Bloggy Monday: Murdoch gets beat; a Portfolio blog item vanishes; and do TV minutes matter?

Media criticism.
March 24 2008 7:29 PM

Bloggy Monday

Murdoch gets beat; a Portfolio blog item mysteriously vanishes; and do TV minutes matter?

Rupert Murdoch has promised that his Wall Street Journal will be a tidier, briefer, and more general read, one that concentrates on breaking news. And in the opening weeks of his ownership, the newspaper has largely conformed to that vision, as I commented in January. But in broadening the Journal,is Murdoch taking the newspaper's eye off the franchise, namely business news? This morning's (March 24) New York Times scoops the Journal with an Andrew Ross Sorkin Page One piece about JPMorgan negotiating to quintuple its offer for Bear Stearns. Murdoch can't be happy about getting trounced on the month's biggest business story. By softening the Journal's editorial focus, isn't he making this sort of humiliation inevitable? Imagine being the editor on the receiving end of a phone call from the rotten old bastard, demanding to know why his paper got creamed on a beat that it is supposed to own. …

The blog item vanishes! On March 20 at 9:50 a.m., Portfolio's Jeff Bercovici posted an item about New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell, and in its last line stated, "I emailed Gladwell yesterday to confirm this account but haven't heard back." By Friday evening, the piece had disappeared from the magazine's site. Bercovici referred my questions about the deletion to the magazine's publicist, Perri Dorset. Over the weekend, she said via e-mail that the posting had been removed until Gladwell responded to Bercovici. Today, Dorset waved away additional questions, stating in an e-mail, "We have not heard back from Malcolm. We also don't talk about pieces before publication—either on-line or in the magazine." The fact that the Bercovici piece had already been published did not move Dorset to further explication. Portfolio and The New Yorker are owned by Condé Nast.Addendum, March 25: Gawker follows the story. Addendum, April 1:Portfolio explains.

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Is the number of minutes devoted to a topic on the evening network-news programs a strong indicator of anything anymore? Back in the day, when whole families parked themselves in front of the tube to watch David, Chet, and Walter—and whoever drew the short straw that month at ABC—the metric had meaning. If the nightly news covered a subject, the nation knew all about it. But that has not been the case ever since the collapse of the nightly news ratings, which this Project for Excellence in Journalism chart documents. In 1980, the three programs combined earned about 42 Nielsen ratings points. By 2007, that number was down to just 16.9 rating points. Even so, some in the press keep trumpeting the importance of TV minutes. This weekend, On the Media cited Tyndall Report calculations to note the reduced coverage of Iraq by network TV: According to the Tyndallstopwatch, the total number of Iraq minutes has declined from a peak of 4,162 minutes in 2003 to 1,888 minutes in 2007, with a very steep drop coming in the last three months of the year. Those in search of a better metric should consult the Project for Excellence's 2007 "All Media" measurement (PDF) of "percent of newshole." That survey calls "Iraq Policy" the No. 2 most covered story, "Events in Iraq" No. 3, and the "Iraq Homefront" No. 8. The sum of the three slices of the Iraq story towers over the survey's top-ranked story, "2008 campaign." (Also in the top 10 are "Iran" and "Pakistan.")

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Thanks to reader Elon Green for the Murdoch pointer and to Joseph Weisenthal for the one about Portfolio. Make my life easier by sending additional pointers to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.