From its former European bureau chief, a eulogy for and autopsy of the late newsweekly, which chronicled the dot.com boom and died in its bust.
An early hire, onetime Village Voice columnist Ledbetter first became New York bureau chief for The Industry Standard in that golden age when all things connected to the Internet promised social revolution and instant wealth. For a time, it seems, that was true of the feisty startup, which meant to rekindle some of the old Wired magazine’s fire and treat Internet companies of all kinds as businesses and newsmakers, not curiosities. Launched from San Francisco, the Standard was a quick success: on its second birthday, the weekly was worth around $450 million, bringing in $200 million a year, and by the end of 2000 had sold 7,440 ad pages—“1000 pages more than Fortune magazine, which had a century more publishing experience.” For all that, as Ledbetter ruefully documents, the Standard sank as quickly as it rose, scuttled by poor management with little apparent sense of budgeting and rejected by consumers who tired of “suboptimal” journalism. (Though the talented staff included the likes of Harvard prof Lawrence Lessig and Atlantic alumnus James Fallows, Ledbetter writes that many of the weekly’s correspondents were unfamiliar with their beats and inadequately coached by an overworked editorial staff.) In the end, the media giant that had bought the Standard apparently decided when ad sales went down that it was more cost-effective to declare bankruptcy than to spend money saving it. Ledbetter convincingly argues that the company could have kept the magazine alive without going broke, noting in any event that “in a bear market, the average reader needs more and better financial advice than in a bull market.”
A little long and occasionally repetitive, but a solid account nonetheless: a fine study of both the business of business journalism and the corrosive power of corporate politics.