The Whole System is Bankrupt

“This is a way to make shareholders short-term happy,” Douglas Arthur, a media industry analyst with Huber Research, said Thursday. “Nothing more, nothing less.”

Tribune Publishing to pay $56 million special cash dividend to shareholders

There are three types of people who survive in media: hard workers, sycophants, and the serial failures they both work for who somehow manage to continually find employment despite a reasonably public record of the wreckage they’ve left behind.

Too harsh? Maybe, a bit—some sycophants are arguably hard workers too, and serial failure might not be as easy as the eternally mediocre make it look—but after my own 25+ years surviving in media (and currently in the final throes of a demoralizing corporate bankruptcy), I’m feeling a little cynical.

Toys R’ Us, Sears, etc. get the media coverage and political attention, but it’s just business as usual for A LOT of companies.

Employees get screwed while CEOs and boards line their pockets and move on to do it all again elsewhere, often praised as successful businessmen without a hint of sarcasm, because in capitalism’s own twisted way, it’s true. Numerous profitable media companies have been driven to the brink of bankruptcy thanks to “legitimate” business practices that allow owners to extract those profits while piling on unrealistic debt, eventually selling off valuable “assets,” steadily cutting expenses and laying off staff, until the businesses become shadows of their former selves.

In the rare case senior executives take the fall, there’s always a parachute to ease them into the arms of another board who defines success as something other than running a thriving, sustainable business.

But tell me again how digital transformation is the real enemy?

“Of the $1.3 trillion that was spent on digital transformation last year, it was estimated that $900 billion went to waste… Often new technologies can fail to improve organizational productivity not because of fundamental flaws in the technology but because intimate insider knowledge has been overlooked.”

Digital Transformation Is Not About Technology

Media is a tough business and has been since I got my first full-time gig back in 1993, my Gen X comfort with computers—all praise to the Commodore 64 and Atari 2600!—giving me an advantage over Boomers who were set in their ways and couldn’t be bothered with the “digital stuff,” leaving it to junior staff to learn and eventually own. But the biggest disruptor hasn’t been digital transformation, social media, fake news, or any other boogeyman du jour—it’s always been good old-fashioned greed, often with a splash of hubris and incompetence.

Imagine if even half of the literal BILLIONS invested in advertising and marketing technology over the past decade, primarily making it easier and cheaper to shove ads in front of audiences who don’t want them, had been invested in producing quality content and building innovative user experiences that prioritized serving audiences’ interests instead?

Imagine if sustainable businesses and living wages were the benchmarks for a healthy economy rather than exponential “growth” and continually lining the pockets of already wealthy investors?

“We got a real problem in this country. And that’s a handful of giant corporations that have so much power they just roll wherever they want to roll. They roll over their employees, they roll over their customers, they roll over their communities. We need structural change. The way we get structural change is we need more power back in the hands of employees.”

Elizabeth Warren

I’ve always been pro-Unions despite never having the opportunity to be in one—my grandparents, father, and wife all benefited from union membership at times—but recent events have made me fully appreciate their value.

Big mood.

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