17 / 02 / 2021

United Against a Common Enemy (Or the Times Could Be A-Changin’)

The 1967 film Bedazzled stars Dudley Moore as a cook who sells his soul to the devil, hoping to win the heart of the woman he loves. But Moore soon comes to realize he’s made a huge mistake by selling his soul to such a capricious and undependable being. It’s a lesson that every company, no matter how established, should take to heart.

Carey Smith | Founding Contrarian

Now that “the Donald” has left the office, it’s hard not to wonder what’s in store for businesses that pledged allegiance to the anti-Trump flag and saw a boost in sales as a result. I’m thinking particularly of The New York Times, whose digital readership ballooned over the last four years as Trump haters flocked to and found solace on the newspaper’s website.

In the old days, The New York Times could be counted on to weather whatever political storm came along as it reported “all the news that’s fit to print.” It got the nickname the “Gray Lady” because it was dull in appearance and eschewed sensationalism and advocacy in favor of facts. But things have changed; we’re now in what author Andrey Mir calls the post-journalism era, where news outlets have abandoned any semblance of objectivity. They’re all now dedicated to preaching to their respective choirs, and that includes the Times. Its business model has been completely upended, forcing it to adopt the click-hungry model of its legion of online competitors. Here at Unorthodox Ventures, we’re pretty sure it’s gonna lead to the Gray Lady singing the blues. 

Why? The company has bet all its post-journalism business model on being the voice of the opposition. It has gone all-in on a situation that no longer exists, providing a safe place where the frustrated masses could go to vent, and feel secure they were among like-minded people. The newspaper’s digital readership ballooned as a result, and thanks to the infinite newshole provided by the internet, there were no limits on the content that could be posted, clicked on and devoured by readers eager to have their views on Trump reinforced.

But now what? Without the Donald to kick around anymore, readers no longer feel the same need to vent. Subscribers will eventually jump ship, and the Gray Lady may have to pink-slip some of those new hires it made during the boom years of Trump.

Newspapers used to be essential, virtual monopolies, like the electric or water companies. As such, they could basically write their own rules. But things have changed. Now they’re in the click-business with so many competitors, and this kind of eggs-in-one-basket, money-on-one-villain approach is no way to run a business. The New York Times clearly needs a better plan if they hope to survive in the post-journalism age, a plan that doesn’t rely on a single source. 

In our office, we have a tradition of making $1 bets on anything and everything. Right now most of us feel pretty confident in betting that the times they are a-changin’ for The New York Times.