And the winner is….The Daily Beast. Here’s a weird thing. In the desperate struggle of US online dailies to stay alive, the publication that has emerged as the most intelligent and the best edited is the one that, until a year ago, looked certain to disappear. The Daily Beast was launched by Tina Brown when she was fresh from dumbing down the New Yorker and the failed Miramax Talk magazine venture. From the start it struggled to find a place, with Slate and Salon doing a mix of culture and politics thinkpieces, and the Huffington Post aggregating liberal media. The Daily Beast responded by buying dying weekly Newsweek, which proved a disaster, and Brown departed. Speculation said the Beast would shut down, but it didn’t — and in the meantime, Huffpo became a garbage clickhole, Salon became snark written by interns, and Slate … I don’t even know what Slate is. Gawker is what it is, and Buzzfeed is Vox that has fallen flat. You know what Vox needs? Sideways scrolling.
Anyway, amid all that The Daily Beast has become the best US serious read daily, summarising and reporting the core news, breaking it — today’s issue has stories on a proposed US-Iran deal against ISIS and a report on the Republican hawks’ plans to outwit their own isolationist faction — and the usual stuff about “oversharing” and what Lisa Kudrow is doing now. But it’s the hard news that dominates. It’s become the one-stop daily shop for the stuff that matters. I have no doubt that this serious, judicious approach will make it twice as good and half as popular as its rivals. — Guy Rundle
Deal-mania grips our media CEOs. Why do struggling media companies keep thinking they’ll wheel and deal their way out of disaster? The end result of such thinking is frequently just billions of dollars in wasted deals and destroyed value for investors. But the weaker the company, the bigger the potential disaster, the more strident the call for the federal government to change media laws — as we heard yesterday from Fairfax Media’s departing chair Roger Corbett. It was the latest in a growing list of similar comments from senior executives of embattled media companies, usually with a substantial print component — or a dying broadcast business. Last month saw those same comments made by Ten executive chairman Hamish McLennan as he released the network’s appalling 2013-14 result. Seven’s Kerry Stokes also wants to see media law changes, although he’s not certain as to what should be changed. Stokes, of course, drove the most disastrous media deal in recent memory — the $4.1 billion takeover of the Seven Network by West Australian Newspapers. At the close of the ASX yesterday, Seven West had a market value of $1.71 billion, so the loss of value from this deal is an impressive $2.4 billion, or more than 50%.
The current media laws have been in place since 2006 and members of the current government were on hand to support those changes. They drove the value-destroying deals which saw WAN buy Seven (Kerry Stokes was the major shareholder in both), Fairfax buy Rural Press and a TV production company (and come a cropper on both) and Lachlan Murdoch and James Packer raid Ten, removing the existing board and management and then proceeding to ruin a perfectly good business which needed some attention from managers who knew what they were doing. They were aided and abetted by Gina Rinehart (who has wasted over $100 million raiding Fairfax Media) and WIN’s Bruce Gordon, who has lost hundreds of millions on his investment in Ten. And now they want the law changed so they can tidy up these egregious loss making deals with another round of value destroyers. At least Roger Corbett ruled out mergers at yesterday’s AGM, thereby confirming it didn’t want Ten.
Of course, they are not alone. Media companies in other countries have also done dopey deals. And don’t mention the half a billion dollars or more Rupert Murdoch wasted on the MySpace debacle. But Rupert Murdoch has shown the way for established media companies to handle the net and all things digital — get rid of print, sweeten the unwanted assets with some monopoly broadcast assets in a tiny economy such as Australia and push them out of the growth assets (while maintaining control). Numerous other companies have gone down that split route, from Time Warner, to the New York Times Co (getting rid of all print bar the Grey Lady herself), The Tribune Co and more. — Glenn Dyer
Video of the day. Seinfield goes to parliament …
Front page of the day. Shoot to Thrill? If You Want Blood? Gimme a Bullet? Guns for Hire? Let’s not kid ourselves — we all knew where this was going.