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Ailes Cracks the Whip as Fox News Slips

Slackers at Fox News Channel, you’re on notice! Your boss is not pleased. Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes is on the warpath following his network’s recent ratings slump, and he won’t hesitate to clean house to turn things around.

So far during the second quarter, the No. 1 cable news channel’s primetime schedule has dropped 22% in its core 25-54 demo and 8% in total viewers. The first quarter was even worse.

Chief rival CNN has also dipped in recent weeks, but less dramatically, off 18% in the demo and 2% in total viewers.

Insiders say that, even though Fox News remains No. 1, Ailes is fuming over the complacency he senses among staffers.

Production values are slipping, and bookers aren’t competitive enough, relying too heavily on the same pool of faces and settling for authors or actors after they’ve already been on CNN or … gasp … MSNBC.

A full-page “Now Hiring” ad that ran recently in a trade magazine asked, “Can you make the cut?” Says one Fox staffer, that question was not addressed to outside applicants: “That was aimed inside.”

Commenting through a spokesman last week, Ailes left no doubt: “Anyone who displays launch-type intensity will continue to have a job at Fox News. Those who don’t will not. And that includes talent.”

Kids These Days

Social-networking sites like News Corp.-owned MySpace.com are a phenomenon among teens and college kids. But among folks older than, say, 30? Not so much—especially for investors looking to evaluate the site.

UBS analysts Aryeh Bourkoff and Ben Schechter hit on a solution. They recruited Schechter’s 18-year-old sister-in-law to lead a demo for their money-manager clients on how “those kids today” actually use MySpace.

The tutor (Schechter declined to name her) led investors through a demonstration of what she does on MySpace every day. Scrolling through a list of designated online “friends,” she sent instant messages, read blog posts and new messages, and surfed through music and other content her friends had led her to.

One benighted money manager interrupted at one point, exclaiming: “What are you doing? What is going on? Why do people care about this?” The young sage patiently explained to her student that he was accustomed to point-to-point conversations on e-mail and the phone. MySpace, she said, lets users communicate with a number of people simultaneously and be the life of the party by networking through friends of friends. “I thought that was pretty sophisticated,” Bourkoff says.

So has Bourkoff set up his own MySpace page? Alas, no. His staff dummied one up for the demo—calling him Mr. Big Wall Street—but Bourkoff removed it from the site.

“I’m at the point in my life that I like to spend a lot of time with a smaller number of people that I trust,” Bourkoff, who is over 30, says. “I’m contracting these days, not expanding.”

Mother of All Gets

The high point of last week’s Promax/BDA conference in New York was watching 60 Minutes legend Mike Wallace trade bygones and backslaps with CNN legend Larry King.

“He has interviewed everybody,” Wallace said of King during a protracted love-fest at the marketing and promotions confab. “He is my hero.” The 72-year-old King said he had admired the 88-year-old Wallace as a kid watching Wallace’s Nightbeat.

Each was asked which U.S. president was his favorite interview subject, but although King quickly volunteered Richard Nixon, Wallace hesitated.

He eventually agreed on Nixon but later recounted a conversation he’d enjoyed with a certain other president’s mother—Martha Chabin, whose son Jim is president of Promax/BDA.

Wallace told the packed room at the Marriott Marquis that he spent a fascinating hour in the greenroom with the 90-year-old Mrs. Chabin, who had accompanied her son to a previous conference in Vienna.

Mrs. Chabin blushed sweetly when asked later about the shout-out from Wallace, and she declared him equally engaging.

On stage, Wallace went on to name Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as subjects he hopes to face again.

But who are they compared with Mrs. Chabin?

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