” He calls out the committee for admitting that it was powerless to prevent Brauchli’s resignation. “It’s stunning to think that a 7,000-word agreement, crafted by some of the most expensive lawyers in the world, does not even contemplate the possibility that an editor might resign.” Of the committee’s admitted surprise at Brauchli’s departure, he adds, “The committee, remember, includes three crack newshounds, supposedly. Woof woof.”

Someone on the committee – most likely Chairman Thomas Bray – should resign in protest. The fact that no one has done so only makes the group look worse. The media’s increasing focus on the committee members’ lavish compensation is making this supposedly noble effort look more and more like a boondoggle for self-indulgent former journalists.

Gawker has more dirt on the internal politicking at the journalism world’s biggest ongoing soap opera. If you’re into that kind of thing.

Murdoch Moves in on Newsday

Murdoch has a clear path to buy Newsday, says the paper itself, even though threats of an FCC penalty loom. Technically, the Newsday purchase would endanger Murdoch’s licenses for his two regional TV stations, WNYW and WWOR. However, any action by the FCC would probably be tied up in court for years, during which time Murdoch could act with impunity and wait for turnover at the FCC and in Congress to change the regulatory scene.

Maybe we’re missing something, but all this talk of Murdoch’s waiting strategy seems to overlook one essential point: the man is 77 years old. Unless Murdoch has discovered a fountain of youth, his “long term” is probably eight to 10 years at most. Whatever legacy he intends to leave in the U.S. media market will have to be played out by then or handed over to a clone. None seems to be standing by.

Newspaper Stocks May be a Bargain

Max Zeledon makes a wordy case for why Gannett, News Corp. and New York Times Co. are three newspaper stocks to buy. He has confidence in the industry’s ability to survive, pointing out that newspapers adapted to the coming of TV, radio and cable and emerged stronger for the experience. Zeledon says his three picks are fundamentally sound companies with diversified holdings and the opportunity to gain share as the industry emerges from its troubles. They appear to be the best of the bunch. However, we’d argue with the comparison of the Internet to radio or cable TV. Neither of those technologies devalued newspapers’ core product the way online competition does.

Edward R. Murrow Rolls Over

The New York Times says CBS is talking with CNN about outsourcing some of its reporting operations to the cable network. The talks are apparently a consequence of the abysmal ratings for CBS’s news programs, which are mired in last place despite the $15 million the network is paying Katie Couric each year to drag the ratings even lower. CBS reportedly laid off 160 employees in 13 cities early last month.

And Finally…

If you aren’t using Twitter, you should be. It’s the most disruptive online technology since YouTube, despite its seeming simplicity, and its technology will change journalism. Last month it saved a man from an Egyptian prison. The guy is a UC Berkeley grad student and he was arrested and imprisoned without charges for photographing a demonstration, TechCrunch reports. He twittered “Arrested” to his 48 followers, who acted quickly to spring him.



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