Metaphors: socially useless supervillians and the Titanic, yet again

Skeletor, Gargamel, Cobra Commander or Wile E Coyote
Umair Haque’s “Is Your Business Useless?

Business supervillains have something in common with the cartoon supervillains above: they rarely win. That’s because socially useless business is built on shoddy, poor economics — and like most things too good to be true, it rarely lasts for long.

The Titanic, yet again but different!
The New York Times‘s publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., quoted by New York Magazine‘s Jada Yuan in “Times Publisher Compares Print Media to the Titanic

He thinks that physical newspapers will stick around as well. “The best analogy I can think of is — have you ever heard of the Titanic Fallacy?” he asked. We hadn’t. “What was the critical flaw to the Titanic?” We tried to answer: Poor construction? Not enough life boats? Crashing into stuff? “A captain trying to set a world speed record through an iceberg field?” he said, shaking his head. “Even if the Titanic came in safely to New York Harbor, it was still doomed,” he said. “Twelve years earlier, two brothers invented the airplane.”

Metaphors: Hummer, 1996 Honda

1996 Honda
Jim Barnett’s Why NYT Co. might not be as quick to sell the Globe as you might think at Nieman Journalism Lab

The Globe does cost a lot more than my Honda to operate. But the really big bucks — the $1.1 billion purchase price — is money long since spent. Just like the cost of a new car bought 13 years ago, there’s no way to recover anything close to the purchase price. I can tell by checking the Blue Book value.

General Motors’ Hummer
Steve Buttry’s AP contradiction: Move forward but restore

When I read the Associated Press “Protect, Point, Pay” plan, I think of the Hummer.

General Motors thought it was moving forward when it trotted out the massive sport-utility version of a military vehicle. The Hummer represented a lot of smart work by a lot of engineers and GM sold a lot of Hummers. It carried on a GM tradition of massive vehicles under the Cadillac, Buick and Oldsmobile brands. But how did the Hummer work out in the long run? How’s GM doing today? In a world threatened by climate change and in a nation dependent on oil from unstable regions, the Hummer was simply the wrong move.

Metaphors: Ships, Williamsburg

Last Ship Afloat and Colonial Williamsburg
Bill Keller, The New York Times‘ executive editor, and Jason Jones in The Daily Show‘s “End Times”

Keller: It’s always been one of the higher asperations in the business to work for The New York Times. Nowadays, we’re a little bit like the last ship afloat. So we have all these lifeboats floating around underneath us and people dying to clamber on board.

Jones: Your lifeboat is made of paper.

Jones: You guys are like a walking Colonial Williamsburg

Somebody’s watching

Ralph Gross remembered the glory days of The Des Moines Register and he didn’t like what it had become.

“Thirty years ago,” he wrote in a 2005 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, “I would pass in front of the Register building and with great pride read a display that said: ‘The Des Moines Register has won more Pulitzer Prizes for national reporting than any other newspaper except one. Congratulations, New York Times.’”

The national reporting prize has been awarded since 1948 and, at the time Gannet bought the Register in 1985 , the paper had six — the same as the Times. The Wall Street Journal had won just three national reporting awards and this year’s winner, the Washington Post, held zero.

And while the Post, Journal and Times now hold, respectively, three, seven and 11 national reporting Pulitzers, The Des Moines Register, “The paper Iowa  depends on,” hasn’t won since the chain bought it, winning its last that very year.

Mr. Gross was upset and joined the Register’s citizen advisory board when the opportunity arouse with the hope of improving his hometown paper.

I know little more about Mr. Gross. I talked to him once on the telephone about a book project shortly before he died in February of this year. But I respect what he did: take an active role in improving the media his community depended on.

I hope to do the same on this blog: let Iowa’s newspapers, television and online news organizations know that someone’s watching.