Thanks for reading The Backstory, our weekly digest of the best new work at Puck.
It was another amazing week here: Dylan Byers scooped the news of CNN’s fascination with Charles Barkley; Matt Belloni and Bill Cohan traded notes on the Bob Iger-Nelson Peltz contretemps; Julia Ioffe deconstructed Foggy Bottom’s balloon anxieties; Peter Hamby got the skinny on DeSantis’s gathering storm; Tina Nguyen got into the politics of “groomer”-gate; Tara Palmeri detailed Kyrsten Sinema’s ability to infuriate everyone; Eriq Gardner examined Shari Redstone’s latest legal headache; Teddy Schleifer broke the news on where Silicon Valley’s money is headed in 2024; and Baratunde Thurston put the Tyre Nichols tragedy in focus.
Check out these stories, and others, via the links below. And stick around for the backstory on how it all came together. Also, if you haven’t yet taken our reader survey, I implore you to fill it out. It’ll only take a moment. Your feedback will help us immeasurably. Thanks.
|In the earliest days of my career, when I was essentially an errand boy marauding around the offices of Vanity Fair, seemingly hours removed from my college graduation and with only a few dress shirts to my name, I remember walking for the first time into the vaunted cafeteria of Condé Nast, the magazine’s parent company. Back then, this regal commissary wasn’t just a curiosity or a talking point. It was legitimately one of the most desirable reservations in town.
Located on the fourth floor of 4 Times Square, the dining room had been designed by Frank Gehry, and it was a pure, unadulterated monument to the go-go ’90s: the curvilinear glass, the Chasen’s-style banquets, the towering ceilings. Rumors abound that garlic was banned from the daily menu. Was Si Newhouse allergic to the edible bulb, I wondered, or was it merely deemed tacky?
The cafeteria always held metaphorical resonance to me: it explained how the company, but also the industry, viewed itself. Back then, magazines were the quintessence of cultural life. And monthly magazines, with their elegantly conceived design and handsome photography budgets, were centers of thought leadership. Their exalted place amid the swirl of the intellectual-fashion-financial plutocracy provided their proprietors with an enormous sense of pride, surely, but also the illusion that it would last forever. And nothing does, of course, especially in media.
Decades later, Condé Nast remains a great and very profitable company, and one that operates across multiple platforms. But so much of modern media has dispensed with the Gehry-esque pageantry. When I started my career, after all, top media executives dined at the Four Seasons or Ken Aretsky’s Patroon or Brian McNally’s 44, or maybe on occasion at the Condé Nast cafeteria. Now many of them eat at their walking desks.
I’ve often remarked in this space that my early years in publishing provided me a framework, or pattern recognition capacity, for transitions in the broader media business. The magazine industry, of course, was merely following the protruding arc of the music industry, from the heyday of the labels through Napster disintermediation and eventually a long and gradual renewal via iTunes and Apple Music and Pandora to the Spotify end state.
We’re now seeing the linear cable business follow the same arc. Dylan Byers’s genre-defining coverage of CNN along its quest toward right-sizing has demonstrated how complex and fraught these sorts of transitions can be, especially for such a historic and important business. To follow the latest plot points on the map, I suggest spending time with his latest two-parter, Licht’s Big Number and the Rebound Play, which trace the delicate balance of remaking a business in transformational times.
Matt Belloni has been the leading voice on the fairly nascent streaming industry’s own sudden pivot toward a humble resizing. He’s brilliantly coined the phrase The Great Netflix Correction to explain the chill that Wall Street’s recent dissatisfaction with the industry has created across the biggest media conglomerates, who are now facing their own stock price reckoning. In a candid cross-talk with Bill Cohan, the two explain how Bob Iger, perhaps the greatest media C.E.O. of our time, is grappling with the cruel realities. I strongly suggest devouring Disney’s ‘Everything on the Table Era’ Begins.
But if you only have time to read one article this week, please set aside time for Julia Alexander’s extraordinary dissertation on the streaming business’s own post-Condé Nast cafeteria age, Streaming’s ‘Capital Efficiency’ Wars. It’s the story of our time, and precisely the sort of piece you can only find at Puck.
Have a great weekend,