The Life of Julia

Employees at the New York Times describe their horror, in their video after the Read More, at discovering that the pensions they had been counting on might not — will probably not — be there on retirement.  Glenn Reynolds, in a roundup of links, notes that the Washington Post’s management is in shock at the unexpected decline in their circulation and revenue. They have lost $22.6 million in just the past quarter. What has disturbed them most is the failure of their attempts to leverage social media to boost readership. John Herman of Buzzfeed says the Guardian’s social media projects are in similar decline.


Part of the problem is that legacy media’s attempts to recruit people in the digital world usually results in a migration the other way. People stop using the legacy newspaper as the center of their information world and construct their own. The net result is that the legacy outlet recruits for the very trends that are destroying them.

Unless something in the trends change soon, many of them are doomed.

The decline of the newspapers suggests that the current crisis is nearing a watershed. If the status quo can no longer protect its core, it would be as if a king could no longer  feed his court. It would mean that the business model which provided the NYT, the Washington Post and other ‘flagship’ outlets with access which they could parlay into revenue and power has broken down.  They still have the access, but it no longer translates into revenue, or at least, not into enough revenue to matter.

Many of their readers already know what it is like to live in a rapidly changing economic environment where opportunities are fleeting and projects start and end with dizzying speed.  One of the saddest items in President Obama’s “Life of Julia” campaign was ascribing to “Julia” a career as a Web Designer in one of her designated milestones along the planned vida gloriosa laid out for her. Who actually believes that any of those milestones will be there, or mean anything in 10 years’ time, let alone 30?


The problem with planners who assume that a chaotic reality will remain linear is that it won’t.

One of the persons interviewed in the video above complains about exactly that. Years before the NYT had hired “experts” who told them how to ensure a comfortable retirement.  They advised the employees to build a three legged stool consisting of Social Security, the NYT pension and savings. ‘How could we know,’ the lady asked, ‘that the NYT pension would vanish under our gaze?’ How could they know indeed?

Nor is she alone. Many people have watched Social Security and savings pull the same vanishing act.  The difference is that many of those other people have long understood that nothing is too big to fail any longer. The employees at the NYT were no guiltier than anyone else of living through a time of great discontinuity. But they were perhaps a little more foolish than most in thinking they would surf the wave of upheaval in their NYT capsule.

No one will be spared. Hence, the only hope for anyone, even for the unions, is to stop fighting for the past and start looking for opportunities in the future. The only kind of world which can pay an NYT pension will be one in which the immense productivity of Americans is unleashed.  Only that kind of world can give people who are now union members and the youth a shot at life.  The past, as the NYT employees are discovering, is no longer capable of that.


Ironically, the only invariant in the “Life Julia” universe is not some physical constant like the speed of light, but President Obama’s policies, as Peter Schiff’s video notes. But even they are a chimera. Viewers are led to believe that if they vote for him, then the promised benefits will still be there when they reach Julia’s age.  A moment’s thought shows this cannot be true. You cannot count on it.

The alternative interpretation, is that the video is only a reference; look up the video and see if the the benefits defined or promised apply to you. But this means that the “Life of Julia” is no sequence at all, simply a glorified snapshot of today’s menu, which can be here today, gone tomorrow. Either way, nothing you see in the Julia video will have a lifespan of longer than the remaining months of the New York Times.

The ‘world of Julia’ is dead, but long live Julia.

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