Audit Notes: NYT softballs, ad inventory, the future of the LAT

The Justice Department's Lanny Breuer gets another weak exit interview

How many parting kisses can outgoing senior administration officials collect from the press?

Lanny Breuer, already given the puff treatment by the Washington Post, now gets it from The New York Times, which sneers at the “Occupy Wall Street crowd” and a “tirade in Rolling Stone magazine” and then tosses off an embarrassing number of softballs to the guy who let Wall Street walk away from the financial crisis unprosecuted.

Q. You’ve had no shortage of interesting clients: Roger Clemens, President Clinton, Sandy Berger. What was the most fascinating assignment?

A. There’s nothing like representing the president of the United States. Representing people like that in general can be gratifying, because you’re getting people often who are incredibly proud of their careers, and you’re dealing with them at their most vulnerable time.

Q. What gear did you assemble from your ex-Yankee client?

A. Balls, posters — we’ve got a lot of Clemens memorabilia. You need to recognize, I was a lifelong Mets fan.

Q. You were raised in Queens.

Even the “tough” questions aren’t. Yeesh. David Dayen has more at Salon.

— While some publishers are going all in on the clicks model and talk about increasing “inventory,” smarter ones are going the other way, reports Digiday:

“From a publisher’s standpoint, there really is no choice but to go this way,” said David Payne, Gannett’s chief digital officer, of the move away from the banner. “I think we’ve all proven over the last 12 years that the strategy we’ve been following — to create a lot of inventory and then sell it at 95 percent off to these middlemen every day — is not a long term strategy.”

Gannett has taken steps to live up to the ideal, redesigning USA Today in a way that dramatically reduced its inventory volume. Instead of fitting as many ads as possible around an article, it decided to place a single ad unit next to each of the site’s articles and package the content and ad together in a pop-out lightbox.

Payne said that the new site is already at well over a 100 percent effective CPM compared to the old one and that USA Today is hoping to lead the rest of the industry in the same direction. If that happens, Payne said, it would be a cause for concern for the arbitragers and second-tier ad networks rampant in the industry.

LA Weekly has a good read on the future of the Los Angeles Times. According to its reporting, the paper makes good money, if not nearly what it used to:

Perhaps most surprising, bankruptcy or not, the L.A. Times on its own makes a tidy profit — $70 million in 2011, according to a former Tribune Co. employee in a position to know, as well as a wealthy businessman among the many who have tossed around the idea of buying the paper.

I also enjoyed this:

By 2006, the Chandlers wanted out. Geffen was interested; so were L.A. billionaires Eli Broad and Ron Burkle. But the spoils went to Sam Zell, the real estate mogul who looked like a character from Tolkien’s Middle-Earth dressed for a night at a disco.

Zell’s nickname was “Grave Dancer,” and his crassness disgusted many journalists — he once suggested that Tribune papers allow X-rated ads because “everyone loves a good blow job.”

“He was the most vulgar, repellent rich person I’ve ever met,” says Tim Rutten, a journalist at the Times for 40 years, who was laid off in 2011.

And this is worth flagging:

One problematic effort has been its paywall, launched on March 5, 2012, which allows readers 15 free pageviews a month before requiring a paid subscription. The paywall is cumbersome and hard to figure out, repeatedly kicking subscribers out and forcing them to sign in via a third-party website like Google or Facebook.

I’ve asked the LAT for its paywall numbers in the past, and staffers there declined to tell me. They’ve said they’re happy with them, for what it’s worth.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,