Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rupert, Weiner and Cardboard Animals: 5 Who Should Be Ahead of Me on RISI’s Top 50 Power List

I was stunned recently by news that, once again, I was named #43 on the RISI Top 50 Power List of the most influential people in the global forestry industry.

Maintaining the same spot for the second year in a row may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but as we used to say in the magazine business, “Flat is the new up.” (That was early in the recession, when any magazine that matched the previous year’s total for sales of ad pages was the envy of its peers. Then the saying became “Slightly down is the new up.” Now it’s “Ad pages? Wait ‘til you see our new app. It’s really cool!”)

Last year’s selection honored my coverage of the black liquor tax credits. But considering how much effect – absolutely zero -- those 40-plus articles have had in preventing further government giveaways, I didn’t expect to make the list again. In fact, I think the esteemed editors at RISI overlooked a few folks who had far more influence on the forest products industry than I:

Dead People

Going to the magazine section of a grocery store these days is like visiting a morgue – Osama bin Laden on several covers, Cleopatra on National Geographic, another Cleopatra (Liz Taylor) on a couple of post-mortem specials, Betty Ford on news magazines, and Paul McCartney (You say Paul’s still alive? Then you haven’t heard his recent recordings.)

Newsweek brought Princess Diana back from the dead and plopped her into a photo of the recent royal wedding, figuring she was always good for newsstand sales (but, alas, not for ad sales). Rival Time has a bookazine commemorating her 50th birthday. Now if U.S. News & World Report issues America’s Best Dead Princesses, we could call it a leopard-skin pillbox hat trick. (I know, U.S. News is no longer one of the three newsweeklies, but Newsweek and Time aren’t very newsy these days – though they’re selling ads pretty weakly.)

My industry has given up trying to beat the Web or broadcast at breaking news. But when it comes to burying people – or to digging them up and having some fun with them – those new-fangled technologies can’t hold a votive candle to us.

Cardboard Animals

I haven’t received many tips from the cardboard industry ever since pointing out that their toll-free “Cardboard recycles” number actually went to a telephone-sex service. (See Hey, big boy, can I recycle your cardboard?.) So this hot trend involving a paper-based product was not on my radar until a recent Cascades news release announcing the launch of a new pet homes line “for small animals made from recycled cardboard.”

That’s right, there are so many recycled-cardboard animals being manufactured (born?) these days that already a housing industry is growing up around them. Just think, pretty soon they’ll have their own adjustable-rate loans, collateralized mortgage obligations, and paper profits.

The news release touts the “fun and playful . . . cardboard cat chalet and teepee” by noting that the cathouses are “perfect for lapdogs”. (Today’s advice: Don’t bring a lapdog to a cathouse; it will jump onto the bed at the worst times.)

Rupert Murdoch

Murdoch put a dent in the UK newsprint market a few days ago by closing the supposedly profitable News of the World so that its phone-tapping scandal wouldn’t hinder News Corp. expansion efforts. How big will the dent be if Rupert shuts every News Corp. paper that has engaged in illegal or highly unethical activities? Rupert? Rupert?

Rep. Anthony Weiner

Congressman Weiner provided a brief respite for the beleaguered American newspaper industry. And if you believe in the power of prayer, his positive influence is far from over.

For a few glorious weeks, people everywhere, even on the Web were talking about newspapers and their clever “Battle of the Bulge” headlines. They were actually buying newspapers as collectors items. Newspapers became a safe way to pass weiner jokes around the office without getting into trouble with HR.

But now that he’s resigned, we can put a fork into Weiner and call him done, right? Not so fast. Spreading like wildfire among American newsrooms is the new Headline Writers Prayer that was inspired by Weinergate:

“O Lord of Journalism (not you, Rupert, the Real God), we thank Thee for the gift of Anthony Weiner and his – well, You know.

We thank Thee that for awhile we could stop worshiping the false Search Engine Optimization gods with their bland headlines only an engineer could love. We thank Thee that instead we were able to craft good old-fashioned zingers that served the forces of truth, justice, and the double entendre.

We thank Thee that the nuns were wrong; otherwise, as much as we’ve been playing with Weiner lately, all of us would be half-blind.

We promise never again to write headlines causing people to think they should care about anything Lady Gaga does, if You would but grant just two requests:
1) Help the American people understand that “oeh” is pronounced with a long “o”, not a long “a”.
2) Please, oh please, let the next Congressional sex scandal involve John Boehner.

Chinese Bureaucrats

“Creative destruction” is supposed to be a strength of the free-enterprise system. But as far as the paper industry is concerned, the commies have us capitalists beat in the Creative Destruction Department.

What Chinese officials have destroyed and created are having huge impacts worldwide – from defunct Canadian pulp mills being restarted, to recycled-newsprint mills becoming an endangered species in much of the West, to massive forestry (some would say deforestation) projects in places like Indonesia.

The destruction came in the form of forcing thousands of small paper mills, many of which used straw and other non-wood fibers for pulp, to shut down in the past decade.

Rather than the previous Chinese practice of adding capacity with cast-off machines from the West, the Chinese government encouraged the construction of massive new, world-class paper machines. And for environmental and efficiency reasons, the new machines use wood-based fiber and recycled paper – both of which are in short supply.

That giant sucking sound you hear is those Chinese monsters slurping up fiber from around the world, driving pulp prices up to record levels despite a worldwide recession and generally mediocre paper pricing. From the way the Chinese are acting these days, you’d think they were the ones who invented paper.

For further reading:
  • Dead Tree Edition Tops Twitter and the World Cup is the Dead Tree Edition article that celebrated last year’s #43 ranking and revealed how I once confused parasitic wasps with parasitic WASPS. (And, yes, once gain Twitter and LinkedIn are below me in the rankings this year.)
  • Black Liquor Makes the Top Ten summarizes how billions in taxpayer money has been handed out to U.S. pulp manufacturers in black liquor and Son of Black Liquor tax credits, despite Dead Tree Edition’s coverage. (By the way, three of the top four people on the RISI list this year are CEOs of companies that are benefitting from those handouts.)
  • Is Bankruptcy Inevitable for NewPage?: By far Dead Tree Edition's most popular forestry-industry article of the past 12 months (and still a relevant question 10 months after it was published).
  • Sexy Slogans With a Bite: My recent article for Publishing Executive, in which I demonstrate an overly active imagination in a quest to perk up the American magazine industry.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What about crooked PETER BRANDT?