When the Media Partied Like It Was, Well…

David Carr’s New York Times column today is a useful reminder that the good old days for the media business weren’t necessarily all that “good.”

Take a peek into the ostentatious—and veering toward obscene, given the location— 1999 launch party for Tina Brown’s soon-to-fail Talk magazine—one that preceded Steve Schwarzman’s infamous birthday party by several years.

Partygoers took boats from Manhattan to the home of the Statue of Liberty to plop pashalike on pillows and blankets and munch on lamb chops while Macy Gray sang, their faces illuminated with multicolored Chinese lanterns and fireworks curated and narrated by George Plimpton.

So much for “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” And forget about the ol’ “wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” Something tells me the only poor immigrants on the isle that night were the servants.

Henry Kissinger hobnobbed with Madonna and Sarah Jessica Parker, Carr writes. Talk’s publisher wrote a “rap ode” to the mag. At least there were no trumpets heralding Brown’s entrance (as far as I know!).

Carr writes that the old media had no idea what was about to hit it, and there’s no doubting that.

Indeed, one of its top editors— that would be Tina Brown herself in a story ten years ago by one David Carr—thought her magazine was something she called a “cultural search engine,” about as neat a blob of BS editorspeak as you’ll find, and one that shows the cocooned media elite of ‘99 had about as much chance of understanding the Internet as pets.com had of making money mailing fifty-pound bags of Alpo.

This was not quite a “let them eat cake” moment (well, journalistically anyway), but Carr is smart to wind the clock back ten years and zero in on this particular event.

The question it raises is whether industry leaders have any more insight now on how to prepare for 2019. I’m not optimistic about that, to put it nicely.

The good thing is we’re no longer as dependent on a handful of industry leaders like Tina Brown to steer the ship. Don’t like it? Build your own.

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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 rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.