Frank Rich made his debut in New York magazine in its July 11th issue with a brilliantly written, well-reported, and penetrating article titled "Obama's Original Sin," and it was a Ruthian home run.
Rich's theme was: "The president's failure to demand a reckoning from the moneyed interests who brought the economy down has cursed his first term, and could prevent a second." He supported his premise with solid research and a clear reading of historical facts. But is also more harsh on Obama's probable Republican opponent next year, Mitt Romney, than on the president.
It's clear that Rich admires Obama and supported him in 2008, even though he was not able to publicly admit it at the time when he was writing for The New York Times, which has a policy against its columnists outright endorsing political candidates because the paper's management reserves that privilege for itself.
Perhaps this restriction is one reason Rich decided to switch to New York magazine, but whatever the reason, it seems like a reasonable choice based on this first effort. His piece was longer and, thus, more thorough, had more context, and, therefore had more impact than his previous Op-Ed columns in the Times. He has achieved the avowed purpose of his leaving the Times with this longer, more thorough piece.
But was it worth leaving The New York Times with its unparalleled national and international influence and clout, a Sunday circulation of 1,339,462 (tops in the country for Sunday newspapers), and website traffic of over 15 million unique visitors a month for New York magazine with circulation of about 410,000 (undoubtedly more now that Rich is there) and web traffic of about 6 million monthly uniques? Only Rich himself knows the answer.
But I suspect that longer New York magazine pieces are not all the Rich has in mind – more books are probably coming. Like many intelligent, thoughtful, well trained reporters, Frank Rich probably is compelled to get to the bottom of, understand, and explain complex issues and put them in historic context – to set the record straight as they see it. Rich tried this with his 2007 book The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth in Bush's America.
The non-fiction book was cleverly written, as we would expect from Rich, but critics complained that there was nothing new in it – no new facts were uncovered. These comments must have stung Rich somewhat, and I'll bet he wants to show the critics and educated readers what he's really capable of. I think he wants to stake his claim to being a world-class expert, which you do by writing an acclaimed book.
More and more former reporters, whether out of necessity because of being laid off from a newspaper or magazine, or because of a compulsion to publish, or because books are easier to publish in e-book form, are writing books – hard cover, paperback, e-books on multiple devices, including smartphones, and audio books. Technology has created an explosion of distribution channels, including e-book self-publishing, the decline of newspapers has created more time for reporters to write, and less expensive e-books have created more readers. Thus, both reading and writing are increasing, and I believe Frank Rich wants to get in the book boom.
So who are the winners and losers in Rich's move? Obviously, The New York Times was a loser and New York magazine a winner. Fans of Frank Rich are probably short-term losers because of lower print and website circulation of New York, but are probably long-term winners because they will likely get some excellent books that they can access in multiple formats.
It makes you wonder why the Times didn't make a counter-offer to Rich to let him do longer pieces in its magazine, agree to publish his books in all formats, and, more importantly, to promote his books aggressively in its publications? I think it looks like another Times management blunder. What the hell are they paying CEO Janet Robinson $4.48 million and Publisher Arthur Sulzberger $4.75 million for in 2010 when the stock is down, revenue is down, and they can't keep their best writer?
Maybe this stupid inequity in pay and dumb management at the Times is one reason Frank Rich left for New York magazine. Maybe it's the same reason Babe Ruth left the Red Sox for the Yankees to hit gargantuan home runs.
Until he retired in 2002, Charlie Warner was Vice President of AOL's Interactive Marketing division. Before joining AOL, he was the Goldenson Endowed Professor at the Missouri Journalism School where he taught media management and sales, and he created and ran the annual Management Seminar for News Executives. Charlie can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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