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Michael Wolff on Rupert Murdoch and the Future of the New York Times

When we asked author and Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff what’s he thought the future held for Rupert Murdoch, he came right out with it: “The future for Rupert himself is death.” It was a response you’d expect from a critical noisemaker like Wolff, whose biography of Murdoch, “The Man Who Owns the News,” sparked something of a cold war between the two men. The reason for Murdoch’s negative reaction? “He was rather anticipating sort of a recitation of his deals and the course of his career, rather than a book that tried to understand who this man is and actually give a taste of his true character,” says Wolff. So what is Murdoch’s true character? Wolff explains: “He is, in a sense, a nation/state unto himself—and so his first interest is protecting his world.”

In his Big Think interview, Wolff also takes aim at the New York Times. Wolff berates the publication, which was the scene of his first-ever journalism job, saying that the only thing that he learned while working there was that he wanted to get the hell out. Years later, Wolff still seems to hold a grudge. He thinks the newspaper is currently going through a number of existential moments—not least when the paper’s online paywall is erected at the beginning of 2011. Wolff believes that move will reduce the Times’ readership by a minimum of 95 percent. “What does the New York Times become without its readers?” he asks.

Wolff also weighs in on the future of magazines, namely the New Yorker and Vanity Fair. Are they in the same boat as the New York Times? When David Remnick came through Big Think a few weeks ago, he expressed no concern about the New Yorker’s future: “As long as I’m there, is that we are not going to change who we are … I think this is a formula that took a long, long time to develop and people want what we do.” Wolff asserts that the New Yorker editor is, in fact, worried, and promised that he would buy Remnick dinner if the weekly still exists 25 years from now. 

However, when we asked Wolff about the future of Vanity Fair, a magazine for which he pens a monthly column, he was a little more politic: “People at Vanity Fair are attentive to what’s happening and the changes that are going on,” says Wolff. “They are trying to look for ways to stay on top of what’s clearly a sense of changing expectations about magazines and about print.”

Is anyone poised to save media? Certainly not Steve Jobs, argues Wolff, who thinks it’s ludicrous that people see the guy as a “magic machine.” Apple’s CEO is actually an incredible weirdo, says Wolff. “I question whether he is altogether sane,” he says. “He seems to be kind of a paranoid figure, certainly a mercurial figure. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to work for this guy.”
What would Wolff be doing if he wasn’t an Internet entrepreneur or media fire starter? Let’s just say his visions are a bit lofty.


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