Mondays are supposed to be slow news days. The paper is at its thinnest since all of the coupons, ads, supplements, and feature stories were consumed by the Sunday edition.
August 5, 2013, has not been such a Monday.
As a news editor, what story goes above the masthead? It’s a multiple choice question. Do you go with:
A. The leading active home run hitter in Major League Baseball gets hit with the stiffest penalty short of a lifetime ban for using prohibited drugs.
B. The leading online retailer of books purchases the leading newspaper in the nation’s capital.
C. The magazine that was previously part of that newspaper company gets sold to a firm with ties to a preacher who says he is the Second Coming of Christ.
D. The United States announces that the weekend closure of almost two dozen embassies in the Middle East and North Africa will be extended all week in response to “confirmed threats” and “terrorist chatter.”
The correct answer is any of the above. If you are in New York, I’d suggest running selection A, the expulsion of Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees to baseball purgatory. If you are in Washington, D.C., I think you ought to go with Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post. If you are in the Bible Belt, your readers might experience more shock and awe from Newsweek being purchased by the International Business Times, which has business and personal ties to Korean minister David Jang, whose doctrine portrays him as the personification of the Messiah. If you live anywhere else in the country, you could probably go with the total retreat of American diplomacy from the world’s most volatile region.
In terms of long-term importance, I would re-order the stories this way, in reverse order of import:
Newsweek quit being a print publication back in December and I only ever picked it up in the barber shop if it had the bi-weekly column by George Will. The brand name may still have some cachet but, in a world where we get news by the minute, selling news by the week is as quaint as a full-serve gas station. It is no longer a relevant part of the media mix, no matter if a cult religion can be tied to it by association.
Once the NFL starts playing games that count (although I am still in the afterglow of my Dallas Cowboys defeating the Miami Dolphins in last night’s exhibition … I mean pre-season ‘sorry, NFL’ game), baseball becomes less and less important. Rodriguez will appeal, the story will have legs for a couple of weeks, longer if the Yankees are in playoff contention, but once Fantasy Football season takes hold, A-Rod will be old news.
A wishy-washy foreign policy is just too wonkish to draw deep water. If Al Qaeda does pull off an event (likely Wednesday due to the Islamic calendar and being the anniversary of the African embassy bombings that made Al Qaeda a name worth knowing), then this story could jump to first place. However, the last time there was all of this increased chatter and activity, the US diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, was overrun and four Americans died. Just repeat what then-Secretary Clinton said to Congress, what does it matter now?
The game-changer is the potential for the Amazon-Washington Post combination. This could be a vertical monopoly the likes of which we haven’t seen since John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. The online Post could be exclusively available on the Kindle, and it can review books and properties that are distributed via Amazon and the handheld device. My fearless prediction is that the Washington Post eventually overtakes USA Today as the travelers national newspaper of choice and that Washington will just be its point of origin. Its global distribution network, pushed out to Kindles and via Amazon.com, might make it a contender for “newspaper of record.”