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Journalismism

Which Strategic Acquisitions Should Defector Make?

A Defector racecar with various Defector logos done in the style of somecorporate logos
Illustration by Dan McQuade

We all like work gossip. Industry gossip, about the business as a whole, is a little harder to parse and enjoy. But what’s great about the media industry is people talk to each other. From, say, a small newspaper reporter who gets moved to columnist because he keeps getting his paper sued to NBC’s star news anchor just making shit up, media gossip is so entertaining. Well, at least to us in the media.

But you get more than gossip. Because it’s the press, and writing articles is what we cannot help but do, sometimes people write stories about all this stuff! In fact that happens more often than not. (You don’t see that as often in the tool and die industry.) Like on Tuesday, when The New York Times once again weighed in on The Washington Post and—oh boy.

The Times has long written about one of its largest competitors—here’s a 1958 story, “Washington Post To Cost Dime,” though that was wire copy—but this is the second long inside-the-newsroom exposé reporters Katie Robertson and Benjamin Mullin have done this summer. The first, in June, was titled “Infighting Overshadows Big Plans at The Washington Post.” This one is “Frustrations Mount at Washington Post as Its Business Struggles.” In the latest report, one key detail caught our eye:

The Post’s executives have had extensive internal talks about whether to buy other major news organizations, according to five people familiar with the matter. The outlets discussed have included The Associated Press, The Economist and The Guardian, some of the people said. The Strategic Review Team noted in a multipage memo that an acquisition might make sense to expand The Post’s audience internationally, where it is not as well known.

For the record, the AP cannot be bought or sold because it is a nonprofit news cooperative. As it told Defector Media: “This has been AP’s structure since its founding in 1846, and keeps us free from even perceived financial influence. We believe it is the best structure for an independent news organization.” The Guardian is held by the Scott Trust, so it also is not up for sale.

Then it occurred to us: Perhaps this is what media executives do all day! As reporters ourselves, we had often wondered what the job of a “media executive” is, exactly. They do not write columns, nor report stories, nor take photos, nor edit copy, nor print the paper, nor manage the website or social media. Finally, after years of wondering, we had an answer. They sit in rooms and think of publications they want to buy! Except, wait a minute, as co-owners of Defector Media, we too are media executives and—gasp!—we had been severely neglecting this deeply important part of our jobs.

This clearly had only one solution: We put our heads together to immediately create a completely bullshit and unrealistic list of places that we would like to purchase on behalf of Defector Media.

Dan: Before we start, I should admit that I have written one story for the Times, about Project Runway, in March 2019. The paper had to run a correction! I got the season of Runway off by one. I have not written for the Times again, though they did pay me a kill fee in 2020. I checked my files and the mistake was in the first draft I submitted, so maybe the Times is much better now that they don’t have doofuses like me writing for them.

The story was still pretty good, I thought, and I got to interview both Erin Robertson and Kentaro Kameyama, whose final show was my favorite in Runway history. Pretty cool how I made this all about myself already, huh? We’re two paragraphs in.

Diana: I really appreciate that, as a newspaper person, you went back and found where you made the mistake and still remember this—years later—while feeling an irrational need to confess. I still remember the time I got something wrong in a story back when I was covering the St. Lucie County Commission. (I think I said billions instead of millions, though I could be remembering it wrong). It got through my editor and the copy desk, then ran in the paper, then it hit the AP wire—which is a big deal when you work at a smaller paper—and then I found out that I had to run that correction and, not just in the paper, but on the AP wire. My editor was, uh, not thrilled.

Now we’ve overcome our embarrassing newspaper corrections and made it to the big time. We’re media executives! Let’s randomly talk about buying shit! Dan, what would you like to buy?

Dan: Not the Associated Press, that’s for sure! That’s not for sale. Who made that error, by the way? Did the Post really look into it and find out it’s not for sale? Or did they just float the idea and not look into it? If so, the Times report should probably say that, too. Or they should gloat that the Post executive spent all his time thinking about buying a news organization that they can’t buy!

In general, I get why the Post would look to acquire another media company, though. Reportedly the Times bought The Athletic, in part, as a way of buying subscribers, and because the company had a bunch of cash because of an increase in subscribers and stock price. The Times says the Post is going to lose money this year, but the company is also owned by Jeff Bezos. The AP is one of the few things he can’t buy. He can figure out how to make an acquisition work.

What I’m saying is: Do we have a bunch of money? I could probably chip in a few extra bucks, too. Going by this model, Defector should acquire something like Alley, the company that runs the nuts-and-bolts of our website, or even Fii Marketing, which runs the backend of our web store. But what’s the fun in that? What if Defector acquired Fruit by the Foot. Suddenly all the site’s articles would be about Fruit by the Foot, the benefits of sugar, and How Maltodextrin Keeps You Fit. We’d ruin the website and go out of business! It would be a great stunt, though; high art. Could be up there with the AOL-Time Warner merger that I’m still pretty sure was an elaborate gag.

I’ve never had Fruit by the Foot, though. It seems gross.

Diana: Honestly, I was thinking more along the lines of go big or go home. When I mentioned this blog to our editor-in-chief, Tom Ley, he suggested that we buy the New York Yankees so we could shut them down. Do we have enough money to buy the Yankees? Of course not! But you know what I’ve learned recently? Being a media executive is all about saying random shit you want to buy and random things you want to do. Let’s think big, Dan!

Dan: In 2018, a company called Rich Energy signed a title sponsorship with the Haas F1 team starting the following year. It didn’t even make it through to 2019. Rich Energy was a company whose energy drinks did not seem to be available anywhere. It wasn’t clear if they, in fact, existed really at all. Could we buy a title sponsorship for a racing team? This company did it! Maybe not F1 level—media companies aren’t cash cows like energy drinks—but how about Formula E or one of the lower levels of NASCAR?

Diana: I still think we need to go bigger. We should buy a sponsorship of a soccer team. No wait, let’s buy one, then we can make ourselves the sponsors. I know that several of my colleagues would want us to go after Liverpool, but this is my section and the obvious choice is West Ham so we can fire Nate. Other teams we should buy, in no particular order, are the Phoenix Suns so Greta Rogers (and Mr. Diana) can live their lives in peace and my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates so I can give them as a gift to my parents who, honestly, are about as qualified as anyone to run the team at this point.

Dan, what Philly sports teams are you buying?

Dan: None! As a local sportswriter, I have to deal with Philly sports fans enough. Imagine if I were the team owner! Those people would never leave me alone. Maybe we should just stick with what Defector is now.