The New York Times vs. The Washington Post

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When the New York Times runs pieces about financial trouble at the Washington Post, it kind of sucks. Is there news value in it? Sure, I guess. But let’s not pretend that’s why the NYT does it. We should regard such stories the way we would if the Dodgers suddenly started tweeting out the scores of Nationals games. I mean, yes. It’s true. But also: Other people can break that story. Don’t be a dick about it.

Anyway, Josh Barro wrote about the troubles at the Post and it’s worth reading:

What is The New York Times? Like the Washington Post, it’s one of the premier outlets for American political coverage. And as with the Post, a lot of liberal news consumers signed up to pay for the Times during the Trump era because their appetite for news rose and because paying for adversarial media felt like an act of “resistance.”

But the Times, where I was a correspondent from 2014 to 2016, is also a lot of other things. It is a leading food and cooking publication. It owns one of the top product review websites, Wirecutter. It’s a major producer of successful podcasts. It has a market-leading team that produces graphics, interactives and visualizations — that team’s work is deployed to showcase the Times’ political and investigative reporting, yes, but it also is a driver of the Times’ general interest offerings, like the dialect quiz or this fun explanation of how “songs of the summer” came to sound so similar to each other. And the Times has the New York Times Crossword, helmed for decades by Will Shortz, as the flagship of its daily games offering.

None of those businesses, with the partial exception of the podcast business, is dependent on liberal political agita about Donald Trump. Most of them aren’t even dependent on high levels of interest in news. And even in the core news report, while there are several areas of coverage where the Times and the Post are comparable, it’s easy to identify areas remote from politics where the Times is clearly stronger — notably arts and business. It’s hard to think of any area where the Post clearly leads the Times.

Read the whole thing and subscribe. Barro is really good.

But in this case, I think he might be a little off. Barro is correct in his assessment of how the NYT diversified itself as a media company while the WaPo did not. But it’s not clear to me that the WaPo really had that option.

People tend to think that FedEx and UPS are more or less the same. They both ship packages.

But not really? Compared to UPS, FedEx is a toy. FedEx gets envelopes from Point A to Point B very efficiently. UPS does everything. (This piece by John McPhee is the most comprehensive deep-dive on UPS as a business that I’ve ever seen. It’s worth subscribing to the New Yorker just to read it.)

All of which is to say that criticizing the WaPo for not building its moat the way the NYT has is almost a category error. If you’ll permit me to switch metaphors (again) it’s like criticizing the Pirates for not signing Manny Machado and Juan Soto.

Yes, the Pirates would be better with Machado and Soto. But also: That was never in the realm of the possible.

It would not surprise me if the digital media space winds up with a single winner-take-all result at the leviathan level. And at this point the NYT is basically the Borg. In the last few weeks alone they’ve hired two of the best writers in America (Carlos Lozada and Katherine Miller).

The Post, on the other hand, is a metro paper whose local beat just happens to be the most important industry in the world. (By which I mean: the American government). It’s a great paper. I love it. I read it. I support it. I want it to keep succeeding.

But the Post can’t ever be the Times. And so its strategic choices will have to be different.

I don’t do this often, but I want to give you the hard sell.

It’s true that I’m partial to Sarah Longwell, because she’s my bff. But I listen to a lot of podcasts. And her weekly pod, The Focus Group, is consistently the most illuminating show about politics anywhere in America. I’d stack it up against the NYT’s Daily, Pod Save America, you name it.

A ton of work goes into The Focus Group. Sarah is conducting these groups every week, bringing in high-level guests to analyze what she’s hearing, cutting the whole show together. This isn’t just sitting down in front of a mic and riffing like we do on The Next Level podcast.

The result is a professional-grade podcast. I know for a fact that it’s the show political professionals are listening to carefully in order to inform their thinking about the world around them.

On this week’s show, Sarah brings in the Atlantic’s Tim Alberta to listen to voters in the Midwest and dissect the big races in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Tim is probably the expert on these voters. He’s from there. He lives there. And he’s as clear-eyed an observer as you’ll find.

Here’s a meaty clip from the show:

You can listen to the rest of this episode here:

The Focus Group

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Matt Levine, who writes the best newsletter in America, talked about SEC chief Gary Gensler’s weird positioning on crypto. Basically: The SEC keeps saying that most crypto projects are securities. But it doesn’t give any guidance on how crypto projects should behave in order to stay on the bright side of the line.

Here’s Levine:

There is a certain drunk-under-the-lamppost element to current U.S. crypto regulation. If you incorporate a company in the U.S. and walk into the SEC’s office and ask “hey what are we allowed to do,” the answer is “almost nothing.” If you just launch the wildest thing in the world pseudonymously, call it “decentralized,” and advertise eye-popping investment returns to U.S. investors, then, I mean, I don’t want to give you legal advice, but look around.

In crypto, only the honest businesses need fear the SEC. The incentives are bad. . . .

Still I do not understand the game here. Gensler’s posture seems like a massive bet against crypto ever being important. His message is basically “I should be the main regulator of crypto, and as the main regulator my plan is mostly to ban it.” That’s not, abstractly, an insane posture: That’s more or less the view that the US Drug Enforcement Agency takes toward cocaine, for instance. (Or the view that China takes toward crypto, for that matter.) But most of the people who are jockeying to be the main regulator of crypto want to regulate a thriving ecosystem; they want it to be big, and they want to be in charge of it. Gensler wants to be in charge of it and have it be irrelevant and cumbersome and slow-moving.

Read the whole thing. It’s so good.

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