|Early in my career, I worked for a few years at The New York Times. It wasn’t exactly a high point in the paper’s august history. After amassing a portfolio of disjointed media and real estate assets, and even a fractional ownership of the Boston Red Sox, the Sulzberger family had to trim their heirloom down to the core business and throw significant resources towards product and technology, two areas where the Times Company lagged disruptors such as Buzzfeed and, God help us all, something called The Huffington Post. Layoffs seemed to loom around the corner of many quarterly earnings calls.
Morale was grim. After 5 p.m., the tables at Wolfgangs, the steakhouse in the lobby of 620 8th Avenue, filled with antsy journalists and executives eager to trade gossip over Manhattans and home cooked potato chips. Carlos Slim, one of the richest men in the world, backstopped the company with a $250 million high-interest loan that was either borderline predatory or exceedingly generous, depending on one’s view of the Times’ financial outlook.
And yet I loved almost every second of my tenure there. My favorite pastime was walking around the expansive third floor newsroom, with those red walls, themselves a gesture toward an editor’s red-line markup, and taking in the sounds of the craft of journalism being made: reporters fighting with P.R. people, the drumbeat of a writer tapping away at a story on deadline, the creaking of an office chair in recline as an editor scratched their temples and contemplated a set of decisions about coverage. Occasionally, you’d also hear the patois of a senior reporter exchanging notes with a trusted high-level source.
I’ve always been interested in the mechanics of how media is made, both on the commercial and creative sides of the business. And, oh to be a fly on the wall for some of these conversations, imagining (as I did) the stature of the people on the other line. It was around this time, after all, that I started to become obsessed with the real inside conversation, the plot that only the real insiders know, that often doesn’t make it into journalism for one reason or another.
Years later, when I took a sabbatical from media to work in private equity, I came to learn what these conversations looked like from the other side. Journalists aren’t the only people in our culture looking for an edge when it comes to information. So are politicians, financiers, developers, and almost everyone at the highest level of Wall Street, Washington, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood. In many ways, this would become the sweet spot of Puck: penetrating the inner sanctum sanctorum, the real inside conversation, which is almost always remarkably nuanced and sophisticated and yet so rarely understood.
At our finest, we convey this behind-the-scenes drama to our community with all its wrinkles and idiosyncrasies. This week, to wit, Teddy Schleifer explained how Ron DeSantis, the candidate-in-waiting, is eagerly courting the Silicon Valley G.O.P. crowd, particularly Palantir founder Joe Lonsdale, to gain an advantage in the invisible stage of the primary. Bill Cohan revealed how a financial irregularity of the UBS-Credit Suisse deal recalled Jamie Dimon’s rescue of Bear Stearns back in 2008. (He also explained what this latest banking catastrophe meant for one of Wall Street’s biggest dealmakers, Michael Klein.) And the great Julia Ioffe penetrated the Biden foreign policy thought bubble to explain the administration’s evolving redline on Putin.
But if you only have time for one piece, I suggest sitting down with Dylan Byers’ masterstroke on how the Times has evolved from the Slim era under the leadership of A.G. Sulzberger and Meredith Kopit Levien. The Meredith Moat explains, among other things, how the disrupted can become the disruptor in our culture. It’s often an unglamorous process, but it comes down entirely to people, talent, the core of the media business and what makes our trade so exhilarating. It’s the story of our time, and precisely what you should expect from Puck.
Have a great weekend,