At a bar last night, I was talking to someone smart who made an excellent point: that a very quiet, revolutionary act in the history of publishing had just taken place. (This person compared this moment to Gutenberg, which might be a little bit far afield but not that far off!) That is that Joshua Micah Marshall is hiring a publisher for Talking Points Memo, the blog he started all on his own in 2000, a bit before all the warbloggers like Jeff Jarvis and Glenn Reynolds came onto the Internet, and four years before Michelle Malkin. (Oh yes, how soon we forget.) My friend’s point was: here is an editor, who built and owns his publication, who is now going to be the editor-owner, who will employ the publisher. For those of you who have worked at any sort of publication, the implications of this are staggering.
This publisher will be responsible for making the publication hum and grow. The first duty in the listing is “audience growth.” This is what a publisher should do: ensure the ongoing financial success and growth of his or her publication. Instead, what we have now in the media industry are publishers who believe their duties include dictating the editorial mission on behalf of a business principle. This is when publishers go wrong and, generally, is when they should be taken out back and shot.
Except when the owner is the publisher, as is so often the case, she or he can never be dislodged, and rarely disobeyed. And even when the publisher isn’t the owner outright, the publisher still represents those interests. And worse: the hybrid corporation/owner.
For instance, pretty much everything that is wrong with the Washington Post is driven by issues of ownership and control; the financial operation of the newspaper exercising control over editorial. (In this case, as so often happens, the executive editor of that paper, Marcus Brauchli, has some sort of weird, terrible, degrading Stockholm Syndrome relationship with the publisher-owner-corporation as well, and it is destroying the paper.)
Now that anyone can own a publication just by sweat equity, what will happen when the publishers actually report to the editor-owners? Yes, I am pretty much expecting a grand utopia, and perhaps I will be disappointed. But it’s high time media publishing-where, nearly everywhere across the industry, the business side that has failed so utterly at its duties is currently squeezing every last bit of blood out of editorial-tried something different.