Stupid, Stupid Newspaper Creatures

When the final obituaries of big-city newspapers are written (and they’ll be written online), their history could well mark today as one of the signal events in the buggy-whip-ization of newsprint. From today’s Bleat:

[T]hey’ve killed my column, and assigned me to write straight local news stories.


It probably won’t do James much good with his bosses for me to point this out, but how dumb do you have to be to spike Lileks? You’re talking about the best-connected and very likely best-read online columnist in America, and what do the geniuses at the Star-Tribune do? They demote him and strip the paper of his signature in-print work.

Ideological payback? Maybe. Dinosaur thinking? Obviously. Stupid? Without question.

If the Strib had any institutional sense whatsoever, they’d make James the poobah-in-chief of their online division, and turn him loose. They’d have the best online paper in the country in less than a month. What they’re doing now is an idiotic waste of talent.

Attention, newspaper publishers with a brain: here’s a guy who can bring in a hundred thousand new pairs of eyeballs in the blink of an, er, eye. You say you’re losing money to the web? Well, he knows more about the online world and how to communicate on it than anybody on your staff.

Don’t be as dumb as the Strib. Hire him away before somebody else beats you to the punch.

UPDATE: Tons of reaction in the blogosphere today, as one might imagine. Lots of it is linked at Hugh Hewitt’s site; Hewitt is off on what he calls “a three-hour rant” on his radio show even as I type.


15 Responses to “Stupid, Stupid Newspaper Creatures”

  1. NukemHill Says:

    Pajamas Media should hire him now.

  2. Jeff Harrell Says:

    He can do way better than Pajamas. This guy deserves a column in “Vanity Fair.”

  3. rbj Says:

    Probably they’re trying to get him to quit, though why they would want that I don’t know.

    Strib management needs to have clips on their mittens, to keep them from losing those mittens.

  4. NukemHill Says:

    Nobody said anything about exclusive. There’s no reason he can’t do both. I think Pajama’s would be a good fit for him because he thinks outside the box (sorry, couldn’t resist!) and has a great feel for “new media”. I think he’d be a great visionary for the organization, as well as a killer columnist.

  5. Slocum Says:

    “Probably they’re trying to get him to quit, though why they would want that I don’t know.”

    I think it’s more than probably. And the reason almost has to be politics (national, corporate, or both). Although they’d probably be happy for him to turn into a nameless local reporter working for a paycheck, too.

    I think maybe what he ought to do is actually take the new assignment and turn in a series of Lileks-colored versions of the local news combined with a series of priceless absurdist pieces on the life of Strib cub reporter. Eventually they’ll have to fire him. Unless he gets a great offer first (which, given his talent, obviously should happen soon).

  6. Sigivald Says:

    Or maybe they just don’t think that Lileks sells papers very well with his column.

    Being well-read online doesn’t generate local print ad revenue, which is what keeps papers alive.

    Page-views don’t make money compared to print ads.

    Now, Will’s absolutely right that Lileks would do better for the Strib by doing online columns or running their online side* – but I wouldn’t ascribe the move to politics if he isn’t doing so.

    Not when cashflow is an obvious priority; if his local column looks like revenue-less deadweight to the bean-counters, which it might well, their obvious options are reassignment or firing. (Not saying it’s bad writing; just that it might not bring in ad revenue.)

    * Or maybe Lileks would be a terrible man to have in charge of a division rather than writing. I couldn’t begin to guess.

  7. trifecta Says:

    Boxturtle Ben’s column at the Washington Post hasn’t been filled yet.

    Come on you guys. Wingnut welfare is supposed to work for people like Lileks. Doesn’t AEI or the Heritage Foundation have an opening for a black belt onanist anymore?

  8. Alan in Louisivlle Says:


    You didn’t say anything in your supposition about how removing Lileks’ column – and not using him to create web site content – is a good idea.

    It is, in fact, dullardism of the highest kind. (If dullardism isn’t a word it should be.)

    The Strib can give any explanation they want. Even if it makes sense to bean counters, it’s still a stupid move.

  9. Squid Says:

    Always the erudite gentleman, our trifecta. I foresee a long and glorious career at the Strib for him, provided Soros comes through with the bailout money.

    I’ve little doubt that Lileks will find a good gig in short order, though it will be due to the quality of his writing, and not his place in the VWRC.

    (Love the Bone reference, Will. Ten out of ten points.)

  10. tim maguire Says:

    Sigivald, you may be right. But if so, that just emphasizes the point that the Strib is run by dinosaurs. If they can’t figure out how to make money off Lileks, then they have no business running a newspaper.

  11. Bloodthirsty Warmonger Says:

    The history of the decline and fall of any business or institution is bound to be littered with stupid mistakes. Lileks is perfectly capable of using his cat-like instincts to land on his feet; I’m not so sure about the Star-Tribune.

  12. Lex Says:

    Lileks is being demoted to save money, pure and simple. Take it from someone with almost 25 years in the bidness.

    Turnover at newspapers always has been more common among the rank and file than among managers/editors. That fact makes it harder for a paper to thin the latter by attrition. So they demote editors and reassign the writers with the plum, or at least preferred, gigs to try to hustle them out the door. Politics, to paraphrase Mae West, had nothing to do with it. It was all about the benjamins, and Sigivald notwithstanding, there are no data I’m aware of that suggest that keeping a good columnist prevents circulation decline. (I think letting him maintain his own site and linking to it might have been a good compromise, but apparently the opportunity to catch that train might already have passed.)

    All that said, I thought Lileks was a self-absorbed whiner. But that’s just me; your mileage may vary.

  13. El Duderino Says:

    The last newspaper I bought was the Strib as I passed through MSP airport on a NWA connector flight. It wasn’t because I had a sudden urge to wash news print off my fingers, I bought it in hopes of a Lileks column.
    The man writes about trips to Target with his daughter and people want to read it. What more do you need to know about a writers ability?

  14. triticale Says:

    Lex is not completely wrong in saying that Lileks is a self-absorbed whiner. People want to read his self-absorbed whining. What more do you need to know about a writer’s ability?

  15. Yeah, sure Says:

    One of the best-connected, best liked columnists? In AMERICA? Like, the United States of?

    Jim Lileks?

    Free advice: Take off the ether mask before you hit “send,” Will.

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