Is the New Yorker on S.I. Newhouse's DNR List?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Calling in those McKinsey folks to review your profit and loss numbers in the middle of the deepest recession since the 1930s is a little like having Dr. Kevorkian over to offer a second opinion.

"No, really, I'm feeling fine. Just a little touch of the flu."

"Not at your age. You know, if you were a new publication, you might pull through. But Harold started you back in 1925. That's a long, long haul for a weekly. But look on the bright side: it's been a good run."

When Si Newhouse decided that Gourmet was wearing a Do Not Resuscitate bracelet this week, a great many people were stunned. My wife even called Condé Nast to leave a message for Mr. Newhouse, but the switchboard said there was no way to leave a message for the boss. Maybe that's the way it is when you're the emperor. You can begin to feel as if you don't need to listen to anyone, even your customers. And I guess that's true.

That's what bothers me. In the equation that McKinsey puts forth, if a magazine loses money for X period of time, no matter how brutal the overall business climate, you kill it. It's just a product that failed. The stakeholders are the shareholders of the corporation, aren't they?

I don't think so. Enlightened business thinking holds that the stakeholders in a business actually form a broader constituency. For one, the customers have a stake in the organization. You invited them, encouraged them, brought them into a relationship. The employees are stakeholders, too, planning their lives and careers around the enterprise. There is the community that supported you, as well. That's the food community, the New York publishing community, and the magazine distribution community.

We learn from Stephanie Clifford in the New York Times how Charles H. Townsend CEO of Condé Nast sees things. And just between us, if I was Elizabeth Hughes or whoever has P&L responsibility at the New Yorker, I would examine these quotes carefully, since someone might be saying them about me before too long. And then I might take a few moments to make sure I could find the exits in an emergency. You can't be too careful.

So, New Yorker, ask yourself, could this be you? "In the economics of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, this would be a business decision balanced by the cultural reticence to part with iconic brands," Charles H. Townsend, Condé Nast's chief executive, said in an interview. "This economy is a completely different bag." Feedbag? Trashbag? Bodybag? Just wondering.

Then there's this thought from Suzanne M. Grimes, who oversees Every Day With Rachael Ray, among other brands, for the Reader's Digest Association. (Ah, excuse me! EXCUSE ME! Didn't Reader's Digest go bankrupt last month? This is The N.Y. Times's expert on where Gourmet went wrong?)

"Cooking is getting more democratic," she said. "Food has become an emotional currency, not an aspiration."

Now if you're at the New Yorker and not hiding under your desk, just play along with me here. It might strengthen you for the future. Just substitute the word thinking for cooking and you get this: "Thinking is getting more democratic," someone might be saying someday. "Thinking has become an emotional currency, not an aspiration."

So if you're in the thinking and not the cooking business, it could look bad for you, too.

Now try the same device with this farther down in the article:

It [food] has also become democratized via the chatty ubiquity of Ms. Ray and the Food Network stars. Ms. Reichl is a celebrity in the food world, but of an elite type. She 'is one of those icons in chief,' said George Janson [advertising guy] But what harried cooks want now, it seems, is less a distant idol and more a pal.

So the New York Times obit for the New Yorker in a few months might read:

Thinking has also become democratized via the chatty ubiquity of Twitter and Facebook. Those New Yorker writers like Malcolm Gladwell were celebrities in the thinking world, but of an elite type. Gladwell is one of those icons in chief. But what harried people want now, it seems, is a less distant idol and more a pal.

Hey Malcolm! How come you never call?

So if you ever have the chance to get Si Newhouse on the phone, or just happen to run into him at a party or at the opera or something, you might want to have a little chat about who you think are some of the stakeholders in the New Yorker. Just cause a racehorse tripped doesn't mean you have to put it down.