The panic comes in the morning. As I sit at my desk and drink a tall glass of Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice, I start to worry about my career. I may be the best journalist in the world, but if there are no journals left to be journalisting for, I'll have to use my communication skills in some other way, like asking my parents for money.
That's why I've decided to save print journalism. My first idea was to get every reporter to switch beats and cover only cats doing funny things. Then I had some more Pom Wonderful, allowed the antioxidants to flush out my free radicals and came up with the perfect solution: product placement. (Read "How to Save Your Newspaper.")
Just like how on the show 24 Jack Bauer drives some brand of car that's not paying me and on American Idol the judges drink some kind of soda that's not paying me, last summer the anchors at the Fox News affiliates in New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas and Seattle put cups of iced coffee from a fast-food place that's not paying me on their desks. This upset lots of people because they thought it compromised the objectivity of their local anchors. This marked the first time anyone has thought about the credibility of Las Vegas anchorpeople.
To get journalists to embrace my radical solution, I decided to be the first columnist to solicit product placement. This would also allow me to show my bosses just how valuable I am in cold, hard cash. If I'm pulling in high-end cars and watchmakers and Joe Klein has nothing but socialist beard trimmers, I think we know who's going to survive the next round of layoffs.
Unfortunately, the athletic-shoe company I called first took a very long time getting back to me. Like past now. Same with the adult-beverage conglomerate and the hotel chain. I started to get worried when the cable station, broadcast network and sports league turned me down. There is nothing scarier than wanting to sell out and discovering that no one wants to buy in.
I was starting to worry about the value of my not-so-hard work when I contacted my college friend Matt Tupper, who has an extraordinarily healthy heart, prostate and ability to sustain an erection and is also president of Pom Wonderful. We met at an expensive restaurant and discussed, over delicious Pomtinis, what kind of deal we could cut. I reminded him that children are often assigned this column as classroom reading and that many assistants of high-level executives spend their downtime at work searching for my old articles. I asked him how much it would have been worth to have Mark Twain write The Celebrated Pom Wonderful of Pom Wonderful County. Those Pomtinis are strong. (See the top 10 food trends of 2008.)
I was prepared to have Tupper reject me. Instead, he offered $25,000. I was hoping for about a quarter of that, and I was expecting it less in cash and more in posters and caps. A $25,000 check would more than cover the entire cost of this column, even including the dinner I claimed I had with him both in the paragraph above and on my expense report. I quickly accepted the check on TIME's behalf, promising that I'd subtly work his 100% American-made, antioxidant superpower juice into my column in a way no one would ever notice.
Then we called his marketing department to find out exactly how it approached product placement. Though it will supply free juice to lots of TV shows, movies and red-carpet events, the company is willing to pay to be in situations only if they highlight its core brand messages of health and luxury. "We wouldn't pay a lot of money if it's just sitting in front of Simon Cowell," said senior vice president of marketing Diane Kuyoomjian. I was feeling pretty healthy and luxurious until she told me, as an example, that the company turned down a scene in a movie in which the Pom Wonderful bottle would have been used as a bong. When I asked if people at the company expected to read what I wrote before it was printed, I was relieved to find out that they are just given a general idea of what a scene is about and don't get to see a final cut. Product placement was going to do less damage to my work than my editors do.
It was all going very smoothly until my editor's editor's editor decided we had a policy against the mingling of advertising and editorial content and we would have to give the Pom Wonderful money to charity. Oddly, I thought that was what I was doing this whole time. Instead, all my efforts did was teach me exactly why the proud, antediluvian print-journalism companies are in financial trouble. Not only is Time Inc. turning down $25,000, but it's employing three editors for this column.