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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  WHUT  April 16, 2013 8:30am-9:00am EDT

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viewers like you. thank you. >> i'm evan smith. he's a best selling, critically acclaimed author oh has been writing about the media business for 25 years, last 11 for the "new york times". he's david carr. this is overheard. >> david carr, welcome. >> nice to be here. >> always nice to see you. let me ask you about your paper, the "new york times". many of us read it here and elsewhere. news the last couple of weeks, you had some departures from people who had been in the paper for a
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long time, names we knew, left. how are the moods around the office? what's the state of things there? >> i think people spend far too much time worrying about the mood of the "new york times" and not enough time sort of looking at the product. we all would like to think that we're absolutely essential to what happens there. and if we lose somebody as talented and as good as john geddis, our managing editor and john landon who played a significant role in the jason blair incident, all of a sudden the wheels are going to fly off the cart. never happens. newspaper is -- it's an organic process that emerges from the space between people. and the "new york times", as i learned quickly when i got there, is certainly -- does not depend on any single person to be what it is. i've experience where had --
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i've been up against -- they don't generally hand me deadline matters, but a couple of times i've been in tight corners and really up against impossible odds in terms of getting the copy and making sure it's effacacious and have people come and pick me up. >> there are always new people who can do that sort of thing. >> i would read it in the morning and think it's hard to believe that i was involved actually. [laughter] >> don't you think the reason that we've gotten to pay such close attention to things like what just happened at the times or the decision by time warntory spin off the time magazine group is because we've been reeling these many years, five years, 10 years, media business has been in a state of great flux and we're all curious to see how it shakes out. we can't quite tell you how it's going to happen. >> yeah. i would be careful about conflating those two things. you have time warner, which is steve ross took and built up a behemoth over the terms
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of many, many years and it turned into the largest media company in the world and we've watched it throw off parts again and again. the fact that the last part to go, to be stunned, is the group of magazines that bears its name. >> you think that's significant. >> yeah, in manhattan media. and the adjustments that we made, if you think of jill abram son, who i know you know. >> been on the show. >> she's a newsman to her core. i think she's got the confidence of the room mostly because of the paper she makes. she's been a great reporter. she's been a good editor. and if you're looking at making what i would see as some adjustments on the cost side, i think it's really healthy to be up to the top and look around. think of how healthy the "new york times" is structured, which is it's the top of a mountain at the
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top of a mountain professionally. so it gathers all these people. and so -- there's this tremendous pressure and at a certain point something has got to give so you end up with a real thick layer on top here because no one ever wants to go anywhere. and so nobody ends up ever thrown overboard or urged to move on. if you're her and -- i don't know. it's kind of naughty to talk about, but it is overheard. >> it is. [laughter] and when you say gnawty i become all ears at that very moment. >> but let's say that you're running a large organization of 1200 people and you get six, seven years to hang on to this flaming baton and go as far as you want. if you're going to make some strategic cost adjustments, why not make them at the top to start so you can get your guys in, in position, and then have -- that's your game that you're going to
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ride with for awhile. so if she ever does have to come back to the room and look for any other cuts, we won't be saying to her, as we would, what about all these fat cats making all this money? about what about all these bosses that you have running around? i think the optics are good for her. i'm not -- that's just my opinion, but if it was my store to run, i don't think i would do it much different than she did, even though the folks that we had really, really talented folks. >> let me turn this around and ask you a broader question, which has the times been able to weather the changes to the media business better than, in your opinion, other newspapers at its level or down the food chain some of the regional and state papers, the big ones. are the times less vulnerable to those changes? >> what i say is it's less important than what our
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paper does. and so, you know, i get hamburgers for my family by working for the "new york times". so of course i'm going to say everything is hunky-dory and great. i would point to some specific structural issues and sort of -- you know, if you look back a couple of years ago, we owed $250 million to a mexican billionaire. probably not a great guy to owe money too. just in terms of your capital structure and stuff. we were -- so he lent us that money, great guy, thank you, at usurious rates and we paid that loan off early. we have like everyone else faced significant secular, meaning broad industrial changes and cyclical meaning whatever is going on with the economy. head winds in terms of
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advertising and large print enterprises generally maneuver by pushing two pedals. one is the ad side, the business side. and the other side is the consumer side, the circulation side. we decided two years ago this week to turn toward the consumers and say how's about showing us some sugar? how's about you get involved here a little bit? we have 40 million unique on the web and many people said we would scrap from the ecosystem -- disappear from the ecosystem. that the fact that the wall was leaky would make us a laughing stock. now we have over 240,000 digital consumers and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and for the first time in our history now circulation revenues out rank advertising revenues, which is a very signal moment. >> getting the last laugh. i know they've tightened up the porousness or closed up
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some of the porousness of the pay wall within the last few months, but by and large what they put into effect has worked. >> i think people have been really surprised by the level of how well it's worked. and it's been great for me personally because when i was at south by southwest two years ago on this date, it was all the theologians ranting and the religious belief and the spiritual power of free and for me it's been just a joy to watch that they were wrong and we were right. [laughter] and that that magic bunch of free readers that's not going to pay anything, that will not draw much in terms of advertising, is somehow going to take to you some safe and happy promised land. didn't happen. part of -- to your question, i should actually answer it.
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i see the newspaper business in two segments. large national brands, wall street journal, "new york times", ft guardian, international brands, doing pretty well because if you're an english language paper, the second and third world, in addition to the first world, is hatching customers for you everywhere. and because you don't need a truck or a printing press to get with them, you can start accessing those people. the other part of the business doing very well is if you're the kind of paper where people will tear out a picture of your kid playing third base for the local little league team and putting it on the refrigerator, the website's never going to do that for you. the phrase i saw your kid in the paper, that's really meaningful. and the community papers that have a very close relationship with their customer agree it's a vast middle. >> it is a vast middle.
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>> it's where america stores its reporting horse powers. >> was any of this preventable, david? you've been writing about it for a long time. you've looked at it from almost every angle. and you probably formulated an opinion about whether some of the things that got some of the papers in the vast middle into trouble over these years were beyond their control or whether in hindsight they could have prevented them. what do you think? >> in retrospect nothing changed, nothing changed, nothing changed. boom, everything changed. and the last five years the newspaper business has shrunk by half. we've lost a lot of reporters, a lot of deals. and when newspapers in mid size markets had those monopolies and were looking for places to stop all the money that they were making, one of the things they probably should have been doing is putting money into transformation. and it's hard when you're --
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when you're going in reverse to change the wheels on the car. so there were people that were sort of forward thinking, but it didn't work out for them. think of the amount of investment and time that the washington post put in the digital matters. and here we are lo these many years later and i think we could agree that they haven't really accomplished that much. >> not much farther ahead. what was the boom? you said nothing, nothing, nothing, boom. what was the boom? define the boom. what was the precipitating event? >> newspapers make their -- we make our living off of -- sort of a newspaper story is we're on the university of texas campus right now. those kids don't care about newspapers other than their college paper, which is an amazing one, great one.
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but they don't care about our business. and we don't generally cater to them in the olden days, which weren't that long ago. what would happen is they would leave college, they would get jobs, they would reproduce, they would go to ikea. they would have to -- they would have to figure out where to send johnnie to school. then we would grab 'em because they would have informational needs, they would have marketing needs. now they graduate, do they get a job? do they get married? do they have a need for -- there's probably a blog about the school that their kid's going to go to and they probably already have a direct marketing relationship. ikea probably nodes what their zip code is and how they like their coffee tables. >> ikea has cut you out of the situation by going directly to the customer. >> every time i see a swedish person iago want to
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choke 'em [laughter] >> very uplifting thought. you spoke at iowa state university in the last couple of weeks. >> yes, i do. >> you talked about the ecosystem -- extra central texan shall sort of cries that kids coming out of school face. they go out of a world that's vastly different for their generation, let alone our generation encountered. it's different from every angle. however you look at it the world has changed. >> i envy them. >> you do? tell me why. >> my daughter is in our business and she works for an outfit called vice, which is a brooklyn based multimedia company. and she made this video about these little microorganisms that are called tartagrades and they can survive in outer space because they can pull themselves into a ball and survive in extremes of temperature and pressure. and she found this really poetic, beautiful, natural.
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it was an amazing story teller. and she sent me the video and, you know, i did what all dads do, which is honey, that's adorable. you're just the best. i'm so proud of you. you made this great video. and she put it up the next day and said i got 10 million hits on youtube. and it's just like, things are really difference. >> this is a little different. [laughter]. >> the audience is unlimited. >> so i think in that friction free atmosphere where you are in the excellence of your contact achieve a boundless sort of relationship with your audience -- plus think of what's just even in my backpack right now in terms of reporting firepower. if i was going to do a story about you, i have all known thought about you one click away. and if you said something inconsistent, even though you never do, evan --
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>> why would i do that? >> of course not. i would be able to call you out on the spot. if i got done interviewing you and did a piece -- i just did a piece on one of the guys that made south park, matt stone. i got done talking to them and said do you mind making a little video. we made a little iphone video that went up. think of sourcing. when i first came in to the room, if you had a phone number they could pick it up. you could doorstep them, jump out of the bushes, i'm here! but think of now you can figure out the nomenclature of their email. you can find them on linked in. you're everywhere. you're like jason in a hockey mask. you just keep popping up and popping up. >> and the layer that used to protect them have really
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been obliterated by our instant access to them through many of the forms and technology you're talking about. >> and you develop a much more intimate relationship. if you're trying to get to somebody you might cc the flack, the pr person -- >> just to go through the front door. >> but you're really talking to the woman or the man you want to talk to. >> directly. so craft has changed in many of the ways you're talking about. i want to ask you about two other ways that i think our world has changed as it relates to the state of the newspaper. one is that twitter in particular, but social media generally have created an entirely different channel for the conversation about what's going on in the world to take place. part of it is a referral channel, but part of it is a reporting channel really. i know you're a big twitter aficionado. twitter is like the associated press wire of the current generation, the current media consumer
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generation because we find out so much on social media and it might cause us to go back to news sites like the "new york times" or whatever else, but we learn stuff now through a totally different channel that didn't exist just a short time ago. that seems significant. >> it's really significant. i mean, i -- i'm always careful not to overemphasize its significance because twitter is kind of like a coastal sort of hot house. those of us in the media love the twitter because it has this density of information because people are on it again and again. but as somebody in the business, the ability to keep an eye on my competitors, to stay in narrative with people, i respect over and over. think of when rss first came in and oh, here it is, the 10 stories i want to be tracking. now think of that rss as realtime always on, cure rated by people like you or people like me.
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and people -- i' people unfamiliar with twitter don't realize that the lengths that it carries, yeah, you can put a lot of information on 140 information, but you can point toward very important things. and if i follow people i feel like i'm in realtime narrative at that absolute moment. it's not perfect. i still get the daily paper and it's partly because all day long stuff is whizzing by and it's great. i can catch up on the news at starbucks and what's bouncing at that instance. the next day i always go, what was that? >> what happened? >> what happened? and so with the times or the wall street jonal, they're deciding on the hierarchy of these are the six or seven
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most important stories. >> we say are the most important. >> are they this probably not. but i'm willing to say okay? you guys have decided what's important. and in that sense i think when you come from magazines you know what you're doing is giving people, putting a frame around events that adds meaning to it. and i do think that daily paper has moved more and more add its best toward helping you make sense of this constant always on. when i first got to the "new york times" i would watch them choose those six or seven stories. i would go to the page one meeting. again, not consulted, just sitting there. potted plant basically. [laughter] and i would watch the stories sort of pivot and change around them. i would say this is ludicrous that they're talking about these as if they're static. i've come around on that.
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i still get the journal at home. i still get -- >> the combination of the traditional paper and the constantly influx of realtime stuff is not a binary choice, it's additive, a and b in terms of you understanding what's out there. >> yeah. there's a challenge that goes with it, which is am i so busy -- this endless cycle of producing and consuming media like not that long ago i wrote something for a magazine about neal young and it was supposed to be like 5,000 words. i thought i haven't had a thought that was longer than 10 words in a long time. [laughter] and just the cursor is just like beep, beep, beep. looking at me. >> but you got it done. >> i sweated it. and what i think reporters confront -- i talked earlier about how great it is. but the point at which you either stop producing media and start consuming it or
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stop consuming it and produce it, think of south by southwest and being in the middle of that mall strom. by the end of this week that person that will know the least about south by southwest will be me. i'm in the thick of it. i have no idea. >> hard to have perspective on it. >> you have to pull back a little bit. i think if you're a digital native -- i'm older than dirt, so i'm like an adopter. but if you think of someone i work with like bryan or amy, where the night when osama bin laden was killed, early on there was this indication that there was a tweet out of abad abad that got things rolling and i thought oh my gosh, this was a media story. and for a daily newspaper reporter, you want to swim toward whatever heat there is. >> absolutely. >> and in search of the
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elusive media angle. so i srt looking on the web and printing this out and gathering this in, and just about the time i'm going to file we have a media site at the "new york times" called media decoder. i'm like somebody should write a blog post about this. i open it up, my blowing bryan has 900 words already there. and what he was doing, typing, pulling in, seeing, pulling in. and that is not really baked into me. >> a tall microorganism of somebody of his sort is a different thing. >> for awhile i couldn't write a column until unless i had a folder the size of a ham sandwich with all my important papers all marked up with yellow stickies. and brother, that isn't going to get it. it isn't going to work. >> your individual brand is quite powerful. and not long ago individual
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brands probably discouraged their reporters from stepping out as individual brands. the institutional brand always superceded the individual brand. it now seems that the individual brand at yours at papers are the rocket booster that carry the institutional brand along. that feels like a pretty significant change to me. what do you think about it? >> i worked real hard on fitting in at the "new york times" before i worked on sticking out. and by fitting in i mean not ending up on the corrections page, not getting in a bunch of jackpots. not being known as a bad colleague. i do think that individual brands, that more and more you see in media companies, as you say, they become federations of different brands. but think if i just walked out there with the tip cup. you know, i'm not maureen
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dowd, i'm not frank rich. i'm like a tier underneath that. and it's good that i do video and i blog and -- but if my last name was not "new york times", i wonder how fancy that brand s i think part of the reason that my brand works, that i have a brand at all is that guy is really weird. i can't believe he works at the "new york times". [laughter] >> so these two things together, if you pull one or the other away, i think i'm just -- >> david carr of the "new york times" trumps david carr was denver post. >> or david carr of >> well, we appreciate who you are. we appreciate you coming and sitting with us. >> a pleasure. >> thank you. david carr [applause] >> we'd love to have you join us in the studio. visit our website at to find invitations to interviews, q and as with our audience and
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guests an an archive of past episodes. >> i write about newspapers and they're kind of boring. i mean, it's a bunch of typing. it's not like -- i don't know. it's not argo, i've just got to say. >> funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by the mattsson mchale foundation in support of public television. also by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community. and from the texas board of legal specialization, board certified attorneys in your community. experienced, respected and tested. also by hillco partners, texas government affairs consultancy and it's global health care consulting
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business unit, hillco health. and by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation, and viewers like you, thank you.
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♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ hello, i am llewellyn king, the host of "white house chronicle." i thank you for coming along.