MB: Somehow keeping people interested. Traditional journalism as we know it seems to be losing fans as they get older and die off and younger generations don’t have the same type of interest or attention span. I don’t mean that in a pejorative way; their interests are different, they don’t want their news in way we’ve all been getting it for the last several centuries or decades (depending on whether you’re talking about print or radio or TV). The print industry is hard at work creating all these new products that are real-short-attention- span theater. TV, Fox News changed everything in the 24-hour news world by taking a more partisan approach to news gathering… There is going to be a reexamination of how news organizations attract and keep audiences to stay in business. Things don’t look that good right now. I don’t know what the answers are, but there are a hell of a lot of questions that need to be answered soon.
LCB: This is a good segue way into my next question. What about the Associated Press’ asap — does the world really need another news outlet aimed at the elusive 18-34 demographic?
MB: I can’t get myself to pick up either of the New York papers handed out at subways. They just really seem so dumbed down. If I want some attempt at serious news, I read the [New York] Times or the [Wall Street] Journal. If I want to be entertained, I read the New York Post — it’s got little to do with journalism but it sure is a fun read.
No, I don’t think we need that many more [youth-oriented news outlets] but that contradicts what I said before, that news companies need to find new ways to reach people. It makes me a little afraid they’re trying to reach and sustain an audience by dumbing things down. It’s unfortunate, but it does seem to be an inexorable march.
LCB: What about Men’s Vogue? Does the world really need a Men’s Vogue? What’s your prognosis for this publication?
MB: Men’s Vogue? Probably a really smart idea. Cargo and similar magazines have really established themselves. There seems to be a real appetite among men — and I can’t include myself, if you saw me you’d know why I don’t — for fashion information and fashion tips and all that has historically catered only to women. I think there’s a marketplace there. Not a bad idea at all. For me, there’s zero appeal.
LCB: You recently wrote an opinion piece about how well the press performed in their coverage of Hurricane Katrina. You wrote: “After the 2004 presidential election, it became clearer than ever that the domestic news media are falling into red-state/blue-state partisan camps. … I’ve always been under the impression that journalism — the profession of finding and delivering news — is supposed to be objective. Well, watching, hearing and reading the heroic, impressive and passionate coverage of the horrors wrought by Hurricane Katrina by our news organizations served as a reminder that objectivity still exists, if only in times of crisis.” Do reporters really deserve to be applauded for, in effect, doing their jobs?
MB: Well, you know, no more so than a football player that does his job by tackling a running back before they’ve gained ten yards and gets up to do his little victory dance. The fact is journalism in general, I think, has suffered as a result of lot of changes that have gone on, but when the chips fell, all the news organizations — print, TV, and otherwise — rose to the occasion to cover what is arguably the worst tragedy this country has ever seen. … I was riveted to my TV and I hungered to read the paper every morning to get more information and almost completely across the board the news was delivered with a passion you don’t see in covering congressional hearings or other kinds of ordinary news events. It’s great to see that passion again …
LCB: Will this passion last? Will it be one of Katrina’s legacies?
MB: A lasting legacy? No, I don’t [think so]. We all do a great job of rising up in times of tragedy but we just so easily lapse back into kind of an easier way out when tragedy or crisis is not facing us. I don’t think it’s going to last necessarily. We can all be proud of those moments. …
LCB: What other lasting affects might Katrina have on the news business? News budgets?