Succession and the Enduring Appeal of Legacy Media

5 min read
a photo from the production of episode 404 of “succession” photo david m russellhbo ©2022 hbo all rights reserved

The ‘Succession’ Obsession with Legacy MediaDavid Russell/HBO

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I watched succession for the familial savage, not the business patter. Is it just me or do the big media companies all sound so crass? Waystar Royco. GoJo. In the words of nearly every member of the Roy family, Fuck off! But the “New Gen Roy” acquisition of Pierce Global Media—a privately-owned rival to the family’s ATN, and for which Kendall, Roman, and Shiv are still on the hook to pay $10 billion, down from a $25 billion evaluation in season two—has my undivided attention. (A dark joke on this week’s episode? When discussing Logan Roy’s cause of death, Stewie Hosseini cracks to Kendall, “I heard he saw your Pierce business plan and choked laughing.”)

It’s no secret that the news is in trouble. A recent study found that the research of private equity buyouts—and the bundling of publications—resulted in less local coverage and less local election participation. Five powerful corporations now own 74% of daily newspapers. In the last decade, the number of local newspaper journalists was cut in halfwhile 1,300 US communities have become “news deserts.” And, according to the UNC Hussman School of Journalism, half of newspaper readers have vanished.

a photo from the production of episode 403 of “succession” photo david m russellhbo ©2022 hbo all rights reserved

On successionthe late mogul Logan Roy made his name and fortune in the media—is it crazy that his kids are hoping to follow the same path?David Russell/HBO

It feels apropos that, shortly after losing the bid to his kids, Logan would hop aboard paper boxes—just as Rupert Murdoch reportedly did when addressing a whiplashed Wall StreetJournal staff in 2007—to rally the staff at ATN. “This is not the end,” said the octogenarian standing atop actual paper in 2023. “I’m gonna build something better. Something faster, lighter, leaner, wilder.” An eerily wise Roman a the acquisition as “performing CPR on a fucking corpse of a legacy-media conglomerate.” We all know what happens next. Nothing good comes from Roys in the newsroom.

So why would the young Roys salivate over the snoozy Pierce Global Media, which some outlets have liked to The New York Times? is it, as Logan barked, because they’re “morons” willing to “say the biggest number”? Or, is it because they understand an inherent truth about legacy media? That, just like land, they aren’t making any more of it. (After all, even today there are Masters of the Universe like Jay Penske placing their batches on printed periodicals.)

My podcasts KILLED, about the invisible forces behind which stories get published—and which ones don’t—exposes the fraught dynamics in current American newsrooms. In “The Town,” former Aspen Times reporter Rick Carroll is instructed to table all reporting on Soviet-born billionaire CEO Vladislav Doronin, who quietly paid $76 million for a tiny historic parcel of land in Aspen. “I was told that, ‘We’re not going to run this story because there’s no point in aggravating Mr. Doronin.’ And any coverage about Doronin’s business affairs in Russia had no bearing on what he wanted to do at Aspen Mountain.”

rupert murdoch portraits

while succession‘s Roy family isn’t based on any one real clan, Logan’s newsroom call to arms earlier this season seems to mimic one that Rupert Murdoch is said to have made when he acquired the Wall StreetJournal. Tom Stoddart – Getty Images

In “The Doctor,” The Los Angeles Times newsroom revolts after bosses refuse to publish reporting on crooked USC physician Carmen Puliafito. “This wasn’t a finance story. It wasn’t a political story. This is a story about people being hurt—and they would just not publish it,” says Pulitzer-winning reporter Paul Pringle. “Journalists go up against people who are wealthy, powerful, influential. What do we have on our side? We have the truth.” But the truth only matters if it gets published.

The current news cycle is filled with examples of how submerged stories affect public consciousness. Graydon Carter has been accused of purposefully removing references to Jeffrey Epstein’s predation from the pages of vanityfair, which allowed the moneyman to go undetected for years. Harvey Weinstein kept accusations of rape under wraps by intimidating news networks. Donald Trump silenced Stormy Daniels, and influenced voter opinion, by paying off the National Enquirer in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election. The strangling of the fourth estate is happening right in front of our eyes. People like to say that print is dead. What they don’t like to say is that it was murdered.

succession hbo

A $10 billion acquisition of Pearce Global Media, owned by Nan Pearce (Cherry Jones, at right), is at the heart of the fourth and final season of successionairing now on HBO.Peter Kramer/HBO

Over the course of the four seasons, The Roy kids have fought for validation in only two ways: by opposing their billionaire father, and by using the only tools that will get his attention. Buying PGM was a clever way to do both.

If the sale goes through, the young Roys will immediately get to work at undermining the operation while simultaneously leeching off its credibility and pedigree. How do I know this? Because it’s happening all over the country—and because it’s exactly what their dad would have done. this isn’t exactly fiction, people. But you already knew that.

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