Newspapers and broadcast news have different business models. The New York Times business model is selling readers a bundle of hard and soft news and advertising (people do like to browse the ads). For MSNBC, the model is selling Chris Matthews. Since MSNBC invested millions in the Chris Matthews brand - his contract extends into 2009 - it must protect it.
"Branding" is MBA-speak for that shopworn pitch: "Accept no substitutes." Just as Bayer insinuates that its aspirin is better than the generic kind, MSNBC wants you to believe that no one else offers Chris Matthews' entertaining and insightful take on Washington politics.
For NBC News, the same business model and brand marketing applies to Tim Russert, who, as NBC News' Washington Bureau Chief, operates in a more traditional news venue.
The Russert brand transformed "Meet the Press" into a complete misnomer. Before Russert's arrival in 1991, the Sunday program's format showed politicians taking questions from "the press," a rotating group of Washington reporters. These days, politicians and journalists "Meet Tim Russert," who asks all the questions and sets the entire agenda. In 1991, Meet the Press netted about $800,000 a year. When Russert renewed his contract in 2001, the program earned $50 million a year. The upshot: Presidents will come and go, but Russert's contract keeps him on Sunday mornings through 2012.