Sprawling media empire can’t afford to sacrifice journalism on altar of corporate profits
By J.D. Lasica
Online Journalism Review
When I gaze upon the lumbering beast known as AOL Time Warner, I’m reminded of the parable of the elephant and the blind men who, inspecting only one part of the animal, alternately suggested that the elephant must be very much like a tree, a snake, a rope, a wall, a spear, a fan.
When it comes to AOL Time Warner, point of view is all. And so we interviewed an AOL TW corporate executive; AOL’s news director; a rank-and-file reporter at one of its publications; three students who follow the news on AOL; and a veteran media critic. Each has a different take on how this beast is shaping up.
To freshen our allegory a bit, what we have here is not really an elephant at all but a genetic experiment: the world’s first bioengineered mega-business — the corporate equivalent of a geep or zorse, an unnatural hybrid genetically engineered to sustain itself on a force-fed diet of synergy.
Except the experiment hasn’t gone as its progenitors predicted.
Consider: Since the merger was announced on Jan. 10, 2000, the company’s value has decreased by a mind-blowing $160 billion. Last month, AOL Time Warner took a $54 billion quarterly write-down — the biggest quarterly loss in U.S. history. (To put that in perspective, the entire U.S. newspaper industry is worth $55 billion.) Last week, as new CEO Richard Parsons assumed the company’s reins, he signaled that a back-to-basics approach was in order, one that would focus on improving the fundamentals of the company’s individual business units.