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The Influentials: Media

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Richard Parsons  

Richard Parsons
Chairman and CEO, Time Warner
Parsons’s purview is mind-boggling: HBO, CNN, TBS, Cartoon Network; Time Warner Cable; Time Inc., with more than 150 titles; AOL, still generating $8 billion in annual revenue; and Warner Bros. (No. 1 in film grosses, television production, and DVD sales). Cleanup man for history’s most disastrous merger, he’s succeeded in creating internal stability and installing well-regarded former HBO head Jeff Bewkes as his heir apparent. As corporate managers find themselves attacked by hedge funds and self-styled “shareholder activists,” Parsons’s handling of Carl Icahn’s attempt to push him off the board and split up the company was picture-perfect, a B-school case study. But that pesky stock price still isn’t moving . . .

Roger Ailes
Chairman and CEO, Fox News Channel; chairman, Fox Television Stations
Ailes’s Fox News Channel is the preeminent news organization of George W. Bush’s America. He brought the brash, outspoken, unabashedly right-wing sensibility of talk radio (and of Ailes himself) to TV, with vast and continuing commercial success. So dominant is FNC that nine of the ten most-watched cable-news shows air on Fox. Its ties to the Bush White House (remember that Fox was the first to declare Bush the victor in 2000) are strong enough that commentator Tony Snow was named press secretary, and a journalist complained that the TVs on Air Force One are tuned only to FNC. Ailes’s dominion keeps expanding: Last year, he wrested control of Fox’s television stations—News Corp.’s biggest cash-flow generator—from wayward heir Lachlan Murdoch. Also, inadvertently created Stephen Colbert.

Bill Keller, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., and Jonathan Landman
Executive editor, publisher, and deputy managing editor of the New York Times
A stock that’s lost more than half its value over the past four years, a newsroom buffeted by scandal, bellwether of an industry with its best days behind it—and yet the New York Times remains America’s most vital news outlet, the chief codebook with which New Yorkers (and the world) decipher the interesting times we’ve been cursed to live in. Every day, it also changes that world—think, especially, of Nick Kristof, who single-handedly forced the world’s attention on Darfur. Keller steers the paper, in turn setting the day’s news agenda around the country, and the bedraggled Sulzberger attends to larger issues, like new e-newspaper software developed with Microsoft. For different reasons, Keller and Sulzberger are both unfireable, and they’ll be around for years. But the future of the paper rests at the moment with Landman, who is director of the paper’s online strategy. The redesign, DealBook, and even the amateur-hour video blogs are a good start: Will the paper’s long-overdue lavishment of attention on the Web protect the Times’ future, or will 155 years of history not matter in a realm of limitless alternatives?

Jon Stewart, Ben Karlin, and Stephen Colbert
Host and executive producer, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, and executive producer, The Colbert Report; executive producer, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report; host and executive producer, The Colbert Report
The Pew survey said it all: Twenty-one percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 turn to The Daily Show as their only source of news (the networks got 23 percent)—and that was before Stewart’s Oscar-hosting gig, The Colbert Report, and Colbert’s own ultra-Establishment gig emceeing the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The Daily Show’s political sensibility—smart, pragmatic, fed up with the Dems but horrified by the GOP—is extremely appealing to New Yorkers (we flatter ourselves by seeing it as our own). Stewart has become the comedian-as-Cronkite; to some, his team are the only people on TV worthy of trust.

Si Newhouse
Chairman, Condé Nast
Newhouse’s Condé Nast demonstrates that expensive, upmarket, lavishly produced magazines still have a place in the national conversation (witness Sy Hersh’s Washington-rattling New Yorker scoops and Vanity Fair’s latest tabloid-of-record tearful-celebrity confession), in dictating stylishness, and on ad buyers’ budgets (Vogue had 2,959.33 ad pages in 2005). Unlike the more penny-conscious Hearst or the layoff-prone Time Inc., Newhouse’s company spends money freely, offering favored talent outsize salaries and perks. He’s a living economic inefficiency in an industry increasingly attuned to profit over prestige. Si just has to please Si.

Nick Denton
Publisher, Gawker Media
Made blogs a popular—and profitable—art form, partly by paying his bloggers intern-level wages. Denton and Gawker.com’s original editor, Elizabeth Spiers, both jockey for credit for pioneering the now-ubiquitous form: jokey headline; snide, quippy post; links; and a willingness to run suspect info (hey, the Internet hive mind auto-corrects!). New York’s other blog baron, Weblogs, Inc., founder Jason McCabe Calacanis, has already cashed out by selling to AOL, but Denton remains on his own, bringing the Gawker formula to, among others, sports nuts (Deadspin), shoppers (The Consumerist), and Silicon Valley (Valleywag).

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