Erich J. Prince’s Media Village Archive

But Lately, I’m Getting the Feeling That I Came In at the End


Writing in The New York Times Magazine this past September under the headline "Why Is Every Young Person in America Watching The Sopranos?," Willy Staley sought to explain the resurgence of interest in The Sopranos that has taken place over the past two years or so. Exemplified by the popularity of the recent podcast Talking Sopranos and the fact that the number of streaming hours of the show increased threefold during the quarantine, Staley sought to answer why the show had surged to the forefront of minds once again, including of those who would have been too young to have watched The Sopranos when it originally aired.<p>Staley concludes that this apparent fixation on the show, particularly among young people, is because of how The Sopranos chronicles American decline, given The Sopranos’' "persistent focus on the spiritual and moral vacuum at the center of this country." The essay is greatly informed by an interview Staley managed to secure with the show's creator, David Chase. Invoking Neil Postman's 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Chase told Staley: "There was nothing but crap out there. Crap in every sense. I was beginning to feel that people's predictions about the dumbing-down of society had happened and were happening, and I started to see everything getting tawdry and cheap." Chase then added that in the mid-1990s when the show was beginning to take shape in his mind, "... everything was for sale -- it was all about distraction, it didn’t seem serious. It all felt foolish and headed for a crash."<p>Today, though different factions of American society may disagree on the particular cause or remedy, nearly everyone, from the political right to left, agrees that something is ailing the nation (only two in ten, according to a recent AP-NORC poll, believe the country "is heading in the right direction"), that things are not as good as they should be or, crucially, as good as they once were. And the news media's role in this, as either a contributing factor to it or an institution trying to adapt to new realities, is certainly much of the story.<p>Staley, in his essay, draws attention to a scene I think of often from The Sopranos. It comes from the pilot episode and though protagonist Tony Soprano is speaking in reference to the Italian mafia, his psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Melfi argues a similar dynamic is happening to the nation at large, and I, in turn, would suggest that it is also affecting the news media. James Gandolfini, speaking in his Tony Soprano accent that he had still then yet to perfect, broods: "It’s good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that and I know. But lately, I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over … I think about my father. He never reached the heights like me, but in a lot of ways he had it better. He had his people, they had their standards, they had their pride. Today, what do we got?"<p>Now, to be sure, every generation has its cynics and pessimists. As Kevin Mims wrote recently at Quillette while dissenting from Ross Douthat’s claim that American cinema today is quite lacking as compared to in decades past, "Declinists are an inevitable part of every generation’s commentariat, gloomily pronouncing that everything is bad and getting worse and that nobody else seems to notice or care," and I too have been critical of good-old-dayism. But the modern news media is not Hollywood, and, as I have discussed in this column in the past, the news media of today is nearly universally despised. The Sopranos may have been the beginning of what some call "the second Golden Age of television," but few would argue that there has been anything akin to a golden age of journalism (second or otherwise) on this side of the new millennium.<p>The easy answer is to invoke partisan coverage and sensationalism, and that is certainly part of it. However, as I discussed with Kent Harrington when he appeared on the News-on-the-Record podcast in April, just as important has been the replacement of the editorial process with news content being posted directly to platforms. In years past, this has meant Twitter, but now it increasingly extends to websites such as Medium and Substack. Now, indeed the editorial process has spectacularly failed at various points in recent history, as I have written about previously in this column; however, a consistent danger in all fields, from journalism on down is that of "overlearning lessons." And despite its shortcomings, the editorial process ought to be preferred to its various alternatives -- namely, the creation of the journalist-cum-celebrity that building an individual audience presupposes.<p>In a world in which distribution is controlled not by publications but increasingly by the journalists themselves, it is all the more necessary (in order to reach the critical mass of followers needed to become financially viable) for said journalists to make themselves the story as much as their subject. And, secondly, when individual journalists (or even outlets now, too) need to cater consistently to their audience once finally developed, it can be most difficult to deviate from telling said audience what it wants to hear even when the facts lead elsewhere, a phenomenon that largely explains a previous subject of my criticism, what I have called "the Aaron Maté Club."<p>Finally, and in addition to the obvious financial squeeze that has affected news media since the advent of Big Tech, a key variable imperiling journalism as it was once better practiced is the declining collective attention span of the American readership and viewership. As Johann Hari chronicles in his latest book Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention, it is more difficult than ever to maintain focus, a reality confirmed by a brilliant April Fools' prank once perpetrated by NPR demonstrating that so many alleged readers don’t actually take the time to look past a story’s headline.<p>It is for reasons such as these that my recent pair of pieces reflecting on the life and writing career of Roger Ebert had the whiff of wistfulness that it did. In the era of the "content creator" rather than the journalist, is there even a place for one to write as he did? It is why I wondered in part two of that series if the literary critic was to become an endangered species. Perhaps, in turn, the same would happen for the investigative journalist or even the George Will-style 750-word biweekly columnist. So as talented writers and commentators make ends meet by hawking "merch," two-time Pulitzer Prize winners leave journalism because they simply "can’t make a living in it anymore," and journalists jump ship from one outlet to another based on comparative investment in distribution via TikTok, one cannot help but wonder if we "came in at the end." And though I am grateful for many of the various aspects of modernity -- most of all, in medicine -- not all changes have been positive. As for those that have gripped the news media over the past two decades and, in particular, in the post-2015 era, they appear now here to stay. And, finally, as I alluded to above, it is just about impossible to separate that aforementioned sense of national dread from the murkiness that the news media landscape has become.<p><p><p>

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News Media's Great Pseudonym Debate


In April of last year, The Australian published an editorial critiquing the begrudgingly accepted practice at certain outlets allowing authors to publish under pseudonyms. This question of pseudonym allowance usually comes up when an author wishes to contribute a guest opinion piece on a subject of a particularly controversial nature, especially if the expression of said opinion could jeopardize his employment. But as the editorial titled "Stand against the thought police" put it, "The idea of allowing academic authors to publish anonymous articles so they can speak freely is a slippery slope towards institutionalizing conformity. Great thinkers throughout history have suffered public and professional ridicule and torment, sometimes as a prelude to acknowledged wisdom."<p>However, true to the traditional ideal of a newspaper's opinion section featuring a perspective opposite to that of the editorial, the day after that editorial ran, The Australian published a column by Quillette editor Claire Lehmann, who took the opposite position. Arguing that pseudonyms ought not be considered taboo in today's news media, Lehmann wrote in her column that "We have published writers under pseudonyms at the online magazine I founded, Quillette, but only after verifying the author's real identity. We do this because some of our writers work in professional industries that are highly conformist, such as academe, where having unorthodox opinions can risk one's career." Referencing the phenomenon of doxxing which I have separately criticized in a previous MediaVillage column, Lehmann further warned that "Pre-modern forms of behavioral control are back in fashion, with the threat of snitching and mobbing or stalking anybody who dares express an independent thought."<p>Now with the two sides of the debate laid out, I will confess that historically I unabashedly sympathized with the position expressed in The Australian's editorial. If someone isn't willing to put his name to his argument, that severely undermines both his credibility and the relative importance he must place on expressing the viewpoint in the piece, I reasoned. Furthermore, there is a loss of accountability when one hides behind a pen name, the sort of anonymity some critics of social media insist is behind the toxicity they claim permeates websites such as Twitter. Accordingly, as editor-in-chief of Merion West, I forbade pseudonymous submissions for a number of years.<p>But then my stance began to soften. This was partially for some of the same reasons described by Lehmann such as an increasingly ideologically intolerant media (and social) landscape, a trend I decried in this column in October of 2020. But I also began to think back to the first journalism class I ever took, which was taught by Carlos Dada, a co-founder of the El Salvadoran online newspaper El Faro. Given the realities on the ground in El Salvador, El Faro, unfortunately, finds itself having to devote much of its coverage to the country's drug trade and the countless grisly acts of violence that are part and parcel of that business. I recalled how so many of his sources risked their lives in even speaking with journalists such as Dada -- let alone authoring a piece themselves. So when it comes to a subject such as this one -- and many others -- if a person intimately involved wished to publish an op-ed or guest essay on the drug trade, to forbid a pseudonymous submission would mean that readers would have to forgo hearing such a perspective altogether.<p>Various thinkers, entertainers, and commentators are anchored to various disciplines. It has been said that the novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky was primarily a psychologist. And, more prosaically, Patrice O'Neal today is perhaps better known for dispensing dating advice and his regular appearances on talk radio, but he was still -- at bottom, as the philosophers say -- a comedian. For me, despite being a journalist, my worldview is informed by a historical approach, where precedent trumps all. One, thus, thinks of the countless works historically speaking produced by pseudonymous authors, such as George Orwell's sociological 1937 work The Road to Wigan Pier. (To be clear, there is a crucial distinction between pen names in fiction as opposed to non-fictional accounts and journalism.) Perhaps the most famous example is that of The Federalist Papers, which though authored by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, were published under the collective pseudonym "Publius."<p>So, at Merion West, we finally allowed a pseudonymous author to publish in 2021. The author, who goes by the name Charles Pincourt, is an engineering professor at a Canadian university and has written a few articles, most recently this past week, on how various political priorities have increasingly come at the cost of teaching and research in engineering. Asked why he chooses not to put his own name to his work, he describes similar variables at play to those enumerated by Lehmann. But as Naval Ravikant likes to say, "If anyone gives you multiple reasons for why they don't want to do something, it's usually the last one." And to this point, Pincourt closed his explanation by mentioning that he has a wife and children to support, and to lose his job would be to inflict enormous financial hardship on his family. It was reminiscent of what one veteran commentator once told me when I was once on my high horse about the need to take stances no matter the cost: It's fine and good when you only have to worry about your own bills ("buying pizza and beer," as he put it), but it's another story when one has a few children in tow.<p>As I wrote as a very young man at The News & Observer, "After all, the so-called controversial issues tend to be controversial for the reason that both sides have at least a degree of legitimacy to their arguments." This issue is no different, with strong arguments to be made on either side. But, as much as I root for the emergence of a day when ideas can be expressed freely without fear of retaliation, particularly in terms of employment, we do not live in that world. As such, I now see things more as Lehmann did in the spring of 2021. Accordingly, I encourage news outlets, yes, to acknowledge the potential pitfalls of pseudonymous articles but, at times, to make exceptions nevertheless.<p><p><p>

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Remembering Roger Ebert, Nine Years On (Part Two)


(Editor's note: This is the second part of a two-part column commemorating the ninth anniversary of film critic Roger Ebert's death on April 4, 2013.) Roger Ebert was a Chicago man (again, this was before the concept of the "Florida Man"). And like Saul Bellow or Joseph Epstein, the latter in my view being the greatest living writer to hail from that city, Chicago scenes would reliably find their way into Ebert's writings. Just as one wonders if, as the decades tick on, we might look back and say there was a "Chicago School" of writing just as there is one of economics, one cannot help but speculate that Ebert, if he were alive today, would, for instance, share in my appreciation of the gentle sentimentality in the notorious brute Dick Butkus', one of the most recent (and unexpected) immigrants to the world of Twitter, frequent end-of-the-night imploration, in all lower case, of course, to "stay safe chicago." This is all the more impressive given that this urging comes from a man who hasn't lived there for decades. ("You can take the man out of Chicago, but you can't take Chicago out of the man.")<p>Joyce could never (and never wanted to) mentally leave Dublin; Frank McCourt might have come to New York, but Limerick stayed with him ("You can take the man out of Ireland…"); but Ebert never left Chicago. Although, contra Joyce, he left mentally plenty (films, by their very essence, tend to be less parochial), there were no moves to New York, no changes in post to a more prestigious newspaper; he famously rebuffed the Pulitzer-laden Washington Post's overtures to lure him away from the Sun-Times by quipping, "I'm not gonna learn new streets." Personally appreciative of a philosophy of limits and of what I have previously called "institutional loyalty," I always admire when a person picks a place and stays with it.<p>What perhaps most stands out about Ebert today, looking back from our vantage point in the spring of '22, is how in our post-icon era, this was a man whose name was synonymous with an entire genre. Ebert's name meant film criticism -- in a way that Seymour Hirsch's never completely meant investigative journalism or even George F. Will's and conservative commentary. As the aforementioned New York Times obituary for Ebert put it, citing San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick LaSalle, "In the century or so that there has been such a thing as film criticism, no other critic has ever occupied the space held by Roger Ebert." As such, a sense of nostalgia inevitably pervades contemporary engagement with Ebert's work, for both the quality of his writing and for the degree to which he towered over his fellow critics (despite Gene Siskel's occasional protestations), both through the content of his reviews and through his way with words.<p>My friend Paul Krause, another Epstein "fanboy," assures me that there still remains a fine crop of literary and art critics today ready to take over the mantle from the current octogenarian standard-bearers. And I believe him. My concern is not whether there are indeed talented writers still to be had but, rather, if there will be an audience left to appreciate them.<p>By 2008, Ebert seems to have been wondering if even watching movies was on the decline -- not to mention imagination, the act of thinking, and by extension, God forbid, reading criticism. As he put it in the opening paragraph of his review of Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York, a film he loved, "A lot of people these days don't even go to a movie once. There are alternatives. It doesn't have to be the movies, but we must somehow dream. If we don't 'go to the movies' in any form, our minds wither and sicken."<p>This idea of traveling in one's mind features prominently in Ebert's assessment of the 1981 film My Dinner with Andre, a picture Ebert described as being "entirely devoid of clichés." As Ebert told Siskel, "The movie is like listening to a radio play in that although you see two people on the screen, in your mind, you're also seeing these strange and weird and wonderful scenes and experiences." Perhaps this is also why Ebert chose to invoke this passage written by Vincent Van Gogh in that essay on death: "Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why, I ask myself, shouldn't the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take a train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star."<p>Why has there been this renewed interest in Ebert's life? Why, in the time since his death has, for instance, the documentary version of Life Itself attracted the attention that it has; why did the film reviewers of today spill so much ink over it, using it as a segue into discussing the very essence of criticism; and why do the tributes to Ebert still keep appearing? Surely, it is more than just the tenacity he showed early in his career (a near-prerequisite for getting started in this industry), his oft-discussed "populist" approach, or the way he never let his cancer break him. It was, upon reflection, simply the quality and timelessness of his writings. His reviews spoke for themselves.<p>In 1982, the theologian and philosopher Peter Kreeft published a book titled Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley, which consists of an imagined conversation among the three men, all of whom died on November 22, 1963. Articles listing the most notable people to have died on April 4th tend to feature Roger Ebert second and, first, Martin Luther King Jr. (April 4th, as U2 reminds us, can be a metonym for the assassination of King.) Although unlike Kennedy, Lewis, and Huxley, Ebert and King died in different years, we can only imagine the conversations those two men might have had "beyond death," particularly of the political variety.<p>In closing, I cannot help but wonder what Ebert would have made of the hagiographic tributes that appeared in the days immediately following his death and have continued, frequency admittedly slowed, in the years since. Given his vivid writing about his alcoholism, his long-standing bachelorhood (prior to meeting his wife Chaz, whom he described as "the great fact of my life" and "who saved me from the fate of living out my life alone, which is where I seemed to be heading"), or the fact that one friend was quoted as saying "[Ebert] is a nice guy, but he's not that nice," it might seem strange to him to be the recipient of such outpourings of praise. What did Orwell say? "...any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats." But, again, the details of his life notwithstanding, the quality of his reviews is reason enough to keep him at the forefront of our memories, even today when the particulars of biography often come to subsume the tangible accomplishments of a man.<p>On August 11, 1993, Roger Ebert gave Steven Zaillian's Searching for Bobby Fischer four stars. The film's title alludes to the search for the next chess great, for the next individual who would come to dominate and define an entire vocation. As Ebert wrote in that review, despite Fischer's remarkable success in chess, "His life does not inspire envy." Today, film criticism -- and I would argue criticism, in general -- is in search of its next Ebert or even its next crop of Eberts (a world with multiple great critics would certainly be nothing to complain about). But from what we know about Ebert the man as well, a blemish or two aside, his life does, in many respects, actually inspire envy.<p><p><p>

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Remembering Roger Ebert, Nine Years On


(Editor's note: This is the first part of a two-part column commemorating the ninth anniversary of film critic Roger Ebert's death on April 4, 2013.) "I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting. My lifetime's memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.<p>I don't expect to die anytime soon. But it could happen this moment, while I am writing. I was talking the other day with Jim Toback, a friend of 35 years, and the conversation turned to our deaths, as it always does. 'Ask someone how they feel about death,' he said, 'and they'll tell you everyone's gonna die. Ask them, In the next 30 seconds? No, no, no, that's not gonna happen. How about this afternoon? No. What you're really asking them to admit is, Oh my God, I don't really exist. I might be gone at any given second.'" [Emphasis original]<p>So wrote Roger Ebert near the end of his 2011 book Life Itself: A Memoir, and the essay would be republished in various outlets and shared widely after his death on April 4, 2013. His sprawling obituary in The New York Times called him "a critic for the common man." And he was. Born in Urbana, Illinois in 1942, Ebert cut his teeth, as they say, first as a freelancer at the now-defunct Chicago Daily News before taking up his post as the Chicago Sun-Times' film critic in 1967, a job he held until the day he died. He had by then already experienced "a dream deferred," being forced to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign instead of seeking the Ivy League education he desired on account of his family's finances and his father's deteriorating health. And as his career got underway, he caught the tail end of the era of the hard-nosed, red-blooded journalist who took up his post each evening, once his story was filed, at the bar, often boisterously drinking past the point of the reasonable.<p>It was what the writer (and computer scientist) David Gelernter was sensing when he spoke of the transformation of journalism from a battered-hat group of rough-speaking, hard-drinking, widely-admired 'ordinary guys' who were thought to be mostly conservatives to penetrating, opinionated intellectuals who are mainly liberal." Although Ebert's politics were generally left-of-center, his worldview remained strongly influenced by his Catholic upbringing even though, as he wrote, that "its theology no longer persuade[d]" him. For instance, in an essay published 34 days before his death, he expressed his opposition to abortion and his long-standing belief in "classical liberalism based on empathy and economic fairness." He hailed from that mold of the urban Catholic Democrat of yesteryear that today is ever less comfortable in the modern Democratic Party, having little patience for the speech police but still made uneasy by the sanctimony of certain elements of the religious right. From this sense of political murkiness flows a mosaic of ever-changing political affiliations within a single family or neighborhood, mirroring, in a way, the tessellation of the various urban Catholic ethnicities themselves, in places like Chicago, Philadelphia, or old New York (it was the days before Portland or "the Miami Moment," after all) -- your Irish, your Italians, your Poles.<p>Ebert was pro-union, pro-the-everyman. His film criticism was sophisticated but never haughty, allusion-heavy but rarely pompous. Like many of the best columnists of days gone by, the writing was cultured in a way that so little is today. The writing demanded something of its readers, in both attention span and earnest engagement -- little slices of education in and of themselves. But one didn't need a PhD in anthropology to get through one, in a way that today's highly bifurcated media landscape (between one of the heavy-handed and one of the puerile) can only wish for.<p>As for Gelernter's point on alcohol, on "the drink," Ebert, along with many of his fellow journalists, was known for frequenting O'Rourke's, "a shabby street-corner tavern on a dicey stretch of North Avenue, a block after Chicago's Old Town stopped being a tourist haven." There, they would drink heavily, as journalists were once wont to do. (One thinks of Philadelphia's Pen & Pencil Club at 15th and Latimer's, the world's second oldest press club, operating hours: a clear reminder that remaining conjoined to the bar could easily go to 4 a.m.) But then Ebert did what anyone who has developed such a habit would consider the impossible: He kicked his drinking. He was 37. August 1979. Foreshadowing the fortitude he would later demonstrate in not letting his cancer get him down, even when it cost him most of his lower jaw (leaving him unable to eat, speak, or drink normally for the final seven years of his life), with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, he made it through.<p>But O'Rourke's, the subject of his essay "A bar on North Avenue" and which featured prominently in the documentary version of Life Itself, would never fully escape Ebert's consciousness. As he wrote in his essay on death with which I began this piece, "O'Rourke's had a photograph of Brendan Behan on the wall, and under it this quotation, which I memorized":<p>I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don't respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.<p>Perhaps for Ebert politics needn't be so complicated, after all.<p>Click the social buttons to share this content with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Articles That Become Books and Medium Bending, in General


In September of 2015, Greg Lukianoff, the President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and Jonathan Haidt, the social psychologist and New York University Stern School of Business professor, co-authored a cover story at The Atlantic titled "The Coddling of the American Mind." In the essay, they described, first, the growing trend of students demanding that college curricula steer clear of engaging with subject matter that some members of the student body might find distressing. The authors then theorized that this ascendant movement had its origins in various cognitive distortions that had recently gained traction in the younger generations, distortions that misunderstand how resilience can be cultivated and thus encouraged said "coddling." As Lukianoff and Haidt poignantly wrote, endorsing a rediscovery of the tenets of cognitive behavioral therapy to counter the widespread anxiety and depression taking hold of these campuses, "According to the most-basic tenets of psychology, helping people with anxiety disorders avoid the things they fear is misguided."<p>Shortly after the article's publication, Lukianoff sat for an interview with James Bennet, The Atlantic's then-editor-in-chief, and described how pleased he was with both the number of reactions the article prompted and the fact that most were so positive. As Bennet put it, "There's been a tidal wave of reaction to this piece." Presumably in response to the degree to which the piece resonated, Lukianoff and Haidt adapted the central arguments of the article to book-form, with a book -- also titled The Coddling of the American Mind -- being released with Penguin Books three years later, in September of 2018. Like the article, the book evoked a torrent of responses, some of which took the form of reviews in nearly every major publication, and it spent four weeks on The New York Times' hardcover nonfiction best-sellers list.<p>The Coddling of the American Mind is just one example of a popular book that began as an article or short story in a periodical. One also thinks of academic Jared Diamond's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1997 book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, which had partial origins in his 1992 magazine piece in Discover titled "The Arrow of Disease." Similarly, Jon Krakauer adapted his 1993 Outside magazine feature "Death of an Innocent" on Chris McCandless into the canonical 1996 book Into the Wild, and that book, in turn, would be adapted to the Academy Award-nominated 2007 film that bears the same name. (I previously explored aspects of Krakauer's book in my 2019 Quillette essay "Thoreau and the Primitivist Temptation.") Peter Thiel's Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, which was co-written with Blake Masters, drew from Masters' 2012 course notes at Stanford University from the class Thiel was teaching; philosopher Harry Frankfurt's celebrated 2005 book On Bullshit was first a 1986 essay; the list goes on. Among fiction writers, Ernest Hemingway was perhaps the most adept practitioner of the article to book adaptation; To Have and Have Not drew from two of his short stories published in the three years preceding the novel's 1937 release.<p>In addition to this being interesting, at least in my view, in and of itself, the article-to-book phenomenon also invites discussion about two particularly relevant points about today's media landscape.<p>Firstly, today, in the age of the podcast and the Rumble video, medium bending is increasingly becoming the norm. Podcasts can become books; books can give rise to podcast series; tweets, as we saw with Nicholas Christakis' viral Twitter threads during the early days of the Coronavirus, can become fodder for articles, etc. Even television shows that aired their final episode more than a decade before can have partial reprisals in other mediums, such as took place with the creation of the recent podcast Talking Sopranos hosted by Michael Imperioli (who played Christopher Moltisanti) and Steve Schirripa (who played Bobby Baccalieri). Now to be sure, medium bending has always taken place such as was previously discussed with authors from Frankfurt to Hemingway and with television shows adapted to films and vice versa; however, today, with the sheer volume (and diversity) of new mediums now available, this can be readily accomplished, and would-be publishers and producers can quite quantitatively gauge the potential success of a more involved and expensive project (i.e., a book) based on how the shorter version fared. A single idea can be explored via a podcast episode, a series of articles, a book, and perhaps then even a Netflix original.<p>Secondly, as News Corporation's 2021 purchase of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's book-publishing division reminds us, news outlets primarily dealing in articles, video content and the like increasingly tend to share a parent company with publishing houses. (Another example of this, of course, is Paramount Global's current ownership of Simon & Schuster or HarperCollins also being a subsidiary of News Corp.) As such, one sees how a single media and publishing company could pursue a vertical integration of sorts, where articles, the potential building blocks of books or more production-intensive types of content, can be tested, their metrics studied, and if it is determined that they might be suitable fodder for, say, a book, this can be accomplished in house. Just as Fox News has drawn from The Wall Street Journal's editorial team for its weekend program Journal Editorial Report (prior to the 2019 creation of Fox Corporation, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal were both owned by the original incarnation of News Corporation), media companies can readily interchange types of content through the various mediums they provide.<p>Now, eight-and-a-half decades after the short story "One Trip Across," which was originally published in Cosmopolitan, joined with "The Tradesman's Return," which appeared in a then-nascent Esquire, to provide the building blocks of To Have and Have Not, tweets are rapidly becoming Substack articles, which, in turn, become books (eBook or otherwise), and vice versa. And Scribner's, the publisher of To Have and Have Not, following in the trend discussed above, became part of Macmillan in 1984, then later Simon & Schuster. And as was mentioned, Simon & Schuster is now part of Paramount Global.<p>Although, of course, there are benefits to be found for the companies themselves that increasingly traffic in various mediums, I will close by mentioning a potential downside to be guarded against: Just as commentators have argued that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 resulted in the decline of regionalism and particularism in broadcasting as a few companies were now able to control most television stations nationwide, today, something similar might be said for the increasing consolidation of media content (from article to book). There remains the risk that said corporatization may imperil either the exploration of non-mainstream ideas or that it might select for content that is likely already to be broadly popular instead of what might be most interesting or necessary to be said.<p><p><p>

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Three Trends to Watch in Journalism: Changes in Distribution Platforms, Lucrative Self-Publishing, Antitrust Action Against Big Tech


MediaVillage founder Jack Myers recently asked me to put forward three or so possible trends in news media that may increasingly come to fruition in the short-term future. The purpose of his request was to inform a presentation he will soon be giving regarding the future trajectory of the industry. After having relayed these observations to him, I will, in turn, share here a slightly modified version of what I told him earlier this month. With that said, given my frequent admonition about the risks inherent in any journalist or commentator seeking to forecast the future, I will refrain from asserting that these trends are, in any way, certain to continue; at present, however, each is either currently extant or, in the case of the third point I will raise, being actively debated as we speak, with possible action to follow. Here goes.<p>Revisiting the subject of my November 1st MediaVillage podcast "Is Pillarization Coming for News Distribution?," a shift appears to be in progress wherein content distribution platforms are coalescing along ideological lines (i.e., Rumble v. YouTube, Callin v. Spotify, Gettr v. Twitter). This trend was accelerated by certain journalists and, as they say, ”content creators” experiencing censorship at either the media outlets where they worked or on the platforms they later vacated. For instance, Glenn Greenwald, following his parting of ways with The Intercept due to the censoring of one of his columns, has established himself at Rumble (for video), Callin (for audio), and Substack (for articles). (By way of disclosure, I also host a show on Callin.) Similarly, though they are not journalists, officeholders with large online followings such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have recently sworn off YouTube in favor of Rumble, joining commentators who have also just done the same following complaints with YouTube's content moderation policies. Just as the past decade or so has witnessed the increasing proliferation of ideologically tailored news outlets, now distribution platforms appear to be following a similar trajectory, at least for now. And as larger sums of money are invested in developing these platforms, we will see the degree to which they succeed in supplanting their more established, household-name counterparts.<p>The second point is drawn from my November 29th MediaVillage column "Should Journalists Be Amateurs or Professionals?," in which I explored the emergent trend whereby journalists and commentators derive a significant portion of their income from sources other than a salary from a media company. Some of this comes in the form of direct contributions from fans of their work (i.e., Patreon or Substack subscribers). Even more so, however, amid the work-from-home era and due to reduced barriers to entry to starting one's own blog or small media outlet (like The Dispatch, Marshall Project, etc.), the journalistically inclined—perhaps they have a day job, are a stay-at-home parent, or are simply already well-off—can start to opine on or investigate the pressing topics of the day sans official media employment. And due to the cratering prestige of many of the legacy outlets, there is ever less stigma associated with having one's own upstart outlet or simply curating a newsletter for one's subscribers and fans.<p>The third point may, at the moment, be the least actively present; however, should it come to pass, it would constitute the most significant change to the status quo, and this refers to the possibility that Congress will make good on its stated position of pursuing bipartisan antitrust action against certain Big Tech companies, particularly Alphabet (Google's parent company) and Meta (Facebook's parent company). This potential congressional action also comes in the wake of the Department of Justice (DOJ) -- joined by eleven state Attorneys General -- filing a lawsuit in October of 2020 alleging that Google has ”unlawfully maintain[ed] monopolies through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices in the search and search advertising markets.” (In the time since, reports have also emerged that the DOJ is readying a second antitrust lawsuit against Alphabet.)<p>Then, in addition to the antitrust question, there is also the possibility of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides legal immunity for platforms by distinguishing them from publishers, being either repealed or modified. Mike Matthys of the First and Fourteenth Institute has, for instance, offered one possible Section 230 modification course of action. Matthys' proposal is rather middle-of-the-road. Other proposed changes, however, could go so far as to make platforms fully liable for their users' speech or content, and this would represent a remarkable change in course for how these companies have operated. So this is all to say, should these governmental actions continue to develop, it is possible that Alphabet and Meta (and perhaps also Amazon) will see their hegemony decrease. If that should come to pass, we could witness a renewed appreciation for advertising with media outlets and, therefore, a potential reverse in the ascendancy of subscription-based revenue models. Such an environment would potentially result in investors rediscovering an appetite for investing in media after years of hesitancy given the extent to which Alphabet and Meta capture advertising dollars on the Internet. And lastly, just as the 1992 Supreme Court ruling in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota greatly informed Amazon's initial business model (and continued to do so until 2012), clever entrepreneurs have long been able to capitalize on various changes in regulation or government policy. As such, we can expect that any of the aforementioned potential changes to the Big Tech-run online environment would catalyze a new round of Internet entrepreneurs looking to capitalize.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this content with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Three Recent News Media Pet Peeves


At the beginning of each semester when I was in college, it was typical for the professor to suggest an icebreaker exercise on the first day of class so as to allow us to get to know our classmates better. In one instance, we were tasked with identifying a "pet peeve." Not having a particular answer in mind, I mentioned, truthfully, that the term "pet peeve" itself had always rubbed me the wrong way. For whatever reason, this elicited a series of chuckles. But here I am, several years later, now invoking that very phrase to draw attention to three news media practices I have recently taken note of (even though each has been surely practiced before) and believe ought to be discontinued.<p>The first concerns the press' penchant for making grand, sweeping pronouncements, particularly as such pertain to predictions about the future. A November 22, 2021 RealClearPolitics commentary piece by A.B. Stoddard declared, "The Democratic Party Is Poised to Blow Up Soon." This was not unlike inverse predictions trotted out in the aftermath of the Georgia Senate runoff elections on January 5, 2021, when Republicans lost both contested seats and commentators declared the end of the GOP. But fewer than 11 months after Tom Nichols, writing in The Atlantic under the headline "The Republican Party Is Now in Its End Stages," forecasted the imminent collapse of one of the world's oldest political parties, a just released Gallup poll showed a dramatic shift in party preference of Americans toward the GOP over the course of 2021, with Republicans holding their largest fourth quarter lead since 1995. What a difference a year makes. So beware of grand pronouncements, whether it's "Demographics are Destiny," "The Second Coming of American Fascism" or pick your sweeping statement du jour.<p>Second, as readers of this column and my writings elsewhere may recall, I frequently draw attention to how certain terms are employed in both the press and in political discourse more broadly. I have variously taken issue with the terms or phrases "officials and authorities," "holding the powerful accountable," "the American people," etc. But there is another recent term frequently thrown around by journalists that ought to be reconsidered, and that is "reform," whether used in the context of "voting reform," "filibuster reform," "entitlements reform" or anything else. The use of the term "reform" -- as opposed to the more neutral word "change" or "modification" -- presupposes, in its connotation, the inherent desirability of a proposed change, even if the burden of proof still remains to demonstrate that such a proposed course of action is, in fact, preferable to the status quo. "Reform" is in the eyes of the beholder, and any journalist striving for even a degree of neutrality should be mindful of language choices such as this one. Although political operatives, perhaps most famously Frank Luntz, are famous for pushing language choices that subtly reframe the terms of the debate, media outlets ought to abstain from this endeavor. A key component of politics, I often say, is about defining (and redefining) language. But the press should leave that to the political strategists and campaign advisors. Lord knows there's enough of them already.<p>For my third and final (at this time) pet peeve, there is the national press' habit of seeking to define -- through coverage choices and interview questions selected -- a given political figure (or elevate a given officeholder to prominence in the first place) by a certain issue or dispute, often one in line with a media outlet's editorial position. In a previous column, I invoked Spiro Agnew's 1969 observation about how the press can "elevate men from obscurity to national prominence within a week." Had anyone heard of Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Il.) prior to the aftermath of the presidential election of 2020? Similarly, based on media coverage choices, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.) has become synonymous with the events surrounding the second impeachment of former President Donald Trump -- never mind her very relevant foreign policy views (and what they represent in the current foreign policy schism within the GOP) or her actual voting record during the Trump administration. On a similar note, if the press had devoted as much attention to, say, the Iran issue as was spent on the Russia collusion question, Rep. Michael McCall (R-Tx.) or Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Ca.) would be as much a household name as Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Ca.). Something similar might be said for Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ.) and his long-standing signature issue of combatting human trafficking.<p>And as it relates to this third point, as I have discussed in the past, it is important to recall that media coverage does not just flow one way, where the political tos and fros are covered through journalists and then disseminated outwards to the public. In reality, public demand for certain coverage choices can impact which stories are told, and this, in turn, influences which issues media-savvy or attention-hungry politicians devote themselves to. So, for instance, if prime time news consumers were as focused on solving a given issue (like, say, human trafficking, or Alzheimer's, or gang violence) rather than endlessly following personality clashes and the horse race, more officeholders would clamor to put forward such proposals and, thus, garner the sort of media praise that is oxygen to many (if not most) in the political realm.<p>I am conscious of the fact that many of my columns tend to point out where the news media could do things better. "Criticism," despite its connotation in modern use, is not always meant to be negative and can take the form of praising a work of art or literature or, in the case of media criticism, commending when the press -- on the whole -- has covered an issue comprehensively and well, and certainly some of my columns do this exactly. With that said, this column can perhaps best be read alongside last month's piece "Media Herds, Now and Forever?" in the sense that that column discussed a general framework for how news outlets can improve for 2022, while this one lends its focus to a few specific, more micros areas of potential improvement. However, I would contend that despite the criticisms here perhaps seeming specific or picayune, they actually say a considerable amount about the state of the news media in the early stretch of this new decade.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this content with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Why I Can't Watch Season Three of "Succession"


When it comes to television shows, I am often late to the party. I watched my first ever episode of The Office in May of 2020 during the coronavirus quarantine, seven years after the show's finale aired. It was a similar story for me and The Sopranos, which I watched in 2018 and thus 11 years after that iconic last episode. I did a bit better, though, with Succession, the HBO series about the fictional Roy family who owns the media conglomerate Waystar Royco that was recently renewed for a fourth season. At the urging of a couple of friends who insisted that my work in news media necessitated my tuning in (and would perhaps also catalyze a review), I deviated from my typical resistance to the current and watched.<p>Like a number of recent big-budget television programs, whether that be Netflix's House of Cards or the original Narcos, Succession captures the viewer's attention rather quickly, and I am confident this is true even for viewers who have no particular fixation on the media industry. Like in House of Cards, scenes are masterfully and memorably shot, and the opulence on display, as Sue Ellen Mischke would say, allows one to "catch a glimpse of high society."<p>The writing, however, is not exactly exceptional. Logan Roy, the patriarch with arguable parallels to the real-life Rupert Murdoch, lacks Frank Underwood's bon mots, typically preferring profanity over witticisms. The line most frequently written for him appears to be "F— off." With a few exceptions, which I will discuss below, the dialogue is rather forgettable, and one cannot help but conclude that Jesse Armstrong, Succession's creator, is no David Chase.<p>Nevertheless, the show still held my attention at least until the latter portions of season two. (I had begun watching seasons one and two in preparation for watching the third season, which was released in October and was the proximate cause of my friends imploring me to watch.) The show's premise -- rivalrous siblings competing for the helm of the family company and the intrafamily politics this entails -- is interesting enough. But this storyline's execution is where Succession, in time, would lose me. More on that later.<p>Also in the show's defense and of particular interest to me were a few exchanges that were also quite correct in their descriptions of the current media industry. In one instance, Roman, Logan's puerile third son, describes his father, who is depicted as 80-years-old in season one, as "an elderly local man [who] doesn't realize he's getting butt-f—ed by Google." Delicate phrasing aside, this is largely true for most real-life media executives whose companies have resisted certain pivots. And season one also featured another line that betrayed much about news media and its business models when Roman describes Waystar RoyCo.'s flagship network, ATN, looking for content to "make our viewership angry enough to buy pharmaceuticals."<p>My favorite exchange in the two seasons of Succession I watched, however, was between Logan and Democratic Pennsylvania Senator Gil Eavis, who at one point employs Logan's daughter, Shiv, and is clearly based on actual Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. The scene takes place on the eve of Shiv's wedding and features the first in-person meeting between Logan and Eavis. The two do not exactly like each other, given Eavis' desire to use his Senate post to investigate Waystar Royco, which is fueled by Eavis' distaste for ATN's conservative bent. They meet on the stairway, converse briefly, and exchange their respective thoughts on political economy. In response to what Logan sees as Eavis' utopian visions that do not adequately account for how people really are, he says, "Well, I didn't make human nature, but I do know what they read and what they watch. I make my nut off what people really want. Don't tell me about people. I'd go flat broke in a week if I didn't." The fact that this came from the mouth of a fictional character notwithstanding, it is a critical reminder to all of us, myself included, who sometimes ask media companies to do things other than appeal to consumers' desires, as base or sensationalist as such sometimes can be.<p>So why am I unable to continue watching despite my above-mentioned praise for aspects of the show and despite Succession's near-universal critical acclaim? Part of it is the characters. With the exception of Logan's simple-minded and likable nephew Greg, whose character fits the dramatic archetype of the jester or fool and came out of the woodwork to join the family drama, most of the characters are simultaneously one-dimensional and grating. And with the cliché of the son less talented than his superstar father very much on display, Logan's children, who are avidly competing to succeed him, are all so thoroughly unimpressive and, thus in practice, uninteresting to watch. In fairness, perhaps that's the point; otherwise, a clear successor might have emerged, but the cardinal lesson of storytelling 101 still holds: Characters are everything.<p>But what I really could not stomach any longer was the exhausting series of betrayals and double crossings. At first, it was entertaining enough to see Logan and his children try to outsmart one another, form constantly shifting alliances, and seek to curry favor only to later turn the knife. (The choice of the name Shiv for Logan's daughter, for instance, isn't exactly subtle.) But what ultimately proved to be so irritatingly unrealistic was that Logan Roy, who is depicted as one of the great businessmen of the century who grew up in poverty in Scotland before founding one of the world's largest companies, would be so unable to learn from his mistakes and would so persistently trust individuals, very much including his own children, who repeatedly betray him.<p>What one notices time and again with the big-budget television series that have dominated airwaves and discussions over the past two decades of television's renaissance is that it remains difficult to be consistently good. House of Cards had an excellent first two seasons before a vertiginous drop off; with Ozark, season two was much slower than season three. And this is what sets apart those few enduring, iconic shows such as The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, that arguably only have a single lackluster episode each.<p>I might be the odd man out, given that critics seem unable to get enough of Succession, and maybe the show gets better in its third season, but I just can't bring myself to continue following the Roy family's tiresome and unrealistic maneuverings and betrayals.<p><p><p>

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Media Herds, Now and Forever?


My first ever "News on the Record" column, which was published in January of 2019, was entitled "Something Is Happening in the Commentary Space" and discussed the bevy of new online media projects that had appeared in the post-2015 era and were committed to providing an alternative to the left-leaning media, right-leaning media duopoly. Looking back on these projects now, not only did they largely fail to attenuate the partisanship and tribalism they aimed to abate, they, in many cases, gave rise to tribes of their own. For instance, as Matt McManus argued in December of 2019, 11 months after my aforementioned column ran, the Intellectual Dark Web was already becoming as predictable and staid as many of the media outlets its component publications had been created to provide an alternative to.<p>This, however, does not mean that this objective of prioritizing the original over the stale or the heterodox over the myopic is not still a worthwhile one, and, to be fair, some of the outlets that were part of that post-2015 media renaissance have fared better than others (UnHerd, for instance, comes to mind). As we enter 2022, it is important for media outlets to remember the spirit of those media projects that sought to do things differently, even if in the end they fell short. To state the obvious, actively pursuing the truth of things regardless of ruffling feathers within one's chosen tribe is both essential for practicing journalism correctly and for maintaining credibility with readers and viewers over time. In the short term, playing to one's base might be tenable, but eventually outlets will be penalized for sacrificing originality and incisive thinking at the altar of fealty to party orthodoxy, especially when said orthodoxy is constantly in flux.<p>Clearly, human beings are tribal, with social psychology (e.g., The Robbers Cave Experiment), compelling theories in evolutionary biology and common sense all working in concert to confirm this. Interestingly, though, in today's largely secular and ethnically diverse Western democracies, ideological tribe has, in many ways, replaced historical divisions along the lines of race and religion. With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that profit-conscious media outlets would look to cater to each ideological subset of the population; as they say in business, "specialize," "identify your target market."<p>And the Intellectual Dark Web was not the only loosely affiliated group of writers, commentators and journalists that became an ideological subset of its own. For instance, I have also discussed what I dubbed "the Aaron Maté Club," another batch of critics of the critics, so to speak, who became far too predictable.<p>But that is the nature of how ideological groups operate, after all. One starts with a good idea (or at least a reasonable idea) and then takes it too far. Historically, this has taken many forms, from overapplying Darwin's findings to seeking to extrapolate Einstein's theory of relativity to cultural questions to taking a few kernels of interesting insights from Marxist interpretations of history way too far. In the case of the Intellectual Dark Web, its leaders' laser focus on the value of universally accessible reason and technological advance came at the cost of appreciating other elements of the human condition. For the Aaron Maté Club, zeroing in on a few neo-Chomskyite interpretations of American foreign policy and views about how corporations operate has made it difficult to view events individually rather than as part of predetermined patterns. However, as I wrote in the past and would say again today, these criticisms do not detract from my view that both the Intellectual Dark Web and the Aaron Maté Club are largely correct on certain subjects and at times (or even frequently) have interesting things to say.<p>In an interview with Nigel Warburton for his podcast Philosophy Bites Back, the author and political theorist Chandran Kukathas recalled a dinner he had attended during his student days at Oxford to honor Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek that was organized by young fans of his:<p>"Towards the end of the evening, someone stood up and proposed a toast to Professor Hayek, and he, of course, had to respond. He got up rather wearily -- I think he had had enough of these sorts of occasions by now -- he was in his eighties. He only said one simple thing: He said thank you very much, and that he appreciated the gesture. The only thing he wanted to say was that he hoped that there would never be Hayekians in the world, because he thought that followers were always a bad idea, and followers were always much worse than the people they followed. Marxists were much worse than Marx; Keynesians were much worse than Keynes; and so he really hoped there wouldn't be any Hayekians."<p>Similarly, as Robert Vinten writes, "When Rush Rhees said to Wittgenstein that he was thinking of joining the Revolutionary Communist Party, Wittgenstein tried to dissuade him from doing so on the basis that as a philosopher you should always be prepared to change direction and being loyal to a party would not allow you the necessary flexibility to change course."<p>As readers of this column by now would surely expect me to say, this advice ought to apply to both individual journalists and the media outlets that employ them. Although I say the following knowing how unlikely it is to take place, I hope that 2022 might finally be a year during which the press begins to learn this lesson. And even if outlets do not want to implement these changes for theoretical or purely journalistic reasons, it is very much in their best survival interest -- over time -- to do so.<p><p><p>

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The American Press Mustn't Forget Iran


As my friend and MediaVillage's "In the National Interest" columnist Kent Harrington would be quick to tell you, the American press devotes far too little attention to events happening outside of America's borders, even though many of these goings-on have considerable potential to impact the homeland. And this hesitancy to discuss world affairs tends also to extend to political figures. To this point, I recall during a 2019 interview with Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Pa.) mentioning former Rhode Island Senator and Governor Lincoln Chafee's concern about how presidential debates too rarely feature discussions of world events. To that, the Congressman replied that this was hardly a surprise, given that American citizens rather than foreign nationals are the ones doing the voting and deciding in this country. As true as that is, there are a few countries -- China, India, the United Kingdom, Iran, etc. -- whose activities are likely to affect crucial American interests and, thus, warrant considerable attention.<p>On Sunday, January 9th, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan issued a statement in response to the Islamic Republic of Iran sanctioning 51 Americans around the time of the two year anniversary of the killing of Qasem Soleimani. Sullivan's statement, in part, read: "As Americans, we have our disagreements on politics. We have our disagreements on Iran policy. But we are united in our resolve against threats and provocations … Should Iran attack any of our nationals, including any of the 51 people named yesterday, it will face severe consequences." Also referenced in the statement was Iran's long-standing penchant for supporting terrorist groups and harming American servicemembers and foreign civilians throughout the Middle East through "proxy militias." Individuals included in the new sanctions list included General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as Robert C. O'Brien, who served as National Security Adviser during the latter portion of the Trump administration.<p>This comes amid statements in recent days by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Soleimani's successor as head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Forces, Esmail Ghaani, who both vowed imminent revenge for Soleimani's death.<p>Iran's provocations and anti-American rhetoric are nothing new. Of the four nations listed on the U.S. Department of State's "State Sponsors of Terrorism," Iran has appeared on the list for the second longest amount of time, since January 19, 1984. (It is surpassed only by Syria, which has been listed since 1979.) Although Americans cannot be reasonably expected to be intimately familiar with the internal affairs and intricacies of every foreign nation, given the role Iran plays in the Middle East and its ability to extend its influence to (and, at times, wreak havoc in) countries thousands of miles away, they should keep a more watchful eye on this nation of 85 million. And this is where the American press comes in: Editors and producers should ensure that sufficient attention is being given to Iran's latest actions because Iran -- unlike other countries that are more bluster than action -- has a demonstrated history of successfully employing violence.<p>During the Trump years, Americans fortunately became acutely aware of the lurking threat on the world stage that China represents, and this has taken place as many pundits and officeholders have increasingly argued that gone are the days of needing to fixate endlessly on the Middle East, as we are now two decades removed from the events of September 11, 2001. But this is the line of thinking that resulted in the Fall of Kabul, an event I also discussed in a previous "News on the Record" column, and also risks leaving us unprepared for the threat posed by Iran, when it comes to that nation both facilitating terrorism and causing further instability in the Middle East.<p>We must not forget that Iran, along with its primary regional rival Saudi Arabia, has been an integral force in the current Yemeni Civil War that has already resulted in approximately 377,000 deaths, with untold others at risk due to famine resulting from the conflict. Iran, as has been well-documented, actively supports Hezbollah's activities, while also boasting an abysmal human rights record within its own borders, from harming protesters to jailing minorities and political dissidents to actively suppressing freedom of the press. Reminiscent of the above-linked Iranian involvement in the Buenos Aires bombings in the 1990s, Iran is again looking to carry out terrorism outside of the Middle East; look no further than diplomat Assadolah Assadi's 2021 sentencing in Belgium for attempting to plan a 2018 bombing near Paris. This should make us all take seriously Ghaani's threat that, "We tell everyone, be patient and see the dead bodies of Americans all over the Middle East."<p>What is crucial to understand is that the current Iranian regime is deeply unpopular within Iran, and many Iranians, polling tells us, would prefer a different course. (Furthermore, at the same time Iranian leaders were publicly threatening the United States, protesters within Iran were burning a statue of Soleimani.) As such, the current crop of hardliners in Tehran must constantly fan the flames of conflict and provoke the West in order to internally justify their militant positions. This is something the American public should understand, along with other factors such as how the 2003 invasion of Iraq is partially responsible for Iran's current relevant ascendancy after Iran lost its proximate and bitter rival, Ba'athist Iraq, and how the Abraham Accords were a geopolitical blow to Iran.<p>As much as many apologists for current Iranian activities like to place the blame for Tehran's hostility on Western activities and, in particular, the CIA and MI6-orchestrated overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, that was a long time ago, and, as MacArthur would say, "the world has turned over many times since." But as Iranian legislators chant "Death to America" and diplomats acting in official capacity such as Assadi plan acts of terrorism in their spare time, the American press must put the Iran issue front and center and allow Americans to be better informed about the country, the threat it poses, and the most advisable courses of action on the part of the U.S. government to address the Iran question.<p><p><p>

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The First Person in Journalism


In today's online news media, particularly to stand out on the social media feeds and news aggregators that dictate the flow of information on the internet, web traffic-conscious editors toil away at crafting headlines most conducive to capturing the passing interest of a potential reader -- a reader already awash in a seemingly endless array of content. Sensationalized headlines are, of course, nothing new; they have been a mainstay of modern journalism since its inception. They are also hardly unique to the internet era; in a previous "News-on-the-Record" column, for instance, I quoted biographer William Shawcross' description of Rupert Murdoch's approach to engaging readers and, thus, selling newspapers as he implored editors at the Adelaide Newsin 1958 to commission more stories about "cats up in trees in Adelaide and fewer uprisings in Ankara." Tailored headlines were, of course, a primary feature of this effort.<p>If Murdoch, the canonical news business success story, the Warren Buffet of media, should prioritize his headlines in such a way as long ago as 1958 (and continuing very much today at properties such as the New York Post), surely, Yahoo! News, The Daily Beast, and company might reasonably be expected to do the same—and now, in the post-2015 era, to do it even more so.<p>To bemoan sensationalized headlines in general is too trite to warrant extended discussion. Further, it is unrealistic to ask online news outlets already struggling immensely amid increased competition for advertising dollars from Big Tech to forfeit a working tactic (at least for now) on their ever-shrinking menu of options to remain profitable or, at the very least, afloat. So with that in mind, I want to take issue with a certain type of headline (and accompanying narrative premise) frequently trotted out in today's online media space that I think is particularly grating and, as I will explore, antithetical to the sort of role that journalism ought to occupy in a society.<p>The format of this particular type of headline goes something like this: "I am [X], and I think [Y]." Bonus points if the writer of the opinion piece or the subject of the first-person-based news article has a type of opinion less frequently held by members of the group [X] to which he belongs. By way of example, there was the recent "I'm 17. And I'm Immunized from Woke Politics" or "I'm a lifelong Republican, but I'm voting for a Democrat for president again" or "I Support Victims' Rights. And I Oppose Marsy's Law" or "I'm a Trump supporter, but as an investor I'm wary of the Trump SPAC." As I discussed in my May, 2019 column "A Bad Marriage: Venture Capital and Online Media?," the once-ascendant online media company Mic drove traffic extensively by using headlines (and story arcs) such as these because, at the time, Facebook's algorithm selected for them. However, as I narrated in that previous column, this worked until it didn't; when news stories are tailored to keywords, what works one day can become a bust overnight with each "Googlequake" or "new content strategy" on the part of the technology platforms.<p>The shortsightedness of this as a business strategy aside, there is a more substantive concern from a journalistic perspective. Journalism, when practiced appropriately, is not about striving for the ideal behind the Joycean notion that "In the particular is contained the universal." Journalism is not about taking a single narrative and extrapolating from it a set of generalizations about political matters or, say, the state of economic activity. Journalism, in short, should eschew being anecdotal. The anecdote might make for a fine short story, film, or novel, but it ought not be the basis of any serious work of journalism.<p>Now, this is not to say that there is not an interesting literary micro tradition based on a type of first-person journalism. The practitioners of Gonzo journalism certainly have had their fans. And, just the same, first-person experience is an eminently valuable concept, as philosopher Thomas Nagel draws out in his canonical 1974 paper "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" However, news stories should traffic in matters that are equally accessible to all readers, regardless of their particular identity, station in life, or first-person experience. To stay with the subject of philosophy for just a further moment beyond the passing reference to Nagel, journalism must concern itself with the sort of facts that do not rely on the subjective first-person experience as opposed to the qualia that differ widely from one individual to the next.<p>One even wonders if the relatively greater prestige afforded to those writing at national (or international) publications relative to local ones might not only be a function of the former's greater reach and readership but also due to an extension of this idea: Just about anyone, anywhere, can pick up the article and roughly know what the writer is discussing. Perhaps this is also why a book of philosophy has greater import, particularly over time, than does a travel journal documenting a visit to a given city or a Farmers' Almanac from decades past.<p>With all of this in mind, it should not be terribly surprising that a number of commentators, writing at outlets from the now-defunct The American Journalism Review (as long ago as 2014) to The New Yorker have all begun to notice and bemoan this trend. Now, there are still certain constants of the news media industry, even as it constantly morphs with each new technological innovation or trough in advertising dollars. One is that writers write articles, editors provide the headlines, and the writers, in turn, complain about said headlines. Another is that a lot of journalism is about choosing to report on the one thing going poorly in place of the hundreds of things that are going well. But finally, in place of listing another begrudgingly accepted aspect of the business, I'll offer an imploration instead: When one can make an editorial choice between publishing a first-person account of an event or a more, objective, fly-on-the-wall, third-person one, please opt for the latter.<p>Click the social buttons to share this content with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Should Journalists Be Amateurs or Professionals?


In the opening scene of the 2011 Spanish film Madrid, 1987, Miguel, the film's surname-less protagonist is sitting in a cafe meeting with a young journalism student who admires his work, when a fan recognizes him and approaches him for an autograph. This fan -- gushing -- tells the well-known columnist, "I read you every day. I love your articles." A hardly enthusiastic Miguel reluctantly takes the piece of paper to sign his name and tells her, "I don't write to be read. I write to be paid."<p>However, historically, and perhaps even more so today, a career in writing or journalism has not always translated reliably into a lucrative career. This reality is perhaps more well-known when it comes to fiction writers, whether it be Cormac McCarthy in the early stages of his career living in "a shack with no heat and running water in the foothills." (He elected to do this rather than take on assignments that might come at the cost of his unique approach to fiction writing.) Even James Joyce often found himself resorting to hair-brained business schemes to try to supplement his payments from his writing and teaching. Journalists, though, often enjoyed comparatively better career stability, particularly in the golden age of newspapers.<p>Then, things began to change. As one journalism professor of mine used to say, The Huffington Post killed the profession of being a columnist when it succeeded in doing the impossible: getting writers to write for free. Now, with the rise of outlets such as The Huffington Post and the proliferation of social media, which consists, in essence, of platforms that publish content in real time from uncompensated users, this has continued all the more. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, in 2018, the median starting salary for a news reporter was $34,150. Pay is particularly low at the non-marquis outlets and in local news, though some writers and freelancers who parlay their skills into more commercial-minded writing assignments can be very well-compensated.<p>This reality, paired with another trend I have examined frequently in my columns (that of the increasing ideological and stylistic homogeneity in the news media space) invites an important and pressing question: Will journalism increasingly see the rise of the amateurs, those who make a living in more lucrative sectors and produce their writings on the side? To this point, some of the best commentators and essayists I know, including Alexander Zubatov, Gerfried Ambrosch, and Vahaken Mouradian, all have day jobs and would likely prefer to keep them, bringing to mind that lyric from the 1978 Dire Straits song "Sultans of Swing": "And Harry doesn't mind, if he doesn't, make the scene/He's got a daytime job, he's doing alright." Even T.S. Eliot, the man I would put forward as the greatest writer of the 20th century, kept his job as a banker, a job he was apparently quite good at despite his consistently accumulating literary fame. He was reportedly adamant about not resigning until his wife's declining health demanded it. (For instance, even in announcing the shuttering of The Criterion, the famous literary magazine he edited, Eliot wrote, "No one expected that it would be more than an 'amateur' review: its editing was the evening occupation of an editor who, being on the staff of a City bank, was not in a position to accept a salary.")<p>For David Gelernter, the polymath, Yale computer science professor, and one-time target of the Unabomber, he chose to pursue a career in technology originally so that his income would never be dependent just on his writing and tinkering with ideas. Having that latter sort of arrangement, Gelernter feared, would inevitably result in having to write on topics he did find worthwhile or, worse yet, take stances that did not accord with his actual views. And though he has no formal training in biology or any number of the other subjects on which he writes, his commentaries and magazine pieces are routinely hailed as deeply insightful and frequently trigger extensive debate. But this should not be altogether surprising; as I narrated in The Post and Courier this past spring, many of the great insights throughout history have been the work of amateurs, those in the enviable position of being able to bring a fresh eye to the subject rather than be unduly bogged down in the dogmas of a given field.<p>In August of this year, the data scientist Jonatan Pallesen tweeted: "Billionaires should fund *many more* independent thinkers, researchers and investigators. The main channels are not working well, and there aren't great options for people to work outside them," bringing to mind another argument I recently put forward: that reservoirs of independent wealth, though frequently maligned today, have the potential to finance great thinking at a time when universities and the press are increasingly falling victim to intellectual conformity and their respective economic challenges. This is one possible remedy for the 2020s iteration of the starving artist stereotype: that of the burned out, overworked, and underpaid journalist.<p>None of this is to argue that good writing or high-quality journalism necessarily ought to be divorced from financial viability, and Miguel from Madrid, 1987 would -- no doubt -- agree; it is not to revisit some Age of Exploration concept that one ought to be ashamed of being engaged in commerce. Consider it a recognition of reality; with layoffs rampant and with traditional new business models being impacted by the ascendancy of platforms, editors have increasingly pushed clickability, which, as I have documented, tends to come at the cost of quality -- not that quality, to be clear, was always mainstay of the journalism of yesteryear. So I would not be at all surprised to see a growing number of commentators, essayists, and journalists with day jobs, perhaps emulating the model of the part-time mayor or the part-time state legislator (such as is the case in many states). Perhaps one day it will even go so far that we will see aspiring writers cut out the middleman of publicists and public relations teams and pay outlets to publish their work, as the idea of a journalist being considered an employee or even a contractor is further called into doubt.<p><p><p>

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Newsy Ramps Up Its Daily Programming, Focusing on Non-Partisan Reporting


Newsy is debuting a range of news shows only a month after launching as an over-the-air network, bringing the total programming to 17 hours a day. The shows are all distinguished by one North Star: provide straightforward, opinion-free news across multiple platforms.<p>Newsy, which broadcasts from Atlanta and is owned by The E.W. Scripps Co., had previously been distributed primarily via over the top. By expanding to over the air on October 1, Newsy achieved a key goal: to deliver a consistent content experience across all devices and manners of distribution.<p>Interested in<p>EW Scripps InSites<p>READ MORE<p>"From a business standpoint, our contention is: You have to be everywhere. You have to be on TV. You have to be on the phone. You have to be on computers. You have to be over-the-top," said Kate O'Brian, Scripps Networks' Head of News. "For us, we have to be the same linear stream everywhere, so every consumer gets the full complement of everything we're doing."<p>This also comes at a time, as O'Brian noted, when increasing shares of consumers, particularly from younger generations, opt against purchasing cable at all. To this point, as Toni Fitzgerald noted at Forbes earlier this year, "Since 2014, the number of people who have cut the cord on their cable, satellite or telco subscription (or never had a subscription at all) has more than tripled, going from 15.6 million to a projected 50.4 million this year."<p>Newsy has sought to double down on its content positioning in aiming to avoid the sort of opinion-based journalism that has in recent years become largely synonymous with national cable news. In this way, Newsy joins the ranks of other news media projects that are, in essence, betting against the continuation of an ever-escalating dialectic of partisanship in both the news media and society at large.<p>Bolstered by study results suggesting that there is a large, untapped audience pool of self-identified independents or moderates, projects such as these believe that this large segment of Americans is being underserved by the current news landscape. Newsy's approach is to focus less on divisive political issues, including waiting with bated breath for each and every development out of Washington D.C., and even to avoid fixating on bemoaning constantly that there is a stark partisan divide between Americans.<p>As O'Brian put it, "[Many Americans] don't want pure partisan content, meaning that the content is only about the partisan divide, which then actually supports the partisan divide because if you're only talking about it, you're just perpetuating it. We're not talking about it, so we're trying not to perpetuate it. Instead, we're giving people information and interesting original reporting and beautiful stories to look at -- in addition to what's going on in the world. That is the vison of Newsy."<p>O'Brian said she's particularly proud of a segment by journalist Jason Bellini on gene therapy advances in a certain breed of dog, the King Charles Spaniel, which may have bearing on future applications to humans.<p>Another striking piece of journalism is Sasha Ingber's emotional story on the suicide of Afghanistan war veteran Michael McCarthy, O'Brian noted. The tragedy was triggered by the circumstances that relate to the withdrawal in August. This segment, which was interspersed with footage from the events surrounding the fall of Kabul, underscores Newsy's ability and willingness to supplement its focus on domestic affairs with coverage of events beyond American borders.<p>"We have built a team of strong storytellers, anchors and reporters with a goal of making journalism as enjoyable, relevant and interesting as it is important," O'Brian concluded. "Our promise is to provide the objective journalism that Americans are seeking."<p><p><p>

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Pundits Who are Constantly Wrong


In a February 18th Wall Street Journal commentary piece, Marty Makary, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, writing under the headline "We'll Have Herd Immunity by April," asserted that "the country is racing toward an extremely low level of infection. As more people have been infected, most of whom have mild or no symptoms, there are fewer Americans left to be infected. At the current trajectory, I expect COVID will be mostly gone by April, allowing Americans to resume normal life." It was a bold claim, and it certainly attracted its share of notice once published.<p>Now, in fairness, for a period of time this past spring, particularly in May and early June, it did seem that the pandemic was, in fact, behind us -- so much so that my friends and I were considering redoing our aerial flyover Philadelphia thanking healthcare workers, except this time with a declaration of victory: "We did it, Philly." Fortunately, we held off, and, just like that, the virus was back, and cases were soaring; by September, the country had again almost reached that point -- like last winter -- in which nearly a 9/11's worth of deaths was taking place each day. Talk about having to eat one’s hat.<p>But Makary is hardly the only highly credentialed expert, Nobel Laureate, or "award-winning" thought leader to be very publicly (and/or very frequently) wrong. (When it came to COVID-19, just about everyone took a turn being wide of the mark, in terms of either predictions or recommended mitigation strategies.) But beyond COVID-19, take, for instance, how wrong The New York Times' Paul Krugman has been, particularly when it came to his view that economic catastrophe was sure to follow in the wake of the results of the November, 2016 presidential election. (Perhaps in a perverse effort to save face, Krugman would later be caught seeming to root for recession.) And when it comes to financial predictions, there is arguably a greater danger in being wrong than in political ones because investors, including retail ones, often trade off comments such as these, just as how each utterance by the colorful hedge fund manager David Tepper, as they say, "moves markets."<p>As for political predictions, it barely warrants stating that this category of prognostications is perhaps most ripe for running afoul of reality. As Larry Sabato and his team at Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics conceded following the election of 2016, "The Crystal Ball is shattered." And who can forget the ABC News/Washington Post poll just days before the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin that had then-candidate Joe Biden ahead of President Donald Trump by 17 points, when in reality Biden prevailed by only 0.7%? (Perhaps the most memorable such occurrence, though, was when Princeton University professor Sam Wang ate a cricket on CNN’s Smerconish on November 12, 2016 after promising to do so if Donald Trump gained more than 240 electoral votes.)<p>The bottom line is that after a short while, all is forgotten, and these same pollsters and commentators are taken seriously again even if their previous track records are abysmal.<p>I am personally more than sympathetic to those who struggle to accurately predict the future. In the past, before I knew better and would ask my own interviewees to wager guesses about the still-to-come, I would usually preface it by acknowledging the fraughtness of making such predictions. And my own performance history in this department, particularly when it comes to forecasting election results, is nothing short of hopeless. I thought that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would win in 2016, and I was confident that then-President Donald Trump would capture re-election in 2020. I even recall being interviewed by none other than Bill O'Reilly on the morning of the 2020 New Hampshire Democratic primary, and both O'Reilly and I confidently predicted that the political career of a certain ex-Vice President from Delaware by way of Scranton was completely and utterly finished, particularly after the Biden "lying dog-faced pony soldier" exchange the day before. It’s only been a year since last November's presidential contest, but, from the Georgia Senate runoffs to the Virginia gubernatorial race, I have not put forward an election prediction since.<p>The futility of the entire exercise of endlessly forecasting the future brings to mind one of the tenets of Michael Oakeshott's philosophical outlook: "To try and do something which is inherently impossible is always a corrupting enterprise."<p>I would never argue that there ought to be an explicit penalty in terms of employment (or, God forbid, legally) for being wrong all the time. (Just as Good Samaritan laws protect would-be do-gooders from liability when offering reasonable efforts to help others so as to incentivize rendering aid, free speech protections must robustly protect putting forward incorrect information so as to encourage ideas to be always coming forward.) After all, as the truism goes and as J.S. Mill articulated so forcefully more than a century-and-a-half ago, putting forward wrong answers helps us, in time, to arrive at the correct ones. And incorrect explanations can still be interesting as well, such as is conveyed in that penetrating observation made about the work of Karl Marx: to paraphrase Deirdre McCloskey, Marx is most interesting when he's wrong.<p>But the fact remains: When it comes to the news media, if a given pundit is wrong all the time, at some point, let's get someone else in there to take a stab at things.<p>Click the social buttons to share this content with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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How Stealth Editing Undermines Journalism


Describing the work of the poet Frank O'Hara, the linchpin of the New York School, the poet and critic Michael Schmidt writes, "He was casual about his poems: it's not that he didn't value them, but he didn't worry much about them after they were complete. He could be scrupulous but was not always too concerned about the final text." Schmidt continues: "What mattered to O'Hara was the writing of them." This is an approach that stands in contrast to that of many other writers, a way of doing things best summarized by Ernest Hemingway's dictum that "the first draft of anything is s--t."<p>Also subscribing to Hemingway's approach was Roald Dahl, who notably reflected on his own writing process by saying, "By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting." And this is not confined just to novelists, with songwriter James Taylor telling Stephen Colbert in a 2015 interview, "I consider my songs to be living things that are always growing. For example, I'm still working on 'Fire and Rain.'"<p>O'Hara's approach, on the other hand, is reminiscent of a philosophy of writing described by Joshua Foa Dienstag in his 2006 book Pessimism, in which a piece of writing -- particularly the aphorism, Dienstag's focus -- is a sort of time capsule of the author's state of mind at the time of writing. Therefore, to return to the text to revise it again and again cheapens it in a way as it takes the piece of writing further away from the afflatus, the moment of inspiration in the writer's mind, the series of events that compelled him so irresistibly to take up his pen.<p>Now, this discussion surely makes for an interesting intellectual exercise when it comes to assessing approaches to more artistic forms of writing; however, journalistic writing, as I have tried to make sense of in a number of previous columns, is inherently concerned with timeliness. Although various definitions can indeed be put forward as to what constitutes journalism, any persuasive definition must -- I think -- include a reference to discussing events within a reasonable timeframe of their having transpired. Otherwise, one is writing history or at least is writing within the more catch-all category of non-fiction.<p>Furthermore, when it comes to journalism, our intuition is that to go back and rework a piece is to violate the purpose it serves in reflecting the time at which it was written, registering only the information available at the time and, in the process, making clear to future readers what was known at that given juncture in time. Although I have previously been critical of the line frequently thrown around by journalists that they are "writing the first draft of history," primarily because that line strikes me as unnecessarily self-congratulatory, it does encapsulate elements of the argument I am currently making. As such, a piece of journalism -- once published -- should be left as it is, insulated from the threat of future revisions. To revisit the given event later, as the above journalistic cliché suggests, is the domain of historians.<p>In recent months, however, there has been a spate of cases where edits have been made of previously published news articles and opinion pieces in major outlets. The first instance deserving of our consideration concerns a March 31st USA TODAY op-ed by 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Two days later, in response to news that broke subsequent to the op-ed's publication, editors at the newspaper allowed Abrams to significantly edit the text of the article. When this was noticed and criticized in other outlets, a spokesperson for Gannett, USA TODAY's parent company, stated, "We regret the oversight in updating the Stacey Abrams column. As soon as we recognized there was no editor's note, we added it to the page to reflect her changes. We have reviewed our procedures to ensure this does not occur again," though the damage in many minds was already inflicted.<p>Unfortunately, the USA TODAY incident proved not to be an isolated occurrence. At The New York Times, as chronicled by Phillip W. Magness, editors repeatedly finessed the language of the 1619 Project while also scrubbing more controversial claims, without a single editor's note issued. It was much of the same at The New York Times when the paper went back and surreptitiously reworked a September 13th article subsequent to publication about a Federal Election Commission decision not to punish Twitter for blocking the sharing of an October, 2020 New York Post story regarding Hunter Biden.<p>At least in the case of The Washington Post's June 1st decision to update a then-15 month old headline regarding speculation on the origins of COVID-19, an editor's note was prominently featured, which is the correct industry practice. As I discussed in my July, 2019 column "When the News Is Wrong," news outlets do, at times, report information later determined to be incorrect, incomplete, or misleading. When this happens, prominently placed corrections and retractions are more than merely appropriate; to issue them is a necessity of journalistic ethics. (This ought to be handled differently, though, for news stories as opposed to op-eds.)<p>With respect to these events at USA TODAY and The New York Times, unlike with some of the above discussions involving the differing approaches to writing of O'Hara and Dahl, these were not cases of tinkering with the pieces merely to improve word choice or the clarity of the argument being made -- not that that would be permissible either. Instead, it was a matter of seeking to portray that more was known at the time than, in fact, was -- or, worse, looking to remove points of criticism as if to suggest that they had never been there in the first place. So as much as one may be inclined to debate the various advantages and drawbacks of self-editing in writing in general, the rules are different when it comes to journalistic writing. In order to avoid being outright deceitful and to contribute further to the already much-bemoaned declining satisfaction with the news media, publications ought to draw a line in the sand and pledge to refrain from "stealth editing," a practice for which there is no place.<p><p><p>

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The Substack "Moment" Accelerates


In his inaugural Substack post published on September 1st, the Indian-born novelist Salman Rushdie explained why he had chosen to join the online newsletter platform: "The point of doing this is to have a closer relationship with readers, to speak freely, without any intermediaries or gatekeepers. There's just us here, just you and me, and we can take this wherever it goes. I hope you'll enjoy the ride. I'll try to make it fun."<p>Rushdie also laid out his vision for the type of writings that would come to populate his profile, which he has named "Salman's Sea of Stories," including that he plans to post twice each week, offer both paid and unpaid content, and release his latest work of fiction in serialized form through the platform. And in an interview with The Guardian also released on September 1st, Rushdie told Shelley Hepworth that his foray into Substack would also allow him to fulfill his long-standing desire to write film criticism after having been previously denied the opportunity at The New Yorker when the film critic Rushdie was set to replace decided against taking paternity leave.<p>How Rushdie describes what he plans to do with his Substack speaks to the eclectic nature of the content the platform supports; Rushdie, as was alluded to above, plans to offer a mix of literary criticism, the aforementioned film reviews and "the stories behind the stories I'll be telling," while also interacting with readers and fans by answering their questions. And as he implies when he speaks of that lack of "intermediaries or gatekeepers," we might expect Rushdie's latest writings to bear some of the trademarks of Substack posts: being slightly less toned down or wordsmithed as those final drafts that have undergone multiple rounds of edits and feature input from various editors. This is to take a step away from what Bari Weiss, another recent arrival to Substack, said of the editorial process at today's New York Times, where "every line is carefully massaged, negotiated and caveated."<p>Although I am -- in theory -- a defender of the traditional editorial process and the benefits that tend to accrue from editors providing insight and feedback, the reality Weiss alludes to in the letter from which that above quotation is drawn (and a reality also described by others displaced from the traditional outlets who have now taken up a post at Substack) is that too much of today's editorial process is about injecting ideology and certain pieties at the expense of preserving the writer's own style and perspectives.<p>As such, it is no surprise that many writers and thinkers who do not fit neatly into the current iteration of the two-party system and its corresponding media analogs would look for alternatives, with Substack now being a prime destination. From Glenn Loury to Glenn Greenwald to Matt Taibbi, well-known writers -- many of whom used to be at the legacy brands -- have gone off on their own via Substack. (Taibbi's August 13th piece "The Vanishing Legacy of Barack Obama" is a prime example of a recent Substack essay to generate considerable attention and discussion.)<p>As has been discussed by other commentators, many journalists and editors still housed at traditional outlets have been sharply and unreasonably critical of Substack ("the lady doth protest too much"), which is likely explained by the threat that Substack may pose to their ways of doing things (and, of course, their business models). At times derisively dubbed "the Substackerati," those writers who successfully make their way on Substack demonstrate two things. The first is that they do not, in fact, need editors. And secondly, they can accurately determine their financial value as writers by being paid directly by their subscribers rather than through the publication for which they might have otherwise worked. And now with Rushdie's latest move, one cannot help but wonder if we shall see a further influx of well-known fiction writers and novelists, as well as if those in the publishing industry might, in turn, begin launching similar barbs against Substack as those in the news media have.<p>Substack might reasonably be seen in the context of other platforms that have offered writers or users the ability to post their unvarnished commentaries sans an editorial process and with the opportunity to pursue individual monetization. Platforms in this mold range from Medium to the upstart (and admittedly now faltering) alternative social media site Thinkspot. And this, of course, also comes at a time when -- as I have covered in previous columns -- many of the legacy media brands are experiencing cratering credibility and public trust.<p>Substack, of course, is not without criticism. It has, for instance, been pilloried for an alleged lack of transparency about to which writers it has offered advances. However, in my view, the more substantive criticism would be that Substack risks falling victim to the phenomenon that caused Huffington Post to disband its contributors platform in January of 2018: "When everyone has a megaphone, no one can be heard." Just as concerns mount about the oversaturation of the podcast market ("Yes, I have a podcast. Who doesn't?"), the same might be said of the ever-ballooning number of writers -- established and aspiring alike -- who now have set up a Substack newsletter.<p>Yet this has done little to assuage the growing anxiety on the part of many at the household name outlets about the risk that Substack and other similar, upstart ventures might pose to their relative share of the conversation and the accompanying advertiser (or subscriber) dollars. To this point, Substack completed a $65 million round of new funding earlier this year, has recently acquired the conversation platform Letter, and enables some of its better known writers -- such as Andrew Sullivan -- to take home earnings in the seven-figures, far more than they would be paid at a given newspaper or magazine. Time will, of course, tell if Substack follows the tech giants, companies to which it is sometimes compared, in beginning to moderate content, a change of direction that would cause it likely to lose its competitive advantage. In the meantime, however, the Substack "moment," as today's jargon would have it, is more than just continuing; Rushdie's entrance shows that it is accelerating.<p>Click the social buttons to share this content with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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The Weaponization of the Term "Conspiracy Theorist"


On September 15, 1995, the economist Thomas Sowell joined Charlie Rose for a discussion on his book The Vision of the Anointed, which was to be published that fall, as well as a broader conversation about Sowell's views. During a portion of the interview in which Sowell was discussing the putative ideological similarity of those at influential institutions (particularly on favored social programs) most notably Harvard, Yale and The New York Times, Rose, in a slightly raised tone of voice, said to Sowell: "What amazes me is that you buy into these conspiracies like this." In response, Sowell defended himself: "It's not a conspiracy at all. I've never believed in conspiracy theories." Sowell then explained how he came to hold this view, given the shared ideological assumptions held by many of his fellow intellectuals. And as James Lindsay noted this July, along with available evidence now confirming Sowell's central claim, it seems as if the economist was correct all along.<p>And this is just one instance of accounts once dismissed as "conspiracy theories" turning out, in time, to have been accurate, from Big Tech putting its thumb on the scale when it comes to search results to various COVID-19 mitigation measures, particularly in Australia, vindicating the concerns of those who feared they would invariably come at the expense of respecting civil liberties.<p>In a recent interview prompted by a desire to reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic, the New York University media studies professor Mark Crispin Miller stated, "When someone calls you a 'conspiracy theorist,' they have already lost the argument because that epithet is a way to prevent discussion from taking place." Although I do not agree with many of the specific explanations that Miller has put forward about controversial events (explanations his critics might label "conspiracy theories"), I believe his analysis here to be correct. To call someone advancing a certain argument a "conspiracy theorist" amounts to a specialized form of ad hominem attack, and similar to invoking many other "ists," it can be used as a cudgel to stop a conversation in its tracks.<p>Now, there are certainly cases of conspiracy theories that are particularly outlandish and dislodged from reality. One that comes to mind concerns the events surrounding the 2019 murder of reputed Gambino crime family boss Frank Cali, in which Anthony Comello, who had reportedly previously dated Cali's niece, shot and killed the alleged mobster believing him to be a member of a "deep state" conspiracy against then-President Donald Trump after having first attempted a citizen's arrest on Cali. Comello, who had previously also sought to make a citizen's arrest of Mayor Bill de Blasio, would later be judged mentally unfit to stand trial. In this case, the narrative to which Comello was subscribing can accurately and reasonably be labeled a conspiracy theory.<p>My effort here, though, is not to wade into determining which narratives commonly labeled "conspiracy theories" deserve that description and which do not, or even to formulate a rough attempt at an a priori framework to evaluate what might be a true "conspiracy theory" and what might be a reasonable but unpopular explanation for a series of events. Rather, it is to draw attention to a particular tactic in which media pundits and government actors can seek to explain away legitimate questions by dismissing those who ask them as "conspiracy theorists."<p>Much of the renewed, recent attention to the use of the term "conspiracy theorist" is attributable to the about-face many political figures, pundits and members of intelligence agencies have displayed when it comes to the origins of COVID-19. As a number of compiled video montages make clear, it was not long ago that to posit any alternative theory to the one initially put forward by China was to engage in an intolerable act of conspiracy theorizing. However, come May of this year when President Joe Biden ordered intelligence agencies to investigate further if COVID-19 had, in fact, come from a Chinese lab, pundits were now discussing a theory that up until a few days before would have gotten one's YouTube post "demonetized or deleted" or resulted in one being laughed out of polite society.<p>When I was in school, I recall my one Yale political science professor telling our class that "No one believes every conspiracy theory, but everyone believes at least one." Perhaps some believed the one that Comello did or others that are particularly outlandish and that many find deeply offensive. But there are also ones that are believed to be true by a plurality of poll respondents, which invites debate about when a particular narrative deserves this label. Is it when trusted sources deem it as such; alternatively, should it be contingent on the views of a majority or plurality of survey respondents?<p>The one that I have always found deserving of particular attention concerns the 2013 death of Michael Hastings, a journalist well-known for covering mass surveillance and the Obama administration's drone program and the author of the 2008 book I Lost My Love in Baghdad. In June of 2013, Hastings was at work on a profile of then-CIA Director John Brennan and was anxious that he was being surveilled by federal law enforcement. In the days preceding his death in a strange automobile accident in Los Angeles, he had expressed concerns his car was being tampered with, even asking his neighbor to borrow her car because of that reason just hours before his death. Then, in the early morning hours of June 18, 2013, his car crashed into a palm tree at maximum speed, with the car's engine being launched nearly 60 yards from the crash site and his body being burned beyond recognition, two facts rarely seen in a typical car accident. This prompted counter­terrorism expert Richard Clarke to tell The Huffington Post, "My rule has always been you don't knock down a conspiracy theory until you can prove it [wrong]. And in the case of Michael Hastings, what evidence is available publicly is consistent with a car cyber-attack." The Huffington Post's decision to lend credence to this interpretation did prompt critical pieces in other outlets, including Politico. (Hastings' brother, Jonathan, believes Michael's death to be more likely the result of a manic episode exacerbated by potential drug use.)<p>None of this is to say there is no such thing as a conspiracy theory; there undoubtedly is, and as the political scientist Matt McManus has argued, people often believe in conspiracy theories as an alternative to accepting the randomness of events in the world and the concomitant sense of powerlessness that can inspire. At the same time, however, certain political and media figures can discredit those asking legitimate questions by calling them "conspiracy theorists" and thereby shut down discussions, especially when certain sacred cows from modern monetary theory to favored explanations about COVID-19 find themselves in the crosshairs.<p>Click the social buttons to share this content with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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When Everything Is News-Pegged


When Johann Hari, the subject of my July 30th column "When Does a Journalist Deserve a Second Chance?," sat for an interview with Decca Aitkenhead, a questioner and individual controversial in her own right, he spoke of the liberation of no longer being a columnist: "Funnily enough, one of the good things about not being a columnist is that I don't have to have an opinion on things like [the tone of public debate]." Freed from being "in a state of mania any more, ripped up into a frenzy of constant opinionating and polemicizing in my room," he was finally able to take his time and also a step away from Joseph Epstein's description of Dwight MacDonald and columnists more broadly: that "Macdonald was the intellectual par excellence, which is to say without any specialized knowledge he was prepared to comment on everything, boisterously and always with what seemed an unwavering confidence."<p>It was in this time of relative quiet that Hari was able to write his first book of wide acclaim, Chasing the Stream, a work I discussed in some detail in that aforementioned July column.<p>In my July, 2019 column "The Overproduction of Truth," in addition to my primary point that the endless quantity of news being churned out inevitably comes at the cost of prioritizing quality or what is truly note-worthy, I also drew attention to comments Sara Coello (then of The Dallas Morning News) had offered to Columbia Journalism Review. In that 2018 piece, Coello was quoted describing how she, at times, had to write seven original articles per day and how she regularly produced more than a dozen pieces each week. Commenting on this then -- and my assessment remains the same now -- I asked how a journalist could possibly be putting out informed reporting or commentary with that frenzied of a publication schedule. This publication schedule comes about, of course, due to the fixation that many outlets have on pieces being as "timely" as possible.<p>Charles Krauthammer had sensed the tension between the frequency of writing and the thoughtfulness of the perspective therein when he was first offered his column at The Washington Post, which began running in December 1984. He describes this in a 25th anniversary column entitled "An Anniversary of Sorts" in 2009:<p>"When Editorial Page Editor Meg Greenfield approached me to do a column for The Post, I was somewhat daunted. The norm in those days was to write two or three a week, hence the old joke that being a columnist is like being married to a nymphomaniac -- as soon as you're done, you've got to do it again.<p>"So, I proposed once a week. First, I explained, because I was enjoying the leisurely life of a magazine writer and, with a child on the way, I was looking forward to fatherhood. Second, because I don't have two ideas a week; I barely have one (as many of my critics no doubt agree).<p>"The first objection she dismissed as mere sloth. (Meg was always a good judge of character.) The second reason she bought."<p>Although a few particularly able (and specialized) commentators such as Jonathan Turley are able to write both perceptively and constantly, they are the exception. This is not to say that those writers whose commentaries can be best described as "bloggy" and frequently miss the mark, such as Jennifer Rubin's, would be remedied by a pared down publication schedule alone. However, the sheer frequency of their being hammered out -- often more than once per day -- certainly does not help.<p>There are few places more emblematic of that "state of mania" that Hari describes than Twitter, which, as I have previously discussed, is also the place where many journalists today fritter away hours each day. It is perhaps for this reason that Hari stated earlier this summer that he would be "off Twitter now until October ... Until then I am writing, reading, talking with friends, thinking, sitting in the sun. Have a great summer everyone -- tweet less, read more, you'll feel better."<p>With that said, this is not akin to arguing that journalists or writers need to embrace full-scale Wittgensteinian seclusion, leave the rest of the world behind, and only emerge when they have something truly novel and profound to unleash upon the world. In fact, engagement with others' works is often a prerequisite for inspiration.<p>But Hari's general approach to Twitter would likely also be appreciated by George F. Will, who in addition to priding himself on never himself having sent a tweet, has discussed how, "The brevity and the instantaneousness and the wide dissemination brings out the very worst in people of which it turns out to be a lot." At least by the time a twice-weekly column would come around (whether his or another's), enough dust would have settled to determine what deserves comment and what can be left to descend into obscurity. Being glued to Twitter or having the sort of publication schedule described by Coello, however, results in considerable ink being spilled on the latter type of topics.<p>In sum, a piece being called "evergreen" (i.e., not specifically pegged to a news cycle) should not be considered a borderline pejorative in the journalism world. To quote the writer David Perell, "I place disproportionate weight on how old an article is. If someone sends an article from two days ago, I know it's an impulsive share. If someone sends an older article, say from before 2011, it's [going to] be good." In many cases, exceptional analysis takes time. So, as much as it used to be a point of derision, perhaps what was often said of The Weekly Standard (that if one read about a happening in its pages, it had already taken place two weeks before) ought not have been such a strike against it after all.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this content with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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The Press Gets It Right on Afghanistan


When it comes to recent events in Afghanistan, the press -- barring a few exceptions -- has succeeded in chronicling the extent to which the withdrawal of American forces has been so completely and overwhelmingly bungled. In doing so, the media has largely prevented President Joe Biden from deflecting criticism by defending the concept of the withdrawal itself rather than taking responsibility for its failed execution. Although reasonable people can disagree about whether a modest presence of American troops ought to have remained in a country where the United States had not suffered a combat fatality since February of 2020, withdrawing from Afghanistan was broadly popular with the American public and was supported by both former President Donald Trump and President Biden.<p>The execution, however, has represented one of the most startling foreign policy failures in American history, with numerous commentators, officeholders and even a Marine present on the roof of the United States embassy in Saigon during the evacuation there arguing that the Fall of Kabul “definitely is worse” than that of Saigon. American equipment and weapons with a combined value totaling in the billions of dollars were left behind for the Taliban, including even “Black Hawk helicopters and A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft.” The departure took place without the security of the United States embassy in Kabul being assured, and the proverbial cart was put before the force by withdrawing service members ahead of many non-combatants. The Pentagon has indicated that Americans were beaten in the vicinity of Hamid Karzai International Airport and, to make matters worse, a fact-check by The New York Times suggests that President Biden has made numerous false and misleading statements when commenting on the withdrawal including, at times, even contradicting the official line from the Pentagon.<p>Fortunately, the press has been effective in making Americans aware of the goings-on, even when the targets of scrutiny are political figures often favored by many journalists. As Peter Baker writes in The New York Times, “For most of the last week, in the fires of the worst foreign policy crisis of his young administration, the president who won the White House on a promise of competence and compassion has had trouble demonstrating much of either.” The Portuguese author and former politician Bruno Maçães, who wrote a series of excellent dispatches as the withdrawal was unfolding, in one lucid tweet, even wrote, “As someone who never supported Trump or Biden I think I can be impartial when I say Biden has done more to diminish America’s standing in the world in 7 months than Trump in 4 years. I am slightly surprised by this, by the way.”<p>And then there were the headlines and magazine covers, from The Economist’s “Biden’s Debacle” to the New York Post’s “DumKirk”, the latter causing Sohrab Ahmari to quip, "My colleagues are geniuses." Some headlines overstated matters, such as Michael Kazin’s New York Times essay, “To Save His Presidency, Biden Must Tell the Truth About Afghanistan.” News cycles, after all, can come and go, and domestic issues often take precedence over foreign affairs, though it may be the case that the Fall of Kabul will become the event that defines this presidency as the Iran Hostage Crisis arguably did President Jimmy Carter’s. An August 21st USA Today editorial similarly asked if Kabul would become "President Biden's Katrina."<p>The Wall Street Journal, in particular, has boasted an impressive panoply of editorials and commentary pieces on Afghanistan, including guest opinions from former Vice President Mike Pence, Rep. Dan Crenshaw and former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster (the latter written with Bradley Bowman). Other noteworthy papers included Seth J. Frantzman’s thought-provoking Jerusalem Post piece "The Afghan gov't overthrown by Taliban never existed -- ex-soldier"; multiple outlets’ attention to the particularly galling image of Taliban fighters mocking the famous image of American marines raising the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima, and on-the-ground live reporting from journalists remaining in Afghanistan for as long as possible.<p>Then, there were the critics of the critics, who argued some version of: The media provides far more scrutiny to how a war is ended than how one begins, but this makes sense because the national press is generally quite bellicose. Although there may be some truth to the argument put forward by those such as Glenn Greenwald and Pedro Gonzalez that the American press -- from the prelude to World War I on down -- historically has been “pro-war,” in this case, much of the media attention has correctly focused on the failed process of ending the war more than it has fully endorsed continuing the conflict in Afghanistan. And though there were occasions where interview guests such as McMaster made the case for continuing the military presence in Afghanistan on CBS, this, in my view, is a worthwhile perspective at least to hear out.<p>To be sure, this is the most sustained and comprehensive outpouring of criticism of the Biden administration yet seen on the part of the press, and it is more than justified. From the haste of the collapse to long-standing, misleading statements about the competence of the Afghan National Security Forces being revealed to be untrue to watching American citizens being at the mercy of the Taliban when trying to reach the airport for evacuation, recent events in Afghanistan have marked a stunning failure in American military and diplomatic capability.<p>For once, a few gadflies notwithstanding, the press -- from Right to Left -- was unified in bringing into focus the extent of the incompetence that has so frustratingly been on display.<p>Click the social buttons to share this content with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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The Shelf Life of Journalists


In the foreword to the 2015 book Washington Merry-Go-Round: The Drew Pearson Diaries, 1960-1969, the historian Richard Norton Smith writes, "His name is largely forgotten today, but for the middle third of the twentieth century, from Herbert Hoover and the Bonus Army to Richard Nixon's Silent Majority, Drew Pearson enjoyed unrivaled journalistic influence and visibility. As many as 60 million Americans began their day with his "Washington Merry-Go-Round" column, a readership far outstripping that of the Olympian Walter Lippmann or gossipy Walter Winchell." Similarly, a blurb from the University of Nebraska Press, the book's publisher, plainly states: "For most of three decades, Drew Pearson was the most well-known journalist in the United States." However, for those coming of age today, even among professional journalists, Pearson's name likely barely even rings a bell, as obscure now as that of the British businessman Samuel Pearson, Canadian Prime Minister and Nobel Laureate Lester Pearson, or anyone else who happened once to bear that surname.<p>The same fate appears to have also caught up with Walter Lippmann, another storied political commentator and one to whom Smith compares Pearson. Although there are occasional efforts to re-engage with Lippmann's work, perhaps most notably with his influential 1922 book Public Opinion, the extent of influence he once commanded is lost on the majority of the reading public today. As such, might we expect the same for the journalists of today, even the most widely read, quoted and parodied? Even already, I hear those just a few years younger than myself indicating that they have never heard of George F. Will. Perhaps some foreshadowing is already at hand; the second line of Will's Wikipedia page reads: "In 1986, The Wall Street Journal called [Will] 'perhaps the most powerful journalist in America,' in a league with Walter Lippmann (1889–1974)." (I will note that my own career in journalism is somewhat indebted to Will. He wrote me a note when I was 23 encouraging me to plug on, when I was first dabbling in commentary.) Just the same, despite the best efforts of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others, with each passing year it seems that even Christopher Hitchens' inestimable oeuvre is already on its way to being forgotten, a mere decade after his death.<p>Now this is a rather dreary subject upon which for a journalist to reflect. Unlike many a novelist or painter, a journalist's profession is, by its very definition, an inherently public exercise. Even if a given novelist should be content to have his novel read only by a few hundred people so long as he gets his characters just right and his plot just so perfectly constructed, a journalist's success is in some way tied to the extent to which he is read.<p>In a December, 2020 installment of this column, I wondered aloud if news, by its very nature, was ever-fleeting, destined to be forgotten and to begin its inexorable march towards slipping from the reader's mind once the broadcast has ended. This, I feared, was true regardless of the poignancy of the writing or the importance of the subject being covered. Yet, my concern here goes further: I suspect that not only is a given piece of writing or a single essay likely to be forgotten but, further, that an entire body of work can seldom retain notice once the journalist is gone.<p>Indeed, something similar might be said of a number of writers, philosophers and thinkers. We might lament that Ernest Becker, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1973 book The Denial of Death (a book I, too, highly recommend), is all too infrequently brought into discussion by contemporary psychologists and social critics. The same might be said about certain poets, whether that be Robinson Jeffers or Frank O'Hara. But even though they had their fans in their respective heydays, surely nowhere close to 60 million people began their daily routine by reading "The Stars Go Over The Lonely Ocean" or Becker's improvements on Otto Rank.<p>Journalists, as we know, are fond of employing certain self-congratulatory applause lines, and one of them is that they write "the first rough draft of history." In that frame of reference, this all might become more bearable, in the sense that their initial reports provide the eventual fodder for histories written and accounts compiled. But even if this is the case, surely, it must at least be a cause for some disgruntlement to realize that the particular prose or style that makes a given columnist famous is to be pasted over like fine hardwood flooring amid a carpeting craze, as his words are reconfigured, updated and adjudicated.<p>In that December, 2020 column, I invoked Winston Churchill's line that words -- unlike acts of governance -- "are the only things that last forever." In some cases, this is true; one still reads Hobbes, at least in school; even Cicero remains in print. But we journalists tend not to be so fortunate. After all, who was Pete Hamill, anyway?<p><p><p>

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When Does a Journalist Deserve a Second Chance?


By the time Johann Hari's third book, Lost Connections, was released in 2018, his earlier transgressions seemed to have been largely forgotten. Critics rushed to praise Lost Connections'examination of anxiety and depression, two interrelated ills that have apparently been overtaking the West in recent years, as well as perhaps the book's key insight: "Because you are being told depression and anxiety are misfirings of brain chemicals, you will stop looking for answers in your life and your psyche and your environment and how you might change them ... But this pain isn't your enemy, however much it hurts (and Jesus, I know how much it hurts). It's your ally -- leading you away from a wasted life and pointing the way toward a more fulfilling one."<p>Such a positive reception would have been all but unthinkable in 2011 when Hari, who was then 32 and considered one of the most promising up-and-coming voices in journalism, was suspended from his job as a columnist at The Independent for plagiarism. As if the plagiarism alone wasn't bad enough, it also came to light amid increased scrutiny that Hari had surreptitiously edited the Wikipedia pages of journalists who had criticized his work. He later resigned from The Independent, offered to return the prize money he had received as the 2008 recipient of the Orwell Prize, and retreated from the scene, presumably wondering how he might ever be taken seriously again should he look to return to writing.<p>But then, less than three years later, he was back, publishing a rigorous investigation of the war on drugs entitled Chasing the Scream, which would be widely hailed as one of the definitive books written on the subject. On a personal note, after finishing reading both Chasing the Scream and Lost Connections, I was so taken with Hari's writing that I vowed to read whatever books he may have written, no matter the topic. This was until I learned that his only other full-length book was a 2002 monograph advocating for the abolition of the British monarchy, a subject I was unable to muster the interest to explore, regardless of the author writing; being of Irish extraction but having a soft spot for tradition, I'm all too divided on such a question, and, as an American, I'm not sure it's any of my business anyway.<p>Not everyone has been so forgiving of Hari, though, and I certainly understand their hesitancy. Hari himself is evidently also sensitive to well-founded, lingering concerns about his credibility. In response, his books published since The Independent scandal contain links to the audio files of all the interviews he conducted and are referenced in the books' texts, given that his initial plagiarism largely concerned lines that were presented as being from interviews he conducted when they were actually from elsewhere. However, this has not fully assuaged concerns of "once a cheater, always a cheater." As John Harris writes in his Guardian review of Chasing the Scream, "... though it might be nice to set aside the events of 2011 and allow him a fresh start, his misdemeanours inevitably colour your experience of the book."<p>I even recall when an editor wrote to me shortly before a magazine piece of mine was to go to print to inform me that a reference to Lost Connections had to be scrubbed from the final version of my piece because Hari was "not a reputable source." I thought then what I think now: That editor wasn't exactly wrong.<p>So how do we determine when a journalist or a writer ought to be excused for past transgressions and/or breaking prized journalistic protocols, whether that be committing plagiarism, giving up a source, or just outright lying? Surely, some transgressions are worse than others, with putting a source in danger being likely the worst and being perhaps unforgivable. I have tried in the past to answer this question when it comes to politicians: Whether it be Darrell Issa's carjackings, Mitch Daniels turning his Princeton dorm room into the equivalent of Kensington and Allegheny, or a young Beto O'Rourke's drunk driving and burglary charges, is there a statute of limitations of sorts? Does one have to make concrete restitution that goes beyond a simple "apology tour"? Or does one go away for a while and reflect on what happened, as Hari suggests that he did: "Most people restrain their self-aggrandising and cruel impulses, and I failed to ... I think when you do that, when you harm people, you should shut up, go away and reflect on what happened."<p>But the elephant in the room with this entire conversation is that some journalists, very much including certain household name ones, habitually run afoul of journalistic ethics but escape lasting scrutiny. Brian Williams, for instance, seems to have rebounded quite well from his imagined helicopter ride, bringing to mind comedian Bill Burr's take on the general principle: Following an indiscretion, media executives wait that requisite amount of time before bringing a given offender back on the air once said executives determine how much money the offender can make them. The Rachel Maddow Show indeed experienced a ratings dip when Maddow's overwrought predictions about Russian collusion failed to be substantiated, but she is very much back, even amid renewed attention to a 2020 court ruling that she is among "speakers whose statements cannot reasonably be interpreted as allegations of fact." Although recent readership and ratings dips across the industry might have something to do with the hypothesized "post-Trump slump," one cannot help but wonder if the selective enforcement of journalistic accountability might also be a lurking factor.<p>Journalists and commentators from John Derbyshire to Chris Matthews have, for their various reasons, been, as the parlance of the day goes, "cancelled." For a while Hari was among their ranks; however, the Hari Renaissance suggests that second chances are sometimes quite warranted. On the flip side, though, would we really welcome a return of Sabrina Erdely, who infamously concocted the now-retracted Rolling Stone piece "A Rape on Campus"? One does wonder if there might be a way to formalize -- industry-wide -- when a beleaguered journalist deserves a second chance. My intuition, however, continues to be that we might be better served to maintain the discretion of a given news outlet or publisher to determine this for itself.<p><p><p>

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When Covering Crime, an Underreported Piece of the Puzzle


In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution op-ed this June, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr described how his office is prioritizing standing up to a "gang-driven violent crime wave [that] threatens our quality of life and our economy." Asserting that the crime surge Metro Atlanta is currently experiencing is mostly driven by gangs, Carr laid out plans to begin more avidly clamping down on said gang networks. His comments in his recent op-ed were very much in line with priorities he outlined to me when we sat down together for a Merion West interview in Atlanta in 2019. During that discussion, he agreed with the assessment that, for a variety of reasons, the gang component receives a relative paucity of attention during discussions about crime in the United States. In my view, this is true when it comes to both news reporting on crime and policy debates about public safety.<p>Carr's recent comments echo similar statements made by certain political and law enforcement figures who have recently stated their intent to focus on dismantling criminal street gangs, which are widely believed to be responsible for the majority of violent crime in many jurisdictions. All the while, however, in the view of one senior member of law enforcement who has investigated gang crimes for over two decades and spoke to me for this piece on the condition of anonymity, many statements to this effect by political figures are too infrequently backed up by concrete action or by full law enforcement buy-in.<p>Estimates vary, but one January 2009 Department of Justice report estimated that approximately 80% of all crime in many communities is gang-related. Another crystallizing statistic brought into focus by prosecutor and gang expert Mike Carlson is that there are more members of the Bloods alone than there were active members of ISIS during the terrorist group's peak. A 2011 FBI report suggested that there were 1.4 million active gang members in the United States; for context, that is roughly the entire population of the state of Hawaii. (Many in law enforcement, however, believe that the actual number is close to double the reported figure.) But from watching news reporting, including reports specifically on crime, one likely would not realize the extent to which gangs are present in American society.<p>As Carr himself noted to me, some political figures are hesitant to acknowledge the extent of the gang issue in their states and cities. Officeholders, at times, fear drawing attention to the degree of the problem, concerned that doing so might prevent would-be business owners from opening locations in their communities or prospective residents from moving to the area. As such, this presents an opportunity for good journalists, particularly investigative ones, to better explore this issue. Although in recent years some critics have often been correct to notice the striking similarity between the talking points of many journalists and those of "the officials" they are supposed to be covering and probing, one ought not forget that journalism -- when practiced well -- brings to light facts that certain government actors would prefer be kept quiet.<p>Furthermore, when one of the most persistent issues when it comes to understanding the gang problem is a lack of complete statistics (and a widespread belief that law enforcement habitually fails to fully document the gang component when investigating crimes), intrepid news outlets might begin the work of compiling and compellingly presenting such data. The Washington Post, for instance, has succeeded in curating a user-friendly database on police shootings that is widely cited by other media outlets. Admittedly, however, a similar project on gang-related incidents would be more difficult to successfully execute, given that the presence of the gang component in a given incident can require more detective work than the more cut-and-dried question as to whether a police officer was involved.<p>The paradox of sorts is that in recent years there has been a proliferation of criminal justice-related news projects, yet certain topics still continue to be neglected. The Marshall Project, which was founded in 2014 with former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller as its first editor-in-chief, is arguably the most famous such undertaking. But many of these projects, both left-leaning and right-leaning, continue to trot out the same old arguments, while vital issues, from gangs on down, are overlooked. Has sufficient coverage been devoted to analyzing the results of the First Step Act now that two-and-half years have passed since it was signed into law? Similarly, have the potential financial motives that may have contributed to its passage been adequately explored? Is the press seeking to bring into focus the reality that in certain municipalities less than 50% of homicides are ever solved?<p>As some readers of this column may recall, the October 28, 2019 installment of News on the Record was a piece entitled "Media's Under-Coverage of Disease," in which I outlined how the press has tended to devote insufficient coverage to the types of ailments that cause the majority of deaths. Although the near-constant coverage of the pandemic and the growing popularization of certain projects like Stat News have arguably changed the calculus somewhat, certain medical news tends to be habitually under-covered. As such, it ought not be surprising that a similar phenomenon of systemic under-coverage would take place when it comes to the news media's presentation of crime.<p>Better media attention to the gang issue would help the public to understand how gangs of today differ from organized crime of decades past, such as the Italian mafia, in that modern street gangs more liberally use violence, are less concerned with pure money-making, and have fewer qualms about harming innocent bystanders. Further, commentators and reporters would be well-served to investigate the viability of a proposed federal anti-gang law, which proponents believe would have a similar effect on these gangs as RICO laws have had on the mafia. And more attention could be paid to academic findings which make clear that targeted arrests of known gang members can result in significant downticks in crime. Today, at a time when so much media attention is devoted to both crime and proposals to change the criminal justice system, it is as important as ever that the full story always be told.<p><p><p>

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When the United States Registers Last in Trust in the Press


According to a report issued this June by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, of the 46 countries surveyed, the United States ranked last when it came to the country "that trusts most news most of the time." In Denmark, for example, 59% of Danes "trust most news most of the time." In the United States, however, that figure registers at only 29%, a far cry from Portugal's 61%; Nigeria's 54%; or even 45% in Singapore. For anyone who regularly consumes news in the United States, this finding is likely not altogether surprising.<p>As one has, unfortunately, come to expect by now, reactions to these findings included suggestions for doubling down on the very practices that brought about this state of affairs in the first place. Unlike other industries, which shift their strategies according to changing consumer habits or in response to the feedback they receive, the news media has consistently demonstrated its inability (or, more likely, its unwillingness) to change course. Indeed, a given outlet may modify its method of delivery or invest in a new streaming service, but it rarely reconsiders the types of content choices that caused the national press to so overwhelmingly hemorrhage trust and confidence in recent years.<p>If one recalls, in the aftermath of the 2016 election results, an election that journalists and political pundits nearly universally expected to result in a victory for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (along with a Democratic-controlled Senate), news outlets issued their mea culpas. In The New York Times on November 9, 2016, the day after the election, Jim Rutenberg wrote, "And that's why the problem that surfaced on Tuesday night was much bigger than polling. It was clear that something was fundamentally broken in journalism, which has been unable to keep up with the anti-establishment mood that is turning the world upside down." He also predicted that "... you're going to hear a lot from news executives about how they need to send their reporters out into the heart of the country, to better understand its citizenry." And indeed they did; editor after editor pledged to have their journalists spend more time away from the Amtrak corridor so as to better understand the country they were supposed to be covering.<p>Of course they didn't actually do that though. By the time of the 2020 election, the press was again collectively astonished by then-President Donald Trump's ability to capture north of 74 million votes and -- even more so -- by the Republicans' ability to gain 14 seats in the House of Representatives when many forecasters predicted Republicans possibly losing upwards of 20 seats. They were also startled by President Trump's significant gains with non-white voters. This is also paired with the fact that many journalists' preferred policy proposals -- some of which were on the ballot, either explicitly or implicitly, this past November -- are deeply unpopular, even among the demographics many in the press claim to be speaking on behalf of.<p>Further, the Reuters Institute report posed a telling question on "Public attitudes to impartiality." According to that survey's findings, 74% of respondents agreed with the prompt that "News outlets should reflect a range of different views and leave it up to people to decide," as compared to the just 15% who answered conversely that "News outlets should argue for the views that they think are the best." Yet, when it comes to content choices, it seems that most media outlets have things very backwards, as they endlessly advocate for their pet proposals and demonize the ideas (and impugn the character) of their opponents. And this is not even to mention -- as I have discussed previously in this column -- that all of this scrutiny and policy advocacy tends to disappear should their preferred candidate get into office, even if said candidate pursues dramatically different policies once on the side of the campaign.<p>To be clear, however, this all goes much deeper than simple partisan politics. Although this column has discussed at length many of the maladies ailing the American press, from its relative lack of coverage of certain very pressing issues to its disinterest in issuing corrections when reports later turn out to be untrue, perhaps the most concerning feature is its inability to deviate from consensus, pre-approved narratives. 2021's iteration of journalism sorely lacks this much-needed air of skepticism, particularly of its preferred political actors' talking points. This has been very much on display in coverage of the Coronavirus pandemic, where many in the news media refused -- for over a year -- to consider alternatives to the official story, offered by the World Health Organization and China, about the origin of the virus. It was only when certain favored figures began to question if the virus, indeed, had a natural origin that the national press began retreating from throwing around terms like "debunked conspiracy theory" and finally assumed the air of humility that it ought to have had all along while we wait for more definitive answers.<p>There is a certain intellectual cowardice that mars today's news media, a lack of courage to entertain any explanation that might deviate even for a moment from the consensus opinion or the preferred view of those hailed as "experts." But all of this can evaporate quite quickly when these experts turn out, upon closer examination, to have been incorrect. Wilfred McClay perhaps put it best: "We love to mock conventional wisdom, so long as it is yesterday's wisdom."<p>It is unclear when interpreting the Reuters Institute report if the American press is uniquely flawed in the world or if American media consumers are simply more attuned to sniffing out journalistic shortcomings. However, the political scientist John Gerring is correct to note that, "Any argument in which the unit of analysis is a country rests -- at least implicitly -- on cross-national comparisons." The study does, as I alluded to, indicate a very concrete area for improvement: Show a greater range of perspectives on a given issue. I certainly would have a few more to add, but foremost among them is imploring journalists, editors and producers alike to be simultaneously more humble and more courageous when considering possibilities that challenge the given orthodoxy of a given day.<p><p><p>

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The Ugliness of Journalists Celebrating the Deaths of American Politicians


On the afternoon of June 30th, the family of Donald Rumsfeld issued a statement acknowledging the death of the former Secretary of Defense and White House Chief of Staff. The statement, in part, read: "History may remember him for his extraordinary accomplishments over six decades of public service, but for those who knew him best and whose lives were forever changed as a result, we will remember his unwavering love for his wife Joyce, his family and friends, and the integrity he brought to a life dedicated to country." It only took a matter of minutes for journalists to begin chiming in and, in many cases, doing nothing short of celebrating.<p>Gabriella Paiella, a staff writer at GQ, posted a meme of a smiling woman, captioned "Thinking about Donald Rumsfeld in hell." She would be joined by Aída Chávez, The Nation's D.C. correspondent, who replied to Rumsfeld's family's statement with "Bye B—h." The German journalist Tilo Jung would also weigh in: "Rot in Hell #Rumsfeld." And these were just a few of the countless celebratory posts that graced social media in the immediate aftermath of Rumsfeld's death being announced -- not to mention the accompanying vandalism of his Wikipedia page. Unfortunately, this outpouring of internet glee is hardly surprising, with it having also taken place following the deaths of a number of political and media figures in recent years. But even in our current age of gracelessness, celebrating a person's death is still startlingly low, and it is especially beneath those in the press. Modern journalists, even if they rarely live up to this ideal, are supposed to be covering our political figures objectively and, just as importantly, relatively dispassionately.<p>To be clear, one would be well within his rights to criticize Rumsfeld, particularly for certain decisions he made during his second stint as Secretary of Defense during the administration of President George W. Bush, from 2001 to 2006. (Rumsfeld also served as President Gerald Ford's second Secretary of Defense from 1975 to 1977.) However, there is a time and place for such evaluations of a figure's place in history, and they are better left for later -- after the dust has settled and the family has had a chance to mourn in relative peace. Further, the tone of such criticisms -- when they do begin to emerge -- should keep to the facts and refrain from the sort of outbursts that littered Twitter throughout the day on June 30th.<p>Not all reactions to Rumsfeld's death were negative. CNN's Jake Tapper tweeted a quotation from the man himself: "When I was a Navy pilot, the rule if you're lost is to climb, conserve and confess. Get some altitude. Take a deep breath and get on the radio and say you're lost." In doing so, Tapper helped to remind us all that there was more to the man than just his stint at the Pentagon; he had, after all, been a naval aviator and flight instructor long before he entered Congress, became a confident to President Ford, or was considered for the vice presidential nomination on the 1980 Republican ticket.<p>President George W. Bush would also extend his condolences, recalling that despite his high rank Rumsfeld "... ran into the fire at the Pentagon to assist the wounded and ensure the safety of survivors" on the morning of September 11th. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also issued a kind remembrance. The Colorado radio host (and former FEMA head) Michael D. Brown expressed his condolences: "Donald Rumsfeld was an incredibly decent human being. While we may have disagreed on a few policy issues, he was incredibly supportive of me during the Bush Administration. I loved the man for his behind-the-scenes advice, support and mentoring. RIP, Mr. Secretary."<p>All of those who hold high-ranking government posts (at least for any length of time) in the United States have -- almost by definition -- mixed records; the enormous role that the United States occupies in the world always allows for charges of incorrect action or inaction. President George W. Bush deserves enormous criticism for the War in Iraq, yet, at the same time, he is nothing short of a hero in much of sub-Saharan Africa due to his administration's efforts to curb HIV in the region. The same might be said of current President Joe Biden; he might, on the one hand, be hailed for his ability to negotiate deals between the White House and Capitol Hill while Vice President and also be rightly criticized for his role in helping to bring about passage of the Iraq Resolution in 2002 when he was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.<p>As those who follow my writings know well, I am no fan of the foreign policy of the Bush administration and have also been deeply critical of efforts to rehabilitate the images of neoconservative figures such as Bill Kristol and David Frum during the Trump years. I also continue to view the War in Iraq as the most profound failure of American governance during the last half-century. But that is no excuse for those who also share this view to celebrate a man's death so shamelessly, particularly if they are employed as journalists tasked with level-headedly keeping the public informed.<p>On September 14, 2001, just three days after the deadly attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, journalism professor Robert Jensen, someone I've since come to know well, wrote a column in the Houston Chronicle arguing that, though the attacks were "reprehensible and indefensible," they were "no more despicable than the massive acts of terrorism -- the deliberate killing of civilians for political purposes -- that the U.S. government has committed during my lifetime." Again, there is a time and place to make an argument such as that one (and, to be clear, I do not share Jensen's view on this subject), but it is not in the immediate aftermath of such loss of life, while people are still so acutely mourning. In a similar vein, in the years to come, we can evaluate Rumsfeld's legacy, his role in the unfounded claim of "weapons of mass destruction," Abu Ghraib, and in so much of the needless loss of life that took place in Iraq in the early 2000s.<p>In the meantime, however, it is only appropriate to allow his family time to grieve in peace.<p><p><p>

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Lurking Variables


Continuing on the subject of my previous column about mass shootings and other high-profile acts of violence, it is worth noting that perpetrators' mental well-being (or lack thereof) tends to feature prominently. In the case of Robert Aaron Long, Will Carless reporting at USA Today writes, "At one point, [Tyler] Bayless [Long's former roommate] said Long gave him a knife to take care of because he feared he would harm himself with it." Although we shall await more conclusive reports about the suspect's mental health, as Jeffrey Flier, former Dean of the Harvard Medical School, put it in April, "People who commit mass murders and politically motivated murders frequently (not always) suffer from serious mental illness. The press needs more consistent criteria for identifying this as an apparent cause, as opposed to alternative narratives that fit the story of the moment."<p>Jared Lee Loughner, who shot then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and fatally gunned down six others in 2011, would be diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia following his arrest and was initially determined incompetent to stand trial. John Hinckley Jr., who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan and in the process severely injured Press Secretary James Brady, suffered from mental illness, with his oft-discussed obsession with Jodie Foster being one notable manifestation. The mental health variable was also at play with Mark David Chapman, who murdered John Lennon in 1980. Even as far back as 1881, Charles J. Guiteau, the man who shot President James Garfield ostensibly in retaliation for being passed over for a job appointment, was hardly the poster boy for mental equanimity prior to the attack. More than a half-decade before Guiteau shot the President, his father believed his son to be possessed by the devil; Guiteau threatened his sister with an ax; and Guiteau thought that -- like the Apostle Paul -- he had been sent on a divine mission "to preach the Gospel."<p>It is perhaps for this reason that journalist Melissa Chan weighed in this April by writing, "My hunch is that mental healthcare is to gun violence as to what nuclear energy is to climate change. It's what we need to do given where we are and the problem we want to solve, but there's almost no political will to do it." With that said, a distinction ought to be drawn between those perpetrating high-profile acts of violence and those who might more opportunistically engage in the more impromptu acts of street violence that have, unfortunately, led to so many people in recent months, including Asian-Americans, being harmed. However, as we will see later, the mental variable can be at play in the latter case too.<p>So to conclude our discussion of Long, which began in the first installment of this column, it is worth noting that some actions can be read symbolically (i.e. how many commentators and news anchors chose to interpret the Atlanta shootings), but said actions need not necessarily be read that way. Fortunately, when it comes to seeking to engage with and address violence against Asian-Americans, we have statistics on which to rely, and statistics tend to tell more complete -- albeit less sensational -- stories.<p>As I mentioned in part one of this column, increasing numbers of violent crimes with Asian-Americans victims did not emerge overnight, and they actually predated the arrival of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). In October of 2016, NBC News reported that "hate crimes reported in Los Angeles County increased 24 percent in 2015, from 390 reports in 2014 to 483 last year" and that crimes impacting Chinese-Americans saw the most dramatic surge. According to the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, "Half of reported hate crimes were racially motivated, 25 percent were motivated by sexual orientation, and twenty percent were motivated by religion." So, as to the latter point, it appears that -- in some of the cases -- another characteristic apart from (or in addition to) ethnicity may have predominated, when it came to motivation.<p>This increase in crimes against Asian-Americans in Los Angeles mirrored an overall increase in the amount of crime in California from 2014 to 2015, with The Los Angeles Times reporting that violent crime in the state increased 10% overall during the year, with a 9.7% uptick in homicides, robbery and aggravated assault increasing by 8%, and hate crimes experiencing a 10.4% leap. This data from California provides further corroboration for those who see the recent uptick in crimes against Asian-Americans as being inseparable from an increase in crime in general, as well as linked to various policing and prosecutorial practices that became popular in many urban areas, including in New York and Los Angeles, during the 2010s.<p>In the days following May 5th of this year, news outlets the world-over digested the New York City Police Department's release of citywide crime statistics for April, 2021. Homicides were up; rapes had surged by 52.8% from April 2020, and grand larceny had increased by 66.1% from the same period last year. Most dramatically, however, crimes against people of Asian descent had surged by 400% in 2021, as compared to 2020 levels. Many of these attacks, which were captured on video, were startling in their barbarity. Perhaps most infamous, at least to date, was the March 29th attack of a 65-year-old Filipina woman as she walked to church. The alleged perpetrator, Brandon Elliot, a parolee previously convicted of stabbing his own mother to death (and who had also been arrested for robbery), yelled anti-Asian slurs at the woman, told her "You don't belong here," and then "kicked her in the stomach, knocked her to the ground, [and] stomped on her face." Two doormen at the building in front of where the attack took place did nothing to intervene, and one closed the building's door as the victim lay injured in the aftermath of the attack.<p>Other cases -- in both New York and across the country -- were also disturbingly violent. However, as I have stressed, easy explanations remain elusive; factors from mental health to changes in bail and policing policies to the boiling over of long-standing ethnic tensions in certain parts of the country likely have all converged to contribute to this recent surge in violence.<p>The veneer of civilization, as it is often said, is thin, and now that this has become a known phenomenon, unfortunately, copycat effects can take hold, where individuals predisposed to aggression -- regardless perhaps of their previous feelings about Asian-Americans -- may decide to lash out in this way. All of this, for our purposes, is to say that a topic as multifaceted and complex as this one is not easily captured by instantaneous media rushes to judgement or reductive slogans. For this reason, if the press is going to be of help as the United States seeks to understand the causes of (and, thus, potential solutions to) this tragic trend, a more careful engagement with statistics, the history of the issue and the numerous possible contributing factors will be urgently needed.<p><p><p>

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The Press and Perpetrators of Mass Shootings


In May of 2018, Kyle Kashuv, a survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that had taken place in Florida three months prior, authored an op-ed -- co-written with Tyler Grant -- arguing that when news outlets report on mass casualties shootings, they should refrain from naming or showing the likeness of the perpetrator. Asserting that a desire for notoriety was one of the primary motivators of mass shooters, the authors write, "... it's imperative to snuff out the sinister aspirations of potential mass shooters by refusing to give perpetrators the notoriety and fame they seek." In turn, the hope was that by removing this pathway to fame (and, thus, the concomitant sense of immortality), would-be mass shooters would think twice before acting, knowing that such acts of violence would no longer result in the world knowing their names.<p>Kashuv's op-ed was hardly the first endorsement of this idea (it was being floated at least as early as 2012); however, by 2019, as Kelly McBride noted in a post on the Poynter Institute's website, this had become basically the norm for news organizations. Commenting on the coverage of the May 31, 2019 mass shooting in Virginia Beach that left 12 people dead, McBride indicated that, "As [news organizations] told the story of the 12 murders, the vast majority of newspapers and TV stations covering the tragedy embraced the practice of not using the shooter's name unless it was absolutely necessary." (This was true even of the above linked AP story released that day.) McBride also pointed to this change in practice as evidence of the news industry's alleged growing adaptability: "For an industry that is often criticized for being slow to change, this development is remarkable." However, by the time of the Atlanta spa shootings on March 16th of this year, McBride seemed to have changed her tune. It had turned out, after all, that reducing the amount of coverage devoted to perpetrators was not the panacea that Kashuv and others had hoped it would be; mass casualties shootings were still taking place, and McBride was now outlining -- on March 25th of this year -- criteria news outlets should follow when determining "when a gunman should be named." So much for a relatively minor change in reporting protocols putting an end to humanity's oldest vice: a predilection for violence.<p>Further, this policy of diverting focus away from the perpetrators of crimes -- like many untested changes in how things are done -- produced a set of unintended consequences, in addition to predictably failing to put an end to gun violence. I might pause briefly to suggest that it is a betrayal of journalistic responsibility to begin making utilitarian calculuses such as with the one championed by Kashuv and a 2019 era McBride, rather than remaining committed to journalism's fundamental purpose of providing as accurate and complete information as is possible. In any event, this now-commonplace tendency of diverting focus away from the unique facts concerning a given perpetrator would be paired with the news media's worst habit (i.e., jumping to conclusions), and this created a flurry of premature judgements in the aftermath of the March shooting in Atlanta.<p>Determining a perpetrator's intent can be a complicated process and, even in the cases where it might be more straightforward, intent cannot be known with any degree of certainty within just minutes or hours of the initial report that a shooting has taken place. Yet this did not stop the rush to judgement; immediately upon learning that the victims of the shooting were Asian-Americans, commentators determined (and wrote and tweeted and posted) that the alleged perpetrator, Robert Aaron Long, must have had racial animus on his mind, like say Dylann Roof, who murdered nine African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. Roof would later confess that he had hoped the shooting would trigger a race war, and Roof's victims were targeted specifically because of their race.<p>The issue, however, was that Long -- in interviews with law enforcement in the time shortly after his arrest -- indicated that he targeted the spa parlors "for providing an outlet for his addiction to sex." Describing the apparent motive, Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee Sheriff's Office said that "It's a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate ... He said it was not racially motivated." All of this threw into doubt the knee-jerk assumption that the victims' ethnicity was essential to -- rather than incidental to -- them having been targeted by the perpetrator. In light of this revelation, commentators such as Andrew Sullivan asked, "If and when the New York Times' and WaPo's hate-crime narrative … collapses as a trial is held, do you think they will acknowledge it? Me neither." Underpinning Sullivan's point is that trials by jury are always preferable to trials by journalists, and that speculation ought not replace earnest engagement with the particular facts of a case.<p>The trial is not yet upon us; perhaps it will emerge that the ethnicity of the victims did play a part in the suspect's thinking or at least that it was a contributing factor. After all, many things in life, including violent crimes, are overdetermined, with more than one factor contributing. However, as it stands now, it appears that the intent stemmed from religiously motivated guilt about sex rather than racial animus. (With that said, we have recently learned that -- after initial uncertainty -- the Fulton County District Attorney's Office will also seek to persuade the jury that Long's acts also constituted a hate crime, "which carries an additional penalty" under Georgia law.) Yet, it still remains eminently possible that this shooting just so happened to coincide with the very real increase in crimes with Asian-American victims, an increase which appears to have begun its ascent as early as 2015 in Los Angeles. At least one reality has become clear: the "Let's not talk about the suspect -- only the victim(s)" solution has so far caused its own set of problems.<p>Image at top by Daniele Levis Pelusi / Unsplash<p><p><p>

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Wikipedia Wars


When I was in college, one of the taunts frequently leveled by Harvard students against those of us from their sworn rival, Yale, was "Yale Cites Wikipedia." It was a charge that was scrawled upon homemade signs that were rolled out for "the Game," the annual football contest between the two universities that takes place each November. It was in reference, of course, to professors' frequent admonition to avoid citing Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the Internet encyclopedia that boastsa global Alexa rank of 13, can be edited by anyone, even though a small circle of editors oversees said edits and actually makes the majority themselves. Given that anyone can contribute to articles regardless of their actual expertise, teachers and professors generally cautioned students against citing the encyclopedia, given concerns about vandalism or, more prosaically, that content there simply underwent a less rigorous editing and fact-checking process than points in books, academic papers, or even news articles.<p>This was indeed the conventional wisdom for the majority of the time subsequent to Wikipedia's founding and popularization in the early 2000s: that Wikipedia was less credible than more traditional sources of information, particularly its competitor encyclopedias such as the Encyclopedia Britannica. However, then came the era of a renewed appreciation for decentralization. Building on the economist Friedrich Hayek's famous 1945 paper "The Use of Knowledge in Society," proponents of decentralization -- including Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales -- theorized that aggregating diffuse sources of knowledge might better approximate the truth than relying only on a few established experts. (Hayek's paper, one may recall, poignantly states, "[T]he knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess.")<p>Along came Uber and other ride-sharing apps that relied on similar theories of knowledge and threatened traditional taxi companies. Airbnb, similarly, appeared ascendant. So it was no small leap to think that Wales would be proven correct in his assessment that the truth was to be best arrived at through amalgamating all the bits of knowledge held by humanity at-large, or at least all of humanity in possession of reliable Internet access. Finally, those who had a predilection for citing Wikipedia had a persuasive, intellectually-grounded rejoinder to present to their Wikipedia-skeptical professors.<p>But then, reality, as they say, asserted itself. I recall for instance my friend, the author Allen Hornblum, whom I also made reference to in another recent column, detailing the inaccuracies that littered the Wikipedia page of the subject of the latest biography he authored: tennis great Bill Tilden. Rattling off the errors that must have led numerous tennis enthusiasts browsing his page astray, Hornblum describes Tilden's Wikipedia page -- at the time of his writing -- claiming that Tilden failed to make his college team (he did make the team), graduated from the University of Pennsylvania (he left prior to getting a degree), while also misstating other basic details of his biography.<p>And then it turned out that upon closer examination, Wikipedia was not as much in the business of aggregating innumerable tidbits of information from people the world-over as might have been initially expected. In reality, Wikipedia's most loyal and active editors contribute the vast majority of edits. According to one 2017 Purdue University survey, approximately 1% of Wikipedia's editors generate 77% of the site's content. In addition to this Pareto distribution on steroids, the authors of the Purdue survey also suggest that Wikipedia can be correctly characterized as hierarchical, despite its veneer of a pure democracy of information. Further, the encyclopedia has experienced difficulty in retaining "editors that stayed two months after their first edit."<p>In recent years, though, the primary criticisms of Wikipedia have concerned allegations of widespread political bias. Wikipedia even boasts an article on the site entitled "Ideological bias on Wikipedia." (This continues a rather praise-worthy characteristic of the encyclopedia: its attention within its own pages to controversies dealing with the site,from "Reliability of Wikipedia" to the debate about how extensive a role co-founder Larry Sanger played in the encyclopedia's development.) To this point, one notices that many Wikipedia citations, particularly when it comes to articles on political matters, reference opinion columns and editorials, rather than more objective news articles. This is coupled with the frequent use of politically-slanted language, as well as selective coverage of certain topics. (This final point -- the bias of story selection -- is one that also routinely affects news outlets and has been discussed in other columns.)<p>And this is where Sanger again enters the picture. In May of last year, Sanger authored an essay on his website entitled "Wikipedia Is Badly Biased." Throughout the piece, which would be widely shared, he enumerates several examples of where Wikipedia articles show considerable political bias, from the relative lack of entries or entry sub-sections dealing with scandals that have affected Democratic Party politicians (as opposed to Republicans) to how certain hot-button issues are framed. For instance, to this latter point, Sanger discusses how Wikipedia's article on drug legalization devotes a paucity of attention to potential hazards or risks of legalization; instead, in Sanger's view, "it mostly serves as a brief for legalization." As a result, Sanger affirms the need for an online encyclopedia committed to neutrality and non-bias, as well as a place for a true democracy of knowledge. It seems he never lost faith in the original mission of Wikipedia.<p>However, believing now that for Wikipedia, the genie is already out of the bottle, Sanger has instead thrown his weight behind a new project called the Encyclosphere. Modeled after the blogosphere -- in the sense that there is no central authority overseeing all of the world's blogs -- the Encyclosphere will lack that small group of editors that, in Sanger's view, led Wikipedia away from its original, lofty mission. It remains to be seen how Sanger's latest project will unfold. However, in the meantime as various media observers wonder if something is to be gained from crowdsourcing news content or seeking alternatives to the editor-writer relationship, the story of Wikipedia reminds us of a time-honored truth: There often remains a disconnect between theory and how things unfold in practice.<p><p><p>

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Speaking with NewsNation Anchor Adrienne Bankert


In mid-April, NewsNation announced the addition of Adrienne Bankert (pictured at top), who had previously served as a national correspondent for ABC News since 2015, to its lineup of on-air journalists. The plan is for Bankert to complement NewsNation‘s prime-time cast as she delivers various special reports that will broadcast on existing NewsNation programming, such as NewsNation Prime with Marni Hughes, Rob Nelson and Albert Ramon and The Donlon Report. This comes at a time when the network is looking to expand its viewership and increasingly appeal to an audience potentially looking for alternatives to the sensationalism and partisan-alignment that tends to characterize cable news shows.As has also been covered recently at MediaVillage, other recent additions to NewsNation’s crew have included Ashleigh Banfield, who began hosting the 10 p.m. program Banfieldin March of this year, and Joe Donlon, who hosts the 7 p.m. show The Donlon Report.<p>In an interview for this piece, Bankert began by describing a sense of positivity and possibility that struck her when she first arrived at NewsNation’s Chicago newsroom. “It is a very new operation,” she said. “It’s a beautiful facility. It’s just stunning, and there’s been just an overall optimism.” She then alluded to the reason she joined NewsNation -- one she suspects is shared by her colleagues. “I want to do stories where all sides are represented as best as can be, and also provide some hope, provide some solutions,” Bankert said.<p>Interested in<p>Nexstar InSites<p>READ MORE<p>NewsNation, as I discussed in a previous piece on The Donlon Report, has staked its positioning on an effort to return to a less narrative-driven brand of news reporting. And this is a point Bankert echoed to me when stating her belief that “especially after the past year, Americans are looking for something different. And I believe that they are tired of divisiveness, and debate, and hate, in whatever context that is expressed.”<p>During Bankert’s tenure at ABC News, her reporting was featured on programs such as Good Morning America, World News Tonight and Nightline, and many of those reports took the form of interviews. As such, Bankert and I discussed her approach to conducting interviews, something she plans to be doing frequently during the course of her upcoming assignments for NewsNation. Distinguishing herself from those who argue that journalism ought to be -- when best practiced --adversarial in nature, Bankert emphasized her view that the role of the journalist is to see each guest eye-to-eye so that their story and perspective can take center stage. To this effect, she indicated, “I want somebody to feel safe enough to feel themselves, because that is when it is a real conversation. Some people could say, ‘Oh, that’s giving a pass to someone,’ but I refuse to judge them. I believe we can be respectful even with those we do not agree with. We can promote dignity even when speaking on difficult topics.“<p>It is then, in Bankert’s view, that the viewer can see the interviewee’s views clearly and without the undue influence of the interviewer. “I don’t have to ask a question that will antagonize someone for their true colors to show,” she said.<p>Like Joe Donlon, she conceded that there was still a long journey ahead for NewsNation to begin to compete in full with its more established cable news counterparts. But Bankert indicated that “every time I’ve talked to someone and talk about the mission of NewsNation, they said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve been looking for something like that.’” As I have discussed before, the challenge remains to encourage viewers -- now long accustomed to more evocative approaches to news programming -- to sample a tamer approach and then make a habit of opting for this over its more dramatic alternatives. There does tend to be a disconnect between readers and viewers maintaining in the abstract that they prefer “just the facts” but then, in practice, continuing to gravitate towards, say, The Rachel Maddow Show or Hannity.<p>Bankert appeared sensitive to this tension when I raised it to her. In response, though, she reaffirmed her intuition that a constant bombardment of politically charged content across the airwaves may lead viewers NewsNation’s way once they learn about the network. “A lot of times, the divisiveness has become like the third person in the room for the drama or the excitement that it delivers in a broadcast,” she said. “I think that [alternatively] the welcome is that universal language that the viewers -- and more viewers, as they get word about our network -- are going to enjoy.”<p>One does notice that NewsNation’s programming has been attracting a number of notable recent guests of the household name variety. Some of these have included Matt Taibii, who featured prominently in my recent piece on NewsNation’s The Donlon Report, as well as, for instance, The Sopranos’ Steven Van Zandt, who appeared on Banfield earlier this month, and former ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Sam Donaldson. Regularly featuring guests such as these, particularly when partnered with the growing number of additions to the network’s on-air talent, suggests that the network’s supply side -- so to speak -- is already well underway.<p>Now, it is just a matter of tending to that demand side. As Bankert put it, “I think it’s up to me and all of the members of our team to share this in whatever way that means. Call your friends, tell your family, post on social media ... because people are just getting to know what NewsNation is. Now, we have the chance to introduce them. Once they are introduced, they can make the decision for themselves. We just want everyone, no matter what side they are on, to know they are invited.”<p><p><p>

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Why Aren't Journalists Sadder? (Part Two)


Today, many journalists are being correctly castigated for invoking the emotional distress that can sometimes accompany serious works of journalism to deflect criticisms of their reporting or opinions. This invocation regarding distress rings all the more hollow for those journalists opining largely on political issues from the safety (and comfort) of newsrooms in places such as New York and Washington.<p>Writer's note: This is the second installment of a two-part column seeking to answer questions -- partially through the lens of differing explanations for the death of Kevin Carter -- about the degree to which covering difficult subject matter takes a toll on journalists. Part one can be found here.<p>As was discussed in part one of this series, there is no doubt that covering certain stories affects a person: what Matt Rainey is referring to when he describes those emotional evenings driving home from the hospital's burn unit after spending the day photographing Simons and Llanos. However, the same is no doubt true for other professions; from policing to medicine, many professions subject their practitioners to emotionally jarring environments. It is not as if this is a phenomenon in any way unique to journalism, as some of the proverbial loudest voices in the room have seemed recently to suggest.<p>When it comes to handling these environments, I suppose that -- whether in journalism or, say, nursing -- one simply gets used to it. For instance, as a child, I recall an elderly aunt of mine describing that, when she was a nursing student, she passed out while witnessing a childbirth for the first time. But, within a matter of weeks, she barely batted an eye. Read cynically, this is not altogether unlike the answer a hardened criminal gives to, "How did you do all those awful things?" when he replies, "It was only hard the first time." Detachment need not necessarily be an ideal for which to strive, particularly in fields such as journalism where an empathetic eye can sometimes lead to better work. However, at the same time, what is the alternative to at least a degree of detachment, to developing some thicker skin? To allow the subject of one's journalism to consume you.<p>Rainey believes that "photojournalists are generally very emotional people, to begin with. Compassion and empathy are at the heart of photojournalism." Yet this was a starkly different answer from the one I received from Jeff Widener when I posed to him this same question (in 2018) about the extent to which his journalism took an emotional toll on him. (Widener was the one to snap Tank Man during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.)<p>As Widener told me then, "To tell you the truth, I am drawn to these dangerous events, even though they scare the hell out of me. I am sure a shrink would have a field day with that, but I am not the only newsperson out there who feels this way. I guess there is an adrenaline rush in trying to capture images under dangerous situations and making it out alive." So, for him, being in close proximity to the action appears to be one of the reasons he entered the field in the first place or, at least, why he remained.<p>As I discussed in part one, commentators almost certainly were jumping to conclusions when they seemed to imply that Kevin Carter's suicide was an occupational hazard of journalism -- an occupational hazard that potentially could affect any journalist covering difficult subject matter, if he let it get the better of him. Widener, though, indicated in that same interview, "I have never been depressed or suicidal, though I have heard confessions from other photographers about it, and some have actually gone through with it." This leads one to suspect that this entire discussion is as much (if not more) about the journalist than the subject.<p>Discerning writers have noted the contrast between various writers' worldviews and their day-to-day happiness; to this point, there were the philosophical optimists near-certain that -- through just the right amount of rationality and effort -- a veritable utopia could, indeed, be found on earth. Yet, some of these very philosophical optimists, such as John Stuart Mill, were downright miserable on a day-to-day basis and in their personal lives. All the while, other writers with a more tragic view of the world and of human nature, like Anton Chekhov, hummed along rather cheerfully while they worked. (Tolstoy, for instance, considered Chekhov, the man, to be the epitome of gracefulness, as well as a "simply wonderful" person in his demeanor.) Again, it is often more a matter of the disposition the writer has than his subject.<p>As such, it is probably not as simple as saying that if Carter had become a chef rather than a journalist, he would still be alive. Just the same, one would be silly to seek to argue that his close proximity to so much heartache did not likely aggravate preexisting depressive tendencies. As we know from Hornblum's comments, witnessing such things could have just as easily motivated another journalist to want all the more to live on, to expose their taking place, and to work to remediate them.<p>The current crop of journalists -- particularly those at the household name outlets -- are rivaled now only perhaps by psychologists in the degree of their self-focus. They seem endlessly to tweet about how hard it is to be a journalist, as if journalists have a monopoly on suffering. In doing so, particularly for the ones who hammer away on keyboards far from war zones and tsunamis, they trivialize the toll that reporting under true stress or adverse conditions can take. If one is Kevin Carter watching children succumb to starvation or Anna Politkovskaya reporting from Crimea under known threats to her life, that is, of course, another matter entirely. The jury may still be out on the new generation of journalists; however, as for the old guard, it seems as though few generalizations can be made when it comes to discerning if sorrow is a natural accompaniment to serious works of journalism.<p><p><p>

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Sitting Down with "The Donlon Report's" Joe Donlon


Just over a month ago -- on March 1st -- The Donlon Report debuted on NewsNation. Broadcasting on weeknights at 7pm Eastern, the show, which is hosted by the eponymous Joe Donlon, positions itself as an alternative to the fast-talking and often hyper-partisan shows that have all but defined cable news television. Complementing NewsNation's initial focus on providing middle-of-the-road reporting with an emphasis on analysis rather than commentary, shows such as The Donlon Report also aim to inject a touch of personality to the reporting. To this point, The Donlon Report joins a NewsNation evening line-up also consisting of shows such as Ashleigh Banfield's Banfield. (Watch Jack Myers' Legends & Leaders Conversation with Ashleigh Banfield.)<p>Donlon comes to this role after having spent his career in local television, having worked at KVOA-TV in Tucson, Arizona and, notably, at KGW-TV in Portland, Oregon. (He spent just shy of 21 years at the latter post.) Once Donlon left Oregon and began as an anchor on WGN-9 in Chicago in April '18, he then shifted over to NewsNation during the company-wide rebrand in September 2020. In an interview for this piece, I asked Donlon if he believes that his experience as a career local news journalist situates him particularly well for hosting his current show. I contrasted his experience in local journalism with that of other cable news hosts, who began their careers at more ideologically-aligned news outlets, such as, say, Tucker Carlson at The Weekly Standard or Chris Hayes at In These Times. To this, Donlon replied:<p>Interested in<p>Nexstar InSites<p>READ MORE<p>"Yeah, I've spent my career walking down the middle, or doing my best to try and walk down the middle. I think it does position me well for this. I think -- maybe -- people might watch and expect (or want) more passion or emotion. I want answers; I want people -- at the end of the hour -- to feel like they're smarter. I'm not a provocateur."<p>However, this point notwithstanding, Donlon and I discussed avoiding the pitfalls of those shows that endeavor so much to avoid any perception of bias or sensationalism that they drift too far to the other direction and become unnecessarily dry. As such, Donlon emphasized that he still "leans one way or the other on the guest" and that even though he is "not the bang on the desk, fiery host," there will be some of the occasional "testy exchange" or impassioned back-and-forth on The Donlon Report. As an example of one such exchange, Donlon pointed to an interview with Jenna Ellis, one of former President Donald Trump's attorneys, when she appeared on The Donlon Report in early March.<p>To the point of the show's effort to present various political perspectives, Donlon drew attention to one recurring segment on the show: Republican political operative John Hancock and Democratic political consultant Michael Sean Kelley debating various political topics or policy initiatives. In his interview with me, Donlon remarked that Hancock and Kelley share a close friendship that transcends their differences of opinion, and, exemplifying this, the two men were even playing pool together when Donlon had called to see if they would be interested in becoming regular guests on his show. Hancock and Kelley perhaps can, thus, serve as a 2021 version of a James Carville and Mary Matalin-style showcase in not letting one's political differences eclipse all else. This makes them worthwhile recurring guests for The Donlon Report, particularly given Donlon's remarks to me about the importance of finding shared jumping off points in an ideologically fissiparous nation such as ours.<p>The challenge for The Donlon Report is, of course, two-fold. First, as a new entrant into an already-crowded cable news space, it must seek to either pry away viewers from its immensely popular counterparts on Fox, CNN or MSNBC or encourage those who have been turned off by the typical cable news experience to give this more tame presentation of the news a chance. The second challenge is -- in a way -- up against human nature: As much as people, in the abstract, tend to voice a desire for non-partisan, fact-driven explanations of the issues of the day, they tend to vote with their feet (or their remotes) otherwise -- opting instead for the rancor and high jinks. (However, one might argue that that is just what they have become in the habit now of seeking, as the sensational has come -- perhaps just temporarily, though -- to rule the day.)<p>In fairness, as Matt Taibbi indicated when joining The Donlon Report on March 31st, the evening after my conversation with Joe Donlon, there is likely an untapped middle so to speak of people who are looking for something other than endless defenses of a given party line. As I discussed in a column in November of last year, CNN and SiriusXM's Michael Smerconish has persistently made a career for himself do something of this sort. And, further, the near-endless expressions of frustrations with the current news industry overheard daily -- and confirmed by the surveys -- does suggest that more of a "just the facts" approach could, very well, find receptive ears.<p>The alternative to what Taibbi described on The Donlon Report as the dominant media business model of today (i.e. "picking a demographic and dominating it") is to replicate more what the networks of yesteryear did (and were, in a sense, required to do): Go "after the entire audience." Donlon was quick to chime in that, as Taibbi knows, that is what NewsNation has been looking to do. The last three quarters of a century of advertising in the news space have, of course, largely been predicated on one of the ideas implied by Taibbi: When a news outlet can reach a broader audience, it can be attractive to a range of advertisers. However, recent developments in the news space (in online, print and television) have challenged that once conventional wisdom.<p>Donlon recognizes, only a month into his show's existence, that there is a long journey ahead: "It's an uphill climb...I think everyone realized that this was not going to be easy, and it wasn't going to be quick, so we plow on...and we adjust and we improvise." Taking a longer-term view, Donlon also zoomed out, comparing the current era at NewsNation to the early days of Fox News or CNN: "Considering where CNN was in the beginning, and where Fox was in the beginning, we're pretty well positioned." That positioning, of course, rests on the bet -- as Taibbi suggested -- that there is a sizable lurking audience eager for level-headed analysis, if only they would give it a chance.<p><p><p>

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Why Aren't Journalists Sadder? (Part One)


Writer's note: This is the first installment of a two-part column seeking to answer the question -- partially through the lens of differing explanations for the death of Kevin Carter -- of the degree to which covering difficult subject matter takes a toll on a journalist.<p>On the evening of July 27, 1994, the South African photojournalist Kevin Carter drove to Parkmore, a suburb of Johannesburg, where he had spent time as a child. After parking his car beside a play area he had frequented while growing up, he attached a garden hose to the exhaust pipe of his vehicle and ran it through the passenger side window, before reentering the car and lying down inside until the fumes overcame him. His suicide note made reference to a number of potential contributing factors, from financial distress to the recent shooting death of his friend, the photographer Ken Oosterbroek, to "the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain...of starving or wounded children." The latter point is for Carter was best known; he had, after all, just four months prior been awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Photography for his chilling photograph of a young girl collapsing amid the Sudanese famine, as a vulture waited for her nearby.<p>Just a matter of months before his death, as described by Scott MacLeod -- writing in Time -- Carter was living something of the high-life. Despite a long history of depression, including a previous suicide attempt, Carter was a man about town in New York during the spring of 1994. MacLeod describes Carter being hounded at New York restaurants for autographs and all the "pretty girls falling for him." The latter point would not have surprised the essayist Joseph Epstein. When writing about his friend, the novelist Saul Bellow, and seeking to explain the dour Bellow's seemingly inexplicable success with women, Epstein improved on the Kissingerian dictum, musing that "literary fame -- with a certain kind of woman -- had much the same effect" as political influence. However, one imagines this new-found glitz might have seemed misplaced to Carter; there must have been a curious juxtaposition in being invited to one bubbly soiree after another on account of a fame achieved through chronicling famine and social unrest, death and suffering.<p>Although early reactions to Carter's suicide likely overstated the role that his journalism played in the decision to take his life (and, in doing so, failed properly to consider his previous 1980 suicide attempt that predated his journalism entirely), the story raises an interesting question. And it is a question I have frequently posed to other journalists and writers: To what degree does covering deeply unsettling subjects take a toll on one's well-being?<p>Along these lines, I recall, in August of 2019, phoning my friend Matt Rainey. (Rainey, if one recalls, is the immensely talented photojournalist who won 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography (for his After the Fire series), and he was also a member of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting.) I had just returned from a whirlwind 46 hours in Atlanta, where I was shuffled from one location to the next to conduct a series of one-on-one sit-down interviews with Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, and the leadership of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The conversations had each turned to gang crime, with a particular focus on some of its most pernicious manifestations, in elder abuse and human trafficking. The stories were deeply unsettling, and this was paired with a hectic travel schedule (chasing around the politicians can get tiring) that was beginning to catch up with me.<p>I recall Rainey telling me about the comfort he has found in being married to someone who really understands the toll his work can take on him, as well as the importance of his religious faith. If anyone would know, it's Matt. Second only perhaps to Richard Drew's AP photograph of 9/11's "The Falling Man," Rainey's After the Fire portrayal of the two burn victims, Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos, is among the most haunting or, rather, persistently unforgettable works of photography ever produced. But this -- as they say all good things do -- came at a price. As Rainey described to me when I first spoke with him, for an interview in 2018: "I'd be driving home from the burn unit at ten o'clock in the evening and I'd be sifting through all the emotions involved in the day, and I would start weeping."<p>However, as he said then, "...the journalism community and the photojournalism community operate the same way. You build a small network of friends, and those friends are there for life. They really help you through the hard times." Having also covered the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and the fall-out from the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, Rainey would have had ample cause to seek out support along these lines.<p>On the subject of this small network of friends, just as perhaps bankers have banking friends, I have writer friends. So I mentioned the other day to one of my other friends, the author Allen Hornblum -- who is most famous for his 1998 book Acres of Skin, an exposé on the human experimentation that took place at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia from 1951 to 1974 -- that I was planning to do a piece on this topic of keeping one's head in journalism. He was kind enough to share his two cents on this question: "I don't get depressed. I get angry; that keeps me in the battle to expose the wrongs that have been committed."<p>So, Rainey, Hornblum, all of us -- we have our ways to get by.<p><p><p>

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The Press, the Border and Partisan Bias 2019 vs. 2021


Appearing on CNN Newsroom on the morning of March 18th, Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA.) dismissed anchor Poppy Harlow's questions about the perceived lack of transparency when it comes to current conditions at federal facilities along the Southern Border. As Harlow put it, "All of our reporters down there have been asking nonstop to get into these facilities, which Alejandro Mayorkas just said are not meant for children, the CBP facilities. Are you concerned [about] the lack of transparency from the administration, not allowing any journalists inside?" To this, Rep. Sánchez pivoted, bringing up the state of the Southern Border during the previous administration: "I will tell you that under the Trump administration, members of Congress were not allowed inside these facilities."<p>Harlow countered, pressing her previous line of questioning: "That just doesn't mean anything now, respectfully, Congresswoman. I mean, clearly you were upset about that lack of transparency. Are you concerned about this lack of transparency?" In reply -- just before the end of the interview -- Rep. Sánchez answered: "And I don't necessarily think that it's appropriate for journalists to be inside centers that are not permanent places for children," before adding "...you can't fault an administration that is doing everything humanly possible to treat these kids in a humane way, given the limitations that they have because of COVID."<p>This exchange was preceded by about 24 hours an announcement by the Department of Homeland Security that a March 19th trip by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and a "bipartisan group of senators" to El Paso, Texas would be closed to the press.<p>Certainly, there might be reasonable concerns about individuals, particularly minors, appearing on camera or in photographs published by news outlets, just as one might reasonably put forward the idea that given the ongoing pandemic, limiting the number of people in an indoor facility might be wise. However, upon reflection, one begins to suspect that the stated reasons are not the real reasons. After all, in June of 2018, during the Trump administration, journalists visited the Homestead, Florida facility that was housing approximately 1,000 undocumented children at the time. Privacy concerns along these lines were mitigated by journalists having to leave any cameras or recording devices outside of the facility, which is to say that invoking the need for privacy as a reason to bar journalists from entering facilities now in 2021 ought to be looked at somewhat askew.<p>Further, Rep. Sánchez may, very well, be correct in suggesting that those operating these facilities are doing all they can to treat those housed there as humanly as possible. In my experience, having interacted with a number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employees, this is most likely true. However, this same charitable view towards ICE (and other agencies overseeing immigration policy) was hardly extended during the summer of 2019, when concerns about the treatment of children in its custody reached a fever pitch.<p>At the time, I was actively covering this story, and, on July 1st, Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA.) called me for a phone interview from the airport shortly after touring a facility in Clint, Texas. She described in detail the conditions she saw there, how the facility was overcapacity (at the time, housing 700 children), and how parts of the facility looked "like something out of Desert Storm." She closed the interview by thanking me, as a journalist, for drawing attention to the situation: "Erich, thank you. America needs to know."<p>Two-and-a-half weeks later, I was invited, along with about a half dozen other journalists, to accompany Rep. Dean and Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA.) on a surprise visit they had planned to Berks County Residential Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania. (At the time, this was one of three facilities in the United States that housed undocumented immigrants under the age of 18.) So much for Rep. Sánchez's assertion that members of Congress being permitted inside of ICE facilities is somehow new. For more than two hours, the two members of Congress carefully inspected the facility and, as they relayed to me and other reporters afterwards, spoke with a number of the children living there. Afterwards, they gave an impromptu press conference standing on the side of the road in front of the facility, where they described in vivid detail the conditions inside, obviously in hopes that we would each write up the story.<p>For some of the journalists gathered there that summer day, Rep. Dean's current silence while some of these same facilities are now far more crowded—paired with Rep. Sánchez's suggestion that journalists need not be closely monitoring the situation this time -- might not be so shocking. I recall one perspicacious reporter asking Rep. Dean that day, "Why now?" She pointed out to the Congresswoman that the Berks County Residential Center had been operating more or less the same since opening in 2001, including being up and running throughout the entirety of the Obama years.<p>The unfortunate reality one can no longer ignore is that whether or not concern is raised about conditions at the border seems simply to be a function of whether or not one's party currently oversees the executive branch. For instance, during the Obama years, it was conservative news outlets -- most notably Breitbart ("20 Times Breitbart Reported on Migrant Deaths During Obama-Biden Years and No One Cared") -- that were the ones covering the deaths of migrants along the Southern border. This reality is only made worse by efforts to suggest that, somehow, journalists ought not be privy to current goings-on. If one is sincerely concerned about an issue -- whether it be ICE facilities, foreign policy towards Saudi Arabia, or anything else -- continuing to monitor it and expressing concern (when need be) should always be done, regardless of the political party of a given President of the United States.<p>Photo credit: Shutterstock<p><p><p>

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The United States v. Tucker Carlson


During his March 9th broadcast of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Tucker Carlson drew attention to remarks delivered by President Joe Biden the evening before, in which the President had indicated his administration was focused on "there [being] an intensity of purpose and mission to really change the culture and habits that cause women to leave the military." President Biden also relayed that, "We're making good progress designing body armor that fits women properly ... creating maternity flight suits" and that women can "compete all across the board, including on age and gender neutrality and physical fitness tests." These comments mirrored earlier announcements by the Biden administration relaxing hair styling regulations for female soldiers and permitting the use of nail polish. (Reports are also emerging to confirm that, indeed, the military is lowering physical fitness requirements for female soldiers.)<p>In response to this, Carlson (pictured at right) discussed his view that the United States was losing focus of the military's most urgent priority: winning wars. This was particularly pressing, given reports earlier this month that China has now amassed the world's largest navy. While the general thrust of Carlson's argument was that prioritizing<p>anything other than combat readiness was akin to helping China, his singling out of the aforementioned "maternity flight suits" for criticism appears to be what set off the deluge of denunciation that followed.<p>Various female military veterans soon took to Twitter to express their disagreement. One such veteran was Senator Tammy Duckworth, who served as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot in Iraq and lost two limbs during the conflict. Duckworth took aim at Carlson with a sharply word tweet with a touch of profanity the next day. She would be joined by other members of Congress, who had served in the military, including Mikie Sherrill and Seth Moulton. A number of media outlets also ran pieces critical of Carlson's remarks.<p>All of this was, of course, more than fair game. Elected officeholders and commentators not only are permitted to express strong opinions; it is their job, just as it is Carlson's. The problem came when the United States Department of Defense and a number of senior military officers, some actually in uniform at the time their comments were delivered, joined in. In a move that certain news outlets described as "unprecedented," Pentagon spokesman John F. Kirby, along with the Command Senior Enlisted Leader of the U.S. Space Command, condemned Carlson. The Pentagon even issued a press release under the headline "Press Secretary Smites Fox Host ..."<p>On his Friday evening broadcast, Carlson addressed the events of the preceding days, asking in his monologue: "Since when does the Pentagon declare war on a domestic news operation? Can't remember that ever happening ... The Department of Defense has never been more aggressively or openly political." He continued: "Tonight, there are 2,500 American troops stationed in Afghanistan ... At the same time, there are 5,000 troops in our own capital tonight …" On this point, Carlson is, undoubtedly, correct. For a military that had spent the greater part of the past year espousing an unwavering commitment to avoiding involvement in domestic politics, the events of this past week marked a stunning about-face. It was hardly long ago that former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis affirmed that there was no greater priority than avoiding tension "between the military and civilian society" or the military -- God forbid -- turning inward.<p>It was for this same reason that Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley apologized for accompanying then-President Donald Trump to Lafayette Square in June of last year. "I should not have been there," he said. "My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics." And as anyone who has served in the military (or is close to someone who has) knows, one cannot even wear a political pin, let alone express political views in uniform. (This is also why political candidates campaigning for office, who choose to include photographs of themselves in uniform from their service days, include in no uncertain language the statement: "Photographs in uniform do not imply endorsement by the Department of Defense.")<p>For a period of time that has witnessed near-constant talk about the importance of respecting "democratic norms" -- from the peaceful transfer of power, to freedom of the press, to avoiding the politicization of the military -- the events of this past week have done considerable damage to upholding said norms. We have, unfortunately, now reached a juncture where offering a criticism of a policy change at the Department of Defense can draw out the unconcealed ire of the United States military. Now, from behind the imprimatur of the largest military in the history of the world (with an annual budget in excess of $715 billion), the Department of Defense has clearly shown a willingness to intimidate those who question its policies. And, as the argument goes, if it can be done to one of the most famous journalists in the country, it can certainly be done to that young reporter toiling away in obscurity, being intimidated from following up on his leads about something the United States military might be up to.<p>To be clear, if one wishes to dissent from Carlson's views or provide an alternative, that is more than encouraged. If even President Biden had chosen to join Senator Duckworth in offering a vituperative denouncement of Carlson's statements, that would be fine. President Biden is, at the end of the day, elected and, thus, accountable to voters. However, for an institution that is ostensibly apolitical to so gratuitously insert itself into a domestic policy debate represents an almost crossing of a rubicon. Just as some left-of-center commentators who supported Twitter's decision to remove the account of President Trump would later express outrage that Big Tech would do the same to left-leaning groups, the key point to remember is that a principle is at stake: If the United States military should become in the habit of publicly condemning or intimidating journalists, the harm to a free press will be incalculable.<p><p><p>

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Why News Media Must Reconsider Terms Like "Officials" and "Authorities"


Prepositions and conjunctions aside, if one were to count the most frequently appearing words in news articles, "officials" and "authorities" -- nouns, they happen to be -- would likely be close to the ones most often found. In the course of a given day thumbing through news stories, one finds innumerable pieces with lines such as "ICE plans to release migrant families in detention, officials say" (CNN), "Dozens of Students Kidnapped in Central Nigeria, Officials Say" (Voice of America), "The U.S. has carried out an airstrike on a structure connected to an Iran-backed militia in Syria ... according to a defense official" (Politico), "Vaccination efforts are going well, according to authorities" (Iceland Review). Further specifics on the identity of these "officials" or "authorities" are rarely provided, often leaving the reader with the near impression that the pieces' claims are simply imparted from on high.<p>Indeed, sometimes qualifiers are added such as "U.S. Capitol Police officials" or "Department of Homeland Security officials say ..." This does help somewhat in mitigating what tends to be the practical effect of an overreliance on such vague terms for attribution. The effect being that the sources relied upon -- generally individuals employed by local, state or national governments -- take on a sort of shadowy, amorphous quality whereby they fail to be recognized for their particular occupations or areas of expertise but, rather, are cloaked in an indelible vagueness. This sense of vagueness, which seems to pervade many of the prevailing assumptions about government, runs -- in all likelihood -- in parallel to findings that suggest Americans' trust in government continues to decline (and surely, at times, for good reason). Although this journalistic practice to which I am drawing attention is perhaps just one small part of the phenomenon, this shorthand term may, in some way, be emblematic of how many Americans conceive of those working in politics and government.<p>As such, my recommendation would be -- whenever possible -- to either name the said "official" or "authority" in question or provide significant detail about his or her position. For instance, phrasing things closer to, say, "an employee of the Department of Defense, who has been with the agency for seven years and oversees Middle East strategy" might do something to uncloak some of the mystery.<p>At a time when, according to the text of the proposed Civics Learning Act of 2019, "in 2018, only 32 percent of people in the United States surveyed were capable of naming all three branches of Government, while 33 percent of Americans were not able to name any of the branches of government," the appropriate identification of the relevant government parties might, further, do something to inform the public about the workings and mechanisms of government. And, for a news media so fond of singing its own praises for "holding the powerful accountable" (a premise I have previously taken issue with), actually to provide daily clarity on whom these "powerful" individuals are might begin the process of answering critics -- such as myself -- who find these applause lines of self-congratulation typically to ring hollow. Also, as I alluded to above, rampant social mistrust is hardly a recipe for a happy republic, and a closer appreciation for how government organizations work (and who populates them) might offer a worthwhile starting place on the admittedly arduous path of remedying this social fracture.<p>On a related note, one would not be too wide off the mark to argue that attributing information to "officials" or "authorities," particularly when no further specification is provided, is rather similar to writing "sources say" and, thus, indulging in the typically frowned upon (or best avoided) practice of relying on anonymous sources. At times, one wonders if there is some intentionality to this. For instance, some commentators have drawn attention to recent coverage of President Joe Biden's decision to launch the aforementioned airstrike in Syria and how news coverage of the event attributed insights into the President's reasoning to a "senior defense official." The implication is, of course, that the administration might prefer not to engage directly with critics of this military action and instead have a "senior defense official," who is shielded by anonymity, run interference.<p>In my view, however, of chief concern is how this shorthand serves to equate holding a government position with being almost a final authority on what is true. Recently, in an epoch in which one of the most common arguments being seen is the fallacious "argument from authority," our very language -- in this case, in journalism -- only reinforces a reliance on this unfortunate type of reasoning. It almost suggests that there are two classes of people in our society: "officials" and unofficials, "authorities" and yahoos. For this reason, if quasi-anonymous sources must be used, "employee" or "spokesperson" ought to be infinitely preferred to "official" or "authority." And this is not even to mention that once respected government "officials" from Dennis Hastert to Alan Hevesi to countless unfamous bureaucrats are just as susceptible to those in any other profession of wrongdoing, misleading others, or pursuing their own self-interest at the expense of the public good.<p>Whenever I take issue with various language choices commonly made in journalism or the national discourse at-large, I invariably field criticisms of something to the effect of: "It is just a phrase, just a few words." However, just as some have pointed out that the very construction of the English language suggests a belief in a distinct mind and body (i.e., supportive of the philosophical doctrine of dualism), the terms we use say something about our underlying society. In this case, this shorthand suggests that there is an opaqueness when it comes to how we see government, that to be employed by the state is also to be imbued with an extra level of credibility, and that the bureaucrat knows best. So, for those constantly lamenting that the United States does not have the social trust of, say, Norway or the Netherlands, perhaps reexamining the language we use when referring to government might be a place to start.<p><p><p>

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The Trade-off Between News Journalism Quality and Clickability


Although philosophy and the business of news do tend to occupy their respective realms and often concern themselves with vastly different questions, once in a great while a debate within philosophy can shed light on a nagging issue in journalism. The relevant disagreement for our purposes concerns a difference of opinion between two giants of a strand of philosophy called utilitarianism: Jeremy Bentham and his acolyte (and some-time critic) John Stuart Mill. In short, Mill would come to diverge from his predecessor's view that all types of pleasures were of equal value; as Bentham famously wrote in 1825, "Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry. If the game of push-pin furnish more pleasure, it is more valuable than either."<p>Thirty-six years later, Mill would find himself distinguishing between higher and lower pleasures and arguing that "... there is no known Epicurean theory of life which does not assign to the pleasures of the intellect, of the feelings and imagination, and of the moral sentiments, a much higher value as pleasures than to those of mere sensation." For Mill, poetry was (and ought always to be) preferable to push-pin. Human beings are distinguished by their capacity for rationality and thus the potential for appreciating subjects such as poetry and literature. To engage with such subjects is to indulge in activity that is inherently more valuable -- and more a fulfillment of one's potential as a thinking being -- than to give oneself over only to simple, base sensation: what push-pin provides.<p>Friends of mine who are kind enough to make a habit of watching my appearances on various programs or shows have, at this point, likely grown weary of the frequency by which I recite a certain quotation. However, I'm tempted to think my disinterest in providing variety on this front might be a partial reflection of the pointedness of this particular quotation and its ability neatly to encapsulate much of what I see as lacking in today's news media. It comes from The Atlantic's Graeme Wood and reads as, "Great journalism remains one of the least efficient ways to get internet traffic yet devised."<p>What we might call "Wood's dictum," though certainly tailored for the Internet age, is not altogether unlike the quip from the essayist Logan Pearsall Smith that "unsaleability seems to be the hallmark, in modern times, of quality in writing." Given that Smith died a decade before Sir Tim Berners-Lee was even born, the issue clearly predates the advent of the internet. With that said, there is no doubt that the internet has done much to exacerbate this. As I touched on in a September, 2019 column critical of the content that passes for news on the popular app Snapchat, the stories selected for display invariably appear chosen for their likelihood to provoke anger, engender disgust or to draw out any number of visceral reactions -- stories that do anything and everything but provoke thought.<p>Of course, this is true not only on Snapchat and other apps marketed towards younger demographics. Similarly, the preference for many news outlets (and news aggregators even more so) is for the trivial over the more substantive, even when there's a respite from appealing to the overtly salacious or riling. One might, to this point, recall MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell abruptly cutting off an interview with a member of Congress to provide the latest twist in the saga of Justin Bieber's 2014 arrest for drag racing on a Miami street. This is not to say that every utterance by a member of Congress is worthy of our attention; however, there does appear to be some gradation of importance being routinely upended.<p>Although it has become unfashionable in our current, post-aesthetic age to assert that some works of writing or journalism are qualitatively better than others, there is a reason that certain outlets that have elected to focus on quality -- whether this be, say, Tablet (established 2009) or The New Criterion (established 1982) -- are either praised for doing so and/or have been able to weather an increasingly financially inhospitable media environment. All the while, dissatisfaction with the state of many news outlets continues, with concerns about the quality of content likely being as responsible as concerns about political bias.<p>This brings me to a theme that has presented itself in many of my columns: the disconnect between short-term and long-term incentives. In the short-term, outlets may stand to benefit from the increased clicks that often accompany churning out the sensational or the emotionally jarring. However, over time, outlets that succumb to this practice begin to forfeit credibility and, in turn, respectability. In the meantime, "good journalism" can be forced into becoming an ideological exercise (often due to a reliance on ideologically motivated subscribers) as advertising dollars are swallowed up by those trafficking in the clickable and, even more so, by Big Tech.<p>To be clear, the issue is not that excellent journalism is not being produced; it is, every single day. The problem is that it is being crowded out -- obscured -- to the point that one often needs to undergo a search for it that, at times, seems nothing short of arduous. Mill writes, "Men lose their high aspirations as they lose their intellectual tastes ... and they addict themselves to inferior pleasures, not because they deliberately prefer them, but because they are either the only ones to which they have access, or the only ones which they are any longer capable of enjoying." Crucially, it is important to recall that rediscovering an appreciation for quality journalism need not take an elitist turn (replete with blithe dismissals of reasonably thoughtful content as "middlebrow," or any denigrations of the like). However, should certain media outlets elect to reprioritize quality, they will likely find that clickability tends to provide only fleeting victories and that -- over time -- readers might be willing to reward those publications that offer them more than just stir and sensation.<p><p><p>

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In Defense of the Odd Man (or Woman) Out in News: Juan Williams, Rick Santorum, Meghan McCain


During their 2019 campaign for seats on the Philadelphia City Council, candidates from the Working Families Party campaigned, in part, under the slogan: "We can end the Republican Party in Philadelphia." (The Philadelphia City Council -- as a result of a provision in the City's Home Rule Charter that guarantees at least two seats for a minority party -- has maintained a Republican minority for decades, with the idea being that a degree of ideological diversity in city policy-making was a goal worth promoting.) Although the Working Families Party's web page detailing this objective has since been taken down (perhaps cooler heads have temporarily prevailed), it echoes a number of similar calls by political groups -- both conservative and left-leaning -- throughout the United States that wish, it seems, to be able to eliminate, to scrub from the body politic, one side of the political aisle entirely.<p>Up until not long ago, for instance, motorists in the Texas panhandle were treated to a large billboard that read "Liberals please continue on I-40 until you have left our GREAT STATE OF TEXAS." And, in Seattle, Kshama Sawant, a member of the city council there, made headlines in 2017 for objecting to one of her colleagues' use of the phrase "our Republican friends" by proudly assuring those gathered that she had no Republican friends. She was greeted with cheers. At the time, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat, who devoted a piece to the Sawant incident, asked -- à la Rodney King -- "Can we just get along?" More than three years on, one still wonders.<p>The news media, as nearly anyone in the United States of America will be quick to tell you, has surely contributed significantly to political fragmentation in the United States. Today, it is not even immediately apparent if a shared national identity that transcends partisan politics actually exists. To make matters worse, Republicans have their news sources, and Democrats have theirs. With that said, there is still one rather quaint practice still widely in place in the news industry that might be doing just a bit to offset this scorched earth approach one political side tends to take towards the other. Unfortunately, though, it appears to be in danger of being labeled either anachronistic or worthy of discontinuation altogether.<p>This tradition of sorts, of course, refers to the practice of including the proverbial odd man (or woman) out on various television news panels or in the op-ed pages of various newspapers. There is, for example, Juan Williams on Fox News' The Five, Rick Santorum on CNN, Meghan McCain on ABC's The View, etc. Although it might seem almost flippant to argue that there is something substantive to be gained from their respective presence seated upon ideological rivals on programs watched largely by viewers from only one portion of the political spectrum, one Twitter commenter speaks for many of us when writing of McCain, "Hopefully it helps to know that many of us only watch because you do provide an opposing viewpoint. There'd be no reason to watch everyone agree with each other."<p>The inclusion of these outvoted voices seems all the more pressing today when Americans predominately only consume commentary with which they already agree and when evidence continues to mount that as people continue to distance themselves from those they disagree with politically, partisan antipathy is further fueled. Before long, it is no surprise to hear the sort of rhetoric that seems to suggest that those who happen to vote differently are something akin to irredeemable or are characterized almost as a pox upon the body politic. This is, of course, the opposite of what some critics mean when they argue that knowing how someone voted in a recent election ought to be the 100th most important fact about who they are -- not the first.<p>Next, there is the reality that those who regularly consume a certain brand of news (all brands of news today, more or less, have a partisan glint) might not even be familiar with the arguments of their opponents. This is roughly what Glenn Greenwald frequently alludes to when responding to those who criticize his frequent appearances on Tucker Carlson Tonight: Were it not for his presence on the show, many viewers might not even be familiar with the Left's most central commitments. This is not unlike what Jonathan Haidt described to me when I interviewed him in early 2019. Although he initially began studying political psychology to help Democrats win more elections after then-Senator John Kerry's 2004 electoral defeat, he relays stumbling upon a book, by chance, at the Strand Book Store about conservatism and realizing that he actually agreed with many of the things he was reading. He has since become a self-described centrist.<p>Although applied at the domestic level rather than in foreign policy, this is roughly the premise of the organization then-President Dwight Eisenhower founded in 1956, People to People International: It's more difficult to despise people if you understand where they're coming from.<p>So, amid the proliferation of political rhetoric that is truly anti-social in its contempt for those who see the world differently -- and reeks with the unyielding hubris of "I'm right, and you're wrong" -- one wonders if there are possible ways to mitigate this mindset. Although some commentators such as Andrew Yang have expressed nostalgia for the FCC's fairness doctrine and, thus, a regulatory solution, it would be more prudent for the news media to make it incumbent upon itself to exercise a degree of intellectual humility in its cumulative coverage. Continuing to resist, for instance, the relatively frequent Twitter hashtags calling for the firing of panelists in the ideological minority is one place to start. Continuing to feature the perspectives of guests of various political persuasions -- even amid criticism -- must, similarly, continue. And when it comes specifically to the likes of Juan Williams, Meghan McCain, and company, though the more cynical among us may continue to dismiss their presence as "controlled opposition" or contrived, when cross-ideological dialogue is increasingly unheard of, we have to be grateful when it presents itself, even if it does so imperfectly.<p><p><p>

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Why Even Some Journalists Support News Moderation


When Andrew Sullivan was a PhD student at Harvard, he traveled to Dorset, England to visit the home of the philosopher Michael Oakeshott, who was then in his 80s. Sullivan was at work on his dissertation, which explored Oakeshott's political philosophy and would come to be titled Intimations Pursued: The Voice of Practice in the Conversation of Michael Oakeshott. As Sullivan tells it, during the visit, the conversation turned to Sullivan's plans for after graduation, and he told Oakeshott that he planned to go into journalism rather than academic philosophy. To this, Oakeshott -- visibly disappointed -- replied, "I've always thought the need to know the news every day is a nervous disorder."<p>In January of last year, the Swiss author Rolf Dobelli published his latest book, Stop Reading the News: A Manifesto for a Happier, Calmer and Wiser Life. The book emerged, in large part, from a 2013 essay Dobelli published on his website that outlined fifteen reasons why he believed people should avoid consuming news altogether. The essay, which attracted significant attention at the time and was republished in part at The Guardian, was perhaps most famous for the claim that "...news is to the mind what sugar is to the body...Today, we have reached the same point in relation to information that we faced 20 years ago in regard to food. We are beginning to recognise how toxic news can be." Surprisingly to some, Dobelli's general premise did not resonate only with the typical skeptics of the news media; it was also endorsed -- at least in part -- by some prominent journalists and editors.<p>Among Dobelli's primary criticism of reading (or—more accurately, today—scrolling through) news story after news story is that it tends to engender in the reader a habit of thinking superficially rather than carefully or circumspectly. News stories, after all, tend to be short; they often begin with their most provocative point, and, as we know all too well, they tend to prioritize the gripping or anxiety-provoking over the subtle, or even the full picture of things. As Dobelli puts it, "Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you...News makes us shallow thinkers."<p>Continuing on to argue that "consumption of news is irrelevant to the forces that really matter in your life" and that news is often just thinly-veiled entertainment, he also urges a moment of introspection for us, readers of news: "Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that -- because you consumed it -- allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business." This is often true of various types of news, including ones perceived as more useful such as financial news. For instance, as Bill Alpert drew attention to in a 2007 Barron's piece on Jim Cramer's CNBC show Mad Money, Cramer's stock picks over the previous two year period had underperformed both the Dow and the S&P 500. Viewers, thus, would have been better off buying an index fund and going for a walk each evening at six rather than tuning into CNBC.<p>In my view, however, Dobelli's most compelling assertion is as follows: "I don't know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie -- not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. On the other hand, I know a whole bunch of viciously uncreative minds who consume news like drugs." Insofar as this is true, there appears to be a quality about news -- at least as the craft is currently, widely practiced -- in which the essence of things is obscured both in the minutiae, as well as in the exhausting drip drop of "Can you believe its?"<p>So for the approximately two-thirds of Americans who "look at news at least several times a day," one wonders if some of their time could be better spent. As I see it, compulsively checking news is most frequently associated with an incorrect illusion of control over global events. With that said, any given citizen has some ability to influence matters through voting, advocacy, and persuasion (the last of which is the essence of democracy, after all), and these rest partially on a general familiarity with current events. As such, few would likely argue for a complete abstention from following current events. To this point, Dobelli argues that one can opt to read "specialized journals, in-depth magazines or good books" and to supplement this by "talking to the people who know." This must be preferable to waiting mouth agape for the latest update out of Capitol Hill or Hollywood.<p>News reporting -- particularly online and on cable television -- tends, furthermore, to provide incomplete snapshots of unfolding events; is there really that much advantage to be gained from knowing an event took place the instant after, as opposed to a few days later when the dust has settled, and the fallout can be digested and articulated in a more thoughtful manner than in breaking news reporting? This, after all, is similar to why some commentators eschew posting on social media; the most immediate hot-takes tend to be the most unnecessarily emotionally-charged and the least aware of the whole story.<p>So, even if one elects not to go as far as Dobelli advocates (or dissents from Oakeshott's characterization of news consumption as a nervous disorder), limiting the time one spends scarfing down news might do something to mitigate one of our current era's most pernicious tendencies. This is the propensity (motivated often by the aforementioned illusion of control) to have a strident opinion on just about every issue that comes down the pike and then, as busybodies tend to do, reexamine, reconsider, or seek to tweak just about everything. So, diverging from the typical, canned advice that the solution to various social or political ills is to be more on top of current events (i.e., to consume more news), perhaps the solution is precisely the opposite, or at least to be more discerning about which types of news or commentary one spends time with; for instance, the thoughtful magazine or journal piece likely has an advantage over the headline ticker. But then again, one can always just read a book, watch a film, or take up tennis instead.<p><p><p>

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News Journalists and the Pretense of Partisan Neutrality


During his 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump joined George Stephanopoulos for an interview on ABC's Good Morning America. During the course of their May 13th conversation, in which Stephanopoulos was quizzing Mr. Trump about his tax returns, the conversation turned to his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and questions about her use of a private e-mail server while at the State Department. In reply to Stephanopoulos's comments about Secretary Clinton's e-mails. Mr. Trump chided, "I know she's a good friend of yours. And I know you worked for them, and you didn't reveal it."<p>Three years later in June of 2019, with Mr. Trump having become President Trump, Stephanopoulos accompanied him on a trip to Iowa. During an on-camera conversation in the presidential state car, "the Beast," the discussion once again turned to Secretary Clinton, and President Trump alluded once more to Stephanopoulos' previous employment with President Bill Clinton. (Stephanopoulos served as both the White House Communications Director and Senior Advisor to the President during the Clinton administration.) Discussing Robert Mueller's Special Counsel investigation, President Trump disagreed with Stephanopoulos' claims. "There was no crime," he said. "The crime was committed by the Democrats. It was committed by your friend Hillary Clinton." (emphasis added)<p>Despite their occasional clashes, President Trump and Stephanopoulos have appeared to get along reasonably well, sharing at least a degree of rapport and familiarity with one another. President Trump -- among other interviews, in addition to those mentioned above -- notably joined Stephanopoulos in September of this year at the ABC News town hall in Philadelphia.<p>With that said, President Trump raises an interesting question: Is it reasonable to expect journalists who have previously worked with an opposing candidate (or, for that matter, the other political party) to be able to be largely objective in their reporting, particularly when covering those on the other side of the aisle? (This is a concern that has also been raised by NBC's Chuck Todd, who briefly worked for Iowa Senator Tom Harkin.)<p>First of all, as I have discussed before, the relationship between the press and the political figures journalists cover can be rather close at times. Relationships form, politicians choose to break stories with trusted journalists, and, as a result, an incentive exists for said trusted journalists consistently to portray these office-holders in a good light. And then, there are just the personal relationships forged by running in similar circles, bumping elbows in Washington. This is nothing new; for example Ned McLean, the then-publisher of The Washington Post, was known for his close personal relationship with President Warren G. Harding. They were friends, their wives socialized together and McLean attempted to cover up the Teapot Dome scandal, the incident that would come to define the Harding presidency.<p>However, even with this qualifier in mind, it does seem to be a bridge too far in those instances where prominent journalists -- or journalists at any rank -- actually worked alongside the politicians they may one day be tasked with covering. In the case of Stephanopoulos, he did, for instance, conduct a long-form interview with Mrs. Clinton during her 2008 presidential campaign, disclosing at the outset, "For any who don't know, I worked for President [Bill] Clinton, from 1991 to 1996." Even with conspicuous disclosures, I know the difficulty in interviewing political figures with whom one has once worked closely. One seeks to avoid being biased in his or her favor, while simultaneously striving not to compensate so much in the other direction that he becomes more critical than necessary. There is still, though, the reality that even if the journalist conducts himself perfectly, he still might be dogged by allegations of preferential treatment.<p>Regardless, a great many of the most prominent on-air journalists of late were once political staffers, whether this be Tim Russert (who served as chief of staff to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan) or Nicolle Wallace (who served as White House communications director under President George W. Bush). Their close past knowledge of the inside of politics might inform their reporting, and for that reason they might have an advantage as journalists. However, the argument to make here is similar to the one I put forward on election day 2019 when I implored journalists to rediscover the lapsing journalistic tradition of abstaining from voting. Casting a ballot is a very tangible, physical sign of preference. One-time employment is even more so, particularly since it presupposes the sort of past loyalty and allegiance that tends to characterize healthy working relationships.<p>If the news media would indeed like to pursue the objective of existing as distinct from both partisan politics and the sort of milieu that tends to characterize the political world of both parties, it might want to rediscover additional buffers between journalists and the politicians they cover. Otherwise, one would not be wildly off the mark to assert that the ruse is finally up: There is almost no daylight between government and those who pat themselves on the back claiming to be "holding the powerful accountable."<p>As a final aside, it is worth briefly noting that this concern does not apply really to those who are expressly columnists, opinion contributors, and the like. Few would have reason to object to, say, Karl Rove's presence on Fox News as a contributor based on his previous work with President George W. Bush or, for that matter, George F. Will's erstwhile employment with Colorado Senator Gordon Allott. (And besides, there are mitigating considerations, such as length of time elapsed and the extent of the employment.) The above discussion is more limited to those who style themselves as impartial tellers of truth. Although I will refrain from speculating about the internal mental states of any particular journalist, one does tend to know intuitively that the greatest trick the partisan ever developed was to pretend to be neutral.<p><p><p>

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The Unintended Consequences of Subscriptions


In March of this year, I alluded to a trend that a number of commentators were also sensing and expressing unease about: the possibility that an increasing reliance on subscription-based revenue might imperil impartiality in journalism in favor of news outlets largely just reporting stories that their respective subscriber bases want to hear. This emergent phenomenon was notably documented by The Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins in August of 2019, when he was writing in response to calls by subscribers of The New York Times for the newspaper to change a headline they deemed not tough enough on the Trump administration. In Jenkins' view, publishers now long for the days when it was advertisers alone, they needed to keep happy, whereas today, "...newspapers are more dependent than ever on readers to pay our bills."<p>To this point, in an interview last month with Vox, Jonah Peretti, a co-founder of both The Huffington Post and, later, BuzzFeed, argued that The New York Times has relinquished its claim to call itself "the paper of record" due to its choice to so avidly embrace a subscription revenue model. In the most widely quoted lines of the interview, Peretti asserted, "A subscription business model leads towards being a paper for a particular group and a particular audience and not for the broadest public." This statement echoed recent comments made by venture capitalist and former PayPal CFO Roelof Botha: "The NYT's adoption of a subscription business model is a Faustian Bargain. Revenue predictability was traded for balanced reporting. The newspaper's incentive is no longer truth seeking, but to build an echo chamber catering to the previously held beliefs of its existing audience."<p>Implicit in all of these assertions is the point that advertising has historically been associated with publications seeking to reach a broader range of readers or viewers. As is well-known, striving for objectivity and relative impartiality in news reporting has not always been the norm. As commentators such as George F. Will have observed—such as in his 1991 New York Times review of Donald A. Ritchie's Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents—it was "a new American industry—advertising" that helped guide the deeply partisan newspapers of the 19th century to the more objective and broadly appealing ones of the 20th: "The imperative need was now for information, not partisan promotion." However, as subscription-based media outlets proliferate today, the partisan—once again—becomes ascendant.<p>This is all no less true even when there are indeed occasions when advertisers still threaten to pull advertisements from certain television programs or certain news outlets in an effort to influence content—such as took place this past summer with Tucker Carlson Tonight. The potential impact of these events, however, still appears to pale in comparison to the increasingly frequent uproars taking place from subscribers themselves.<p>One of the most consequential effects of the subscription trend is described explicitly by Peretti and Botha alike. At a time when Americans are self-sorting based on politics and evermore seeking out sources of information that conform to their pre-existing beliefs and biases, the drying up of news outlets designed to cater to everyone (regardless of political or ideological affiliation) only serves to further this march into the rabbit hole. At some point—and we may be there already—there is a lack of consensus on what the established facts even are. Does a broadly agreed upon common jumping off point exist anymore? Even Wikipedia, which was once hailed as a bright spot for evenhandedness, is being dogged by frequent concerns about bias seeping through, something one of its co-founders, Larry Sanger, frequently draws attention to.<p>The most concerning and fundamental type of bias, as is now well-known, is, of course, that of story selection. Although many who previously made a habit of cataloguing and bemoaning various instances of media bias focused in on a writer's word choice or how this or that policy was described, any astute student of news reporting knows that the most concerning bias concerns whether a given story is even covered in the first place. Today, a quick scan of resources such as Ground News puts very much on display that left-leaning sources often cover only those stories that further their preferred worldview, and the very same is, likewise, true for the right-leaning ones. Subscriptions will likely only serve to make this even more common.<p>In a conversation last year with Sumorwuo Zaza, co-founder of the startup NICKLpass, he and I discussed how—as tech giants such as Google and Facebook gobble up the lion's share of online advertising dollars—publishers have been seeking alternatives to survive. Some are experimenting with the "Guardian model" of requesting donations from readers; others try their hand at events and merchandise, but the substitute now perhaps most in vogue is subscriptions. As Zaza put it then, "I think we are going to be in an 18-24-month period where people will say, 'Paywall is the solution.'"<p>If this continues to hold, the shift to subscriptions will likely be far more consequential for how journalism itself is conducted than, say, Chris Hughes' onetime idea of opening New Republic-themed coffee shops—or brand-specific laptop stickers being mass produced and rolled out. Perhaps the greatest unintended consequence of the subscription frenzy will turn out to be the erosion of common departing points for basic facts in news reporting. That virtue, after all, is precisely what a term like "paper of record" connotes. So we will leave it to author and entrepreneur Antonio García Martínez to describe the danger of all of this memorably but surely a tad hyperbolically: "Scene: The year 2040, the ruins of New York in the background, a hovel under a collapsed overpass. Father and son talking in the dark. 'Daddy, why'd the world end?' 'Son, go get some rat off that BBQ, and I'll tell you about the collapse of the ads-driven media model.'"<p><p><p>

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The Unbearable Lightness of News Coverage


Upon learning that topless photographs taken of her by paparazzi while she was vacationing in St. Barts had been published in various tabloids, actress Natalie Portman, then a student at Harvard, brushed off the episode: "Today's paper is used to pick up tomorrow's poop—right?" As the weeks and then years ticked on, this did very much become the case. Today, few likely recall this episode, as flurries of other news about this actress (and other similar entertainers) take its place, or as an endless expanse of celebrity gossip washes over any one given episode. This reality of how news cycles operate must be of comfort to anyone caught in the crosshairs of a given embarrassment or scandal, as they patiently wait for the scuttlebutt to die down. Although this might be very much a positive in the case of tasteless publication decisions rooted in invasions of privacy, it leads one to a broader question: Is news—both good and bad—ever transient, ever fleeting, destined almost as soon as the publish button is clicked or the broadcast ends to be forgotten (and often promptly)?<p>In the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, the arrival of Joaquin Phoenix's character, a cameraman sent from Canada to document the unfolding disaster, is greeted enthusiastically by Don Cheadle's character, Paul Rusesabagina. (Paul Rusesabagina was the real-life manager of the Diplomat Hotel in Kigali, where he saved the lives of approximately 1,200 refugees during the genocide.) Cheadle's character, at first, believes the arrival of a cameraman from the West is the first step in a series of events that will bring about international intervention to end the bloodshed. However, Phoenix's character quickly throws cold water on these expectations: "If people see this footage, they'll say, 'Oh my God, that's horrible' and then go on eating their dinners."<p>And we all know that this is, unfortunately, the truth. However, one cannot blame consumers of news too much; first of all, as I have written about before, there is just a tremendous amount of news produced and paraded out at every moment of every day. It is just too much to even begin to keep track of, and this becomes even more the case with the ever-increasing number of news outlets, particularly on the Internet, sprouting up. Then, even if one were inclined to act in response to a given report, which is a tall order to begin with, it is just a matter of seconds before the screen cuts to the next tragedy or painful happening in a faraway place—or the following page in the newspaper urgently informs us of the next batch of seemingly intractable problems. Perhaps this is one reason that news reports only have so much staying power in our minds.<p>Another component of the inherent ephemerality of news is related to how news reports are frequently offered of seemingly pressing events but then, all of the sudden, they are discussed no more, with no follow-ups provided and no lingering questions answered. Whatever became of the caravan of migrants marching towards the United States' Southern border in the fall of 2018 that every news network had wall-to-wall coverage of? Whatever became of the impending catastrophe that was predicted immediately to follow the withdrawal of some American forces from Syria in the fall of 2019? Did said catastrophe come to pass? Unless one were to dig through foreign policy journals or specialty websites, he/she probably wouldn't know. The news coverage just ticked along to the next thing, and, before long, consumers of news begin to expect this. The inevitable result is that any one news report loses its weight and becomes fleeting, becomes light and almost weightless.<p>The idea of the fleeting—as has been frequently noted—is at the heart of Milan Kundera's popular 1984 novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being. For instance, one of the book's main characters, Tomas, reflects on a world in which something—whether an action, a life, or a type of love—takes place and then is seen no more: "Einmal ist keinmal, says Tomas to himself. What happens but once, says the German adage, might as well not have happened at all..." For Kundera, there is a freedom of sorts to be found in this lightness.<p>Insofar as these parallel holds, there, too, is abundant freedom today in the world of journalism. News reports are offered based on rumor and conjecture; news outlets, at times, play fast and loose. There are the predictions that never come to pass; there are the reports that turn out to be wrong, with not a single correction or retraction issued. It's as if the news media has taken too far to heart the school master's refrain "It's okay to make mistakes." But how do they get away with it? Deep down, they must sense that most news reports do, indeed, go in one ear and out the other.<p>Winston Churchill once wrote that words—unlike laws or policies—"are the only things that last forever." However, he might have added a caveat: unless they are words published in periodicals. These words, after all, are a world away from the closely curated and frequently revised words found in books. It is perhaps, in part, for that reason that many of the finest novelists have looked down on journalistic writing. Yet, from Hemingway on down, many a one-time journalist has gravitated away from the transient world of news reporting to seeking greater permanence in novels, in books.<p>All of this is hardly a plea to encourage journalistic writing to seek to become something that it is not. Journalistic writing is not (and ought not to become) akin to novel-writing; first of all—and almost by definition—journalism is about producing stories quickly, while their subjects are still current. But, as a corollary of this fact, it appears to be a craft, a profession, of endless transience, with all of the concomitant pitfalls that brings—or as Kundera might put it, it is in this lightness that "movements [become] as free as they are insignificant."<p><p><p>

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Sinclair Introduces "The National Desk"


With a planned debut in mid-January of 2021, Sinclair recently announced the upcoming launch of their new morning news program, The National Desk. The National Desk will air weekday mornings from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. EST (and all other USA time-zones, respectively) and will be available to viewers across Sinclair's CW and MY Network affiliates, as well as on STIRR, Sinclair's free OTT streaming platform.<p>Broadcasting from Washington, D.C., The National Desk marks a notable foray into national news reporting for the company, which is best known for its approximately 190 television stations that it owns, operates or provides sales services across the country, and its sizable investment in local news. As Sinclair's Senior Vice President of News, Scott Livingston, indicated in an interview for this piece that Sinclair looks forward to drawing upon its reporters and stations throughout the country to bring the most pressing news stories of the day to a national audience.<p>Interested in<p>Sinclair Broadcast Group InSites<p>READ MORE<p>To this point, Livingston continued, "It is about the pulse of America; it's being able to take our viewers on a journey to the intersection of news and their community and offering an understanding of how news impacts them, which is really important." And for those designing The National Desk a comparative strength—relevant to the major news networks—is Sinclair's extensive base of journalists who live and work in the communities from which they report. As Livingston put it, "You're going to a reporter that's been in the market for ten years, and they've been covering [for instance] Seattle for a decade. And we can get their perspective on what's really happening there on the ground."<p>As for the show's personnel, The National Desk will be hosted by Jan Jeffcoat, who's previous anchor experience stretched to major markets like Chicago, Houston and Washington, D.C. Jeffcoat will also be joined by Cayle Thompson, who previously worked at a Sinclair station in Seattle, at the show's live desk. Furthermore, Livingston described having all but finalized Sinclair's hiring of a team of 25 new editors and producers who will work on The National Desk.<p>A key feature that separates Sinclair's approach from that of many of its competitors in national news is its choice to broadcast The National Desk in the morning, rather than in the evening. As Mark Ginther, Sinclair's director of news and operations, described, "As you're planning out your day...morning is a time when you're still optimistic...here's somebody that's going to help you get organized for your day by pointing out some of the things that are going on." There is also the thought—as Livingston suggested—that mornings are a time when there might, indeed, be less competition for a potential viewer's attention: "Morning is the longest period of time without your phone. It's the longest period of time where you're unplugged." It's at that time, Livingston suggests, that potential viewers are best poised to focus on which news stories are most relevant for both their own lives, as well as the country at-large.<p>Also differentiating The National Desk from many of the news space's current mainstays is what Livingston and Ginther describe as its focus on providing context rather than commentary. Unlike evening cable news shows marked, first and foremost, arguably by their tendency to prioritize strong opinions and personality-driven reporting, The National Desk will endeavor to do the opposite and, instead, keep the emphasis on more level reporting. It is partially for this reason that Sinclair is optimistic that it will be able to reach a broad audience of viewers.<p>As such, in a time period that has witnessed a balkanization of the news media along ideological lines, Sinclair looks to join a handful of other news media projects (and personalities) that have positioned themselves in opposition to this trend. In a news environment in which those who identify The New York Times as their primary source of news break for the Democratic Party 91%-7% (and those who are loyal viewers of Fox News lean towards the Republican Party 93%-6%), Ginther describes an altogether different guiding approach for The National Desk. "We don't really care what your biases are because we don't cater to them. If you have a TV, you're going to want to watch us."<p>Lastly, as various commentators continue to discuss the perceived disconnect between New York and Washington-based journalists from the rest of the country, a reality that may be even more true in 2020 than it was in 2016, Ginther suggests that the local news foundation of The National Desk may provide a partial antidote. As he puts it, "As you look at competitors, they focus a lot on Washington, D.C. and New York. Again, the Sinclair strength—having stations in so many markets like San Antonio, Texas, which is one of the largest cities in the country and Las Vegas, Nevada, which is one of the fastest growing communities—we're going to get to the heartland."<p><p><p>

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Michael Smerconish and Finding the Elusive Middle


Upon telling his family that had been invited to give the commencement speech at Widener University in Chester, PA in May of 2016, Michael Smerconish recounted his son's reaction to hearing about the invitation: "Dad, the students must be bummed." Smerconish, the host of CNN's Smerconish and The Michael Smerconish Program on Sirius XM's POTUS Channel, would—in his remarks at Widener—narrate his improbable ascent from an occasional guest on various radio programs to becoming a fill-in for Bill O'Reilly, Joe Scarborough, and Chris Matthews, to finally achieving his lifelong dream of having a television show of his own. However, as he tells it, it was no smooth ride: "Nothing has fallen into my lap. I know people to whom things have come effortlessly, but it's never been my experience."<p>Among his trials and tribulations on the way, Smerconish describes being told bluntly by MSNBC president Phil Griffin that he would never be offered a show of his own on the network: "Smerc, we are young, liberal, and nerdy, and you are none of the above." He also relayed the disappointment of having been the only recurring guest on Race for the White House, an MSNBC program held during the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, not to receive a significant new job offer afterwards. The others involved, David Gregory, Rachel Maddow, and Jay Carney witnessed the show spring boarding them, respectively, host of Meet the Press, host of the eponymous The Rachel Maddow Show, and communications director for then-Vice President Joe Biden (and later press secretary for President Barack Obama.) For Smerconish, it would just be back to business as usual: itinerant guest hosting and keeping up with his radio show in Philadelphia.<p>But then, in February of 2014, his luck changed, and he was finally offered his own show (Smerconish), one he still hosts every Saturday morning on CNN. When he narrated this crowning achievement to the crescendo of his career at his Widener speech, the previously hushed and poncho-clad students (it was a rather rainy day) broke into cheers.<p>Previously a lifelong Republican, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Pennsylvania state legislature while still in law school and later served as an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, Smerconish announced his departure from the Republican Party in a 2010 column. In the time since, Smerconish has styled himself as an impartial spokesperson for political moderates. As he told Bill Maher in 2018, "[I] became one of the 45% of this country—according to Gallup—who are 'I's,' who are not 'D's,' who are not 'R's.'...What needs to happen in this country are fewer closed primaries, a place on that debate stage for an Independent candidate for president, and break the logjam of the two-party system." It is no surprise, then, that Smerconish begins each of POTUS radio broadcasts with a playing of the 1973 Stealers Wheel song "Stuck in the Middle with You." (He would also borrow from that song's lyrics for the title of his 2018 anthology of past newspaper columns, Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right.)<p>Smerconish's play to the middle, which was remarked upon by a number of commentators in 2014 when his CNN program began, may be even more relevant today. The weekend following this month's presidential election, it was Maryland Governor Larry Hogan writing in The Wall Street Journal about President-elect Joe Biden's "mandate for moderation," a point that would be largely seconded just days later in Mark Penn's piece—also in The Wall Street Journal—"America's Shockingly Moderate Electorate." As Hogan remarked -- reflecting on Republican gains in the House of Representatives and their likelihood to retain the Senate, coupled with Americans' choice of President-elect Biden—"Americans wouldn't vote for divided government if they wanted radical change." Smerconish would almost certainly agree.<p>In a way, Smerconish is very much a product of Pennsylvania, the state in which he was born and where he has spent his entire adult life. He has notably resisted relocating his family north towards New York City, instead opting to broadcast his CNN show from metro-Philadelphia. Pennsylvania is, after all, among the purpliest of purple states, today boasting a congressional delegation exactly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. But Pennsylvania's reputation for moderation is nothing new, with Thomas Jefferson writing as far back as 1785 that it was this state that found the optimal middle ground between the South, where people were "fiery, voluptuary, indolent, unsteady..." and New England, where they were "cool, sober, laborious, persevering..." For Jefferson, "...it is in Pennsylvania that the two characters seem to meet and blend, and form a people free from the extremes both of vice and virtue."<p>Smerconish might correctly be castigated for, at times, seeking to almost painstakingly stake out the precise average of the given Republican and Democratic policy positions, frequently succumbing to they-both-have-a-point-ism. Trying to chart such a course was on display during the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump last year, as he went from initially suggesting that Democrats had no case whatsoever to seeming later to imply very much the opposite. At other points, however, Smerconish has shown much grace; unlike other commentators, he has shown a willingness to eat his hat when his predictions do not come to pass, such as his long-standing view that then-candidate Donald Trump could never secure the 2016 Republican nomination. And during the height of the unrest of this past summer, Smerconish candidly and courageously resisted the zeitgeist and decried the dismissals of personnel at The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times, instead calling for conversation rather than shutting down difficult discussions.<p>In one of the 2014 profiles written about Smerconish, Manuel Roig-Franzia wrote, "...Smerconish is betting his career that there's a great untapped center." Six years later, we see that he may have been right all along.<p><p><p>

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Glenn Greenwald: When a Co-Founder Has to Leave His Own Publication


On the afternoon of October 29th, Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist best known for his illuminating coverage of National Security Agency (NSA) policies based on documents provided by Edward Snowden, resigned from The Intercept, the publication he co-founded in 2013. He released a statement of resignation via Substack, which has become the platform of choice for a number of prominent journalists who have felt no longer able to speak their minds at the name-brand publications where they once worked. A few of Substack’s most notable recent refugees include Matt Taibbi, who previously wrote primarily at Rolling Stone, as well as Andrew Sullivan, who departed New York magazine in June of this year.<p>Greenwald writes: "This was not an easy choice: I am voluntarily sacrificing the support of a large institution and guaranteed salary in exchange for nothing other than a belief that there are enough people who believe in the virtues of independent journalism and the need for free discourse who will be willing to support my work by subscribing. Like anyone with young children, a family and numerous obligations, I do this with some trepidation, but also with the conviction that there is no other choice. I could not sleep at night knowing that I allowed any institution to censor what I want to say and believe -- least of all a media outlet I co-founded with the explicit goal of ensuring this never happens to other journalists, let alone to me ..."<p>The proximate cause of Greenwald’s departure was a decision by editors of The Intercept to decline to publish a column he wrote discussing recent allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden regarding his and his family's conduct with respect to Ukraine and China. However, as Greenwald makes clear both in his Substack resignation letter and in an also-published email to Michael Bloom, the CEO of The Intercept's parent company First Look Media, his dissatisfaction with the publication’s editorial practices was long-standing. As such, Greenwald suggests that The Intercept’s senior editorial staff had over the past few years gradually come to prioritize political considerations and appeasing "center-left Twitter luminaries" over the dogged journalism (free of ideological considerations) that The Intercept had, in fact, been created precisely to pursue.<p> It was not inevitable that Greenwald would become a journalist. He went to college for philosophy and then became a lawyer, specializing in civil liberties with a focus on the First Amendment. It was in 2005 that Greenwald started a blog. It was called Unclaimed Territory, and it touched on many of the issues that he had explored in his legal practices. In time, he would join Salon as a columnist and then The Guardian, prior to his co-founding of The Intercept in 2013, along with Jeremy Scahill and Laura Poitras. As Snowden put it in his memoir Permanent Record, he chose Greenwald as one of the two journalists in the world he was most willing to trust because "he was skeptical and argumentative, the kind of man who'd fight with the devil, and when the devil wasn't around fight with himself." And, in the time since, Greenwald has gained attention as a frequent guest on political shows across the ideological spectrum, from Democracy Now to The Hill’s Rising to Tucker Carlson Tonight. It was not long ago that Rachel Maddow called Greenwald "the American left’s most fearless political commentator."<p> Indeed, as I have observed in previous columns, the Internet (and social media, in particular) has made it possible for commentators, particularly those who already enjoy considerable name recognition, to bypass traditional editorial processes to deliver their thoughts directly to subscribers. Indeed, this is Greenwald’s plan, though he is also floating the idea of starting a new publication that will try to get right what The Intercept came to get wrong. In the meantime, though, the newsletter shift will continue to have significant implications for the business side of news, as well as for the practice (and public service) of journalism. For instance, as The New York Times reported in 2008, when Andrew Sullivan moved his blog to The Atlantic, the publication’s website saw a 30% increase in traffic.<p> So, Sullivan and Greenwald will, themselves, likely fare fine on their own, but one wonders how many thoughtful new voices might never see the light of day should publications evermore become steadfast gatekeepers along ideological lines. One also must ask what will become of publications such as The Intercept if a growing share of readers lose confidence in their ability to be, first and foremost, homes for journalism, rather than ideological projects.<p> It is certainly possible that some reactions to Greenwald’s departure may be overstating its significance. However, it is perhaps this year’s most telling canary in the coal mine for the state of journalism in this country. From Andrew Sullivan to Bari Weiss and now to Greenwald, 2020 has witnessed astonishing departures from major publications as celebrated writers no longer feel welcome freely to describe the world as they see it. So we will have to see how this statement from Marty Bent, a newsletter curator himself, ages: "I think [Greenwald] being forced out of the Intercept via censorship is the official death of journalism as we knew it. There is no question anymore, the future of journalism will be built on individual journalists posting on personal blogs.” However, in the meantime, there is something about Greenwald’s leaving of The Intercept that has to strike one as perhaps the most notable departure in a year that has seen so many journalists leaving comfortable positions at household name outlets in favor of the frontiers of the internet. He was its co-founder, after all.<p> Photo credit: Marten Bjork / Unsplash<p> Click the social buttons above or below to share this content with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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a4 Advertising Evolves Self-Serve Digital Targeting for Political TV Ads


In June, a4 Advertising debuted its latest self-serve platform known as Athena Political, which is now increasingly being thrust into action as election day approaches. Athena Political, which enables advertisers to precisely target desired voter demographics, boasts a comprehensive set of options from location tools, to advertising scheduling, to exclusions of select media content. Although national campaigns might receive the lion's share of attention and focus in our national discourse, the self-serve platform can be drawn upon by campaigns of all levels, including, for instance, state legislative races. (The platform offers the ability to reach all the way to the zip code level.) As David Powers, director of product at a4 Advertising, explains, "As long as you have a credit card, you're good to go." This enables those managing even very small campaigns to draw upon a4's self-serve resources, enabling local campaigns to activate TV and digital advertising using self-serve media buying tools.<p>Powers narrates how political advertising in recent years has largely "closed the gap," when compared to direct response advertising. As of late, political advertisers, in Powers' view, are increasingly bringing their own audiences, rather than relying entirely on the data of others. "Political is right there with direct marketing now. So, I think I wouldn't have even thought of a platform [like Athena Political] ten years ago; now, you need to have a platform for self-service," Powers advised. And now, as reported in a recent column on the state of political spending in 2020, with a projected $6.7 billion to be spent in the 2020 cycle, a variety of advanced options must be available to political campaigns.<p>Interested in<p>a4 Advertising InSites<p>READ MORE<p>To this point, the expansion of the political advertising space, in terms of both dollars spent and the increased technical capabilities for reaching desired voters, has been a necessary precursor to increased investment in self-serve tools. On the demand side, for instance, the fact of the matter is that—thanks to the past several years of an expanding focus on digital and OTT advertising—more experienced professionals from the digital and advanced TV side are now available for campaigns to hire. These individuals, who may have extensive experience in programmatic, are well-poised to be hired by campaigns and to use self-serve tools and platforms, in the event the campaign prefers to opt for this course of action as opposed to using managed service. As Powers describes, "People have now learned programmatic. If you go back a few cycles, the problem was the base. You didn't have that many people available to run a programmatic campaign. Now, you have people...that might be willing to step over into politics." For individuals such as these, self-serve platforms enable them to draw upon experience to target prospective voters through digital, mobile and television advertising.<p>Powers recalls that it was not long ago when mobile would not have even been a consideration for political self-serve advertising; however, now, it is a prerequisite for any political advertising strategy. Just the same, Powers anticipates that "there is going to be a lot of disruption in TV, between linear and digital players." Of equal importance, though, is the degree to which using cookies has become all the more important for reaching voters. "When you have disruption in the cookie space, that's going to have a significant impact, as well." Athena Political, to this point, emphasizes the ability of advertisers to use cookies for authenticated IP targeting for both "home and away targeting."<p>For Powers, broadly speaking, the increasing advancement of technologies—such as the Athena Political self-serve platform —is tied inextricably to the ever-forward march of the political advertising space. This has been brought all the more into focus as of late, as political advertising spending has largely resisted the sort of downturns that other sectors have experienced in response to the economic fallout of the pandemic.<p>Lastly, Powers makes sure to mention that, in addition to the features a4 Advertising has developed, it is important for potential advertisers to bear in mind that there is also the underlying company that is providing the product: "a4 Advertising is a company steeped in political advertising and digital political advertising. So if you have a question, as you're going through, we have the answers for you." So, as always, technologies such as this self-serve platform can perhaps be best leveraged when also combined with some of the experience and long-standing practices that the political space has always enjoyed.<p><p><p>

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State of Political Advertising: Summer 2020


My previous column discussing the state of political advertising was published on February 24, 2020. The following day, former Vice President Joe Biden—according to an aggregate of political betting markets—had a 9% chance of being the Democratic nominee, as compared to a 52.8% chance for Senator Bernie Sanders. At the time, one of the most widely discussed topics also was the unprecedented level of spending by self-funded Democratic presidential candidates Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer. When it was all said and done, Bloomberg would spend $1.02 billion on his 104 day presidential campaign, including nearly $744 million on media (approximately $123 million of which went to online advertising). Tom Steyer, who suspended his campaign on February 29th, was another heavy spender, dropping $343.9 million, including $269 million on media (more than $16 million of which was spent online). Also, at this point, in late February, the number of Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the United Stood stood at less than 25, and political advertising for the 2020 cycle was expected to reach $6 billion.<p>Now, at the start of July, Vice President Biden, the overwhelmingly smaller spender in the primary, is the presumptive Democratic nominee; the number of COVID-19 cases has surpassed 2.6 million (as of June 29th); the candidacies of Mayor Bloomberg and Mr. Steyer are distant memories; and the pandemic has significantly impacted many media companies, leaving layoffs and diminishing advertising revenues in its wake. To the latter point, The Wall Street Journal reported this June—citing a report from WPP plc—that U.S. advertising spending is being projected to fall by 13% in 2020, dropping to $207.9 billion from 2019's $238.8 billion. Of course, advertising in industries such as automotive and travel have been impacted in particular, with travel-related advertising spending falling markedly in the first quarter. However, in the view of Dan Sinagoga, vice president, political sales for Effectv, whom I interviewed for this piece, political advertising is poised to weather the storm—and even potentially exceed pre-COVID-19 expectations.<p>Although stopping just short of calling political advertising "recession proof," Sinagoga affirmed his belief that political advertising would not experience the same degree of struggles as other areas. To this point, he described observing dips in March and April, followed by spending picking up again in May, and reaching normal levels by the beginning of June. The implication continues to be that while consumers may postpone certain retail purchases on account of the virus, the general election is still on November 3rd.<p>Sinagoga's view has also been shared by a number of other commentators and advertising experts. To this point, by mid-May, Zach Montellaro was reporting at Politico that "Political ads [are] expected to explode, even as economy tanks." Citing a report from Advertising Analytics and Cross Screen Media, Montellaro reported that 2020 projections for political spending had reached $6.7 billion, a 12% increase from the initial $6 billion estimate forecasted prior to the pandemic's arrival. Sensing a point also alluded to by Casey Bessette and Lauren Richards of Sage Media Planning, who were both also interviewed for this piece, Montellaro put forward the idea that actually the virus may spur more spending due to reduced opportunities for candidates to campaign in person or to hold typical events. (This could become all the more the case if the Democratic National Committee elects to continue its plans to downsize the permitted attendance for the Democratic National Convention in August.)<p>In addition to altering the size of the Democratic Convention, causing the Republican Convention to partially move from Charlotte, NC to Jacksonville, FL, and affecting the campaign strategies of the candidates, the pandemic resulted in a number of other adjustments. These have ranged from re-scheduled primaries to making more widespread the practice of mail-in voting, the latter of which featured prominently in the May 12th special election in California's 25th congressional district. Indeed, some of these changes have come to bear on political advertising itself. Bessette and Richards described the impact of greater numbers of voters voting by mail: "We're seeing a trend [where] instead of just advertising the week or two before the primary, we're starting to strike out our media plans four to six weeks out because people are voting that entire time, and you can't just rely on getting them the week before the election." And, among other changes engendered by the pandemic, surging viewership of television, particularly during daytime, has increasingly factored into decision-making about placing political advertisements.<p>Although by all reports political advertising has fared better than other categories of advertisements, needless to say, political advertising is a function of campaign contributions. And campaign contributions are—almost by definition—susceptible to the ups and downs of an economy. This is all the more the case given ongoing concerns about pandemic-related unemployment. And for candidates such as President Donald Trump (or would have been Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders), who have benefited from small dollar donors, this might be all the more pressing.<p>Bessette and Richards, however, have argued that the events of the past several months in the United States, particularly when it comes to the pandemic, may result in a greater number of Americans taking a serious interest in this election, relative to past cycles, and this certainly could be expressed in the form of increased donation dollars. But, in any event, Bessette, Richards, and Sinagoga all shared a confidence that the 2020 election cycle would make for a particularly strong showing for political spending. As Sinagoga put it, "We're very optimistic that with the significant, record-setting fundraising that took place leading into COVID-19—and what is going to take place as we get into the back part of the summer—the wheels seem to be fully back on track, and that's going to outpace what we saw in 2016 and 2018, which was the largest political spending year ever, at $5 billion and change." And this remains their forecast, even with Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer far more on the sidelines than they were in February.<p><p><p>

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How Local News Is Covering the Pandemic in New York


Given the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, with its overwhelming impact on New York City and its metropolitan area, it is worth exploring how various New York-based media ventures have covered the outbreak. Indeed, publications such as The New York Times and New York gained attention for dropping their paywalls for virus-related coverage, while providing nearly up-to-the-minute updates on the virus' spread, as well as its impact on the city and surrounding areas. Yet, as a conversation with Michael Felicetti, Vice President of New York Interconnect's News Division, suggested, local television news has played no small part in keeping New Yorkers abreast of the goings-on in the time since the Coronavirus arrived.<p>For Felicetti, the importance of local television news is hardly unique to particularly acute crises. And, to this point, as he made the valid argument in a MediaVillage commentary piece three months before the virus' arrival in New York, local news is "a safe haven and an escape from the divisive, never-ending cycle of partisan political coverage on national news networks." The current environment, as Felicetti conveyed to me in a recent conversation, puts this readily on display: "[National news] is much more opinion-based and, in many cases, polarized." Local news, on the other hand, boasts a "trust and credibility," where viewers rely on these stations "to get the information that's going to affect them in their communities, in their backyard." As I have also indicated previously, given widespread concerns about the declining health of many local newspapers, an open question remains if television news might come to fill some of that gap.<p>Interested in<p>NY Interconnect InSites<p>READ MORE<p>Also echoing a point he raised in the 2019 MediaVillage piece, Felicetti — in our conversation — put forward a favorite perspective of his when it comes to local television news, describing it as a "utility": "You turn on the lights in the morning. You turn on the water to take a shower, and you turn on your television to check the local news to see all of the most pertinent information." Felicetti mentions that, in normal times, this pertinent information is, for instance, how to dress one's children for school that morning; however, in the midst of the pandemic, much of the content has shifted towards providing essential information about the crisis. And this is very much the case at News 12 and NY1, the two 24-hour news stations with which Felicetti works.<p>In Felicetti's view, the two stations' content choices during the pandemic have been informative, while also striking a desirable balance between providing a comprehensive portrayal of the state of the pandemic and sharing positive moments, as well. News 12, which largely serves the New York suburbs (as opposed to NY1's focus on the five boroughs), has introduced a segment entitled Coping in the Crisis. Following in the vein of other media outlets such as NPR and CNN, which have made answering viewer-submitted questions a mainstay of their Coronavirus coverage, Coping in the Crisis enables viewers to call-in to pose questions to a doctor or relevant expert. As Felicetti indicated, "At the beginning of the crisis when people didn't know what was going on, it was very heavy medically." Since then, however, the show has expanded the topics of its question-and-answer sessions, with a greater focus on matters such as the financial impact of the pandemic — or how public transportation will be affected. (All the while, NY1 has pioneered a similar format with a show entitled One New York with Pat Kiernan, with users submitting questions via social media, rather than by telephone.)<p>Felicetti emphasizes that both News 12 and NY1 have been very conscious of seeking to avoid a disproportionate focus on "doom and gloom," particularly given the very real possibility of viewers becoming fatigued by the context influx of less than stellar developments, especially considering the latest coverage of the demonstrations. To this point, News 12, for instance, featured a May 12th heartwarming story of a 7-year-old girl from the town of Laurel Hollow, New York donating the contents of her piggy bank to a local hospital. Similarly, both stations have broadcast prominently-displayed "Thank You" messages for healthcare workers, and there has also been coverage of "Mindful Moments," intended to help viewers suffering from stress to remain calm. Perhaps most notably, NY1's Pat Kiernan officiated a wedding on-air for two New Yorkers whose wedding plans were disrupted by the virus.<p>Like many other television news outlets, both News 12 and NY1 have been experiencing a surge in ratings during the crisis, with Monday through Friday's 9am-5pm coverage up 91% at News 12 and that same time slot surging as much as 209% at NY1. Interestingly, Felicetti describes how the virus, which has confined many people to working from home, has led to changing viewing habits, with a greater and greater share of viewers tuning in for daytime coverage: "Because people are quarantined and in their homes and not working, we're seeing the viewing patterns shift, where daytime viewing is exploding between 9am and 4pm." When asked if these local news stations were experiencing the paradox of sorts seen at some national news outlets, where ratings were increasing but approval ratings were not, Felicetti suggested that local news' relative lack of dabbling in partisan politics may have served to prevent this dynamic from emerging.<p>Of course, there is an element of frustration in that ratings are higher than ever, but the demand for advertising is hardly keeping pace, as advertisers, particularly in industries such as hospitality and travel, are paring back spending. This is taking place across the media space and has been reflected in online media's significant layoffs, such as took place recently at Vice and The Atlantic. However, Felicetti remains optimistic that this setback will be temporary, and he suggests this by pointing to a different disaster that greatly affected the New York area: 2012's Hurricane Sandy. Although, as has been widely reported, the Hurricane and its effects resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of lost advertising, this downturn was hardly permanent. For News 12 and NY 1, the hope, likewise, remains that today's robust coverage of the pandemic will be rewarded by new viewers sticking with the channels once the Coronavirus is behind us, as well as old advertisers making a complete return.<p><p><p>

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NPR's "The National Conversation": Answering the Pressing Questions


On March 23rd, ten days after the White House declared a national emergency—and when the number of Coronavirus cases stood at just over 44,000 in the United States—NPR debuted its new program The National Conversation from All Things Considered. In addition to providing important information about the virus, as well as government and business' responses to it, the key feature of the program is its format, where listeners can submit questions to be answered by relevant experts. Given the novel nature of the disease, as well as the rapidly evolving approach to countering it, the show aims to alleviate the concerns of its listeners as much as is possible. As the show's co-host Ari Shapiro, who was interviewed for this piece, put it, "Particularly when people are isolated, I think a program that creates a true national conversation can help listeners overcome some of the anxiety and fear that so many are experiencing right now."<p>In the episodes that have followed since The National Conversation's first airing, the program has tackled questions from the macro-level (the pandemic's effect on air pollution and the climate) to the close-to-home (the ins and outs of at-home haircuts). The discussions, at times, are serious and downright somber, such as when palliative care physician Jessica Zitter fielded questions on survival rates of those patients who needed to go on ventilators and walked an 86-year-old caller through the details of advanced directives. However, there are also moments of levity, welcome respites during any time of crisis, such as when co-host Michel Martin closed that same episode by narrating a few humorous stories of Zoom meetings gone wrong. As Shapiro noted, "We get so many questions about the lower-stakes aspects of this new reality: How to cook, homeschool, or maintain a relationship in a pandemic."<p>Interested in<p>NPR InSites<p>READ MORE<p>With that said, however, The National Conversation, as it ought to, primarily concerns itself with answering the difficult questions. Question submitters, rather evenly geographically dispersed throughout the United States, pose questions from the technical, scientific variety to the financial. There are questions about when stimulus checks can be expected to arrive, if green card applications might be delayed, and if it were possible simultaneously to have had both the flu and COVID-19. All the while, NPR draws on an array of experts to answer these questions, from journalists, to members of its own staff (such as senior science editor Rob Stein) to outside experts such as Zitter—or the infectious disease specialist and New York University professor Dr. Celine Gounder.<p>One of the key challenges, clearly, to creating the program was to do so quickly—and in the midst of a major crisis. To this point, the show's senior supervising editor, Eric Marrapodi, indicated that "launching a new show is a serious challenge in the best of times. Being able to get everyone in the same room and hammering things out wasn't an option. It took a lot of creativity and hard work to get this up. We also had to build a live show with as few staff in the control room as possible. There were things we came up with that we weren't even sure were technically possible because no one had tried them before." Also, as senior producer Monika Evstatieva would observe, "Our biggest challenge was time. We had to create a show from scratch—a process that usually takes months to brainstorm, staff and create workflow for." But, even with the time crunch, one point was clear: making the show an interactive conservation between listeners and experts was essential.<p>Indeed, other news programs have made a question-and-answer component from viewers or listeners a mainstay of their Coronavirus-related programming, such as CNN town halls where Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Anthony Fauci have taken questions from viewers. And, ABC News has done something similar. However, one feature of The National Conversation's approach stands out: its emphasis on the limits of what we currently know. As Shapiro phrased it, "I appreciate that each day at the top of the show we say, 'And when we don't know something, we'll tell you that too.'" This comes at a time when some journalists have called for restraint in not overstating our knowledge about the virus and have, in some cases, declined to comment on the matter entirely. After all, this is a crisis that continues to beguile scientists, political figures, and the public alike.<p>Reflecting on how the Coronavirus crisis resembles and distinguishes itself from the many other crises and trying times that he has covered, Shapiro noted how "this pandemic is so much wider in scope than any mass shooting, natural disaster, or war that I've covered. It affects people all over the world and has reached into every aspect of our lives–the way we work, shop, date, teach, and entertain have all been transformed." However, he noted that, "as journalists, we use the same tools to cover this crisis that we use every day." And one such tool is to have an awareness of the limitations of how confidently one can speak on an unfolding story. For this reason, the show's unofficial tagline of sorts "And when we don't know something, we'll tell you that too" is all the more valuable and might come to serve as an important reminder for the news media at-large.<p>While the potential take-aways of this program might be numerous, from its rapid creation in the midst of a pandemic, to its frequent reflections on the limitations of making sweeping statements on an unfolding situation, for Martin—like Shapiro—connecting with listeners is key. As Martin sees it, "Many people have also let us know how much they appreciate NPR right now, not just to answer their questions but to keep them company and give them a little bit of light in a really hard time." While NPR, as a brand, has indeed recently been enjoying high marks in opinion polling, it seems that for its co-hosts helping to keep their listeners calm, collected, and well-informed is what's most important.<p>Photo courtesy of NPR.<p><p><p>

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WGN America's NewsNation: Rediscovering Local Journalism on TV


Planning to launch this summer, WGN America's NewsNation will broadcast seven nights per week from Chicago. NewsNation plans to cultivate a tone of "to the point" reporting, delivered from the Heartland. In an era where the line between news and commentary has been all but erased entirely, NewsNation, as WGN's Vice President, News Jennifer Lyons (pictured at top) indicated to me, aims to serve those eager for a return to the proverbial "just the facts" in on-air reporting. Lyons, who spent decades in local news in the Midwest, will be guiding much of NewsNation's content approach. In addition to bringing some of the best features of local news reporting to a national primetime audience, Lyons also emphasized the need to appeal to the large segment of Americans, who are politically moderate, particularly at a time when cable news tends to indulge the political extremes. As Lyons put it, "We're news from the center, so we're not going to tell the story from any certain perspective. That's going to be what we make sure we do."<p>With a concept reminiscent of the Chicago Tribune's mission of being " committed to Midwestern values and concerns, and bring[ing] that sensibility to the public debate," NewsNation looks to distinguish itself from primetime news shows that primarily broadcast from coastal cities such as New York and Washington. In a post-2016 discourse that has increasingly worried about the effect of so many journalists operating from a handful of coastal cities, various commentators have emphasized the need to provide perspectives representative of the rest of the country. Chicago fits the bill in that respect. And, at the same time, broadcasting from Chicago — like broadcasting from New York — still enables producers to draw from a wide array of university professors, medical doctors, and scientists living in the area to share their thoughts and expert takes in-studio.<p>Interested in<p>Nexstar InSites<p>READ MORE<p>In addition to bringing the Midwest into focus, NewsNation plans to draw extensively from coverage provided by Nexstar Media Group's (WGN's parent company) 5,500 journalists dispersed throughout the country, across 110 newsrooms. As such, NewsNation's approach aims to bring something of a local news feel to a national audience. For Lyons, there is also the thought that local journalists are the most trusted journalists. As she told me, "All of our reporters live in the community where they work. So they're not dropping in and reporting on the story that they only know a little bit about or read about on the plane as they fly there." At a time when accounts of local newspapers shuttering throughout the country are far too frequent, perhaps some of this lost local journalism can be re-discovered on television.<p>This comes at an opportune time. Our political discourse today has departed drastically from former House Speaker Tip O'Neill's dictum that "All politics is local" — to the point now that nearly the precise opposite has come to pass. Today, many political questions have been nationalized and, thus, have become merged with partisan politics. News coverage, which is often linked inextricably with politics, has followed a similar trajectory. So, NewsNation aims to take the sleuthing of thousands of local journalists throughout the country and make that the backbone of a primetime news show. Seeking to reverse the trend of downplaying the particular and local in favor of the general and the national, NewsNation hopes to re-emphasize close-to-home reporting and ideally, in turn, leave some of the partisanship and grandstanding behind.<p>NewsNation's concept, in practice, will look to feature the best stories from newsrooms across the country and bring them to primetime. There will be a mix of feel-good stories, stories that — though happening in just one city — might serve as a microcosm for America at-large, as well as those bits of news that are universal in their resonance and appeal. And, like is true in much of the local news world, NewsNation will give significant airtime to weather-related stories. All the while, NewsNation — unlike many of its primetime competitors — will feature a near-identical format on weekends as weekdays.<p>Given the ongoing Coronavirus crisis, I asked Lyons how she anticipates NewsNation would approach crises such as that of this pandemic. Indeed, many news networks experienced ratings bumps during the month of March from CNN's 193% to Fox News' 66%. Local news broadcasts are also seeing ratings move higher; across Nexstar's local station group, household ratings for afternoon news were up 25% and late-evening news ratings were up 27% from the beginning of March to the end of the month. At WTNH-TV, Nexstar's New Haven television station, late evening news ratings were up an incredible 60% during March.<p>Still, recent polling data from Kekst CNC indicated that the network news industry has seen a large decline in public esteem during (and presumably as a result of) the pandemic. (According to Kekst CNC, public confidence in the media has fallen 21% in the United Kingdom and 14% in the United States.) Lyons indicated that NewsNation's approach to covering crises such as that of the Coronavirus would be to "be the local journalist bringing you the national story...and that — in and of itself — will add the credibility that others might not be able to hold onto. At the local level, we're not telling people how to think." For Lyons, much of the news media space is now a world away from the basics of reporting taught in journalism schools throughout the country: Provide the facts of the story, not your opinion.<p>With political polarization and partisanship continuing to overwhelm our national discourse, this has also seeped into news reporting, with fewer than half of Americans indicating their belief that the news media is succeeding at reporting "political issues fairly." Although to seek to isolate a single variable in explaining public frustration with news reporting, it would not be unreasonable to expect that partisanship in reporting — combined with sensationalism — shoulders much of the blame. It is for this reason, surely, that a number of emerging news projects are branding themselves as an alternative to the politicized and the overdramatized—and why NewsNation has chosen the course that it has.<p><p><p>

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A Successful Project in Local News: 6AM City


Launched in Greenville, South Carolina in 2016, 6AM City now operates in seven cities in the Southeast, from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Charleston, South Carolina. Co-founder Ryan Heafy (pictured above), who studied mechanical engineering and previously worked in aerospace, joined Ryan Johnston, whose family has owned the South Carolina-based media company Community Journals, to create a venture focused on delivering curated local news via email. With the state of local news being a topic of increasing interest, 6AM co-founder Ryan Heafy speaks with me about his company's approach, their focus on advertising, and their relationship to the communities in which they operate.<p>Erich Prince: There has been a recent focus on the potential economic engine of mid-sized American cities, as evidenced by, for example, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett's book The Next American City. You operate in many of such cities. Can you talk about the experience of working in these types of cities—and how your company fits into the types of economic climates each city has?<p>Ryan Heafy: Whoever said you couldn't build a successful startup in the Southeast hadn't met those of us who are building "The Next American Cities." We did it in local media, an industry that some have all but been deemed on the way to extinction. You just have to have the right product, people, strategy and economic climate. We were lucky to be able to take advantage of the economic climate in our cities, as they were primed for growth. Our cities have put in the work to develop a collaborative network of resources to support and develop the rising creative class. We were further supported by the amazing community that makes up these mid-sized American cities. These cities have recognized the need to punch above their weight, and they have made the investment and commitment to supporting the small businesses that drive their economies.<p>Prince: What makes the Southeast region so far particularly apt for your business model, and do you have plans, at this juncture, to expand to cities such as say New York or Chicago?<p>Heafy: While 6AM is positioned to expand across the country, we were lucky to get started in Greenville, SC where the community's "pride in place" (a term we use to evaluate what cities we go to next) was ripe for the product when we launched. 6AM's local brands are designed to educate and activate our community, delivering local news and events via an email newsletter at 6:00 a.m. each morning. When we hit the inboxes of our community, we are kicking off the watercooler conversation each day. We are facilitating our communities' ability to come together to support local businesses, nonprofits and events; we are talking with—not at—our readers. We're positioned to expand to Atlanta (through a strategic partnership), as well as other larger cities. We believe that each city has its own unique "pride in place" that we can tap into.<p>Prince: What sorts of relationships does 6AM City have with more traditional media companies in these cities, whether it be Raleigh's News & Observer or Charleston's Post & Courier?<p>Heafy: 6AM initially started as a product innovation of a local print media company and, thus, was designed from day one to be non-competitive with traditional media models. As we've expanded, this has allowed 6AM the ability to develop excellent working relationships with the traditional media companies in all of our cities. As we aren't focused on longform content and investigative journalism, our peers see us as a distribution partner, rather than a competitor. In fact, many local journalists and news desks send us their top stories each day to include in our email newsletter. Additionally, as distribution is constantly changing, not all members of the community may be aware of the great content these organizations are creating. As such, we help to drive our readers to their sites and paywalls, helping to convert our readers into their subscribers. When it comes to revenue, we've developed a unique model that allows 6AM to be profitable with fewer advertisers—and with a slightly different product mix. So, we're more complimentary when it comes to the local ad dollars that traditional media is pursuing.<p>Prince: In an age of many media companies looking to subscriptions for revenue, what makes you stick 100% with advertising?<p>Heafy: Subscription revenue only works if you have a large addressable market, as well as a unique value proposition and niche content. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have had some success because of this, as have models like "Trends" by The Hustle.<p>On a local level, readers aren't used to or willing to pay for the value of local content, especially when paired with the fact that many nationally-owned, local newspapers have been continuing to decrease local content creation. We see an opportunity to continue driving our audiences' attention to their content—and serving as a partner in their subscription efforts.<p>Prince: Can you discuss what a typical newsletter of yours features when it comes to content?<p>Heafy: Each of our local newsletters delivers the most relevant need-to-know local news and events daily. We blend a mix of lifestyle content to capture the reader's attention with civic content designed to educate and activate the community. We break down the content filters that drive the content delivered via typical social media channels, and we open up our readers to a diversity of content in the communities we serve. As part of our packaging, we lead with a topic designed to drive conversation, insert modules to drive user engagement, integrate social content, and narrate the local news and events of the day. We've designed the product for the consumer, to be in conversation with our readers, and they seem to be paying attention.<p><p><p>

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The Fact-Checking Trend: Inviting as Many Problems as It Solves


Writing in the journal Political Behavior, Peter Bruno, Melanie Freeze, Jacob Gunderson and colleagues published a recent study questioning the effectiveness of misinformation warnings, as well as the more general initiative of fact-checking. As has been widely covered, fact-checking efforts have expanded greatly in recent years and have been touted as among the most promising solutions to the phenomenon commonly referred to as “fake news.”<p>Although few would dispute the desirability of mutually agreed upon facts or information in a democracy, the authors of the study validate the growing suspicion many of us have: Efforts to establish what is indeed actually true and false may cause as many problems as they solve. In their study, the authors contribute to a growing body of work questioning the usefulness of fact-checking, and I will, in turn, discuss some of the main concerns as I see them.<p>The first issue is this: How fact-checking is employed, in practice, turns out to be rather selective. Although some fact-check organizations are more impartial than others, nearly all have their biases. A particularly strong example took place last month. Twitter issued its first-ever “manipulated media” warning to a video created by White House social media director Dan Scavino and retweeted by President Donald Trump. The video, which showed Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden saying, “We can only reelect Donald Trump” was misleadingly trimmed to remove the relevant context.<p>Around the same time, however, the Biden campaign released a similarly spliced video taking out of context various comments by President Trump. The Biden campaign’s video was not marked as manipulated media by Twitter, despite receiving the dreaded “Four Pinocchios” from The Washington Post fact-checker (the paper’s highest rating given for incorrect information) and despite Post fact-check video editor Meg Kelly writing, “The Biden campaign isn’t shy about playing the same game of video trickery.”<p>The second issue is closely related. Given that new organizations are, in reality, rarely truly impartial, often those news organizations that have fact-checking divisions or teams tend to disproportionately fact-check politicians or groups their editorial team or readers are likely to oppose. As such, it’s little surprise to see The Intercept, a publication whose senior leadership is unabashedly pro-Bernie Sanders, running fact-check pieces about Joe Biden’s history with social security during the dead-heat of the Democratic primary. (From what I can tell, The Intercept has never published a fact-check story of any claim made by Bernie Sanders.)<p>Similarly, Breitbart has a fact-checking section which overwhelmingly focuses on fact-checking Democratic politicians. This hints at the danger of fact-checking being selectively used and weaponized to target those politicians a publication or fact-checking group opposes.<p>When this takes place, a new, secondary partisan battlefield emerges in which authors and other fact-checking organizations litigate what claims ought to have been fact-checked but were not, were fact-checked but ought not to have been, were incorrectly fact-checked, etc. For instance, in March 2018, the conservative nonprofit Media Research Center launched a project “to fact-check the fact-checkers” that continues to operate and analyzes the fairness or unfairness of fact-checks of conservative politicians or groups.<p>On the other end of the political spectrum, Jeet Heer (who has written “One thing I like about Bernie Sanders is that he's been right about almost everything for the last 50 years”) published a piece in The Nation (a publication that has endorsed Bernie Sanders) entitled “Democracy Dies From Bad Fact-Checking.” In the piece, Heer denounces The Washington Post’s fact-checking section, arguing that it has been unfair towards Sanders. As such, Heer’s piece makes us further suspect that much of the debate surrounding fact-checking is motivated more by politics than by anything else.<p>Sensing also the entire difficulty in determining which assertions qualify as “facts,” in the true sense of the word, Ben Rowen's 2019 piece "The Politics of Fact-Checking" in The Week drew attention to The Associated Press's fact-check of who was responsible for last year's government shutdown. "Critics wondered how a fact-checker could assess the assignment of blame, a decidedly non-objective criterion," Rowen wrote.<p>As fact-checkers continue to expand the domain in which they operate, they find themselves seeking to apply a true-false dichotomy to matters such as assigning blame or assessing degrees of magnitude (such as when aiming to decipher what “preparedness” should mean in the context of assessing claims about responses to the coronavirus). And interestingly enough some politicians when caught by fact-checkers invoke matters of degree in their defense, such as when Kamala Harris was dinged by a fact-checker for a comment made in a 2019 town hall. Her campaign responded to the fact-check by arguing that her incorrect claim was not as inaccurate as another claim made by President Trump earlier that same day.<p>Furthermore, false or incorrect claims are everywhere. If we embark on the path of seeking to label every claim that is incorrect or misleading (and people begin to rely on these labels), those that are not labeled might be incorrectly assumed to be true.<p>Raising all these cautions is not tantamount to arguing that fact-checking ought to be entirely abolished or discontinued. Rather, it needs to retain its proper place in our political discourse and not be overstated as a solution to the all-too-real issue of misinformation or false claims. The simplest solution — as I have argued previously — is to resist the temptation to further double down and solve these shortcomings of fact-checking through constantly tinkering with the process or expanding the number of organizations that do fact-checking; instead, it is to ask consumers of news to do more thinking through of issues for themselves, rather than overly rely on groups to assign labels to claims.<p>Don't stop now! Stay in the know with critical commentary on media news coverage from Erich Prince and News on the Record.<p><p><p><p>

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Crowdsourcing Video News: An Interview With StringersHub's Yakau Buta


Founded in 2017, StringersHub is a marketplace that connects videographers and news outlets. As another example of the decentralization trend, it allows news outlets to draw from eyewitnesses to news events, as well as professional videographers around the world, for footage. Ventures such as the New York–based startup Fresco News have also sensed the potential opportunity to draw from those closest to rapidly unfolding news events for video footage.<p>In this interview, StringersHub CEO Yakau Buta (pictured at top) describes the origin of his venture, the most significant challenges to delivering quality, accurate video footage, and his company's most prized achievements to date.<p>Erich Prince: Describe how you came to run StringersHub. Why the video side of news?<p>Yakau Buta: Since I was young, my life was closely associated with TV journalism and entrepreneurship. When I already had a communication agency, my foreign colleagues once asked me to organize a video shoot in Belarus, my home country. I agreed to help with pleasure. After a successful broadcast, the guys asked me to help them with video in another country. The system gradually started to work, and we created StringersHub, a worldwide marketplace, where we connect professional video freelancers and event witnesses with media buyers — [for] TV channels, production studios, and Internet broadcasters — who need video content.<p>Now, the platform has more than 10,000 stringers and 500 clients worldwide, including the world's most popular television channels, from ITV to Al Jazeera. Media buyers can quickly send a video shooting assignment or find ready-to-use footage in the marketplace.<p>How does it work? Eyewitnesses or professional videographers shoot interesting stories or real-time events; they register and upload their video content to our platform; and, after media buyers purchase a video, the stringer gets paid for it.<p>Prince: What are some of the biggest challenges facing the procurement and distribution of video content in news?<p>Buta: Our job is always challenging. Mass media companies are fighting every second to be the first to provide breaking news content. So, we need to be even faster than the media. It's common that after accidents, for example, news sources share the same videos. Our challenge is to give editors a choice from several videos.<p>But the biggest challenge is the content's fact-checking. As we get more and more video content every year, we need to check it every time. We also need to check for its exclusivity. Our team checks every video that comes to the web platform manually. However, we're starting to move toward technologies to help us with that. Last year, we launched a mobile app for stringers and eyewitnesses, where the date and location of the videos are automatically verified via the app.<p>Prince: How are those who submit content via StringersHub compensated?<p>Buta: Stringers set the price for each video they upload, and then they get paid every time the video is bought. If it's hard for stringers to set a price, they can confer with our moderators at any time. Our team can also advise them to raise or lower the price depending on the video. There's a chance that we'll change or enhance the system a bit in the future — mainly due to partnerships with online video libraries. So, we're open to new approaches.<p>Prince: What are some of the videos submitted through your platform that appeared in the news that you are most proud of?<p>Buta: We are proud of any video our clients are happy with. For example, one stringer recently shot the footage for ITV about children who are dying and being displaced at an unprecedented rate in Syria's Idlib province, the last big rebel stronghold in the country. Among the most memorable and extreme shootings from stringers included videos of the 2019 terrorist attack at the Brazilian school in Suzano, São Paulo state.<p>We're very proud of an interview recorded with former Mexican president Felipe Calderón, as well as vox pop videos around the globe, including about China. We had a first interview with Russia foreign agent Maria Butina after she was released from prison and was flying from Miami back to Moscow. We've had the first videos of many air disasters, as well, including in Kazakhstan, Iran, and Russia. The list goes on and on.<p>Prince: Can you describe the geographic range of where videos are coming from?<p>Buta: We work with stringers in 193 countries. So, it's easier to say videos are literally coming from all over the world, including from dangerous and remote areas in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Some districts are more active — some less so. Many videos come from some of the poorest regions of the world, where people need money and are, therefore, more motivated to collect footage and submit it.<p>Prince: Lastly, to paraphrase the investor Phil Fisher's famous question, what is your company doing that your competitors aren't doing yet?<p>Buta: We transformed our weakness into our superpower. Since we're located far from the largest media companies — both geographically and mentally — we have to work harder and be more flexible than our competitors. We don't have a long history and powerful people behind us, but we have a passionate desire to be the leaders in this area. So, we walk towards this aim step-by-step.<p>We regularly offer free shootings for our loyal media buyers. We also offer permanent free of charge in-house producing and direct communication to stringers for every client. We do not have any subscription fees, while offering videos literally from all over the world. Our platform works not only as a video news stock; we [also] can quickly execute an order for media buyers based on their narrow requirements. And we think of improving our platform every day, making it as useful and convenient to our clients and stringers as possible.<p>Don't stop now! Stay in the know with critical commentary on media news coverage from Erich Prince and News on the Record.<p><p><p>

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Platforms Galore: Does it Matter Where One Publishes?


In the midst of our ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Paul Graham, the influential entrepreneur and cofounder of Y Combinator, tweeted: "One of the most striking things about the coronavirus, at least in the English-speaking world, is how much more responsible individuals [such as] @ScottGottliebMD, @JeremyKonyndyk, @Yascha_Mounk, @mlipsitch, and @NAChristakis seem than the people who are nominally in charge." The names Graham included in his list ranged from a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner (Scott Gottlieb) to a contributing writer at The Atlantic (Yascha Mounk) to a palliative care physician and expert in networks (Nicholas Christakis).<p>To Graham's point, in my hometown of Philadelphia, for example, government figures — particularly Mayor Jim Kenney — were astoundingly dismissive of the danger of the situation for quite some time. Even as the counties adjacent to Philadelphia entered complete lockdowns, Kenney still implored city residents to patronize restaurants and businesses. And, prior to that, Kenney — in an apparent disregard for the lessons from a Philadelphia parade during the Spanish flu epidemic — had opposed the cancelation of Philadelphia's St. Patrick's Day parade until public outcry forced him to change course. But, as Graham suggests, those sections of the public who actively following the advice of these experts are armed with the facts and, thus, quick to disregard politicians such as Mayor Kenney, who are urging people to hit the bars amid a pandemic.<p>What is particularly interesting about the set of experts that Graham listed is the fact that the mediums by which they conveyed their message differed significantly, with social media threads, in some cases, featuring as prominently as editorially manicured articles in famous magazines. Mounk shared his insights via two widely-discussed Atlantic articles, Cancel Everything and The Extraordinary Decisions Facing Italian Doctors. Marc Lipsitch coauthored a New England Journal of Medicine article calling for further studies of COVID-19, and Jeremy Konyndyk appeared on Squawk Box to argue that "what we're seeing so far in terms of official case numbers in the U.S. is probably just the tip of the iceberg." But, arguably, their frequent, up-to-the-minute Twitter threads would be just as impactful, thus inviting a broader question, acutely relevant in 2020: Does it matter where one posts or publishes?<p>For Christakis, in particular, it was only after his social media posts began to attract widespread praise that he would then be found contributing opinion pieces to The Washington Post and The Atlantic (the latter, coauthored with his wife, Erika). In many cases, in these articles, Christakis was simply elaborating on points already addressed in his tweets, which had been posted instantaneously — as an ongoing crisis demands. And his tweeting, after all, had bypassed the time-intensive and uncertain business of securing publication in national media outlets.<p>Although publishing with well-known outlets might still confer a degree of prestige not found on other platforms (from social media to Medium), respected magazines — these days — do not necessarily offer more reach. For instance, 2020 presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren frequently chose Medium for publishing their policy memos and op-eds. Just as 19th-century presidential candidates availed themselves of partisan-aligned newspapers to disseminate their messages, today's political figures increasingly rely on messages communicated directly to already-captive audiences via publishing and social platforms. Although the tradition of presidential candidates publishing dueling op-eds in USA Today close to the eve of the general election may not be, itself, at risk of extinction, relying on traditional media to communicate messages is becoming less critical.<p>This is also true of commentators. Law professor Jonathan Turley is a particularly strong example. Although a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Hill, Turley is just as eager to publish on his personal blog, where he posts opinion pieces with the same level of detail as those published at major national outlets. Thanks to blogging sites, boosted by social media, those who already have something of a following need not rely as much on editors and publishers to get their word out.<p>Of course, there are tradeoffs to this new reality. The proliferation of platforms (as well as the concomitant growth in the number of publications) can make it more difficult to sort quality takes from the mediocre or misleading. This is, in essence, what HuffPost was sensing in 2018 when it discontinued its unpaid blogger army, with editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen writing, "When everyone has a megaphone, no one can be heard." It was also what underlaid George F. Will's targeted praise for City Journal: "As the journalist enterprises multiply ... a few publications of reliable excellence become increasingly important. City Journal is at the top of the shortlist."<p>One, however, suspects — at least in the case of the public health experts discussed in this column — that social media posts work in tandem with appearances in more traditional outlets. This is partly because these commentators are already relatively well-known. Yet, today, this decentralization trend undoubtedly allows a writer to bypass many traditional outlets (as well as their respective editorial processes) for the distribution of ideas. All the while, a spate of newly-established magazines are producing commentary and journalism that, indeed, rivals the quality of their more established competitors, leaving well-regarded commentators with seemingly-endless choices of where to publish.<p>In 1831, John C. Calhoun, then the Vice President of the United States, selected the Pendleton Messenger, a small-town newspaper in the Upstate region of South Carolina, for the publication of his "Fort Hill Address," which would become one of the most consequential documents of the Antebellum period. It was published as a letter to the editor.<p>As writers today enjoy a growing number of alternatives to the national papers, one wonders what tremendously influential works are currently beginning their ascent out of the quiet recesses of the Internet.<p>Don't stop now! Stay in the know with critical commentary on media news coverage from Erich Prince and News on the Record.<p><p><p>

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The Chicago Tribune, Chris Matthews, and Institutional Loyalty


As Mary Schmich, the longtime Chicago Tribune columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote on February 27, "When I left my first newspaper job, and expressed regret, a very wise editor said to me something that has haunted me ever since: 'Never be loyal to an institution because it will not be loyal to you.' That harsh wisdom is in my brain today." Earlier that day, it had been announced that the Chicago Tribune — following Alden Global Capital's December acquisition of a 32 percent stake in its parent company — would be parting ways with its publisher/editor-in-chief, as well as its managing editor.<p>As Alden was purchasing its stake, Schmich wrote a rather courageous column in which she implored another potential buyer to save the Tribune from possible liquidation at the hands of Alden, a hedge fund notorious for gutting newsrooms. Presumably, as a consequence of Schmich's vocal opposition to her paper's new owners, many readers worried that Schmich might be next on the chopping block. As Schmich herself noted, "Some of us are paid fairly for this labor. Many are not." It's no small leap, then, to realize that when the time for cost-cutting arrives, some of those "paid fairly" are the first to go. As of now, Schmich remains but, as is evident from her February comments, she is under no illusions about media outlets' less than stellar reputations for their loyalty.<p>On March 2, only minutes into his broadcast of Hardball, the show he had hosted for more than two decades, Chris Matthews announced his retirement. It was the culmination of a difficult nine days for Matthews. On February 22, Matthews found himself on the receiving end of significant social media backlash after he compared Bernie Sanders' victory in the Nevada Democratic caucuses to Germany's 1940 invasion of France. The #FireChrisMatthews effort would accelerate on February 28 when Matthews confused the identities of two black South Carolina politicians. But the final straw for Matthews would be a GQ column published that same day by journalist Laura Bassett, describing how Matthews had "inappropriately flirted" with her, drawing further attention to his tasteless past comments to women.<p>Reactions to Matthew's departure from MSNBC were nothing short of impassioned, with MSNBC political correspondent Steve Kornacki choking up on-air in the immediate aftermath of Matthews' announcement. This was followed by further sorrow the next morning from Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the co-hosts of Morning Joe, with Brzezinski saying, "As a woman, I loved working with Chris Matthews," a perspective notably shared by The Washington Post's Kathleen Parker. (For both Brzezinski and Parker, Mathews' behavior, while certainly not ideal, was far from comparable to that of other now-disgraced media personalities and was an example of cancel culture gone too far.) All the while, other female media personalities, such as S.E. Cupp, defended Matthews' firing. Perhaps most important, though, were those commentaries that expressed some iteration of "How could MSNBC fire one of the faces that helped to build the network?"<p>Certainly, many events are overdetermined, with many underlying causes contributing to a final result, and Chris Matthews' firing was no different. Did his comments to women play a role? Of course they did. But, then again, MSNBC was aware of Mathews' conduct since at least 1999, when NBC offered severance to a female employee who accused Matthews of making flirtatious remarks. The acute cause of his downfall began with those comments about Bernie Sanders, a candidate whose rise Matthews, a man who'd voted for George W. Bush in 2000, likely could not comprehend.<p>As Matthews hinted at when announcing his retirement, the younger generation's worldview is, perhaps, a world apart from his own: "The younger generations out there [are] ready to take the reins; we see them in politics, in the media, and fighting for their causes." A growing share of younger Democrats, who might increasingly come to comprise MSNBC's viewership, clearly do not share Matthews' revulsion towards socialism, and MSNBC could not help but take note.<p>Matthews' finest hour, however, may have actually come in 2012 when he, himself, did something courageous and loyal: sticking up for a man who was clearly down. In February 2012, after years of alleged tensions between Pat Buchanan and MSNBC, the network fired Buchanan in response to comments in his book Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025? Buchanan was not a popular man in many circles and it likely would have been easier to say nothing — or to join in condemning him. But Matthews chose a different course and strongly denounced the firing of his ideological sparring partner: "The good quality above his relentless genialities is deep, even formidable loyalty. Pat sticks up for his people like nobody I know.... Name another public figure who has built his public career on being a stalwart loyalist to Richard Nixon. Loyalty is the heart of Pat's being."<p>It may very well be the case that — as Holman Jenkins has argued — as more media outlets come to rely upon subscriptions rather than advertisers for revenue, events such as #CancelNYT or, in this case, #FireChrisMatthews will become more frequent. Certainly, Matthews ought not to have said and done some of the things he did, yet one has the suspicion that all would have been excused had viewers not called (with such vehemence) for his head. MSNBC knew about his comments to women for at least 21 years, but it only became an issue now.<p>Matthews' decades of service were unable to offset nine bad days. But the news media has a certain ruthlessness to it; a ruthlessness for ratings and dollars. Perhaps some of that mythical "institutional loyalty" that Schmich pined for would go a long way in restoring the confidence and comfortability of news media's contributors. Just ask the folks at the Chicago Tribune.<p>Don't stop now! Stay in the know with critical commentary on media news coverage from Erich Prince and News on the Record.<p><p><p>

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News Media's Biggest Vice? Endlessly Predicting the Future


As the coronavirus continues its spread, one cannot help but reflect on the seemingly spontaneous generation of the globe's newest crisis. Just a few short weeks ago, the coronavirus was peripheral to our national discourse and news cycles. And a few further weeks prior to that, it was not even something to be considered at all, as our newscasts in December 2019 focused on the British general election and the impeachment of President Trump.<p>Indeed a few financial analysts, such as Jim Cramer of CNBC's Mad Money, were relatively early in issuing their warnings about the coronavirus's potential impact. Nevertheless, few in the news media saw this crisis coming.<p>This is to be expected. How many journalists have the background and experience to foresee the emergence of a new disease coming from China with the potential to spread across the world at worrying rates? Of course, Bill Gates and others have been warning of the risk of a pandemic for years now, with Gates even explicitly predicting in 2018 the impending emergence of a pandemic as serious and widespread as the 1918 Spanish flu.<p>In theory, the news media would be excused for failing to predict such a potentially significant event. They are, after all, supposed to be journalists, rather than soothsayers. However, from even a brief look at news coverage, it would appear that its focus is more concerned with being the latter: An inordinate amount of news coverage today consists of commentators seeking to predict the future. But the fact of the matter is, they're not terribly good at it.<p>Along with falsely predicting the imminence of many events that do not come to pass, the news media — for all its exercises in prophesying — also largely fails to foresee an era's most pivotal events, from the September 11th attacks to the Great Recession. This was all well-articulated by Swiss author Rolf Dobelli in his controversial (yet tremendously thought-provoking) 2010 essay "Avoid News." As Dobelli puts it, "Maybe, you'd find one or two correct predictions in a sea of millions of mistaken ones. Incorrect [forecasts] are not only useless, they are harmful."<p>Dobelli would add to my examples of missing the rise of global terrorism in the early 21st century and the crippling financial crisis of the late 2010s, "the rise of the Internet, the resistance to antibiotics, the fall of Europe's birth rate, or the explosion in depression cases" as examples of enormously impactful events not foreseen by a news media so fixated on making future predictions.<p>As for a more recent example, look no further than the coverage of the ongoing 2020 Democratic primaries. In the early fall, pundits had all decided that Elizabeth Warren was to become the Democratic nominee, even culminating in David Brooks' whimsical New York Times column "A Brief History of the Warren Presidency." Although perhaps not intended to be taken literally, the spirit of the piece reflected a growing consensus among media commentators that a Warren nomination was all but assured. At the time, few expected that Bernie Sanders, who suffered a heart attack in early October, would become the "frontrunner" for the Democratic nomination by February, as betting markets and commentators alike labeled him the presumptive nominee. And, then, came Biden.<p>Prior to his victory in the South Carolina primary on February 29, Biden's chances had been largely written off. Commentators such as Vox writer Li Zhou were downplaying Biden's prospects for a decisive victory in the South Carolina primary, considering it the state of his last stand. But then, Biden won the state by nearly 29 points. Shortly thereafter, The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald would tweet: "Establishment Democrats & neocon friends are likely to have one last moment of delusional hope tonight — a quick, fleeting high — until the harsh crash comes 72 hours later…," predicting a resounding Sanders victory on Super Tuesday. However, it was, instead, Biden who overwhelmingly carried the day. Again, prediction after prediction missed the mark.<p>While it is certainly cost-effective for media outlets to focus on punditry and playing the parlor game of seeking to predict who the next president will be or what the stock market will do next, this exercise puts journalism itself on the back burner. Punditry, as former Time managing editor Nancy Gibbs alluded to at HISTORYTalks last month, is much cheaper to produce than investigative journalism, which requires paying journalists to travel and investigate, as well as pay for their sources' drinks. And then, the investigative story that may emerge — if the facts can all be borne out — often does not appear for weeks or months. Furthermore, said investigative story, even if it is tremendously important, may not be all that popular with readers. This is what took place when Julie K. Brown of the Miami Herald had to wait with colleagues in the newsroom until her award-winning exposé on Jeffrey Epstein "became the most-read article on the paper's website, surpassing a story about a woman who had passed gas in a convenience store."<p>It may be amusing to speculate endlessly about future events, but journalism is really more a question of analyzing the past and present. Although I would never favor imposing formal penalties on newsrooms or commentators that inaccurately predict the future, it is well within the rights of readers or viewers to turn away from commentators whose steadfast predictions turn out to be very incorrect, such as when Rachel Maddow suffered a 20 percent audience drop after the conclusion of the Mueller probe.<p>Most important, however, a mindset shift might go a long way; journalism ought to refocus itself on analyzing the events of the past and present. An occasional well-considered future prediction is certainly fine, but the ratio could use a correction.<p>Don't stop now! Stay in the know with critical commentary on media news coverage from Erich Prince and News on the Record.<p><p><p>

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The Conception of "The Babylon Bee"


As is the case with many stories of entrepreneurship, Adam Ford, founder of the satire site The Babylon Bee, had little inkling of the degree to which his project would "explode" when he began. Although confident that there was an audience lying in wait somewhere for satire with a Christian twist to it, Ford, who was 32 when he launched The Babylon Bee in 2016, originally oversaw a one-man show and relied on unpaid submissions to keep the content rolling.<p>Ford sold The Babylon Bee two years later to businessman (and fellow devoted Christian) Seth Dillon; around the same time, the site notched its 100 millionth page view. Today, The Babylon Bee boasts more web traffic than The New Republic, The Nation, and, interestingly enough, Christianity Today — long considered to be the preeminent publication for evangelical Christians.<p>The Babylon Bee is, perhaps, best known for gently poking fun at many ideas held by American Christians, particularly those of the Evangelical variety. It humorously touches on the belief held by some Christians who take a literal view of the Book of Genesis that the Earth's actual age is 6,000 years. It also pokes fun at those churches that sometimes dip too far into the judgmental, such as with its recent story "In Strategy to Be Perfect, Church Asks All Sinners to Worship Elsewhere." Its satire pieces also examine day-to-day Christian life, not just theology. But, as Ford has indicated in numerous interviews, part of The Babylon Bee's mission — in addition to simply making readers laugh — is to highlight occasions when churches veer off course.<p>The publication, however, does not limit itself just to satire on religion; it routinely targets politicians and political movements of all sides. It indisputably goes further than other satire sites, such as The Onion, in its pointed criticisms of the contemporary left with biting satire pieces including, "Democrats Warn That American People May Tamper With Next Election."<p>As The Babylon Bee's editor-in-chief, Kyle Mann, indicated in a recent interview, few politicians, including Republicans such as President Trump ("Trump Irritated as Some Jesus Guy Hogs all the Attention at Prayer Breakfast"), escape the publication's aim for long. In all, it has been a remarkable ascent for a publication whose growth was entirely organic. There was no advertising budget and it owed much of its early growth to innumerable social media shares.<p>One of the most surprising twists to The Babylon Bee's story, then, is that Ford would walk away from one of the Internet's fastest-growing and most popular sites in the midst of its success. Ford, only 34-years-old at the time, penned an open letter explaining why he was leaving the site at a time where it seemed he had every reason to remain. In addition to citing his longstanding aversion to personal publicity of any kind, Ford raised a similar concern often expressed by many other publishers: the seemingly unlimited power of tech companies such as Facebook and Google to make or break a given publication's reach. This was, of course, the story of Mic's downfall.<p>But Ford also noted an additional element: the concern that large tech companies' values are often a world apart from the ones that he and his colleagues at The Babylon Bee hold. Ford went on to describe the Facebook and Google "practical duopoly on information" as a potential risk to publications that share The Babylon Bee's worldview: "It's a handful of people who are hostile to the Christian message and the plight of the individual deciding what's good and bad, true and false.... I am no conspiracy theorist; never have been. From where I sit, this danger is as clear as day." Ford's conclusion to this effect was no doubt influenced by the much-publicized controversy of the fact-checking site Snopes, a then-Facebook partner, rating a number of The Babylon Bee stories as "false" rather than as satire.<p>Although many commentators writing about The Babylon Bee have focused on the Facebook and Google points (as well as the Snopes imbroglio), there is likely a more important lesson when it comes to this satire publication. Unlike previous forays of conservative-leaning individuals into the world of comedy — from Tim Young to Fox News' efforts at late-night comedy (efforts often criticized but also defended, such as by The New Yorker's Kelefa Sanneh) — The Babylon Bee is genuinely and consistently funny. From its quaint and alliterative title on down, the site also seems to present its comedy from a place of well-being rather than anger. And, for its Evangelical readers, there must be the additional realization that its joke-laden criticisms of aspects of their religion at least come from a place of shared understanding.<p>Lastly, there is a long-standing relationship between Christianity and humor, a connection Ford must have been sensing when he gave an interview suggesting that, "the Church needs laughter." The ability to laugh at oneself must be a step away from what C.S. Lewis considered to be the most irredeemable of all sins: pride, which he defined as "the pleasure of being above the rest." Similarly, G.K. Chesterton ended his beloved book Orthodoxy by suggesting that the most unrevealed and greatest aspect of God might lie in "His mirth."<p>It is often said that it takes a big person to laugh at himself, but it likely takes an even bigger person to laugh at his religion, whether it be a theological religion or a secular one. And, today, when so many political worldviews also border on the religious, perhaps that's the most important lesson from The Babylon Bee: No matter how strongly one holds a conviction, it ought never be beyond the reproach of humor.<p>Don't stop now! Stay in the know with critical commentary on media news coverage from Erich Prince and News on the Record.<p><p><p>

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Mica Hansen on TV Versus Digital Political Advertising


"Total political-ad spending in the 2020 elections on broadcast could top $3.5 billion, up 11 percent from 2016," according to CNBC. This could set a new record. And Politico projects overall spending in the 2019–2020 election cycle to reach $6 billion (with $4.4 billion on broadcast television, cable, and radio and $1.6 billion on digital video), for an estimated 57 percent growth from 2018. How effecting will that spending be?<p>As vice president and director of political sales at CoxReps, Mica Hansen (pictured at top) has extensive knowledge of what makes a political campaign work. In this interview, Hansen discusses the current state of political advertising and what makes for a strong (and weak) ad. She also examines the relative differences between digital and television political advertising, particularly insofar as each has been dominated by the Trump and Bloomberg campaigns, respectively.<p>Erich Prince: When it comes to classic political ads, a couple come to mind: the 1964 "Daisy" ad by the Johnson campaign and the 1984 ad during Mitch McConnell's first Senate race with bloodhounds searching for McConnell's opponent, Dee Huddleston. What ads stand out for you?<p>Mica Hansen: I'd certainly agree with you on those first two. One of the [ads] that recently caught my eye was [Senator] Joni Ernst and her initial spot [where she described her experience "castrating hogs"]. I thought that one was certainly eye-catching. It catapulted her name out there in a way that it would've been difficult to do otherwise. No one knew who she was — and, then, everyone knew who she was.<p>Prince: What are the features that make for a good political ad?<p>Hansen: I think that's changing. A few years ago, I would have said a compelling storyline — much like Barack Obama's initial biographical spots. They were spots that were introducing the candidate to the electorate. Now, to the point of the Joni Ernst spots, it tends to be something that's either a little more controversial, or comes with humor, or has something that makes it stand out from the generic. We're seeing an uptick in military service features, as quite a few veterans are now running for office and that will often be a key component of their pitch.<p>Prince: Conversely, what makes for a bad political ad?<p>Hansen: Goodness, there are so many. There's the generic: flags, apple pie, the shot of the family with the puppy — so often a golden retriever. Or, "I'm a successful businessperson; this is why I can run the government."<p>Now, granted, that worked very, very well at the presidential level. Obviously, I'm speaking of Trump — and Bloomberg to a certain extent. But at the local level, I think people are looking for something more enticing than just, "I've made a lot of money in business, so I'm going now to bring that to the state."<p>We've seen differences, though, depending on if a candidate is self-funding. So, I should put that caveat in there. If you've got enough money to put behind your message, generally that tends to make up for any number of copy errors you may commit along the way.<p>Prince: As Mitch McConnell says in his memoir, The Long Game, "The three most important words in politics are 'cash on hand.'"<p>Hansen: Absolutely, 100 percent.<p>Prince: You mentioned Mike Bloomberg. What ad strategy being practiced among the 2020 Democratic candidates — by Bloomberg or others — stands out most as noteworthy or interesting?<p>Hansen: I would have actually said Bloomberg. Now, granted, it is a strategy that could only be pursued by someone who had this amount of "cash on hand" — to steal from the previous line. It's not something that can be done otherwise, but he has frequent copy changes and engaging copy. I've noticed a narrative coming through beyond just trolling President Trump.<p>For example, I was watching a spot and he's been using the tagline, "Mike Will Get It Done." In this most recent spot, he said, "Well what is 'It'"? And he talked about what his "It" was, which was changing the tax structure, increasing funding for social programs, giving everyone health coverage, etc. But he actually took the time to define "It." Then, there's the sheer amount of spending. At this point, Bloomberg and Steyer have combined for $445.9 million in spending, more than all other candidates combined.<p>Prince: An important conversation that has been ongoing is television versus digital ad spending. How are you seeing the breakdown between the two this cycle?<p>Hansen: Bloomberg is challenging where the trend line had been by running so many television ads. As of the week of February 10th, Michael Bloomberg has spent approximately $300 million on advertising, with approximately 79 percent of that on local broadcast or network television. He's doing digital too, of course.<p>But one of the things that was true about the Trump campaign, which kind of up-ended the way campaigns were being planned at the time, is that it was digital-forward. It was substantially spending on digital — Facebook, specifically. As you know, Brad Parscale, his current campaign manager, worked as his digital manager previously and they invested heavily in digital. And it worked well. So far, the Trump campaign has spent approximately $52.1 million this cycle, with about $39 million on digital.<p>Prince: Can you describe the current intersection of political ad spending and the broader financial well-being of the various local news markets?<p>Hansen: There has been a contraction that is obvious and documented. I'm not letting [the] cat out of the bag to say that there's been a contraction in broadcast spending overall over the last few years. Yet, political [ad spending] has somewhat papered over — if not made up for — some of the declines that we've seen in core spending going into broadcast. And I can see that continuing, especially since Bloomberg's campaign is investing so much in broadcast.<p>Of course, this all depends on who wins. If Trump continues with the digital-first strategy and is able to win reelection, I'm sure we'll see more candidates continue that pivot to digital. But if a more general market and broadcast strategy wins the day, then I would say the advantage is to broadcast.<p>To invoke an extremely old trope: Broadcast is the shotgun, digital is the rifle, and you're going to hit an individual person, whereas television hits everybody. And then it just depends on who's listening to your message at that moment. I know there is still targeting involved, and I don't want to act like broadcast isn't targeted — because it is — just not to the degree of digital. But since you are trying to get a preponderance of voters out there to vote for you, you need to reach that level of audience, for which broadcast has not been surpassed.<p>Don't stop now! Stay in the know with critical commentary on media news coverage from Erich Prince and News on the Record.<p><p><p>

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Ground News Founder Harleen Kaur on Addressing Media Bias


Harleen Kaur's (pictured at top) background is in engineering, and she previously worked at NASA and then at an early-stage satellite company in Germany. Kaur recently made the transition to entrepreneurship in news; on January 15, she launched Ground News, a mobile app designed to make media biases transparent by providing a range of news sources from across the world and across the political spectrum.<p>In this interview, Kaur reveals the "why" behind Ground News, examines media bias, and discusses the benefits of presenting an aggregated view of coverage on specific news events.<p>Prince: Talk about the origin of Ground News. Your background is in space engineering. Why the move to news?<p>Kaur: From my background in space, I started working at a mobile app company that [shares] soccer scores. The app already had 10 million users getting their scores each day, and it really fascinated me — coming from an industrial life, where so much capital expenditure was required to make an impact. In software, you can make an impact with a very low expenditure.<p>Despite all the technology available, people find it very difficult to understand what's going on with the news; what's news and what's not. I want to create a product where people can sift through and very quickly understand news as a journalist like yourself would do, giving them the tools to be able to understand what's really going on.<p>Prince: One of the biggest biases in news is story selection: which stories are covered versus which never make it to print. How does your platform account for this type of bias?<p>Kaur: It's going to sound a bit silly, but we discovered this by accident. When we started mapping the sources to the biases, we were totally shocked by the absence of reporting on a lot of topics by either side — not even talking about charged topics like climate change. I'm looking at heavy rains in Rwanda, and most of the sources covering it lean left because the right doesn't want to be associated with the implications of the heavy floods happening.<p>Then, there are stories on the right, as well. Just popping up on my feed now, there is "Police shoot suspect stabber in Belgium," and that is mainly covered by the right and not the left. There is this "pick and choose" on what people decide to cover on each end of the spectrum…. If people rely on a single side of the spectrum, you don't see what's happening on the other side.<p>Prince: When labeling a given news source as "right" or "left," how do you account for publications that don't fit neatly into these boxes? For example, Fox News is labeled "right," and The Washington Post as "leaning left." Yet, many commentators at Fox News are far more skeptical of interventionist foreign policy than many at the Washington Post — and, thus, are arguably to the left of Washington Post commentators.<p>Kaur: The only way we can do it is by addressing it on a per-topic or per-news event basis — and seeing how each particular topic has been covered by a particular outlet. This is part of the Ground News 2.0 version we're working on. For example, within Fox News, how does a particular topic get covered? Is there bias in the sense that we can't put a blanket cover saying Fox is always on the right? There is work to be done, and [it] will be even more powerful than what we're showing right now, which is a blanket left or right.<p>Prince: One of Ground News' most interesting and important features is the geographic aspect, where one can see how stories are covered in certain parts of the world versus other parts. Would you share some examples?<p>Kaur: Being based in Canada, an example would be how Huawei is covered in Canada versus the United States, mainland China, and Hong Kong. Another is the Iranian plane crash [last month] and how it was covered differently in Canada because, unfortunately, many Canadians died in the crash. Sitting in the West, we don't often get to see how the Iranian media covers what's happening and how they perceive the news.<p>Another interesting one for me was in Russia when it came to the opposition leader Navalny. For some media outlets, it was that he fell ill suddenly, and in some parts of the world — for example, in Canada — it was covered as if he were poisoned. In parts of Europe, it was covered that he had an allergic reaction. It's interesting, and that shows you how very quickly these countries align in terms of their foreign policy with Russia.<p>Prince: What are the other big advantages of Ground News relative to other news aggregators, such as Read Across the Aisle, that aim to address media bias?<p>Kaur: When you go to Google and type in "movies," you see Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, IMDB, etcetera. We want to become a single destination for news. I'm pretty proud to say that we actually have more stories from across the world than Google News. So, one is the number of sources. The second is the variety of sources from the far-right to the far-left. We would like to show extreme perspectives.<p>And another one is the variety of content that you can follow. We have over 150,000 topics, so you can follow anything from the Trump impeachment to dreadlocks. You can follow news stories. You can follow interests. We want to be the destination of news where people have all the tools to dig deeper if they want to.<p>Don't stop now! Stay in the know with critical commentary on media news coverage from Erich Prince and News on the Record.<p><p><p>

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Merrill Brown: The News Project and Solving for the Local News Crisis


Merrill Brown, perhaps best known for serving as the first editor-in-chief of MSNBC.com, launched The News Project in 2018, along with a number of media industry colleagues. Brown’s company serves as a one-stop-shop, providing software and analytics to digital publishers. In this interview, Brown joins Erich Prince to discuss The News Project and how its services can be of use to both nonprofit and for-profit news sites, as well as the “local news crisis.”<p>Erich Prince: Having had a number of roles in journalism, from being a journalist at The Washington Post to being the first editor-in-chief of MSNBC.com, what are some key insights from these previous roles you’re bringing to The News Project?<p>Merrill Brown: Observation one: Technology, product development, and proper use of the platform are really important when thinking about the digital world, and it's often underappreciated by people focused on news and content. We want to empower editors, writers, and producers to do what they do best.<p>Observation two: We're in a global information revolution. A very new chapter of that is about entrepreneurship and innovation in local news, and in coverage of important topics.<p>As you look at the world and you look at news economics and so forth, one conclusion is unavoidable: Revenue is challenging. Smaller organizations and lower overhead are characteristics of models likelier to be successful than those featuring large organizations and big overhead. It's really important that small organizations be as smart and as nimble as their news counterparts in larger organizations if they intend to create sustainable business models.<p>A third thing is that, although being a national news organization is important, we're also in a very niche [news] world. That could be news about communities, cities, regions, or states, but I'm also talking about niche categories that are increasingly poorly covered by national media — whether it be housing, science, the environment, race issues, or gender issues. Increasingly, people who care about those issues and need to read world-class material about those issues are going to find coverage in niches [on the Internet]. From an entrepreneurial point of view, these niches are going to drive audience traffic and revenue. They're going to help create the new civic conversation we need to have about all of these things in a new news world.<p>Prince: What do you see as the similarities and differences between working with nonprofit versus for-profit clients?<p>Brown: There are more similarities than differences. In a world where there are more and more people seeking philanthropic dollars, the idea that nonprofit news sites could exist without having revenue strategies now seems ridiculous. Everybody needs sophisticated revenue strategies, and — to a certain extent — those strategies are very similar.<p>They are about membership, subscription, paywall, various new content forms, and native advertising. What for-profits have that nonprofits don’t are very aggressive — sometimes intrusive — advertising strategies. You won’t see intrusive advertising on public media sites or most nonprofits. You won’t see site ownership sold to somebody as many big news organizations do. But, increasingly, whether it's programmatic or simple banners, getting the revenue component of this right is critical, and the tools and capabilities are very similar whether you're a nonprofit or for-profit.<p>Prince: One of the main things we talk about in journalism right now is the “decline of local journalism.” Many small-town media outlets are struggling. Can you walk me through some of your recommended strategies to help local news sites?<p>Brown: We are a technology company with a SaaS business model that provides — in addition to the platform we offer — services that help people reach sustainability. We're not a consulting firm; we're not a services company, per se, but we help people who launch on our platform, especially over time. We do this in many ways, ranging from revenue strategy, to audience development, to product.<p>To the local entrepreneur, first of all, you need to look at your market and understand what the advertising opportunity actually is in that market. Even in what we call “news deserts,” there may be relatively easy opportunities to skim some revenue from local merchants, restaurateurs, and others that aren't finding Google and Facebook as effective.<p>The next step is to register as many readers as you possibly can — and if it's just an email address and not a credit card, that's a good start. But you always want to try to make sure you get as close to the reader as possible.<p>Also, have not just an opportunistic plan around all of this but, rather, a thoughtful plan that has you going step-by-step through this process.<p>Finally, make sure your product strategy is leading towards new revenue opportunities that are right for your market’s demographics and circumstances.<p>Prince: What are the advantages of The News Project, as opposed to, say, getting developers from Upwork, a WordPress package, and Google Ads, and cobbling everything together?<p>Brown: It's one-stop shopping. We know exactly what we're doing in all these fields. We're always learning and getting smarter about it, but we have a very clear approach to building a news and information company properly. Everything is already built. You can [launch] quickly, and you have all the tools and capabilities included in the package. It's technologically integrated and we help you with the data. As we say, news business in a box is a rare thing.<p>It doesn't exist at this level of comprehensiveness at this price point anywhere else, we think, in this country. We want to help thousands of people to get it right. The point is it's all here, and we have the team and expertise.<p>Don't stop now! Stay in the know on news media trends with more from Erich Prince.<p><p><p>

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Sacha Baron Cohen's Ill-Conceived War Against Social Media


Sacha Baron Cohen, the comedian perhaps most famous for his 2006 film Borat, gained considerable attention for his sharp criticism of the Internet, particularly Facebook, at a recent Anti-Defamation League (ADL) event. Baron Cohen continued his denunciations of social media at the Golden Globes last month, describing Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg as "a naive, misguided child who spreads Nazi propaganda and only has imaginary friends." Baron Cohen is making similar comments on Twitter — attacking Zuckerberg, in particular — on an ongoing basis.<p>Baron Cohen's case, briefly summarized, suggests that the relative latitude given to users to post thoughts freely on the Internet risks facilitating the spread of factually incorrect or racially prejudiced content. Since content posted by regular users appears in a similar fashion to content posted by "experts," other unsuspecting users are subjected to an environment where "the rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Nobel Prize winner." Thus, social media users may see incorrect information posted by "ignoramuses," believe it to be true, and then vote accordingly, thus giving rise to "autocracy."<p>For Baron Cohen, social media has become one of the leading amplifiers of hate and false information, morphing the Internet into "a sewer of bigotry and vile conspiracy theories that threatens democracy and our planet." He even goes so far as to suggest that should current Facebook policies continue, then executives such as Zuckerberg should "go to jail."<p>Although perhaps initially rhetorically appealing to some, Baron Cohen's line of argument relies on a number of misconceptions, as well as a lack of engagement with the overwhelmingly positive effects that the democratization of knowledge can have. Even more far-fetched is his notion that somehow Mark Zuckerberg and other tech executives are responsible for prejudice in the world, particularly anti-Semitism./p><p>First of all, as for Baron Cohen's tying of the relative free speech that exists on the Internet to "Democracy … [being] in retreat" — for all the criticisms that can be levied against the Internet, being anti-democratic is not one of them. Social media is the definition of pro-democratic; anyone can register for an account and express opinions. Participating in discussions about important world events is not limited only to those with a blue checkmark.<p>Interestingly enough, for all of Baron Cohen's panic about "authoritarians" on the march, he would be wise to recall that one of the first things that true authoritarians do when they reach power is, of course, to shut down access to social platforms such as Facebook. That is what North Korea does, what China does, and what Iran did precisely this last month amid anti-government protests. Authoritarians fear ordinary people doubting the narratives pushed by "experts" (and government officials) and then making fellow citizens aware of the gaps in said narratives via the Internet.<p>Closely related to this idea is the reality that social media serves as a legitimate fifth estate check on the news media. Despite Baron Cohen's consternation about misinformation being spread on social media — which certainly does happen — social media users, bloggers, and the like are often the ones to point out when major media players get it wrong; such as what took place this past October when ABC passed off video footage from a Kentucky gun range as a Turkish military offensive in northern Syria. Similarly, it was bloggers who recognized that Adnan Hajj's Reuters photos of the 2006 Lebanon War had been significantly digitally manipulated.<p>The larger point, however, is that major media players are far from sacrosanct. The lack of critical coverage of the "weapons of destruction" claim, which extended even to include the firing of war critic Phil Donahue by MSNBC, remains, for instance, far more damaging than Facebook's already-lengthy prohibitions on hate speech not being further extended.<p>Furthermore, Baron Cohen's arguments against social media rest on a sort of paternalism where regular people, in his view, are not wise enough to judge for themselves if the information they see on the Internet is true or not. Mark Zuckerberg actually provided a much better alternative to Baron Cohen's calls for restrictions on speech when he stated: "In a democracy, I believe people should decide what is credible, not tech companies."<p>In the eyes of many, Baron Cohen is hardly the best advocate against anti-Semitism and prejudice. Several Jewish writers, from David Horovitz to Yaron Luk-Zilberman to Charles Krauthammer, have argued that Baron Cohen has done far more to foment anti-Semitism — by using anti-Semitic tropes as the main driver for his comedy — than he has ever done to combat it.<p>The target of Baron Cohen's criticisms is almost always the United States — the nation that, according to the ADL, is one of the least anti-Semitic in the world, by percentage of population. (By the ADL's measure, approximately 10 percent of Americans buy into anti-Semitic stereotypes, compared to, say, 46 percent of Ukrainians or 92 percent of Iraqis.) And it also doesn't seem to matter to Baron Cohen that social media, in reality, is not some far-right chatroom. (Twitter users are more likely to be Democrats than the average American adult.)<p>Perhaps a recent actual case of sharing anti-Semitic content on Twitter might provide a telling lesson. Last week, Representative Rashida Tlaib shared the incorrect claim that Israeli settlers had murdered a Palestinian child. What happened, though, is that her actions were roundly condemned, including by ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt (via Twitter). This also provided an opportunity to reexamine the history of certain anti-Semitic narratives. To quote Nicholas Christakis: "The answer to speech we do not like is more speech."<p>Censorship does not make prejudice go away; the much better alternative is to respond to it, and free speech is essential to that process. The Internet was once considered one of the last frontiers for free speech, and some bad apples on social media shouldn't be given the power to change that.<p>Don't stop now! Stay in the know on auto marketing with more from Erich Prince.<p><p><p>

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Fixating on a President's Lifestyle: A Missed Opportunity to Inform


A December 2019 Vice headline provocatively asked: "Has Donald Trump Ever Eaten a Piece of Fruit?" The article's author, Drew Magary, concluded — in a profanity-laced response surely intended to be humorous: "If Trump has ever eaten a piece of actual fruit ... he probably did it decades ago when he was at military school. I bet they demanded he eat his ration of oranges one time, and then he spent the rest of his student career dodging fruit like it was f—ing live combat."<p>President Trump's diet (along with other aspects of his day-to-day life) has served as extensive fodder for the news media. On August 9, 2016 — nearly three months to the day before he would be elected president — The New York Times ran a 1,300-word piece entitled "Donald Trump's Diet: He'll Have Fries with That," which described, in detail, Mr. Trump's favorite meals, from fast-food to spaghetti. The author, all the while, used Trump's food preferences to draw conclusions about his personality and worldview, even going so far as to suggest that his food choices, "bespeak a certain lack of creativity, and parochialism."<p>This fixation on the president's diet would continue after he was elected, with extensive coverage of the president's decision to serve a buffet of fast-food to the Clemson Tigers championship football team at the White House during the 2019 government shutdown. There were also countless news stories written about President Trump's habit of having two scoops of ice cream, rather than one. And, earlier this month, Business Insider ran a story on the day of the Soleimani Strike under the headline, "Trump was eating meatloaf and ice cream at Mar-a-Lago as news of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani's assassination broke."<p>At first glance, one might be tempted to argue that stories such as these are written just in good fun; President Trump's lifestyle, after all, has been of interest to the media and general public long before his entrance into politics. And, for many, it's perennially interesting to read about celebrities, of the political variety or otherwise. However, a president's diet and lifestyle choices — despite their dubious relevancy — receive considerable amounts of ink, potentially eclipsing issues of true national import. And, furthermore, a fixation on the incidentals of a president's lifestyle preferences may also betray another unfortunate development: the trend in viewing presidents as national role models as much as what they ought to be, which are stewards of the duties outlined for them in the Constitution.<p>In the view of many writers, including George F. Will, the presidency, over the years, has increasingly been imbued with this "extra-constitutional role as role model." This likely began around 1901 with President William McKinley, who believed that the office of the presidency should be leveraged to "[shape] the public's minds and morals." This belief has continued ever since, extending well beyond just diet, such as when President George W. Bush put his personal exercise habit in a national context: "I have an opportunity to send the message to the American people that I'm serious about exercising — and you should be, too." This is what another Times piece, written a month after President Trump's inauguration, was getting at when it asked if the Trump administration can be expected to "set, as previous administrations have, a culinary example for the nation," while contrasting the Trump White House from an Obama White House that had sought to popularize healthy eating.<p>The Constitution gives the president of the United States a number of responsibilities, from being commander-in-chief of the armed forces, to appointing ambassadors, to "[taking] Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." The Founders never imagined that the office of the presidency would surpass Congress in terms of influence; in fact, they considered the latter body of government the most fundamental branch — and they even feared the very concept of an American president. (The Founders, of course, also worried about Congress becoming too powerful.) However, today, from The Washington Times' "Trump Central" on down, media coverage too often forgets that not everything is about the presidency.<p>As such, we know far too much about the lifestyle choices of our presidents and far too little about the actual gears that are creating policy and law. The House of Representatives, for this reason, has been considering a bill to strengthen the teaching of civics in reaction to recent findings establishing that "only 32 percent of people in the United States surveyed were capable of naming all 3 branches of Government" — and that more than a third of Americans could not name a single "[right] guaranteed under the First Amendment." However, many of these same people might recall off the top of their heads President George H.W. Bush's hatred of broccoli, President Bill Clinton's brisk jogs, or the contents of President Obama's summer playlist. Even today, many voters likely know more about President Trump's fast-food favorites than the state of ongoing trade negotiators with China or any provisions in the recently-passed USMCA.<p>Although it may very well be true — as Howard Dean once told me — that people vote based on whether they emotionally like a candidate, rather than on the actual issues a candidate supports, that does mean that voters cannot try to step out of that mindset. Part of the burden is certainly on voters (and readers); the issues are covered, if one takes the time to look for them. But the presidency is still front and center in media coverage today, and there is no more glaring example than incessant news coverage of a president's lifestyle choices. Politicians, presidents, or otherwise, needn't be turned into celebrities or role models. Besides, the incidentals of their personal lives likely aren't as telling for how they might govern as many might be tempted to believe.<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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The Soleimani Strike and the Problem With Media Rushing to Judgment


Unifying Narratives, Part 2: The Soleimani Strike and the Aaron Maté Club. One of the most amazing aspects of Qasem Soleimani's death by American airstrike was the rapidity with which commentators drew ironclad opinions about the event. This was true across the board, but — as I noted in "Unifying Narratives, Part 1" — the Aaron Maté club's vehemence was exceptional. Based on Internet searches, Aaron Maté had never even once publicly mentioned the name "Qasem Soleimani" prior to news breaking of the strike. Yet, this did nothing to deter his instantaneous barrage of strident opinions in service of his catch-all narrative.<p>The reality is that, sometimes, taking military action is desirable; other times, refraining is the prudent decision. The latter was true of President Eisenhower's decision not to intervene when Hungary attempted to free itself from Soviet domination in 1956, thereby reducing the risk of a potentially catastrophic open conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. However, other cases — such as foregoing the opportunity to nip North Korean aggression in the bud — are more debatable. Either way, it takes at least some time to evaluate the appropriateness of a military action; this excludes instantaneous reactions on the part of media commentators.<p>The Maté club, a group famous for wisely condemning "corporate media's" reflexive "all roads lead to Putin" narrative, has become no better. Their narrative, outlined in last week's column, is as it is — the specifics of a particular event be damned. As for their oil point, for instance, which underlies so much of their narrative, this is not the world of the early 2000s; between 2008 and 2018, American petroleum production increased by nearly 88 percent, with net imports similarly declining. For the group who believes that "neoconservatives" are secretly calling the foreign policy shots in the Trump administration, there is little engagement with the reality that Bill Kristol and other pro-interventionist proponents have become sworn enemies of the president's, currently even strategizing to force President Trump off the 2020 ticket.<p>Similarly, according to an October 13–15 YouGov poll, "conservatives" were over four times more likely to strongly approve of the decision to withdraw U.S. forces from the Syria/Turkey region than "liberals" (25 percent versus 6 percent). This suggests considerable electoral incentives for the president to avoid large-scale conflict with Iran. And, perhaps most relevant of all for the Maté club's narrative is that — this time around — many media outlets have been critical of President Trump's justifications for authorizing the strike that killed Soleimani. But when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.<p>Again, the Maté club was not alone in rushing to judgment. Other outlets pumped out stories suggesting that "US and Iran are on the brink of war," as well as pieces giving credence to Internet hysteria that "World War III" is imminent. The Maté club may be quick to accuse politicians of both parties of warmongering, but fearmongering about war, particularly when global tensions are running high, is just as dangerous.<p>This is all exacerbated by the fact, though, that events kept changing. For instance, this entire "war is imminent" narrative was briefly toppled on the afternoon of January 6 when Reuters and others reported that American ground forces were withdrawing completely from Iraq; then, the news cycle would have to rush to correct that claim when the Department of Defense denied that such a withdrawal was underway.<p>Media outlets would also claim that the large number of mourners present at Soleimani's funeral was evidence of the popularity of the Iranian regime. Then, when protesters took to the streets against the regime on January 11, other commentators would be left to conclude the precise opposite. Again, unfolding stories change quickly and there is little to be gained — at least when it comes to credibility or accuracy in reporting — by jumping to conclusions.<p>One positive aspect of this otherwise-unfortunate rush to judgment, however, ought not be ignored. If a January 8 BuzzFeed story is correct, the vehemence by which Tucker Carlson denounced the strike may have influenced President Trump's decision to de-escalate tensions with Iran. According to the BuzzFeed piece, the president watched Tucker Carlson's monologue denouncing the strike and "it had affected [Trump's] view on the Iran situation," a point that serves as a useful reminder that the relationship between news outlets and politicians is a two-way street; the actions of politicians influence the news, but how the news is reported, in turn, also influences the decision-making of political actors.<p>To conclude with the Maté club, a microcosm (and the most egregious offender) of the rush to judgment, it's curious how the group has declined to walk back any of their "World War III" hysteria. For a group that has been so critical of other media actors for failing to express regret for overplaying the Russia case, they just moved along to talking about Venezuela, Joe Biden's Iraq War vote, and their other favorite topics. That is, except for Michael Tracey, who instead of moving on, did something worse by doxxing a well-known Twitter user who did not share his foreign policy worldview. All of this suggests that January 2020 may prove to be a jumping-the-shark, downfall moment for this once interesting group of commentators.<p>We still do not know what will happen with Iran. Although the risk of full-scale conflict appeared to greatly diminish on the afternoon of January 8, the situation is still precarious. However, what strikes me as particularly unfortunate is that — after all of the anxiety that war was imminent and concerns of a potential draft became so widespread that the Selective Service website crashed — one would think the news media would take even a day or two to enjoy the relief that, at least for now, the worst has not come to worst. But, no, within hours, it was onto the next batch of scandals, rumors, and hysterics.<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Unifying Narratives, Part 1: The Soleimani Strike and the Aaron Maté Club


It had been approximately 16 minutes since news broke that Iranian general Qasem Soleimani had been killed — and a full hour and 31 minutes before any nation or group claimed responsibility for the strike — when Aaron Maté, The Nation columnist and a leader of what Axios calls "the resistance to the resistance," started tweeting. Maté would spend the rest of the night, and the days following, sending out countless tweets (and hosting podcasts) hitting on his favorite themes: American imperialism, the use of false flags to justify foreign intervention, and his absolute favorite talking point: the complicity of Democrats in war, while only nominally opposing the interventionist wing of the Republican Party.<p>Maté and his colleagues at The Grayzone, a media project intended to provide "investigative journalism and analysis on politics and empire," were not alone in rushing to judgment and making sweeping predictions based on — particularly, at the time — a few bits of information in a very developing story. The difference for Maté and his colleagues, however, was how developed a narrative they were so sure of, mere minutes after the news broke that Soleimani had been killed.<p>Maté, along with Max Blumenthal, Glenn Greenwald, Ben Norton, Matt Taibii, and Michael Tracey, comprise this so-called "resistance to the resistance." By now their group has become increasingly formalized, often being invited as guests to the same television programs (interestingly enough, one is Tucker Carlson Tonight), citing each other in articles, and engaging in frequent Twitter exchanges. The members of the group support the progressive Left, Bernie Sanders, and non-interventionism. They are also well-known for not necessarily preferring the establishment wing of the Democratic Party (e.g., Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton) to President Trump.<p>Like the 12 percent of Bernie Sanders supporters who supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election, they align with the president on certain economic and foreign policy positions (such as opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and skepticism about Russia-based narratives). It would, however, be inaccurate to claim that they "like" or "support" President Trump. All the while, this group is attracting an ever-broadening base of fans, with now a combined 2.28 million Twitter followers (among those six leaders), which, for comparison, is nearly double the number of followers of, say, Jeb Bush and nearly triple that of Amy Klobuchar's.<p>What has made this group so famous, however, is how correct they were regarding the Russia collusion narrative, questioning — for two years running — the media's nonstop coverage of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. They flatly didn't believe it. Instead, they argued that the quantity of this coverage was intended to be a distraction from the actual reasons the more seasoned and well-funded presidential candidate was defeated by a political newcomer. They were also incessantly critical of the tendency by certain media personalities (mostly notably Rachel Maddow) to seek to tie everything back to Russia, while, at the same time, failing to give the Trump administration credit for its successes — or for failing to point out foreign policy situations considered more urgent, such as those in Venezuela or Yemen. In the view of the Maté club, the media was fixated on Russia to the exclusion of all else. After the group's two-plus years of consternation about "Russiagate," they were largely vindicated on March 22, 2019, when the Mueller Report failed to establish the much bandied-about collusion.<p>So, in the spring of 2019, the Maté club was on its way to being able to bill itself as the group who could block out a pre-packaged narrative and see things for what they really were. Now, in many cases, they still make good points, such as their view that the far more significant story than that of impeachment was what happened days later: the overwhelmingly bipartisan passage of the 2020 defense bill to the order of $738 billion.<p>Similarly, their reasoning is sound for their concerns about leakers being prosecuted under the Espionage Act during the Obama administration, as well for their observations on the incongruity of the Democrat Party's professed affection for workers, while simultaneously supporting trade agreements that put industrial jobs at risk.<p>But now — with their knee-jerk reactions to the Soleimani killing — this club is bordering on having its own version of a "Russiagate" and championing one prepacked narrative that seeks to explain a priori nearly every foreign policy event.<p>Their narrative goes something like this: Due to the military-industrial complex, both parties — with the exception of the staunchly progressive left and the staunchly libertarian, non-interventionist right — generally approve of interventionism (because their defense contractor donors make money from it, and armed conflict can be good for business). Also, the United States chooses to intervene militarily in countries where resources are at stake, which might explain intervention in the oil-rich Middle East but not a mid-genocide Rwanda. The United States also seeks out justifications to explain to the public why war is necessary; in some cases, the events are true (the sinking of the Lusitania); in other cases, they are not ("Weapons of Mass Destruction"). Then, major media players, who frequently employ past CIA officers and military generals, nearly universally support the federal government's justification for conflict.<p>Whenever just about anyone embraces a "system" or an all-encompassing ideology, there are aspects of truth to it — and this is certainly the case for the Maté club. The military-industrial complex is a longstanding concern; Britain and the United States did run out of patience with Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 when his administration nationalized Iranian oil; and media parties have, at times, come out far too strongly in war — the most glaring example being in the prelude to the World War I. History, however, is a guide, not prophecy.<p>In part two of this examination, I will explore the risks of media figures — of any stripe — putting forward a single unifying narrative and then look to tie everything back to that.<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Millennials Are Taking a Liking to Newsletters


This past year was an eventful one for theSkimm, a popular email newsletter aimed at millennial women. In March, theSkimm launched its podcast, Skimm This, featuring roughly 10-minute segments of important news stories released daily. In June, theSkimm's co-founders, Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin, published a book entitled How To Skimm Your Life, which aims to break down "some of the less glamorous parts of being an adult. Covering everything from personal finance, to career, to stress management, global politics, and more."<p>Weisberg and Zakin followed up the book's publication with a 10-city book tour. In November, theSkimm opened both a pop-up boutique in New York and an e-commerce site for holiday shopping. All of this took place the same month that Business Insider reported that theSkimm was seeking a buyer or new round of investors amid reports of declining user growth.<p>Notwithstanding the Business Insider report, in all, it's been quite an ascent for Weisberg and Zakin since they left their jobs as producers at NBC with "$4,000 to their name" in 2012 to start their company. In the time since, they were on the receiving end of an $8 million funding round led by 21st Century Fox in 2016, as well as a subsequent $12 million round led by Google Ventures in 2018. theSkimm's newsletter, the Daily Skimm, (released once daily, Monday through Friday) is charmingly written with plenty of personality and the occasional touch of lip.<p>Although frequently on the receiving end of killjoy-type criticisms accusing theSkimm of infantilizing its audience for presenting the news in the quaint tone that it does, these tired criticisms, such as those put forward by Nneka McGuire at The Washington Post, miss the point; theSkimm does an excellent job of making the news engaging while, at the same time, resisting the usual companion of descending into overt and overwhelming political bias.<p>There have been other millennial-tailored newsletters that have achieved smaller but still respectable degrees of impact. One is Morning Brew, which was similarly started by two 20-somethings, Alex Lieberman and Austin Rief. By most accounts, Lieberman started the business-themed newsletter mostly on a lark while killing time during his last semester of college. The Morning Brew, which registered its millionth subscriber in early 2019, brands itself as providing a range of business-related news to young professionals who may not be overwhelmingly committed to a single career path. Therefore, unlike daily email newsletters such as The Hustle, which is geared specifically for the tech industry, Morning Brew provides a range of news across the business space.<p>Unlike Weisberg and Zakin, Morning Brew's co-founders did not come from a media background, per se, and, admittedly, theSkimm's presentation of the news appears, at times, more comprehensive. This is living confirmation of Zakin's comments: "I think the number one thing that has been instilled in us, and the number one thing that we care about at our company, is to have journalistic integrity and [make sure] that our fact-checking process is truly in-depth." However, Morning Brew is still replete with interesting and sourced business insights.<p>Another recent addition to this space is The New Paper, which was recently launched by two business-background young men, one of whom, John Necef, served as the head of growth at The Hustle until the summer of 2018. The New Paper's focus — like that of many other media projects — is to aim to provide news, including political news, without the partisan slant that marks so much of the current news landscape. Unlike Daily Skimm and Morning Brew, which have a clear target audience, The New Paper, instead, opts to target an amorphous group of Americans who may or may not be looking for an alternative to political bias in reporting. However, The New Paper will likely encounter what similarly oriented media projects have already found: People like to say they want unbiased news more than they actually, indeed, want it. To quote the Canadian filmmaker Maziar Ghaderi: "The thing about partisanship, though, is that it pays. You can make a lot of money telling people what they want to hear."<p>In any event, the success of companies such as theSkimm and Morning Brew offer a few lessons. The first is that — despite the Slack craze — email is still king, and there remains little digital substitute for the degree to which email dictates one's day and workflow. From a monetization perspective, newsletters, including Morning Brew, have been able to master native advertising, matching the style of advertisements to the format of newsletters to a tee. And, then, there's the retention point; as John Necef suggested when he was at The Hustle, retention rates of email subscriptions tend to be "unbelievably high."<p>Also, the publishing frequency of the Daily Skimm and Morning Brew (i.e., once daily) further suggests that news bombardment does not need to be 24/7. As a partial answer to the growing body of literature on so-called "news avoidance" (which I have touched on previously), this publication frequency underscores the reality that, for most of us — with the exception of congressional staffers and day traders — it's perfectly acceptable to wait until the following morning for the next helping of news from a favorite outlet.<p>I can still recall the first time I was shown theSkimm and being instantly struck by the distinctiveness of its personality. Before long, I considered it — along with Vox — to be, perhaps, the project in news that most successfully accomplishes what it sets out to do. So, with the popularity of newsletters such as the Daily Skimm, it's little wonder that more established news brands would also be so widely touting their own daily email subscriptions, whether it be CNN's 5 Things newsletter or The Washington Post's The Daily 202.<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Starbucks Is Offering Digital News With Its Coffee


Starbucks is nearly three months into its experiment of offering complimentary digital news subscriptions to its customers while inside its stores. Beginning in September, Starbucks discontinued selling print editions of newspapers across its 8,600 American stores, as a result of both theft and the company seeking to reexamine whether to continue selling those products where profits were lacking. But in October, Starbucks announced that it would — for a limited time — offer complimentary digital subscriptions to a number of newspaper, including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, and USA Today, as well as Tribune Publishing–owned newspapers such as The Baltimore Sun and Orlando Sentinel.<p>Starbucks' introduction of on-the-house digital news is closely linked to the coffee chain's desire to brand itself as a "Third Place." Its goal is to encourage customers to make Starbucks the place where — third only to their homes and workplaces — they spend the most time.<p>Much of the analysis surrounding Starbucks' decision has focus on the well-documented reality that digital news subscriptions are continuing their long-standing ascent relative to print subscriptions. But, the more interesting question is whether Starbucks' new policy will serve as the beginning of a trend where a number of businesses — particularly those already known for offering customers complimentary Wi-Fi, cable television access, or other digital perks — will follow Starbucks' lead and also begin to offer digital news free of charge.<p>As Tribune Publishing chief marketing officer Mark Campbell suggested when he said that "...we are implementing many initiatives to expand our digital readership and subscriptions and are excited about this partnership [with Starbucks]," perhaps the hope is that this Starbucks partnership will be the first of many.<p>Providing complimentary digital news subscriptions is already standard at a number of institutions, from universities to select public libraries to high schools. However, at present, this is still far from the norm at most businesses or public venues. Just as Starbucks gained considerable notice when it announced in 2010 that it would provide free Wi-Fi at all of its stores, this digital news decision may be yet another step in the trend of businesses, particularly retailers, providing greater degrees of digital extras to their customers.<p>Free on-location Wi-Fi is now expected at shopping malls, airports, hospitals, and many businesses. But going a step further and, say, providing digital news is still rare. Businesses previously known to offer print newspapers and magazines (either complimentary or for sale), such as Starbucks, may be the logical starting place. This includes businesses from hotels such as Marriott (long known for its copies of USA Today offered to guests) to salons (which typically provide a range of print periodicals in their waiting rooms) to airlines such as Delta Airlines and Southwest Airlines, which routinely offer complimentary entertainment — including cable news delivered via satellite — on many of their flights.<p>As Campbell's remarks regarding Tribune Publishing and Starbucks' agreement suggested, partnerships between such businesses and publishers would, of course, present another possible path towards profitability for news outlets struggling to stay above water. This is particularly the case for news outlets that have been shifting more towards a subscription-based revenue model, as opposed to one grounded in advertising.<p>Although The New York Times, for instance, has reported a healthy growth in paid subscribers throughout much of 2019, there's no doubt that, for some share of consumers accustomed to advertising subsidizing their news consumption, paying to read news and commentary — no matter how well its done — simply is not palatable at present. That's where Starbucks or other potential retail stores may come in, particularly if they continue to provide subscriptions to the deluxe publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Barron's.<p>Of course, presupposing this entire conversation about subsidized digital news subscriptions — whether they come from universities or coffee houses — is the assumption that an increasing number of publishers will continue to implement paywalls. As Nickl's Sumorwuo Zaza and others have argued, this is not necessarily a future certainty, even if it may be in vogue at the moment. However, if other news providers begin to join publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic in doubling down on either full or metered paywalls, there will certainly be a draw for some customers to opt to visit businesses such as Starbucks, which provide that news free of charge.<p>Time will tell if Starbucks' free digital news subscriptions — like many originally temporary offers or programs — will indeed become permanent. In the meantime, Starbucks' decision serves as an interesting test case for a very possible future in which two things happen: 1. the majority of news providers continue in this direction of relying on subscription-based revenue and, thus, paywalling their content; and, 2. thrifty consumers of news elect to patronize businesses that offer free subscriptions to their customers.<p>Just as T-Mobile has been known to throw in Netflix subscriptions with some packages, something similar could happen with news.<p>Lastly, should more companies — retailers or otherwise — follow Starbucks' lead, it might do something useful for journalism at-large, beyond just helping to pay its bills. Similar to how the Internet, as it has become so widely available and all but expected, is now considered a public good and, in some more liberal interpretations, even a "human right," perhaps digital news, particularly the currently paywalled newspapers of record, becoming as accessible as a Wi-Fi hotspot might do something similar for how a society conceives of the role of journalism.<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Media Outlets Build Business and Community With Online Comments


In September, Quillette, the quick-growing Australian online magazine, debuted Quillette Circle, a "new invitation-only online community designed to bring conversations sparked by our articles to life." To join, readers are required to make either a one-off or recurring donation to the magazine.<p>Although Quillette operates on a considerably smaller scale than The Guardian, both outlets have come to rely substantially on contributions from readers — a strategy that attracted considerable notice this year when the Guardian finally broke even and "made a small operating profit," thanks to reader donations. Quillette, however, has decided to offer something in return (or withhold something to non-payers, depending on how one looks at it) for those who make that donation.<p>The idea of charging readers to comment on news or opinion articles is not exactly new. But, previously, the reason for such proposals had more to do with policing profane or irrelevant comments, rather than using commenting as a revenue stream. Inappropriate comments have been a longstanding issue for news sites. Initially, concerns were directed towards anonymous comments, such as the 2010 statement from the American Journalism Review: "It is time for news sites to stop allowing anonymous online comments."<p>Although anonymous comments may, indeed, carry a special type of negativity, requiring users to log in to comment did not appear to be a complete solution. Beginning with Popular Science in 2013, over the following two years, many news sites — from The Verge to Reuters to CNN — removed their comments sections entirely, primarily citing trolling and the resource-intensive process of moderating each comment.<p>It is worth noting that, in addition to these widely-stated reasons for phasing-out comment sections, some commentators, including the conservative writer Allum Bokhari, have argued that the decision was more the result of a damage-control efforts by publishers whose brands were being negatively impacted by readers challenging the content of articles or the publication's editorial direction. Lending credence to this view are findings from a Washington Post– and USA Today–led study, which indicated a relationship between critical comments from readers and diminished respect for an outlet's brand.<p>In any case, following the wave of shuttering comments sections between 2013 and 2015, entrepreneur Michael Robertson launched SolidOpinion in 2016, aiming to introduce some paid comments to news sites. By creating comments sections where users could pay for their comments to appear higher than those of non-payers, Robertson sought to dually introduce publishers to an additional revenue source, while also providing the funds to subsidize the labor-intensive process of moderating comments. He managed to recruit Tribune Publishing, the owner of the Chicago Tribune and, at the time, the Los Angeles Times as an early customer. Although Robertson's company did not succeed to the degree he may have hoped, it did continue to explore this idea that commenting could be a source of revenue for publishers.<p>This is all to say that Quillette's 2019 decision to monetize its comments section has some precedent, and it coincides with similar thinking at major outlets, such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Both publications have articulated strategies to leverage their comments sections towards increasing engagement; in May 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported a 5 percent increase in both the number of people reading comments and the number of readers commenting themselves, as a result of modifications to its commenting policy. Both the Wall Street Journal and the Times have emphasized that they see their comments sections as related to this idea of building communities (i.e., loyal customer bases) among their readers.<p>The effort to leverage comments should also be seen in the context of publishers increasingly seeking innovative revenue streams. This includes the Wall Street Journal's marketing of WSJ-hosted lectures and even vacations and the once-proposed New Republic coffee shops, as well as the more-widely adopted merchandising strategy — something Quillette has pursued with alacrity.<p>Underlying all of these new strategies is this notion of a community associated with a news outlet. Quillette, for instance, describes Quillette Circle as an online community. The same is true of the podcasting platform Ricochet, which bills itself as a community of like-minded thinkers. Its revenue strategy: asking said like-minded thinkers to pay to take part in discussions on the site. <p>This online-community thinking appears tailor-made for today, an era marked by ever-increasing reports of a loneliness epidemic. (The British government even appointed an actual Minister for Loneliness in 2018.) So, it's little wonder people would look towards the Internet for connections with others; social networking being the foremost example.<p>This brings us to an important point: Closely related to this idea of publishers pushing for "online communities," whether or not they see it, is an effort to fight back against big tech sites, such as Facebook, that have come to suck up so much of publishers' revenue.<p>At the time when publications were closing their comments sections (around 2013–2015), many cited that an additional reason was that so many discussions were taking place on social media anyway. And, furthermore, that Facebook and Twitter were actually the more appropriate venue for such conversations. However, given the degree to which some publishers (most famously Mic) have lived and died by the whims of big tech's algorithms, it would make sense to want to bring conversations back to outlets' own URLs.<p>There's some evidence to suggest, however, that, no matter what, big tech is always one step ahead; for instance, the New York Times' comments system, Moderator, "was created in partnership with Jigsaw, a technology incubator that's part of Alphabet, Google's parent company." So, the revenue dance between publishers and big tech continues, with comments sections being, perhaps, just another point along the way.<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Reconsidering News Avoidance: "Big News" Is Still Critical


News media is falling out of favor with the public. According to a multi-decade Gallupstudy, 72 percent of those responding in 1978 expressed either "a great deal" or "a fair amount" of "trust and confidence" in the news media. By 2017, that number had fallen to 32 percent — followed by an uptick in 2018 and another drop in 2019.<p>Similarly, according to findings from Gallup's 2018 "Confidence in Institutions" report, television news was ranked as the second least trusted of all "societal institutions" in the United States, beating out only Congress. Distrust in the news media is more pronounced among those who self-identify as "conservative," but a full 54 percent of Democrats were also found to have an unfavorable view of news media. And as of late, an ever-increasing share of Americans are shutting out news (particularly political news) altogether in this emergent phenomenon of "news avoidance."<p>Obviously, much of the commentary regarding the news media tends to take a critical tone, something also very true of political commentary. And that's as it should be — to encourage continuous improvement. But this tendency invariably leaves us sometimes taking the positives for granted.<p>So, amid the doom and gloom regarding the news media, particularly when it comes to corporate and legacy news outlets, a few words in their defense are warranted.<p>Real-Time and Resourceful, Accessible and "Infotaining"<p>As political philosopher Matt McManus recently wrote, "Rapid innovations in communications technology and new media have made it so that any individual can access more knowledge at their fingertips than prior generations could have by traveling to the world's most esteemed centers of learning." This new reality is thanks, in part, to the tremendous information-gathering arms of well-funded news organizations. Their resources allow for up-to-the-minute updates from war zones to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.<p>The news media then presents this tremendous amount of information in a manner that is digestible, engaging, and, in many cases, strikingly memorable. Although I frequently criticize the degree to which news organizations err on the side of entertaining versus informing (and I stand by every word), unlike WikiLeaks' document-dump style of reporting, there is something to be said for making news accessible.<p>Then, sometimes, the major outlets get content choices especially correct. One example that comes to mind involves CNN's United Shades of America and environmental concerns in Chester, Pennsylvania. For nearly a decade, the environmental activists and scientists I knew in Philadelphia would bemoan the lack of media coverage of a situation they believed to be urgent: the presence of various pollutant-generating waste treatment plants in an economically disadvantaged city whose residents didn't have the resources to lobby effectively for change. Finally, in June 2019, W. Kamau Bell came to town and told the story. And knowing how journalism works, once CNN covered it, so did everyone else in the area, from The Philadelphia Inquirer to WHYY. Now, this issue — long followed closely only by environmental activists in the know — is very much in the purview of the general public.<p>Similarly, it's often the corporate news organizations that have the resources to report from just about anywhere. Although broadcast journalist Byron Pitts' memoir Step Out on Nothing might have been intended to be an account of how he overcame illiteracy and a difficult relationship with his father to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a correspondent on CBS's 60 Minutes, a different point stayed with me: the reminder of how organizations such as CBS enable their correspondents to report from the most trying of times and places. Pitts, for instance, describes how CBS was able to maintain numerous makeshift reporting stations in war-torn Afghanistan — after having done the same in storm-ravaged Central America in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. For many of the well-funded news organizations, this idea of "Going Where Others Don't" is often true.<p>Ordinarily, these reminders about the role large news organizations play might seem superfluous, so obvious that they barely warrant being mentioned. However, as the 2010s draw to a close — a decade that has helped make criticizing nearly every major institution or status quo in America into a pastime — large news organizations have faced their fair share of critique. Although many of these criticisms ought to stand, they must also be kept in proportion.<p>And for those who frequently draw attention to the best projects in "new media," it is worth keeping in mind that these ventures should be best viewed as complements, rather than replacements for, networks and newspapers of record. The longstanding standard-bearers in news media remain, after all, the departure points for these projects — and nearly all define themselves in reference.<p>The solution to the growing dissatisfaction with news media likely lies with reconsidering how we, as a society, view the largest, corporate news organizations. The wording of the one Gallup study says it all when it categorizes news media as a "societal institution."<p>As the journalist Kambiz Tavana has also sensed, many of the frustrations with news organizations stem from the public viewing them as disinterested third parties, primarily committed to serving the public, rather than what they are: businesses. Like any business, the products they provide are good and useful in some respects and less than ideal in others. And, in those places where they fall short, that's where the "new media" projects — for profit or otherwise — are thriving more and more.<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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All In with Chris Hayes: A New Live-Audience Format


For more than three months now, MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayeshas been experimenting with a new format: hosting the show in front of a live studio audience on Friday nights. Although other networks have also recently begun incorporating more live audiences into their news programming, as Variety's Brian Steinberg notes, All In with Chris Hayes, at least for now, is the only primetime cable news show to be hosted regularly before a live audience.<p>The show's new format marks another milestone for its 40-year-old host, whose ascent has taken him from an editor at the Chicago-based socialist magazine In These Times to Washington editor of The Nation and then — thanks to the mentorship of Rachel Maddow — to the host of the ninth-highest-rated cable news show in America. Time will tell whether other networks decide to follow All In's lead when it comes to a live audience but, in the meantime, when watching Hayes's new Friday shows, a few things stand out.<p>The first is how the new format makes obvious what many of us have long suspected: that much of what we call "news" is really more entertainment than anything else. Hayes' new format is another step towards the ruse being up for good. He bounds in like Conan O'Brien to a hooting-and-hollering audience and launches into his monologue. Like any late-night show host worth his salt, Hayes later brings in guests who sit on comfortable seats and half-joke, half-explain what they've been up to. Sure, politicians might replace actors as guests, but many of the guests chosen are political celebrities, such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Unlike the late-night shows, however, Hayes's producers don't invite even the occasional guest who might ruffle his audience's feathers. And, most telling of all are reports that Hayes's Friday night audiences have been warmed up beforehand by an actual comedian.<p>Another feature of Hayes's show that is striking is its absolute, unwavering focus on covering presidential politics. As is frequently observed, earlier generations of Americans, particularly those born before the inexorable rise of "the imperial presidency," would be astonished by how much of American national discourse focuses on our head of state. This is true on both the Left and Right. Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple may have been sensing this very point when describing how a relaunched Human Events was positioning itself to become a "MAGAzine"; the implication being that a news outlet coming onto the scene in 2019 has a simple choice to make: praise President Trump all day or incessantly critique him.<p>So, unlike Human Events, Hayes opts for the latter and invites a parade of guests who condemn President Trump to the point that no particular charge they make stands out from any other. For instance, one of All In's first Friday guests was former Obama administration photographer Pete Souza. The part of that interview that would be brought into focus was Souza saying how he'd never work in a Trump White House because he doesn't respect President Trump and doesn't believe "he's a decent human being."<p>Closely related to this point is a slightly more general one: that Hayes's Friday shows, much like the rest of the news landscape, are overwhelmingly person-centric, rather than idea-centric. All In is a parade of names and faces, with only the occasional look at the details of an actual policy. Even Hayes's November 15 guest Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seemed to pick up on this when she bemoaned how "mass media" would be unlikely to give her an "8 p.m. timeslot" to discuss her plan for carbon dioxide emissions and public housing. Instead, the studio's screens flash with images of Representative Adam Schiff, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, and, of course, President Trump.<p>Sure, impeachment might be the talk of the town in late 2019, but there are other things to talk about. In our hardly bipartisan age, the President just signed a federal animal cruelty bill into law, and not a single member in either house of Congress voted against it. What about Hong Kong? And, for an audience interested in hearing criticisms of President Trump, why not critique the administration on its policies regarding the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, a tragic situation that has seen — over the past year — an estimated 6,872 civilians killed; "the majority by Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes"? This terrible situation is finally attracting attention on Capitol Hill, particularly among Democrats, but it would benefit from even a fraction of the airtime that is given to far less urgent matters.<p>But the final and most important point regarding Hayes's new format is directly related to the presence of the live studio audience. Although Hayes occasionally pushes back on his guests' claims, such as when he briefly challenged Representative Ocasio-Cortez's characterization of White House senior advisor Stephen Miller as a "white nationalist," the presence of a live audience disincentivizes disagreeing with the proverbial "temperature in the room." Good journalism requires telling hard truths, but no one wants to disappoint a Friday night crowd; and no performer — whether trained as a journalist or otherwise — can resist searching for the approval of the audience in front of him. It's no surprise that, at present, the applause lines (and the laugh lines) are so frequent.<p>With respect to Brian Steinberg, who pointed out in his Variety review, "Some may get them angry. No matter what you hear, [Hayes] reminds them, keep in mind one rule: No booing," there's little danger of that. The show's content is tailor-made for its audience's approval. This is the case despite the fact that the best journalism tends to leave people silent or unsettled — not laughing. In this sense, then, Hayes' new format might actually be providing something of a public service in making crystal clear that much of what we refer to as "news" is far more entertainment than it is journalism.<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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The Next Media Darling of Presidential Politics: Nikki Haley


In late October, if the headlines were to be believed, Amy Klobuchar's presidential campaign was on the up and up. This was according to commentary in a number of news outlets, praising her performance in the fourth Democratic debate and holding her up as a last hope for moderate Democrats. The headlines rolled in from Politico ("It sure feels like Buttigieg and Klobuchar have wind in their sails") to The New York Times ("In Iowa, Amy Klobuchar Gets a Second Look After Debate"). Many, however, reserved skepticism, along the lines of Nathan J. Robinson's Current Affairs, when the publication quipped: "Klobuchar Receiving a Totally Organic and Not At All Media-Manufactured Burst of Attention."<p>There's no doubt that news media can be a kingmaker, having the power to, as Spiro Agnew put it in 1969, "elevate men from obscurity to national prominence within a week. [The news media] can reward some politicians with national exposure and ignore others." Critics on both the Left and Right have decried Mayor Pete Buttigieg's campaign along these lines, as the definition of a media creation. But the newest media darling, who likely will have far more staying power than either Klobuchar or Buttigieg, is a Republican, a woman, and a former member of the Trump administration: Nikki Haley.<p>On November 10, Nikki Haley (pictured above) appeared on CBS News Sunday Morning for an interview with Norah O'Donnell. Like most interviews with media darlings, it was more fluff than substance, with the bulk of focus spent on — since it is the 2010s, after all — retail politics, from the fact that Nikki Haley's father wears a turban, to Haley's preferred choices of footwear, to her characterization of herself as a "badass." And when Haley did dip into defending President Trump, a decision The New York Times has suggested was pure political calculation on Haley's part, O'Donnell largely left her alone, with few follow-up questions to be found. This is something that is almost other-worldly compared to how other network hosts such as Margaret Brennan, interrogate Republican defenders of President Trump, whether it be Representative Jim Jordan or Senator John Kennedy.<p>Subtly slipped into the end of the feature was that Nikki Haley had recently taken a seat on Boeing's board of directors and was now also pursuing "lucrative speaking engagements." If this interview had consisted of rigorous journalism, these two points likely would have been brought into focus, particularly given the degree to which voters have begun to look critically on politicians pursuing business opportunities such as these. But this point — much like Jim Mattis rejoining the board of defense contractor General Dynamics following his resignation as Secretary of Defense — also largely escaped media scrutiny.<p>The interview, in all, exuded a similar tone to most of Haley's other recent appearances, both in the media and within Republican donor circles: that she is the Republican heir apparent for 2024. This also comes at a time when some conservatives view Haley's identity as an Indian-American as a partial answer to the charge that Republicans struggle to appeal to non-white voters.<p>Although Haley publicly maintains that her focus is not presently on 2024, she has notably hinted at it. And, if you were to ask many members of Vice President Mike Pence's staff, Haley's team has been the source of the rumors that President Trump has been considering supplanting Pence with Haley as his running mate in 2020, a rumor Pence's team believes is an effort to keep Haley relevant between now and the 2024 primaries.<p>Be that as it may, if Haley is trying to stay at the forefront of the public consciousness, she certainly has had a lot of help from the news media this past month while she ostensibly promotes a new book. This outpouring of attention, which is also coming from outlets that can lean Left, makes one begin to wonder if a Nikki-Haley-like-character was tailor-made for the business interests of the news media. As the Democratic Party — the party supported by far more journalists than the Republican Party — teeters towards the far-Left, it is only natural for business-minded liberals to look for a potential horse in post-Trump presidential politics; someone not in favor of wealth taxes and "free college." News companies, like any business, might prefer a sort of Obama-like figure, who may be sensitive to certain left-leaning stances on social issues but still overwhelmingly sympathetic to big business. And Haley, though a Republican, may fit that bill.<p>If Haley is, indeed, as good a bet as any for 2024, it would make sense, then, for news outlets to cozy up to her. This is the age of access journalism, after all; news outlets and the politicians they cover enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship. Politicians prefer to break news with the outlets that give them favorable coverage. This brings higher ratings to those outlets, and this, in turn, incentivizes favorable, rather than adversarial, coverage. It pays to have good relationships with those playing, as President Obama put it, "at the highest levels of politics."<p>The genius of the Constitution, it has been argued, is that it prescribed different wings of government be chosen by distinct sources of authority: the House of Representatives by "the people," the Senate by state legislatures, and the presidency by the electoral college. But today, political candidates, particularly at the presidential level, are arguably chosen as much by the news media as by any other body. It is often simply a matter of who receives exposure and who does not.<p>So, even if 2024 may still be a while off, the news media has decided — at least for now — to leave behind, say, Senator Josh Hawley or Governor Greg Abbott, and instead, all converge on one former Governor of South Carolina.<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Future of News Media: Advertisers, Agencies, and Consumers Weigh-In


When taking a pulse on the state of the news media, perhaps it's better to look to data from advertisers, agencies, and consumers, than to focus unduly on a few of the loudest pundits and press from within the news space itself. So, I decided to review The Myers Report Media Brand Equity Study 2019, conducted online by MediaVillage and Synqrinus in August 2019. I noted several findings that are particularly illustrative of important trends and points of interest in the news space. MediaVillage members may scroll down for results comparing consumer respondents with advertisers and agency respondents for the attributes referenced in this article.<p>It's worth drawing attention to consumers' relative confidence, in particular, regarding the future prospects of BBC America relative to cable television news typically more associated with overtly partisan content. For instance, a full 75 percent of consumers indicated their confidence in BBC America's ability to "thrive in the future," as compared to 64 percent of consumers who would say the same of MSNBC — which was precisely the same share of consumers who expressed confidence in Fox News thriving in the future.<p>Although certainly far from immune to bias, BBC/BBC America — despite dogged suggestions of a pro-establishment bias (along with a preference for various left-leaning social issues) — is arguably perceived as slightly above some of the partisan fray of American politics. It's a point that may be fueling elements of consumer confidence in the brand.<p>This comes at a time when, according to a September Ipsos poll, fewer than half of Americans believe that the news media reports fairly or even-handedly on political issues. However, advertisers, agencies, and consumers would be wise to keep at the forefront of their minds that, of the top 25 cable news programs in Q3 2019, the first 22 consecutive slots belonged to programs on either Fox News or MSNBC. This may be a particularly important reminder for agency respondents, who expressed a 15-percentage-point higher estimation for MSNBC's future prospects than those of Fox News. (Interestingly, the relative difference in advertisers' confidence between the two networks was much less significant).<p>So, even if there might be reason to believe that the future may favor a move away from overly partisan coverage, at present, that appears to be what sells — even as demographic concerns continue regarding the consumers of cable news aging.<p>On a related note, respondents largely failed to grasp the disconnect between profitability and the perceived ability of certain brands to thrive in the future. For instance, 75 percent of advertisers and 80 percent of agency professionals expressed confidence in BuzzFeed's future prospects, despite the well-documented struggles that the digital media company has had in generating profits. This notably culminated in its January 2019 decision to lay off 15 percent of its workforce to support its efforts to reach profitability.<p>Thus, it is interesting that advertisers would express greater confidence in this category for BuzzFeed than for The New York Times, the latter of which has seen increased profitability due to its recent expansion towards a greater reliance on subscription-based revenue. But still, a chasm existed in confidence within BuzzFeed's future prospects between professionals and consumers, where only 59 percent of consumers expressed similar confidences. The glitzier, "new media" BuzzFeed was also preferred by professionals in this category, as compared to Forbes — even at a time when Forbes reported 2018 as being its most profitable year since 2006.<p>Also of note was the range of responses to the perennially-elusive question of the perceived social responsibility of certain brands. This question comes amid a broader national conversation about the role corporations ought to have (or not have) in pursuing interests other than maximizing returns to shareholders. To this effect, approximately 200 corporate chief executives of the Business Roundtable signed a letter in August, suggesting that they would act with other interests in mind than that of just their shareholders when making decisions.<p>This is a break from those who would argue, as Milton Friedman did in his famous 1970 New York Times Magazine essay, that "the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits." This is all to say that social responsibility is in the eyes of the beholder, and its meaning can be interpreted very differently by well-meaning, good faith parties putting forward different definitions. So, in this case, 67 percent of advertisers and 76 percent of agencies argued that The New York Times is socially responsible, compared to the 25 percent and 30 percent, respectively, who said the same of Fox News. The New York Times has been widely criticized, for instance, for its unquestioning support of various foreign policy decisions, including the war in Iraq, for which then-public editor, Daniel Okrent, subsequently had to issue an apology.<p>And, given the currently in-vogue definition of social responsibility, many would find that Tucker Carlson's recent economic endorsements are likely far more redistributive than those supported by many New York Times columnists and contributors. To this point, 47 percent of consumers expressed a belief that Fox News exhibited social responsibility — nearly double the number of advertisers who said the same.<p>A final major point of interest concerns the differing perceptions between professionals and consumers of a brand being culturally relevant. Responses regarding The New York Times, again, present this case clearly, as agencies and advertisers appear to overstate the cultural relevance this publication has relative to consumers. It's a similar story with regards to The Wall Street Journal, where 70 percent of advertisers and 71 percent of agency professionals indicated their belief in the cultural relevance of The Wall Street Journal, relative to 57 percent of consumers. A similar breakdown existed when evaluating BuzzFeed, with 80 percent of advertisers and 88 percent of agency respondents articulating a belief in the brand's cultural relevance, as compared to only 60 percent of consumers.<p>On the other side of the coin, professionals underestimated the cultural relevance of ABC and CBS relative to consumers, while overestimating the cultural relevance of CNN, MSNBC, and NPR relative to consumers. This is in line with responses in the "thrive in the future" category, in which some media professionals may fail to fully appreciate the differences between the types of media often consumed in major cities versus consumer preferences in other parts of the country. For instance, professionals overestimated the cultural relevance of Spotify relative to consumers and underestimated the potential cultural impact of iHeartRadio, as compared to consumers. Differences in perceptions between media professionals and consumers have been well-documented and have both economic and content implications.<p>In all, the study's findings offer worthwhile insights into the current state of news media and how perceptions can differ among advertisers, agency professionals, and consumers. As we learned:<p>Partisan media's ascendancy may not be guaranteed in the future<p>There exists, in certain cases, a lack of engagement with the actual profitability of various news companies<p>There are marked differences of opinion over what social responsibility means<p>Media professionals and consumers often have a different sense of what cultural relevance entails<p>Also, of worthwhile future exploration is an examination of attitudes about various news business models some companies have been experimenting with lately — from The New York Times' (and others') increasing reliance on subscription-based revenue to those outlets such as The Guardian, which notably broke out of the red, via the increasingly-popular revenue model of voluntary contributions from readers.<p>To be able to read the entire content, you must be logged into MediaVillage and be a company employee of a full or research MyersBizNet member.<p>Sign In<p>If you are having trouble logging in, or believe you should have access to the content, please email Maryann@mediavillage.com for assistance.<p>

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Historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Cautions on the Press


The commencement speech, I believe, can be considered its own form of a literary micro-genre. In the short stretch of time allotted, it requires the speaker to provide a perspective of interest, often peppered with moments of advice, while mixing in a few points of humor. The speaker also must hold the attention of an audience whose minds are almost certainly elsewhere.<p>We might all have our personal favorites, including those more explicitly in the advice category from George Saunders at Syracuse ("What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness") to Drew Houston at M.I.T ("There are 30,000 days in your life"). Then there are the commencement speeches that are addressed seemingly to the world-at-large, rather than to the graduates.<p>Of these commencement speeches aimed at the spirit of the times, this tradition is perhaps most longstanding at Harvard. There was Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 2002, describing how he saw America in the early days of the new century, and Benazir Bhutto in 1989, with his "Democratic Nations Must Unite" speech. Perhaps most famous of all was George Marshall, when he outlined the blueprint for what would become the Marshall Plan at Harvard in 1947.<p>But, of all the famed Harvard commencement speeches, in my view, one — above all others — is both the most important and is also quite applicable to the news media of today. It comes from Nobel Laureate in Literature winner and Soviet critic, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in 1978. The speech is well worth considering again, as the world commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall.<p>At the time of his speech, Solzhenitsyn had been living in Vermont for two years, having settled there shortly after his expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1974. Given that he had taken refuge in the United States and had become quite popular in many prominent American circles, many expected Solzhenitsyn's remarks — his first public comments since arriving in the United States — to consist of fawning for American life.<p>Instead, he opted for a different course. Beginning his remarks by foretelling that "some bitterness" was to come in the speech that would follow, he first stressed that his cautions would "[come] not from an adversary, but from a friend." After criticizing the lack of civic courage, he believed was ascendant in the West, as well as rampant materialism, he saved his most protracted criticism for the Western press.<p>In this context, Solzhenitsyn described the well-documented perils of living in a nation without freedom of the press. Then he suggested that the Western alternative, an environment where there is little accountability — legal or social — for putting forward information that is either false or uncouth is not ideal either. To this effect, Solzhenitsyn argued: "If [journalists] have misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases of public recognition and rectification of such mistakes by the same journalist or the same newspaper? It hardly ever happens because it would damage sales."<p>As I described in "When the News Is Wrong," about the erroneous reporting on the alleged execution of North Korean diplomat Kim Hyok-chol, far too few corrections or retractions are routinely made in cases when news outlets, including the most respected of publications, get the facts wrong. For instance, today, nearly six months after the reporting on Kim Hyok-chol, the Reuters story (along with similar stories in other publications), still stands without a single correction and retains its original opening: "North Korea executed its nuclear envoy to the United States as part of a purge of officials..."<p>In a sense, this is also what Rolling Stone contributing editor Matt Taibbi, a Russian collusion-skeptic from day one, was sensing when he wrote earlier this month, "Amazing that the reporters who swallowed the Russiagate fantasies whole aren't told to worry for their reputations, while the few of us who didn't bite are treated like lepers."<p>In addition to this point, Solzhenitsyn raised another important line of criticism against the ethos of the Western press when he asserted that "[newspapers] mostly develop stress and emphasis to those opinions which do not too openly contradict their own and the general trend.... What is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges."<p>Although the advent of the Internet may have done something to mitigate a few major news organizations determining the narrative of the day, this reminder underscores the necessity of truly independent publications, both then and now. This includes the once tremendously influential I.F. Stone's Weekly and other publications that carry forth his spirit of editorial independence today — from Max Blumenthal's The Grayzone on the progressive left to the heterodox podcast Wrongspeak, devoted to discussing "the things we believe to be true but cannot say."<p>If I had to choose just one section of Solzhenitsyn's speech to share, however, it would be this: "A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information." Spoken well before the onset of "round-the-clock" cable news, smartphone addictions, and Twitter, this is, in essence, what I was arguing in my critique of the Snapchat news feature: the constant drip-drop of surface-level information (some of which concerns matters that are anything but news-worthy) is no substitute for less constant and more substantive engagements with news and thoughtful commentary.<p>Solzhenitsyn's speech, which is well-worth reading in its entirety, provides a useful framework for engaging with the frequent (and absolutely warranted) adulations of the concept of an unfettered, free press. This is true, even if one does not accept all of Solzhenitsyn's conclusions.<p>Solzhenitsyn also expresses a belief that some of the excesses in Western journalism were tied to the more systemic problems he saw in the American society that he had been closely observing for the two years before. It's why he controversially suggested that, as much as he despised the Soviet Union, he would not want the then-dominant Western culture to be ascendant in a post-Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe.<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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How Far Will the "Build-Your-Own" Media Trend Expand?


As yet another high-profile example of the "build-your-own" media trend, on October 18, David French, arguably the front man of National Review, announced his plans to leave the publication. As he phrased it: "Thousands of posts and more than a million words later, I say goodbye." His destination? An upstart publication called The Dispatch, launched by Jonah Goldberg (also formerly of National Review) and Stephen Hayes (formerly of The Weekly Standard, which closed in December 2018). The founders described The Dispatch, which began publishing on October 8, as positioned to fill a perceived market opening in the "center-right" news and commentary space.<p>If the publication stays true to its plan, it makes sense as a new home for French — a Never-Trumper-turned-spokesman for a coalescing branch of the conservative movement that has been billed, albeit pejoratively, as "David French-ism." The term David French-ism comes from Sohrab Ahmari, the New York Post op-ed editor and now chief rival to French, who criticized his approach to conservatism in a now-famous essay. (Ahmari, originally a Trump skeptic, has come to prefer the more combative approach to conservatism that Trump champions.) The Ahmari-French fault line is now becoming the Rubicon by which conservatives are dividing themselves.<p>But couldn't French have continued his work — and stumping for his version of conservatism — at National Review, likely the country's preeminent conservative publication? Or, if he wanted a change of scenery, couldn't he have joined the contributor ranks at any number of well-established publications or news networks, including ones that lean left? Of course, he could.<p>Instead, French decided to keep up with the burgeoning trend in "new media," which is, of course, to be at (or close to) the helm of a brand new publication, rather than be a member of the ranks of a more established outlet. This is, of course, what Weekly Standard cofounder Bill Kristol did within weeks of the publication closing. He threw his weight behind the upstart publication The Bulwark.<p>A Slow-Growing Trend Hitting Its Stride<p>Well before President Trump came onto the scene and created the divide in the conservative movement that would eventually sink The Weekly Standard and indirectly lead to The Dispatch and The Bulwark, there was Ben Domenech.<p>Domenech, who is now as famous for his marriage to Meghan McCain as he is for his media contributions, resigned from The Washington Post due to revelations of plagiarism on his third day on the job. He then was implicated in a pay-to-write scandal that resulted in his published articles being taken down from other sites where he had written. Instead of going on an apology tour and seeking to endear himself to other employers, he decided to form his own site, which would be called The Federalist. Since its launch in 2013, The Federalist has become a major conservative publication, as well as a favorite Twitter source of the President.<p>It was a similar story for Ben Shapiro. When he parted ways with Breitbart following the Corey Lewandowski/Michelle Fields arm-grabbing incident in 2016, he could have deepened his ties with National Review or Newsweek. He instead decided to devote the bulk of his efforts to The Daily Wire, the upstart site Shapiro had cofounded the year before. Presumably due to Shapiro's comparative celebrity, The Daily Wire was able to raise a respectable seed funding round, courtesy of the Wilks brothers.<p>What these various news and commentary projects have in common is that they largely derive their credibility and brand from the individual personalities of their founders, more than from a business model, geographic area served, or guiding mission. And while the proliferation of these platforms as of late has largely taken place on the conservative side, there have been a few on the left as well, including Nathan J. Robinson's Current Affairs and Jacobin. It's possible that a Trump-style divide could take place on the left — in politics and media — with Obama-type Democrats and pro-Sanders progressives lining up at opposing publications.<p>In some cases, editorial control might be the primary motivation in going off on one's own, as The Bulwark's registration as a nonprofit implies. In other cases, for some editors-turned-entrepreneurs, the desire to emulate the success of early conservative Internet pioneers, such as Andrew Breitbart and Matt Drudge, is probably among the guiding motivations.<p>Judging by the $6 million that Goldberg and Hayes were able to cobble together to form The Dispatch (a figure The Bulwark could not come close to matching), these former editors — and likely David French — think their protestations of President Trump might be better rewarded at an outlet where they're the ones signing the checks.<p>Perhaps more than anything, this trend is indicative of the individualization of much of the news and commentary space, which is epitomized by the growing tendency of supporting the work of individual authors via sites such as Patreon. From there, it is no small leap for those with sufficient name recognition to think they ought to bypass the chain of command and have their own outlet. Of course, this has not always succeeded, as two former Breitbart editors, Milo Yiannopoulos and Raheem Kassam, learned the hard way.<p>Although Goldberg and Hayes might seek to brand their position as "center-right," that's a bit misleading. In reality, they are disgruntled neoconservatives, who have been pushed to the edges of the conservative movement by a Republican Party that has tired of near decades of foreign conflict. Whether or not they realize it, they are, more than anything, masquerading their political activism for legitimate business — particularly given that the Republican voter base is progressively more opposed to sustained foreign intervention. It's an increasingly passé ideology in search of a market.<p>For all the well-known editors and writers looking to try their hands at being CEOs, there's plenty of competition (including from platforms such as Medium). And even if they are able to find a reliable audience, it's unlikely they will see the sort of returns the original business pioneers of conservative media did.<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Why Political Reporters Ought to Consider Not Voting


Tomorrow is November 5, which means that voters in Kentucky and Mississippi will go to the polls to elect their next governor. Both houses of the Virginia General Assembly will be up for reelection, as well as the lower house of the New Jersey State Legislature and countless municipal offices throughout the country. Of course, far fewer elections will be held this year — an off-year election — than were held last November or will be held this time next year. Perhaps an off-year election, with its relative dearth of horserace coverage and interactive maps, makes for a better opportunity to bring up an important question: Should journalists who cover politics vote?<p>In April 2016, less than seven months before the presidential election of 2016, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper appeared on The Howard Stern Show. In response to Stern's question, "Will you reveal who you're voting for?" — which assumes that journalists do, indeed, vote — Cooper replied: "I don't think I'm going to vote.... I don't think reporters should vote.... A lot of reporters don't vote.... It's a thing." Explaining himself to an incredulous Stern and co-host Robin Quivers, Cooper indicated his belief that refraining from voting was another small step in the constant battle waged by good-faith reporters against letting their own biases cloud their journalism.<p>Cooper's comments attracted a perhaps unanticipated amount of attention and were received, on the whole, rather critically. Perhaps most notably, the theatre-critic-turned-HuffPost-columnist David Toussaint blasted the CNN anchor under the headline, "Anderson Cooper's Non-Voting Arrogance," and continued on to declare, rather harshly: "Until Anderson Cooper votes, I don't want to hear him voice his opinions, I don't want to read about his endeavors...."<p>Criticisms in the vein of Toussaint's raise the typical points: that people around the world are willing to endure great hardships to fight for the right to vote, that to forgo this civic responsibility is to be complicit in the rise of a political movement that one might oppose, and that it is some variety of "un-American." Or least imaginatively: that everyone is biased, including reporters, so who are they kidding by thinking that failing to cast a ballot actually changes anything?<p>But for a long list of reporters, from Cooper, to CNN's Chris Cillizza, to Axios' Mike Allen, refraining from voting has become a tradition. Allen, who recalls voting only once in his life (to support his college roommates who had devoted every waking hour volunteering on a certain primary campaign), argues that "...we owe it to the people we cover, and to our readers, to remain agnostic about elections, even in private. I figure that if the news media serve as an (imperfect) umpire, neither team wants us taking a few swings."<p>To those who argue that, even if Allen, Cooper, and Cillizza don't actually go into the voting booth, they're still biased, that's both true and not the point.<p>Everyone has biases and, as I frequently contend, it is neither feasible nor desirable to eliminate bias entirely. Journalists are informed by ideals they hold to be valuable, books of import in their lives, and life experiences, and it is perfectly fine to let a worldview or journalistic style inform one's reporting. To do otherwise would be to reduce journalism to nothing short of the boring — dryly naming "who's," "what's," and "when's," instead of putting forward the type of analysis and storytelling that makes news reporting interesting.<p>But this is only true up to a point. Refraining from voting is a step towards darkening the demarcation line between having a journalistic style and being overtly biased. It is to guard against letting one's personal beliefs unduly inform one's reporting and, thus, initiate one's descent from an objective journalist to an activist with a pen.<p>Indeed, there's nothing wrong with having writers in the news space who are clearly conservative or liberal; actually, they ought to exist. This is because the world of ideas is as important — if not more important — than tracking the day-to-day "whodunit" of breaking news reporting. But these writers are not what most of us think of when we refer to "journalists," and they should clearly be identified as such. For true news reporters — versus commentators or opinion journalists — not voting is another dividing line.<p>At its core, the issue is that once someone votes or — even more so — is a registered member of a political party, they begin to see events ever so slightly through that lens. I recall, for instance, my interview earlier this year with then-2020 presidential candidate Mike Gravel, who was a steadfast, in-house critic of his fellow Democrats. After railing against endless wars, special interests, and Washington insiders, I remarked to the former Senator that he sounded a lot like President Trump on the campaign trail. He cast aside the comparison with the sort of vehemence that only underscored a political reflex where he couldn't possibly admit to sharing similar core ideas to the current standard-bearer of the opposing political party. Even for a committed critic of the DNC establishment such as Gravel, he was still viewing politics through the lens of a partisan.<p>To be clear, the existence of political parties — for all the demonization they receive in our polarized times — have tremendous benefits in a democracy; for example, providing voters with information about a candidate they never heard of and allowing voters to hold party leaders accountable over time by rewarding or penalizing their parties. But our well-funded two major parties have enough activists, strategists, and consultants. They don't need journalists, too.<p>John Baer, the longtime Philadelphia Inquirer writer, used to tell the politicians he covered that he wasn't there to be "their PR agent." The new crop of journalists coming up today would be wise to listen to that advice. To get started, not voting might be a fine first step.<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Media's Under-Coverage of Disease


The news media obsessively covers today's political dramas — often at the expense of topics such as life-threatening diseases, which tend to be much more relevant to our health and daily lives. It's time to create a better balance in media coverage.<p>On October 5, The Wall Street Journal devoted its Saturday Essay to cancer. The essay, by Columbia University professor Azra Raza, Ph.D., was adapted from her book The First Cell and the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last, which was published on October 15.<p>Dr. Raza began by soberly observing that the survival rates of many types of cancer have barely improved at all since the 1970s: Despite the skyrocketing costs of cancer treatments (and their near-universal unpleasantness for patients), these treatments are not significantly improving outcomes. Dr. Raza concluded her essay with the argument that the focus — when it comes to fighting cancer — needs to move towards identifying the first cells of the disease, rather than seeking to treat it once it's much further along.<p>Perhaps due to the number of diagnoses each year, cancer is one of the more frequently discussed ailments. But what about other diseases, ailments, and common causes of death?<p>In May, Oxford University's Our World in Data published an overview of a study conducted by students at the University of California, San Diego, seeking to quantify the degree to which media coverage of types of death reflected their actual number. The study compared "mentions of causes of deaths" in The New York Times and The Guardian in 2016, as compared to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics on actual causes of death in the United States. The common hypothesis that the news media prefers to feature violent deaths instead of far more prevalent killers is proven overwhelmingly correct by the data.<p>In the United States, the leading causes of deaths, according to the CDC, are — in descending order — heart disease (30.2 percent); cancer (29.5 percent); road incidents, falls, and accidents (7.6 percent), lower respiratory disease (7.4 percent), and Alzheimer's disease (5.6 percent). Judging by the news, however, one would likely never suspect it. During the period of study, nearly 36 percent of New York Times stories that mentioned a cause of death discussed death due to terrorism. The next 33.4 percent of stories discussing death covered victims of homicide and suicide. As a share of the overall American deaths, terrorism accounted for less than 0.01 percent, homicide 0.9 percent, and suicide 1.8 percent. The breakdown was similar at The Guardian, with an overemphasis on deaths by violence.<p>Most grossly underrepresented in both publications was heart disease (registering approximately 2 percent of news stories), followed closely by Alzheimer's disease and kidney disease, neither of which cracked more than 1 percent of stories. In both papers, however, cancer remained relatively well-covered, and strokes (responsible for 4.9 percent of American deaths) remained mostly in proportion, with roughly 5 percent of coverage at both papers.<p>Of course, deaths likely shouldn't be reported in direct proportion to their frequency, given that rarer causes of death tend to be more newsworthy. But the degree of underrepresentation of disease coverage remains striking.<p>There are some news outlets that cover disease with some success. The Well section of The New York Times certainly engages with many common health conditions; however, it does so more from a self-help perspective, as opposed to an objective rendering of the current state of research or policy. The Hill is the publication that arguably does best in covering illness, particularly in its opinion section, which offers a platform to many medical researchers. For instance, The Hill is one of the few places in the news space to routinely cover tropical diseases. With the exception of the exhaustive coverage of the 2013–2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, comparatively little attention is paid to prevalent killers in much of the developing world, such as malaria.<p>Closer to home, one would think that news outlets would offer even a fraction of the attention regularly given to political theater to discussing disease-related news. Recently, there has been President Trump's July executive order aimed at lowering the rate of "end-stage kidney disease by 25 percent by 2030," the Autism CARES Act signed into law by the president on September 30, and new potential developments in Alzheimer's treatment announced last week. Sure, there might be broad coverage of healthcare policy from "Medicare for all" to "Repeal and Replace [Obamacare]," but when it comes to covering the details of disease and its research, news media falls overwhelming short.<p>Perhaps some recent projects in the legal and criminal justice news space might serve as a blueprint for how news media can better cover disease. The Marshall Project has gained considerable notice for its efforts to closely examine criminal justice topics, just as blogs such as The Volokh Conspiracy (previously housed by The Washington Post) and SCOTUSblog have done in popularizing legal news that might previously have been lost in the fine print — or in the back pages of a newspaper. Although medical schools do, of course, publicly release findings, they are too often lost in the noise of the news space.<p>As the news media devotes endless coverage to every twist and turn of the drama between the White House and House Democrats, one would think that at least a fraction of that coverage might go to chronicling the state of medical research, National Institutes of Health (NIH) budgets, or the pharmaceutical industry — all of which have the potential to be much more relevant to many of our lives. Amid the never-ending squabbles of partisan politics, the news media would be wise to build on The New York Times and The Hill's start and give health conditions the place they deserve in our collective attention.<p>Photo credit: Unsplash - UrineDrugTest <p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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The Timeless Necessity of a Truly Free Press


Last month, Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who took office this past January, decided he didn't like two news stories covering an initiative for labor preparedness that he had created by executive order. Through his spokesman, Conor Cahill, Polis attempted to pressure two rural newspapers, the Kiowa County Press (which serves a town of 609 people) and the Chronicle-News (serving a population of 8,100) to take down the reprinted articles, which even-handedly described Polis' newly formed "Office of Future of Work." The content of the news stories was strikingly benign and included quotations from critics and supporters of the initiative alike. Polis' rationale, instead, rested on the fact that the reprinted stories had initially appeared in The Center Square, a media organization with ties to conservative groups.<p>For Polis, the fact that the stories originated in an outlet with these conservative backers was enough to make the articles, according to Cahill's statement to The Denver Post, unfit for "the people of Colorado." Fortunately, both local papers refused to take down the stories. Kiowa County Press publisher Chris Sorensen remarked, "My hope is that this situation was just an extremely unfortunate error in judgment for a still-new administration."<p>High-ranking political figures adopting a combative approach towards press they oppose is a longstanding impulse in American politics. It certainly predates President Trump's jeers at the journalists covering his campaign events. And it was the case long before the Obama administration's conflict with Fox News, including the infamous effort to exclude the network from a roundtable with Treasury Department official Ken Feinberg. (The Obama administration relented when other news outlets refused to attend unless Fox was invited.)<p>There was John F. Kennedy's pressuring of The New York Times to reassign hard-hitting journalist David Halberstam away from Vietnam and, during World War I, Woodrow Wilson, through the Sedition Act of 1918, supported the outright censorship of press critical of the war effort. ( Roughly 900 people went to jail during the Wilson administration for taking stances against the government.) All the way back to 1798, there were newspaper publishers sympathetic to Jeffersonian ideas, such as Matthew Lyon, who were imprisoned under the Sedition Act for criticizing the Adams administration.<p>The social and political climate of 2019 betrays a receding appreciation for the timeless necessity of free speech and its corollary, a free press. In a September 2019 survey, 57 percent of respondents among American journalists indicated that freedom of the press has been deteriorating. Yet, according to a 2019 report from the Knight Foundation, only 53 percent of college students "favor protecting free speech rights." A full 60 percent of college women argued that when free speech and a desire for inclusivity come into conflict, inclusivity ought to take precedence.<p>This comes at a time when renowned researcher James Flynn had his forthcoming book on, of all topics, free speech pulled by publishers for fear his arguments would prove controversial. There is also the recent New York City ban on the use of the term "illegal alien" with the "intent to demean, humiliate, or harass a person," along with the threat of a $250,000 fine for violating this new order.<p>Of all the values in a free society, free expression is among the most important and, from a brief glance at history, among the most fragile. Sure, no one likes seeing someone berated with hurtful language or watching as hopelessly biased content is uploaded to the Internet, but that's what it is to live in a free society. Its alternative is a world where one walks on eggshells, afraid to use this word or that word, and fearful to express unpopular ideas. At best, this world is hostile to genuine truth-seeking, which invariably leaves someone offended or some politician embarrassed. At worst, this becomes the world under the Sedition Act of 1918 — or 1798 — where certain speech begins to bear criminal penalties.<p>It's vital to keep in mind that protections for freedom of expression are only relevant when one is expressing an opinion that is both unpopular and on a substantive issue. One does not need free speech to sing the praises of a favorite restaurant or entertainer — or even to express a political opinion that is widely shared. Freedom of speech only comes into play when voicing a position that is not part of a mainstream, preferred agenda. To paraphrase the bard of Saint Vincent College, political science professor Father Armand, there was free speech in Soviet Russia and Maoist China; one could get up and speak to his heart's content about how much he supported the government.<p>In the early days of the Republic, among the most pressing concerns was how best to protect the rights of an ideological minority. The Founders worried that the proverbial 51 percent majority — or those in government — might infringe upon the rights of those in the minority. It was for this reason that the Bill of Rights enshrined free speech as a permanent guarantee. That promise wouldn't always be kept, as happened with the Sedition Act of 1918, for example.<p>Today, in an era that has seen a Republican congressional candidate body-slam a journalist and then be elected, a Democratic presidential candidate call for a sitting president to be banned from a social media site, and now Colorado's Governor seeking to censor newspapers, something is clearly amiss. It's time we reaffirm our commitment to free expression — and this is all the more pressing when what is being said is unpopular. As Adlai Stevenson said in a 1952 speech in Detroit: "My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular."<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Univision's Lourdes Torres on the Significance of Broadcasting the U.S. Presidential Debate


On the evening of September 12th, Univision — in partnership with ABC News — hosted the third Democratic debate, held at Texas Southern University. The 10 candidates took questions from four moderators, including Univision's Jorge Ramos. The debate, which was broadcast live with a simultaneous Spanish language translation, is part of Univision's nearly decade-long effort to bring American elections to the Hispanic community, in Spanish. As such, this event followed Univision's hosting of a March 2016 Democratic primary debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, as well as a 2012 "Meet the Candidates" event, featuring Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.<p>The 2019 Univision debate takes place as both parties avidly court Hispanic voters. There is no denying the size of the Hispanic American population, which Pew estimates to be on pace to become the largest group of nonwhite voters by 2020. Hispanic voter turnout is on the rise, with record-breaking turnout in 2018 in key states. Younger Hispanics, especially, are making their voices heard and both parties are working to ensure that this community is top of mind in the run-up to Election 2020.<p>Interested in<p>Univision InSites<p>READ MORE<p>Hispanic voter turnout has not yet caught up to non-Hispanic white or black Americans but nearly doubled from 2014 to 2018, demonstrating an electorate that is motivated to bridge the gap. In this interview, I speak with Lourdes Torres, senior vice president, political coverage and special projects for Univision, about preparing for this debate and its broader context in connecting Hispanic voters to presidential politics.<p>Erich Prince: What do you see as the significance, more generally, of broadcasting political events such as these in the Spanish language?<p>Lourdes Torres: The main point here is to help Latinos be well-informed about … the issues and candidates they care about. We know that there are approximately 30 million Hispanics eligible to vote, and there's a lot of enthusiasm based on the voter turnout, such as the increase in turnout of Latinos in the midterm elections. We think people are tuned in and listening, so we want to make sure that we provide content in their language.<p>Prince: For this most recent debate, can you describe how the format came about and how the questions were chosen?<p>Torres: This was a DNC-sanctioned debate and we were in partnership with ABC. Although much of the format is set, we wanted to cover topics of major importance to Latinos. So, we had a team of people that started four weeks before the debate, researching an array of topics that we know are important to our community. From the research, we whittled it down to the main points of interest — whether it's healthcare or immigration, Venezuela [or] Central America — and then we came up with questions based on that.<p>Prince: One of the major points that tends to come up in these recent debates is how much speaking time is allotted to each candidate.<p>Torres: We always try to give people fair time, but it never is exactly the same. And, sometimes, it's not [entirely] in your own control. But, obviously, if we lean on the side of giving more time to the candidates at the top of the polls, then we feel we've done a good job — because those are the ones who, until that point, have captivated most of the voting public and probably are worthy of more probing into specific positions to more clearly define where they stand. That being said, we do try to give everybody an equal amount of time.<p>Prince: Are there certain takeaways or lessons from the previous Univision political airings that have informed or influenced this 2019 debate?<p>Torres: We all know that the Latino vote is important and that [candidates] need to listen to Latinos. So, we have to fight for that space, as a broadcaster, to have access to the candidates so Latinos can have access to the candidates, as well.<p>Our lesson is that no political cycle is ever the same. We still have to conduct aggressive outreach to all of the candidates to help ensure that our community has the information it needs to make informed decisions. Univision News relishes the opportunity to connect Latinos to the current and future leaders of the free world, whoever that ends up being.<p>Prince: Univision recently released a poll of Latino voters nationwide and of registered voters in Texas. What are your thoughts on the trends of Hispanic voters?<p>Torres: The narrative for many years has been that, nationally, Latinos are more Democratic than Republican. But there was a softening of that vote in the middle — if you want to call them "Independent Latino voters." Especially when you drill down to crucial states and look at statewide polls, you get a clearer picture that the Latino vote is a very competitive space in many places. After all, there is no unified national election, it's more like 50 separate elections happening at once.<p>I think what's become clear is that both parties have work to do with the Latino community and neither party should take their vote for granted. Latinos were not entirely happy with what happened under the Obama administration in a lot of things that affected them. And, obviously, they're not entirely happy with things that are happening in the current Republican administration, either.<p>Prince: There's a tendency in the media to talk about "Latino voters" as a whole and lump them together — when, in reality, there are a number of different communities.<p>Torres: We're not monolithic, right? You see that, most of all, in Florida because you have that variety of the ethnic groups there. So, you can see the different tendencies pretty clearly.<p>There are also generational differences that [cut] across some of those ethnic lines. That's going to make a difference in places like Texas.<p>We're really shocked by our poll in Texas, but our research, sourced by L2, on Texas Hispanic voter turnout isn't surprising in concluding that Latinos in the state will make a huge difference in where that state goes.<p>Prince: What's next for Univision in terms of keeping the political conversations going among its viewers?<p>Torres: We will continue to provide the Hispanic community with the most comprehensive political coverage on every platform, from TV and radio to mobile and social. As the leader in Spanish-language news, it is our commitment to provide our audience the news and information they need about the candidates, their platforms, and the campaign trail, so they can make informed decisions. Bringing Hispanic America the news it needs is always top of mind, so whether it's interviewing candidates, hosting forums and debates, or providing coverage and analysis, it is our responsibility to inform and empower Latinos as they choose our country's leaders in 2020.<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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When News Outlets Use Language to Steer Readers


Epsilon Theory's concept of fiat news — when the press leads readers in how to think about or interpret news — has been getting increasing attention in light of ever-growing concerns around "fake news," which refers to news that is completely false. In November 2018, Epsilon Theory cofounders Ben Hunt and Rusty Guinn published "The Fiat News Index." According to author Guinn, the allegations of "media bias" we hear so often today only tell part of the story. Critics of media bias tend to harp on the obvious examples, such as the overt slant of partisan hosts on MSNBC or Fox News.<p>These critics might also draw attention to the slightly more under-the-radar issue of story-selection bias, which refers to how news outlets vary the amount of airtime (or lack thereof) they give to a particular story in the first place. There are the news outlets, for example, that have faced criticism for failing to report on some 2020 Democratic candidates in proportion to their polling numbers — particularly when it comes to Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard.<p>However, the more insidious type of bias, as Guinn asserts, plays out in language. Although often subtle, many journalists — or, more accurately, "opinion journalists" — use words and phrases, though seemingly innocuous, steer their readers. This language encourages readers to either follow the same thought process as the author or nudges them to accept the author's value judgements. This is particularly troubling when it takes place in publications that purport to be objective truth-tellers, rather than commentators or editorialists.<p>Guinn's objective, in the true spirit of a quant, is to work through this hypothesis with data. As such, in preparing "The Fiat News Index," Guinn collected data from 12 months-worth of stories from 20 major publications and ranked them based on how frequently they used three categories of fiat news language. These three categories were: "Casual Expressions," which aim to tell readers how to interpret the relationships between facts in a story (e.g., "nevertheless" or "even though"); "Common Knowledge Expressions," which seek to make readers "think less critically about an assertion or argument" (e.g., "obviously" or "clearly"); and "Value Expressions," which communicate clear value or moral judgements (e.g., "fortunately" or "unfortunately").<p>Coming in first were publications that explicitly make clear — at the outset — that they are in the business of interpreting or analyzing news. As such, Vox took the first spot, which is hardly surprising given the publication's stated mission to "Explain the News." Following closely with Vox are other publications that center around interpretive journalism, including The Atlantic, National Review, and The New Yorker. Guinn does not see this as particularly problematic, given that these publications make no bones about blending analysis and reporting; in fact, that's precisely why they are read.<p>Instead, his primary concern is publications that claim only to report facts but then masquerade opinions as factual analysis. Guinn's data collection placed The Washington Post andThe New York Times very close to The Atlantic and National Review, despite the fact that the reporting arms of these two newspapers have historically been widely considered fact finders, rather than opinion-makers. But, for anyone paying attention to The Washington Post's headlines, as of late, this is hardly a surprise.<p>At the other end of the Guinn's spectrum are the publications that most avoid this type of priming and leading prose; these include The San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, and, as would be expected, Bloomberg and Reuters. The breakdown is not a matter of a typical Left-Right divide, with both MSNBC and the New York Post finding themselves closer to the Reuters side of things — and The Washington Times and CNN placing closer to Vox. But all of the publications closer to Vox share a preference for employing language that subtly leads the reader in a particular, author-desired direction.<p>Employing strategic language is a longstanding political tool, and Newt Gingrich was perhaps the field's best tactician. For instance, Gingrich's political committee, GOPAC, distributed a paper to newly-elected freshman Republicans following the "Republican Revolution" of 1994. In it, Gingrich provided a list of words he recommended these new members of Congress use, along with words they ought to use to refer to their opponents. His suggested "Optimistic Positive Governing Words" included "share, change, opportunity, reform." These were a far cry from the "Contrasting Words," which he recommended members use to define Democrats; these included, for instance, "decay, shallow, radical, threaten, devour, and obsolete."<p>Another key feature of Gingrich's rhetoric was using language that suggested that Washington was corrupt, and it was the role of individual members of Congress to save their constituents from corrupt D.C. insiders. Interestingly enough, this type of rhetoric has now permeated both parties and our entire political discourse. This was strikingly on display in August when I attended a town hall given by Representative Andy Kim, a freshman Democrat. There I watched a 37-year-old Korean-American Democratic member of Congress stand onstage in Forked River, NJ, and suggest to his constituents that he was, more or less, their best hope against a Washington that cared little about their interests. It was rhetoric straight out of Gingrich's playbook.<p>This is all to say that language and politics run hand-in-hand, and, given the increasing partisanship of many news outlets, it's far from shocking to see them using language in much the same way as politicians do. News outlets, at various other points in American history, were not necessarily in the business of seeking to appear objective or impartial. However, since the middle of the 20th century, this has largely been the expectation for news media. So, if news organizations do, indeed, plan to play in the objectivity business — and if they are to be believed — they must pay greater attention to the language choices their authors make.<p>And for anyone concerned about bias in reporting, it's important to remember that bias plays out more prevalently and most insidiously in the subtle use of leading language.<p>Photo credit: Bruce Mars / Unsplash<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Saying Goodbye to Cokie Roberts and Sander Vanocur


On the evening of September 16th, longtime television journalist Sander Vanocur (pictured top right) passed away. It was only a day later that the broadcast journalism community mourned the loss of another of their own: Cokie Roberts (pictured top left), who died as a result of breast cancer, which she was first diagnosed with in 2002. Unlike Vanocur, who had largely been out of the public eye in the years immediately preceding his death, Roberts' last television appearance was only one month before her passing. She had appeared on ABC's This Week — the show she had previously co-hosted with Sam Donaldson from 1996 to 2002 — to weigh in on President Trump, the current economy, and the perennially contentious issue of guns.<p>Vanocur's and Roberts' respective heydays occupied different decades; they were born almost a generation apart and their upbringings were quite different. Vanocur was born to a Jewish family in Cleveland and grew up in Illinois; his parents' marriage ended in an acrimonious divorce when he was young. Roberts, on the other hand, was born in Louisiana to Hale and Lindy Boggs. Her father, Hale, would serve as the House Majority Leader; her mother was elected to Congress after Hale's disappearance in an unfortunate aviation incident in 1972. Roberts was raised Catholic and her mother would serve later in life as the United States Ambassador to the Holy See, combining — as her daughter put it — her two favorite things: "going to Mass and going to parties."<p>Roberts' obituaries have focused her numerous life and career achievements. One is her role in expanding the influence of women in political journalism, a point cogently described by Sam Donaldson. She has also been remembered for more specific moments, such as her December 1999 question to Barbara Bush: "It must be an odd notion to see your little boy running for president," to which Mrs. Bush notably replied: "You're interviewing the wrong person. I think he's close to perfect." But, as Chuck Todd observed on Meet the Press, Roberts said she would like, most of all, "to be remembered as a mother and a wife and friend of people I love very much."<p>In our overly-politicized times, it was warming to see figures from across the political spectrum — from Chuck Schumer to Chris Christie to Joe Scarborough to Laura Ingraham — offer their condolences and special remembrances. Perhaps, having in mind this panoply of tributes, George F. Will, a one-time frequent guest on Roberts and Donaldson's show, put Roberts' life in its political context: "Cokie was from another Washington: Washington before tribalism swallowed civility, Washington before constant hysteria was taken as a sign of sophistication."<p>The tributes paid to Vanocur shared a theme: that he was present with a front-row seat to the most iconic events of the second half of the 20th century: from the 1960 presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon to being one of the last journalists to interview Bobby Kennedy before his assassination in 1968. However, a moment from Vanocur's role as a moderator of that 1960 presidential debate perhaps says it all.<p>Vanocur asked then-Vice President Nixon a tough one: "In his news conference on August 24th, President Eisenhower was asked to give one example of a major idea of [Nixon's] that he adopted. His reply was — and I'm quoting: 'If you give me a week, I might think of one.'" This was a truly hard-hitting question in its subject matter, but the presentation of the question wasn't gratuitous in its tone. It also refrained from, in my mind, the cardinal sin of journalism: employing loaded language, which I define as language that assumes the truth of a conclusion that one still has the burden to prove. Loaded language is all too common among debate moderators today. Instead, Vanocur's question was plainly asked.<p>Vice President Nixon answered Vanocur's question thoughtfully and the debate moved onto the next topic. Vanocur didn't hit Nixon again; he let the Vice President's answer stand and did what a journalist ought to do: allow the people watching to make up their minds about the candidate's answer.<p>Like any journalist looking to be fair, Vanocur also hit Senator Kennedy hard and pressed him on his struggles in getting bills passed during his time in Congress. Presenting every candidate, even fan favorites, with difficult questions can be a challenge, as Anderson Cooper would experience more than a half-century later during an October 2015 Democratic primary debates, when he pressed Hillary Clinton on the email controversy despite a vocally agitated audience.<p>Although it's all but a pastime for commentators to criticize the consensus view, sometimes the consensus has it down pat. In this case, the general agreement is that Vanocur and Roberts represent a time when journalism was more civil and decorum was not an endangered species. Even today, in an era when some media personalities take to Twitter to throw bombs, Vanocur never even had an account and Cokie Roberts' Twitter feed was mostly a sea of posts about Save the Children U.S. and retweets of wise words from Pope Francis.<p>The fans of British writer C.S. Lewis bemoan that he happened to die on November 22, 1963, the same day as President John F. Kennedy, and, thus, Lewis's death received a fraction of the attention it otherwise would have drawn. They believe that Lewis was shortchanged in a way, as his passing was lost amid the bigger news.<p>In this case, however, the timing of Vanocur's and Roberts' deaths did the opposite. Instead of one being lost in the shadow of the other, they were held up together as emblematic of an era, perhaps, gone by. They now serve together, joined by the proximity of their deaths, as a point by which future journalists might begin to understand their profession's past.<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Finland's Mixed Bag Response to Eliminating "Fake News"


At the beginning of the summer, the American press — most notably through a CNN feature— decided that Finland was leading the way towards a future utopia free of "fake news." By now, we're all getting a sense of the drill: A pundit discovers the answer to an American public policy conundrum by invoking what people do in Scandinavia. Whether it's the much-touted Finnish education system or the Norwegian approach to prisons, the suggestion is to look to these Northern European countries to provide the light.<p>British journalist Michael Booth examined this growing tendency in his rather charming (and funny) 2014 book, The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia. Booth begins his book by retelling his surprise the day he read that Denmark was named the happiest nation on earth. He recalls gazing out into the streets below on that April morning, where people were dressed in their "arctic gear," dodging water spraying from passing buses — and, as anyone who has been to Scandinavia can tell you, not being exactly effusively friendly towards one another. He quotes a friend who, in reply to the lists proclaiming a Scandinavian near-monopoly on being happy, says, "Well, they are doing an awfully good job of hiding it."<p>The book, however, is not polemical and Booth calls it fair, singing the countries' praises where they deserve it, while also pointing out some of the problems lurking beneath the surface — from the high rates of household debt held by Danish citizens to the startling rates of suicide and alcoholism in Finland. Although his book was published just before the debates on "fake news" began in earnest, Booth likely would have had something to say about reports this summer that Finland had found the solution to the fake news problem.<p>Finland earned its distinction as a leader in eliminating fake news as the result of a concerted effort that involved the Finnish government, its education system, and an organization called Faktabaari — a fact-checking service active in evaluating the purported truthfulness of various political claims, particularly on the Internet. Finland's initiative, in which careful instructions are provided to Finns on how to identify fake news, has been playing out in both schools for children and in community centers, such as the Espoo Adult Education Centre in metro-Helsinki. This is a particularly important issue in the minds of many Finns, given the historically fraught relationship between Finland and its massive (and sometimes bellicose-prone) neighbor to the east, Russia.<p>Faktabaari, which was founded in 2014 and operates with a small "part-time staff working remotely from home," is looking not only to expand its presence in Finland, but also to serve as a template for similar organizations to be formed in other countries. Although technically an organization under the umbrella of a non-governmental organization, Faktabaari raised its seed round of funding from an event organized by the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications. This aspect of the Finnish anti-fake news campaign has not generated the extent of criticism as the efforts of France or Singapore, which have relied on anti-fake news legislation, but there is always cause for concern when bodies, particularly those with close government ties, are empowered to decide which news is true and which is not.<p>France and Singapore have been fielding their share of criticism this past year for trying to legislate the fake news problem away. Laws were passed in these two countries that have empowered the government to remove — or, in Singapore's case, "correct" — news whose truth they dispute. The Singaporean case has provoked the greater degree of outrage, given its historical hostility towards freedom of the press. As Peter Guest articulated in a July 2019 Atlantic article, "Other authoritarian governments could see Singapore, a developed society, as a model for similar measures, and use legitimate concerns about online misinformation to deepen control over the internet." History tells us loud and clear that introducing government censors into the news media never works out well; the risk of this happening is heightened whenever concerns arise about hostile actors, foreign or domestic, manipulating citizens.<p>So, back to Finland. Even though the Finnish government getting involved in evaluating truth claims makes for a slippery slope, it's worth noting, as Booth would, what Finland has spot-on. In 2015, Finland's President, Sauli Niinistö, articulated perhaps the most sensible solution to combating fake news. He urged each Finn to take it upon themselves to assume personal responsibility for deciding what news is to be believed. President Niinistö suggested that it comes down to the individual citizen to think critically about the news, which is, in my view, a much preferable alternative to relying on an app, a government campaign, or — worst of all — a law to do the thinking for them.<p>Increasingly, we rely on technology to think for us. In its more benign form, there is the newly implemented suggested sentence finishers in Gmail, which can be a useful time-saver. But then things get taken too far, such as with the new app Pluto, which is commoditizing thoughtfulness by reminding users to "text your brother his motivational song before his big interview" and to remember to get one's mother a birthday gift. Just as we ought to not farm out the quality of being a good sibling or considerate child to an app, we should not do the same with thinking for ourselves about news and politics.<p>President Niinistö is right: it's about individual accountability in thinking things through. We may not have reached a point here in the United States where we need Google to label an Onion story as "satire."<p>Senator Ben Sasse has argued that the American founding presupposed Guttenberg more than any other figure because the founders expected Americans to think through politics for themselves. More than two centuries on, this is no time to relinquish that responsibility.<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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The Most Dangerous Criticism of Julian Assange


Roger Waters sang his 1975 hit song "Wish You Were Here" outside of Home Office, the British government's primary ministry for security and public safety, on the afternoon of September 2nd this year. It was the headliner event of a protest against the imprisonment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been detained at the U.K.'s HM Prison Belmarsh since April. Media coverage of the event was sparse and only one member of parliament, Chris Williamson, attended. Explaining his decision to support the protest, Williamson remarked: "I think the treatment of Julian Assange by the British government brings shame on Britain's reputation. Because Julian Assange, in my opinion, is the most important journalist anywhere in the world."<p>The protest took place amid reports surfacing that Assange, as of late, has been experiencing significant weight loss in prison and worsening physical condition as he awaits possible extradition to the United States.<p>Back in the United States, four days later, Pamela Anderson and Meghan McCain clashed on The View. Anderson, a well-known Assange supporter, defended him and commented on his deteriorating health. McCain angrily called him a "cyber-terrorist," a descriptor very nearly shared by current presidential candidate Joe Biden, who referred to Assange in 2010 as a "high-tech terrorist."<p>Although Assange is rather unpopular in the United States (a rare instance of bipartisan agreement in today's polarized times), this is not so much the case globally. Internationally, three-quarters of respondents to an Ipsos poll expressed their support for WikiLeaks' mission and two-thirds indicated their belief that Assange should not face charges in the United States. This is a far cry from the nearly 70 percent of American respondents who believe that Assange should be extradited to the United States to face charges for his role in disseminating classified government information.<p>I frequently ask the politicians I interview about Assange. Former Democratic Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Mike Gravel, a member of the small but growing cadre of Assange supporters among American politicians, told me that he agrees with Mairead Maguire — the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate — who argued that Julian Assange deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. This is a far cry from what Howard Dean would tell me two weeks later: "I would not say that Julian Assange deserves the same protection as a reporter does, since he's not a reporter; he's a provocateur," before continuing on to say, "I don't believe [Assange] is a journalist."<p>This is a common criticism leveled against Assange: He is not a journalist, the argument goes and, therefore, forfeits his rights to the protections usually afforded to journalists and publishers. This position has been articulated by the conservative writer David French — and also by John Demers, the Assistant Attorney General, who announced the Justice Department's May 2019 indictment of Assange and stated that "the department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it. It has not, and never has been, the department's policy to target them for reporting." But Demers indicated that this did not apply to Assange because "...Julian Assange is no journalist." This is an extremely dangerous precedent and carries with it the implication that the status of "journalist" is in some way conferred or exists as a separate, protected class.<p>Anyone can be a journalist, from someone with a GoPro recording a member of Congress' off the cuff remarks to the high school student who landed an interview with former Defense Secretary James Mattis after cold calling his cell phone. This line of reasoning was at the heart of Glenn Greenwald's extremely well-informed Washington Post op-ed in May, in which Greenwald argues that no special permit is required to tell the truth.<p>This thinking was also revisited in July, following the beating of journalist Andy Ngo in Portland, Oregon. In response to the events, Representative Eric Swalwell tweeted that "Congress should pass my Journalist Protection Act, which makes it a federal crime to assault or batter a journalist." However, critics rightfully pointed out that it's a crime to assault any person — and that there is no such thing as a government-sanctioned definition of a "journalist." To suggest that the government should be the business of deciding who is a journalist (and who isn't) is an invitation for disaster.<p>The First Amendment does not require a press pass. If anything, having powerful members of government dislike you might be associated with doing your job well. Even in an age of "access journalism" that incentivizes journalists to develop warm relations with political figures, I always look askew at those reporters who boast that such and such member of Congress "likes" them, as if that's a badge of honor. Instead, perhaps they would be wise to recall Stephen King's dictum to the contrary: "If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway."<p>In our current era of an increasingly blurred line between the politicians and those who cover them, it's little wonder that the "he's not a journalist" argument would gain the traction that it has, even when it's put forward by those representing the very institutions that have been badly embarrassed by journalists like Assange.<p>With the exception of a few notable voices, such as Senator Gravel's, one thing most American politicians agree on — even in our polarized times — is that Julian Assange is a bad person who should be punished. This is a view shared by everyone from Hillary Clinton to Joe Manchin to Mitch McConnell. One can debate whether Assange should have given further consideration to how his releases may have put lives at risk — or if he could have timed some of his publications differently; but one attack that ought to never be used against him is "he's not a journalist." That is just what powerful political figures say to discredit those who make the public aware of the occasions when their government has overwhelmingly failed them.<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Snapchat and "The Vanishing American Adult"


Too much of media most young people consume today do little to inform them or inspire their intellectual curiosity. This is a bigger problem than some might think and has been escalating over the past few years. <p>Sitting for an interview with Peter Robinson on Uncommon Knowledge in 2017, the junior United States Senator from Nebraska, Ben Sasse, discussed his book The Vanishing American Adult. Sasse begins with the premise that a growing number of younger Americans are delaying becoming full-fledged adults. For Sasse, this is exemplified by younger people marrying later in life, being more likely to drop out of school than those of past generations, being more inclined to habitually change jobs, and delaying financial independence from their families. Sasse also suggests that the adjective that best describes many young people is "passive," as they frequently prefer to wait for instructions rather than be self-starters, while also opting to spend time in front of screens rather than socializing.<p>Peter Robinson, replying to Sasse, remarks that it is surprising this would be happening, "despite [this generation] having grown up during a period of peace and, by and large, economic expansion in the richest and most powerful nation in human history." To this, Senator Sasse responds, "You said, in spite of — maybe it's 'because of.'"<p>Sasse goes on to suggest that, perhaps, it is abundance itself that has given rise to a culture of consumption, rather than production. For Sasse, the ease that accompanies so much prosperity may cause people to forgo hard work and genuine intellectual engagement in favor of taking the path of least resistance. This is similar to a criticism often leveled against writers, such as Matt Ridley, who are steadfast believers that humanity will be delivered by economic growth alone. His critics argue that, despite record levels of economic well-being, people are not responding, on the whole, by becoming happier. For example, levels of depression and anxiety have been skyrocketing recently across Americans of all ages, particularly among young people.<p>But Sasse often made clear — when The Vanishing American Adult was frequently in the news in 2017 — that his goal was not to engage in finger-wagging at younger generations or to pine for an era gone by. Rather, it was a call to action for younger people to take greater responsibility for their lives financially, socially, and intellectually — the last point being, perhaps, the most important for our purposes. When "only one-third of U.S. adults know the three branches of the federal government," Sasse argues, it is time for people to become more intellectually and civically engaged.<p>Some of the media that young people habitually consume is hardly helping them become more academically curious or intellectually on point. In my mind, the most glaring culprit is the news aggregator ("discovery" feature) on the popular messaging app Snapchat. It's an app used daily by 78 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24, and 71 percent of those users visit multiple times a day.<p>Just browsing through the Snapchat news feed on a given day, one sees the stories offered to young people: "Sofie Paints Her Nails with Her Feet" or "What I Wish I Had Known About Sex Before College." Another day, the stories to choose from include: "How Hot Is He on a Scale of 1-10" and "What Porn Did to Teen Boys." Perhaps it's time to ask more of the "news content" put in front of young people on a daily basis.<p>Snapchat's aggregator draws on a diverse range of sources, from the Daily Mail to TikTok; some of the stories even come from sources often considered particularly reputable. For example, the "What Porn Did to Teen Boys" story drew from reporting by The Washington Post. And "Have You Tried the World's Deadliest Drug?" came from The Economist. But, no matter the source of a particular story, nearly all the "news stories" have a shared base appeal to the prurient and outrageous, rather than anything even close to resembling thoughtful writing. And that's what our young people are seeing, day in and day out.<p>I still believe that, in its ideal form, journalism — along with the aggregators that feature it — ought to have an aspirational quality. Journalism should ask its readers to mentally exert themselves ever so slightly. It should ask them to think and consider, rather than laugh or grimace, as the emotional quality of Snapchat's stories encourages.<p>In today's media landscape, there certainly are efforts to fuse an element of the educational with the journalistic. This lies at the heart of various current media projects, from Helen Pluckrose's Areo magazine to Uncommon Knowledge itself. More prosaically, even Vox's concept of "explain the news" is a step in that direction. But, in news specifically catering to young people, this is far from the norm.<p>Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the longtime Democratic United States Senator from New York, was known to have maintained that, "the central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself." Given that Moynihan died in 2003, just before the birth of social media and its enormous impact on the younger generations, I have wondered, at times, how he would have factored this development into his ever-thoughtful appraisals of American society. But, regardless of where one currently sits on the political spectrum (Moynihan, for instance, has been called the "American Burke" for drawing simultaneously on practices associated with both the political left and right), it is worth expecting more when it comes to the quality of news put in front of young people. If we want younger generations to become thoughtful, hard-working adults, perhaps we need to ask media to do its part — or, at the very least, refrain from constantly appealing to the indelicate in place of the aspirational.<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Fallout From the The New York Times Controversy


It's not clear how many people actually canceled their New York Times subscriptions as the "#cancelnyt" hashtag made its way across Twitter the morning of August 6. However, a spokesperson for the Times did concede that the paper had "seen a higher volume of cancellations [that day] than is typical." The source of the controversy was, of course, the headline "Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism," which theTimes used to describe President Trump's remarks following the shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Although the headline would be revised in response to the outcry, it set a chain of events in motion, from a leaked transcript of a Times town hall to another escalation in the conflict between the White House and the establishment media outlets.<p>As early as the evening of August 5, the day before the headline was supposed to run, Nate Silver, the editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight, tweeted: "Not sure 'Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism' is how I would have framed the story." Even though the print headline would be amended to "Assailing Hate, but Not Guns" (the headline for the online version of the article is "Trump Condemns White Supremacy but Stops Short of Major Gun Controls") the damage was already done — at least in the minds of the more vocal and anti-Trump Times readers. The paper fielded a wave of criticism shortly thereafter.<p>In my opinion, the reaction to the headline was a little much.<p>As for The New York Times' choice of the word "unity" in the original headline, one can see its likely origin: "Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside, so destructive, and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion, and love" were some of the president's closing remarks.<p>So, when the president tweeted that, "'Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism,' was the correct description in the first headline…" he had a point. But the uproar among readers showed that even the Times faces expectations that the "customer is always right."<p>There's also a growing divide in the newsroom between the paper's senior leadership, who have sought to maintain at least some semblance of independent reporting, and younger members of the newsroom, who would prefer the paper take a more active stance in openly opposing the president. This tension became all the more public when Slate obtained and published a transcript of a Times town hall where executive editor Dean Baquet fielded questions from some of these staff members.<p>Baquet's stance that the paper should not become part of "the resistance" isn't particularly new. As early as March 2017, at a SXSW event, Baquet had said, "[The paper's] job is to cover the hell out of Donald Trump — not be his opponent." New York Times Washington correspondent David Sanger echoed this point: "The biggest single mistake... [is] to let ourselves become the resistance to the government."<p>But it's a hard balance to strike when a paper's subscriber base — and many of its employees — want something different. This also comes at a time when some have accused Baquet of playing lip service to objective reporting; for example, when pivoting the paper's focus from pushing the Russia narrative to putting forward "the Trump administration is racially prejudiced" version of events.<p>Like any business (or politician), media companies tend to play to their base. As former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson indicated on a recent Fox News appearance: "...[Baquet] is criticized all the time by … Fox News and conservatives for being way too hard on Trump ... and yet its readership, which is quite liberal, wants the paper to be even tougher on President Trump." This admission positions any news outlet, even the New York Times, on a collision course with impartially reporting facts; this is likely why Baquet has publicly endorsed calling balls and strikes, rather than becoming part of the opposition. But this becomes difficult in a climate, as I have previously described, where news outlets are often little more than extensions of the political bases they serve.<p>Perhaps, more than anything, though, #cancelnyt speaks to the broader social shift towards so-called "cancel culture." From the effort to "cancel" Sarah Silverman for having appeared in blackface in a 2007 sketch to looking to do the same to various historical figures, shutting down and disengaging with things that are bothersome is becoming the new norm. And, as Jon Gabriel recently observed, conservatives are now participating, too; such as when they lobbied to cancel the upcoming movie The Hunt due to its depiction of rural Americans.<p>All the while, back at the Times, it's important to remember that this was not the first "cancellation" effort; something similar took place in 2017 in response Bret Stephens' debut column: a piece critical of the consensus view on climate change. In a world where people prefer to shut down and disengage rather than confront matters they disagree with, the New York Times, and the entire media landscape, is caught in a fundamental tension between striving to be at least somewhat "independent" and, as Simon & Garfunkel put it, "[keeping] the customer satisfied."<p>Click the social buttons to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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When Newsrooms Decide to Unionize


The current unionization push in journalism may seem like a warning bell for some in the media and advertising industries, but it's serving as a clarion call for others.<p>On the afternoon of July 23rd, BuzzFeed News senior film reporter Adam B. Vary tweeted a photograph of a cake emblazoned with, "A union is born." Vary and his colleagues in BuzzFeed's newsrooms in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington were celebrating the culmination of an approximately five-month effort to receive certification for a union of Buzzfeed journalists. The effort began in earnest in February in response to the staffing cuts when BuzzFeed laid off 15 percent of its employees due to difficulties in meeting profitability targets. Although initially resisted by BuzzFeed's leadership, including chief executive officer Jonah Peretti, the unionization push gained momentum and was dragged over the finish line after a walkout by Buzzfeed workers in June.<p>The BuzzFeed unionization effort has been widely reported as another mile marker in a push along these lines that has taken place across much of the industry — in print and digital — since 2015. Less than a half year after Lydia DePillis' January 2015 Washington Post piece "Why Internet Journalists Don't Organize," journalists at Gawker decided to become the exception. And then those at Salon, The Guardian U.S., ThinkProgress, HuffPost U.S. and others followed suit.<p>The trend also spread to publications expressly on the left, including the socialist publication Jacobin and Glenn Greenwald's The Intercept. By 2018, similar things were happening at some print newspapers that previously hadn't had a unionized editorial staff, including outlets owned by Tribune Publishing (formerly Tronc, Inc.) such as the Chicago Tribune and the Hartford Courant. All the while, the union initiative received mixed responses from leadership at the various publications, from strong opposition in many cases to measured support from executives, such as Gawker founder Nick Denton.<p>Although those at some publications have scored victories in terms of higher wages, guarantees of editorial independence and more desirable working conditions, the unionization effort has not always worked out as planned. For instance, in October 2017, Joe Ricketts closed down his fledgling local news projects DNAinfo and Gothamist after staff voted in support of "unionizing with the Writers Guild" despite Ricketts' stated opposition. The shuttering of the publications cost 115 workers their jobs and also represented a blow to a company that was seeking to build an enterprise in the already embattled space of local news. Explaining Ricketts' decision to close the company in response to the unionization move, a spokesperson stated: "The decision by the editorial team to unionize is simply another competitive obstacle making it harder for the business to be financially successful."<p>This all takes place amid vigorous debate. Proponents of unionization argue that not only are the objectives for workers worthwhile in and of themselves, but also that they result in better content over time, as employees are more inclined to stay at a publication longer and invest heavily in the journalism they produce. Critics of the move argue that unions create an adversarial dynamic between a publication's leadership and its journalists, while also potentially adding costs at news outlets already hurting for profits.<p>Perhaps the most important question when it comes to the unionization push is: "Why now?" The first major move for organized labor in the United States in the news space came in April 1934 when The American Newspaper Guild sealed its first contract. It was with The Philadelphia Record and it spread from there, bringing unions to many papers across the United States. Like the unionization movement of the 2010s, this original media unionization push came in the wake of layoffs and reports of less than stellar pay. For instance, three years before, in 1931, the New York World, which once had Joseph Pulitzer at the helm, laid off 3,000 workers when it closed. It seems to be something of a similar story today, except the layoffs and low wages at modern news providers are more the result of increased competition from tech giants such as Google and Facebook rather than a global economic depression.<p>But, of course, it's not just the behemoth platforms that are making newsrooms and their employees so uneasy. As Claire Lehmann, a pioneer of so-called "new media," tweeted in the aftermath of the beating of Andy Ngo this July: "The future of journalism = individuals with GoPros broadcasting straight to social media, bypassing mastheads. So, yes, any journalist who relies on a salary from a dated institution would naturally feel somewhat threatened by those who make their own way."<p>Platforms from Twitter to Medium are arguably posing a risk to more traditional publishers, which must contend with the costs of an editorial process. But it's not only that. The consistently low public trust in news media can lead some previous consumers of the mainstream outlets to look elsewhere, threatening the subscriber or reader base of many publications.<p>The unionization push among journalists is a rare bright spot for unions, whose memberships have declined considerably (from 34 percent of American workers in 1954 to 10.7 percent today, with only a 6.5 percent current rate for private-sector jobs). Some might be inclined to read the current unionization push, particularly in digital journalism, as a canary in the coal mine for the health of digital media. It was only when the problems — such as the layoffs — began that journalists, many of whom hardly grew up in union households, decided that this was the answer. This interpretation may very well be true, but that ought not be read necessarily as an indictment of the health of these publications in times to come. As we saw with the last unionization effort nearly 85 years ago, a fragile state of the news media is often far from permanent.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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A World Where News Outlets Double as Consultancies?


As news outlets actively seek inventive new revenue streams, perhaps consulting could be a profitable addition to their offerings. Consider: On the Monday before election day 2012, Gallup predicted that Mitt Romney would beat then-Senator Barack Obama in the presidential race. "Romney 49%, Obama 48% in Gallup's Final Election Survey," the headline read, capping off weeks of Gallup showing Romney in the lead. The results that rolled in late the next evening would tell a different story as President Obama defeated Governor Romney by nearly four percentage points in the popular vote, with a lopsided electoral college result in tow. But, as Ira Boudway argued in her tremendously insightful Bloomberg Businessweek piece "Right or Wrong, Gallup Always Wins,” the point wasn’t that Gallup was correct or incorrect in overestimating Romney’s support. Rather, the real kernel of the matter was that because Gallup was the outlier poll having Romney ahead, it received the lion’s share of attention in the closing act of the campaign push. <p>As Boudway noted, this was immeasurably beneficial for an outfit whose polls often function as advertisements for more profitable arms of its business. Similarly, news outlets could parlay their various areas of expertise into vehicles that drive business for a consulting division.<p>For Gallup, whose research is a loss leader for the business, the approach is especially effective. Despite taking nearly a $10 million annual loss on conducting its polls, Gallup’s chief executive officer, Jim Clifton, champions the role of the company’s polling wing. “That Gallup Poll brand gives us a little cachet,” he said in his interview with Boudway. The polling is the public face of a company that brings in its revenue primarily by providing consulting services to Fortune 500 corporations. Clifton indicated that Gallup’s closest competitors are consultancies such as McKinsey & Company and Bain & Company.<p>So, if Gallup, a company whose most visible arm occupies the territory somewhere between a polling outfit and a news outlet (given its extensive analysis pieces on voter attitudes and various aspects of public life), could other news ventures leverage their visibility to farm out personnel and research abilities for consulting purposes? Perhaps a Gallup-style approach might be appealing.<p>Among the primary hang-ups is an ethical one: Journalistic organizations ought to report the news as objectively and impartially as possible. Journalism already has its fair share of conflicts of interest on the political front, for example, such as when reporter Yashar Ali accused an NBC News and MSNBC managing editor of seeking to "intimidate" him on behalf of the Democratic National Committee. And it’s perhaps all the more glaring when it comes to the top brass in large media conglomerates. Look no further than Rupert Murdoch being in a position twice to reschedule a meeting with then-President Jimmy Carter when the latter was seeking an endorsement from the New York Post after Ted Kennedy launched his 1980 primary challenge.<p>In addition to keeping a watchful eye on political interests, media companies ought to do the same with corporate players. Publications such as The Morning Call have, at times, done this brilliantly — particularly when the Allentown, Pa., paper drew attention to questionable work conditions at a local Amazon warehouse. But if other arms of news ventures are seeking out corporate clients for consulting services, the disincentives for exposing concerning corporate practices may become even steeper than they are already.<p>With that said, news ventures holding more profitable subsidiaries or arms that are not engaged in news coverage is nothing new. The Washington Post Company, somewhere around 2007, decided it was going to consider itself "an education and media company” when it found itself increasingly relying on Kaplan Inc. — its education subsidiary — for revenue. Then, there is the whole question of real estate. In the case of some newspapers, their real estate holdings alone are worth as much as the underlying company. One could argue that this situation has been at the heart of hedge fund Alden Global Capital’s bid to take over Gannett. Alden has recognized the value of Gannett’s extensive real estate holdings; Gannet, for example, unloaded $150 million in real estate just over the past four years.<p>Clearly, news ventures can conceive myriad sources of potential value and revenue. But the Gallup case is a particularly interesting one. Producing polls and breaking news are both expensive, but they also put these organizations at the center of the public’s awareness.<p>The ethical concerns are present, yet I would hardly be surprised to see news ventures consider consulting as a creative way to drive revenue. Conflicts of interest in news reporting are as old as time, and they should continue to be taken seriously. But, for news outlets struggling in the profitability department, who’s to say where they might look next for revenue? Just as the Irish poet Brendan Behan used to quip that he was a “drinker with a writing problem,” I wonder if certain news outlets might start to think of themselves as consultancies with a bit of a journalism habit.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Do Profits Matter in Digital Journalism?


Dennis K. Berman, the then-business editor at The Wall Street Journal, questioned The Huffington Post's bandied-about valuation of $1 billion in June of 2015. It seemed curious in Berman's view for a company that had so consistently failed to generate a profit to make it to the tenth digit when the valuation discussions began. With 214 million monthly readers at the time and around $168 million revenue, The Huffington Post was clearly doing many things well. There are few places that boast that degree of traffic. But for some reason, profits were nowhere to be found. And that becomes all the more mysterious, in the case of The Huffington Post, when it's the publication that so many of America's old-school newspaper columnists curse to the high heavens, claiming that Arianna Huffington destroyed their profession by doing something quite shocking, at least at the time: getting people to write for free.<p>Seeking to explain The Huffington Post's gap between traffic (and revenue) and hard profits (what Berman also cites as the difference between "activity and achievement") he recognizes that a platform like The Huffington Post may have considerable monetization power if leveraged to certain ends -- say if Verizon, its parent company, wanted to use the site, "to help bolster its direct-to-consumer video service." He also puts forward a point that some top brass at The Huffington Post were using as an explanation: that investments in international expansion were delaying profitability. But Berman cites an anonymous source on the inside who says, "We couldn't figure out how to get this thing to make money," a sentiment very similar to what Sumorwuo Zaza, the former director of the publication's international division, told me. But The Huffington Post (now the HuffPost) isn't alone.<p>This past January, Buzzfeed laid off 15% of its employees which totaled something close to 220 people. Within days, Verizon Media laid off 7% of its staff across its brands, including AOL, Yahoo and none other than HuffPost. (The publication, as a result of these layoffs, shuttered its opinion section.) As The New York Times reported, the BuzzFeed layoffs were the result of lingering investor frustration about the inability of the company to turn a profit, despite hauling in over $300 million in revenue in 2018. BuzzFeed News has helped lead the charge as a division that has failed to become profitable. These layoffs might be remembered best for giving rise to the #learntocode imbroglio on Twitter, but they will likely, over time, come to be viewed as a point when investors finally said that kicking the can farther down the road when it comes to profits -- after a decade in the red -- was no longer acceptable. Some commentators have noted, to this effect, how many digital media companies are still referred to as "startups" when many have been in operation for more than a decade. Just as there is the proverbial 'chasm between thought and action,' there may still very well be quite a gap between naming a price and someone actually getting out a checkbook. In any event, the chickens may be coming home to roost on BuzzFeed's previous valuation ($1.7 billion in 2016, which came from a further $200 million investment from NBCUniversal) . This, of course, takes place in a climate where Mic, which was valued at north of $100 million in 2017, was sold-off a year later for $5 million.<p>The lack of actual profit isn't a problem until it is. Despite a tough opening day on Wall Street, Uber's lack of answers to when it ever might become profitable, hasn't prevented a $75.5 billion valuation. Similar things might be said of Tesla -- or WeWork. Spotify also has famously struggled in the profits department before announcing this past February its first foray into the black. As long as people are willing to withhold skepticism, the fun can continue. But if something makes that doubt widespread, it might be a different story. As Warren Buffett once wrote: "After all, you only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out."<p>There are a few possible reasons that might explain the gaps between revenue and profitability in digital journalism. Perhaps, as HuffPost argued in 2015, certain investments the company is making will pay off bigger down the road. This is similar to Jeff Bezos' 2014 answer to a prying Henry Blodget in his Business Insider interview about Amazon's historical difficulties in generating profits: the money was going back into the company. But now, in the case of several digital media companies, as much as a decade has gone by, and profitability is not necessarily on the horizon.<p>In media, there is the thought -- a point Berman also observed -- that some companies might be "valued at as much as eight times revenue on the premise they will develop into the next media empires." Like Facebook, even if not profitable at first, there is the idea that if a venture gets big enough, it will almost have to make a profit based on its sheer size, impact or, to use the buzzword of the month, "disruptability." When it comes to the online media space it's obvious that -- in an environment where tech giants like Google and Facebook are gobbling up massive shares of advertising revenues -- many publishers, at least as things stand right now, are going to have profitability issues.<p>With that said, media companies as diverse as The New York Times, Forbes and Patch have forged paths to increased revenues and profitability. Hedge Fund Manager David Einhorn had begun to wonder if the traditional principles of investing were still relevant, as more and more stocks soared without accompanying profits. "Given the performance of certain stocks, we wonder if the market has adopted an alternative paradigm for calculating equity value," he wrote in a letter to his investors. But with growing investor discomfort about the lack of profitability of say Buzzfeed, perhaps the conventional wisdom, championed by value investors such as Einhorn, may be returning to the front and center. So, as investors continue to shimmy in their seats about decades in the red, it may be time to revisit the previous Zeitgeist of investing in digital media with the thought that profits may one day just come along. Just the same, should more digital media publishers (or their parent companies) begin to focus more on profitability rather than just pure growth, changes in the type of content delivered -- and perhaps even the quality of the journalism itself -- may very well follow in tow.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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When the News Media Doesn't Cover Agreement


On July 4th, Justin Amash left the Republican Party, making his departure known via an op-ed in The Washington Post. The Congressman from Michigan had always been known to defy expectations, having, for instance, supported a libertarian-leaning Republican from Kentucky, Thomas Massie, for House leadership over the consensus choice of Kevin McCarthy. Later, Amash turned his attention towards President Trump, becoming the first Republican to support impeachment. After the brouhaha over the impeachment comments, Amash decided to strike out on his own, becoming the first Independent to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives in more than a decade. His op-ed squarely took aim at the partisanship of today and how it has eroded the American political process. "With little genuine debate on policy happening in Congress, party leaders distract and divide the public by exploiting wedge issues and waging pointless messaging wars," he wrote.<p>There's no doubt that politicians, their campaign strategists and certain interests divide voters for strategic gain. If you're in a tough election, what better way to win than throwing the kitchen sink at your opponent? With so many of the issues nationalized today, demonizing "the Republicans" or "the Democrats" has become the norm and can make the difference in a tight election. But with the line between media outlets and the politicians they respectively support becoming increasingly blurred, it's worth considering if media companies could do better in paying more attention to areas of agreement and consensus.<p>In a rather beautiful speech he gave last summer in Durham, North Carolina, former Vice President Joe Biden recalled a moment from when the Americans with Disabilities Act was being considered. Conservative North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms had spoken out strongly against the bill, arguing that it would be "confiscatory to make a businessman have a curb cut or access for a wheelchair." Biden, who was on the other side of the debate, started to rant and rave about what kind of person could oppose helping disabled Americans. As he was getting ready to go over and confront Helms, another senator stopped him, telling him something he hadn't known before: that Helms and his wife, Dorothy, had adopted a nine-year-old child with disabilities, Charles, after reading that the boy had said he wanted a mother and father for Christmas. The man Biden was denouncing had actually been the one who had done the most for someone with a disability.<p>This was actually my favorite political story of 2018. But only one outlet (of any noted reach) covered it: The News & Observer, the newspaper serving Raleigh-Durham. There were no New York Times stories. It wasn't broadcast hour after hour on cable. It was a story with a much-needed message for our times; it was aspirational; it was about trying to understand someone who, at first glance, might be an adversary; it was about looking beyond where someone happens to stand "on the issues." Upon reflection, in a presidential primary where the strategy, as always, is to gang-up on the front-runner, I wouldn't be surprised if that story -- had it received more coverage -- were weaponized against Biden.<p>But the fact of the matter is that there are countless moments of agreement, compromise and understanding, which are underreported in favor of the disagreement of the day -- the daily dose of what former President Barack Obama called "phony outrage." God forbid Biden had said that he didn't like Michelle Obama during that same speech; every reporter in the country would have descended on central North Carolina.<p>"We can't label everyone who is disturbed by migration as racist," former President Obama said in Berlin in April, as he urged European leaders to be more open-minded to those who opposed liberal migration policies. Where were the cameras? House Freedom Caucus member Jody Hice, one of the most conservative members of Congress, and former Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Elijah Cummings, recently teamed up to work on the Presidential Allowance Modernization Act, an effort for greater fiscal responsibility. Where are the headlines? Back in the 1990s, North Carolina Republican Sue Myrick collaborated with the Clinton Administration on "Kristen's Act," which supported increased funding for missing persons, and the VA Mission Act for veterans' healthcare passed the Senate 92-5 in an overwhelmingly bi-partisan effort last year.<p>Not all bipartisanship is desirable and ought not to be synonymous with "good." Only two Senators, to that effect, voted against The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. But the point remains: from President Trump and Senate Minority Leader Schumer sharing similar views on Israel to veterans' issues and missing persons, there are many moments of agreement that are significantly lacking in airtime.<p>Now, it is worth noting that many of these stories are indeed covered. As I've mentioned elsewhere, they might appear on a nondescript page of The New York Times the day they happen, but this is not what's broadcast time and again -- it's not what's emphasized. Paul Ryan had declared to a watching world after Steve Scalise was shot that "an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us," but it wasn't long after that the news coverage returned to the controversial and bombastic.<p>A point from Amash's op-ed in the Washington Post, though it was written to apply to the political parties, might be just as true for the media companies. Amash describes how, as the parties become more and more insular and hardline, they begin to cater to harder and harder core activists and ideologues. Like unstacking a Russian nesting doll, at each layer an ever-larger share of more moderate Republicans or Democrats peels off until all that is left are the most radical of partisans. Might it be similar for media? As more and more Americans come to realize that there's as much agreement as there is disagreement on many issues, they might begin to take notice of outlets that cover things a bit more even-handedly. All the while, as publications continue to double down on the divisive, perhaps only the hardest-nosed followers of discord will bunker in while the rest of us, like voters tiring of gladiator-like partisanship, decide to look for something a bit bigger.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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The Overproduction of Truth


Otto Rank, the Austrian psychoanalyst, confidant of Freud and a tremendously insightful writer in his own right, explained himself thusly in a letter in February of 1933: "For the time being I gave up writing -- there is already too much truth in the world -- an overproduction which apparently cannot be consumed!" It seems curious, of course, that one of the wisest people among us would be the one to think he ought to say less. But, in any event, perhaps there's a lesson here for our times.<p>Arc Digital Editor Berny Belvedere bemoaned recently that The Hill was "[pumping] out a trillion stories per day," many of which weren't "remotely newsworthy." He chose to pick on The Hill, but he could have, just the same, singled out just about anyone else in the online media space. What triggered Belvedere this time was the story that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had remarked that the current Attorney General, William Barr, has "done well" in the role. For a political publication to write a story about one Attorney General commenting on another certainly passes the smell test for what might be considered "news," but it probably isn't "news-worthy," a distinction that is arguably quite meaningful.<p>Stories along these lines, which flood our iPhones and televisions, are endless. Kayleigh McEnany, the National Press Secretary for President Trump's re-election campaign, remarked that ordinary women "tune out" Alyssa Milano. That was a headline. Megan Rapinoe, the co-captain of the U.S. women's national soccer team, made clear she would not visit the White House while President Trump occupied it, but she would accept an invitation from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill. That clogged up part of a news cycle. Andrew Yang didn't wear a tie during night two of the first Democratic debates. Same thing. They are indeed stories about politics, but creating a news environment where these stories compete with stories about more substantive issues probably has some consequences.<p>First of all, the pressure to churn out stories isn't too helpful for the journalists themselves. The burnout rate in the profession is high and the pressure of following all of the goings-on, spending so much time focused on mundane events rather than important ones and filing story after story can take their toll. Journalist Sara Coello was quoted in the Columbia Journalism Review, describing how there were record days when she had to put out seven stories for her job at the Dallas Morning News. Now, if journalists are churning out story upon story they are likely not doing other things like reading, versing themselves in policy or just taking a step back and thinking about the big picture of things.<p>As the Iranian-American journalist Kambiz Tavana said, "Sadly, most mainstream media journalists do not read these days. Being on Twitter does not qualify as reading, where sensation and clickbait have taken over." But with the output required by many writers, how would they even have time? Broadcast journalism might be a bit different, but it seems to have penetrated the entire industry, such as when Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, the authors of The Coddling of the American Mind, were interviewed on CBS This Morning. The hosts of the program, when they appeared to go off script, would only allude to topics covered in the book's first couple of pages, something painfully obvious to anyone who might have actually thumbed past the first three pages of Part I.<p>Secondly, it creates a situation where journalists are writing, sometimes at length, on topics they don't know a whole lot about. This was alluded to in Daniel Kolitz's New Republic Piece "In Search of Generation Z," when the author describes being tasked with contacting a number of prominent evolutionary biologists. When his questions to the scientists revealed his lack of knowledge of the subject, one scientist called him out and Kolitz admitted that he "was in fact totally ignorant about how evolution works." This is a far cry from Erwin Schrödinger's observation that one "is usually expected not to write on any topic of which he is not a master."<p>And then there's the whole issue of when consumers start to take notice, such as Belvedere and his Twitter followers did. There's little that's appealing about creating an environment where if everything is news then nothing is news. Keep up with it -- or be left behind in favor of the media companies that are producing greater numbers of stories. At present, though, this is the mindset that is the dominant one. This model, in fairness, is what finally brought The New Yorker and The Atlantic to profitability after years in the red. However, critics have suggested that churning out more stories about popular topics like Cecil the Lion, though more lucrative (at least for now), detracted from the quality of these publications.<p>It is all, of course, indicative of a climate where page views are king. But, as another column suggested, this environment may be subject to change. In the near future, it is certainly possible that metrics other than page views -- or a re-examination of the arguably disproportionate focus given to quantitative metrics entirely -- may begin to carry the day. In the meantime, it's not the journalists who are at fault. This idea of the overproduction of truth is something for editors, publishers and those higher up in the chain to sit with, especially if readers begin to associate their publication with passing off the irrelevant as newsworthy.<p>All the while, churning out news in volume rather than with discretion seeps into the quality of our minds and the collective consciousness of our society. Shakespeare is, of course, still lining library bookshelves, but we're busy scrolling through Snapchat. So, perhaps it's time to leave the occasional quasi-news story still on the whiteboard, particularly if no one in the newsroom knows a whole lot about the topic to begin with -- or as Wittgenstein implored, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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When the News Is Wrong


Most news reports, which spill out and dominate headlines and tickers at the bottom of television screens, are discussed for a few days -- sometimes with tremendous gusto -- but then are “heard no more.” Then there are the few select issues that come up again and again, whether they’re questions of foreign interference in elections or the musings of a few select politicians, to whom the media and, in turn, the general public have taken a particular liking. Other issues, whether they be roll call votes or conflicts in distant parts of the world, surface for their brief moment and then, more or less, disappear. This is particularly true for foreign policy, an area that some politicians such as former Rhode Island Senator (and later Governor) Lincoln Chafee have told me receive much less attention than domestic matters, often seeming more like an afterthought, for instance, in presidential debates.<p>As we know, learning -- fully comprehending things -- is often the product of repetition, but we still, of course, remember some of the tidbits of news flashing across the screens. And from those pieces of information we recall, we might construct narratives about places -- and distant countries -- about which we may know only so much. So, what happens when a story -- reported widely by the major media outlets for an entire news cycle -- is wrong?<p>It’s very difficult to report from inside of North Korea. Foreign journalists are rarely welcome in the country and those who have been invited typically aren’t given a front row seat to the goings-on. This was very much the case in 2016, for example, when North Korea invited 100 or so foreign journalists to attend the 7th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea, the first event of the kind that had been held since 1980; the invited journalists were excluded from attending most of the actual proceedings. As such, reports coming out of North Korea often lack the fact-checking that is, hopefully, still the norm at outlets reporting on most other parts of the world. Instead, stories from North Korea often rely on the testimony of a single source, a satellite image here and there or downright scuttlebutt.<p>But, all of a sudden the entire world knew on the last day of this past May that North Korea had executed five of its diplomats, including Kim Hyok-chol, one of the nation’s top nuclear negotiators. Some news reports did, indeed, use language within the articles themselves that expressed a degree of uncertainty about the accuracy of the reporting, such as when USA Today admitted four paragraphs in that “... it's notoriously difficult to get information out of North Korea because it closely guards secrets.” But, as Ben Norton observed in an excellent piece in The Grayzone, nearly all of the major news outlets from The New York Times to Reuters to the Wall Street Journal to Fox News to HuffPost circulated the story that Kim Hyok-chol had been executed. Their source: a May 30 Bloomberg piece that cited one South Korean newspaper, Chosun Ilbo (described by Norton as "far-right... [and with] a long history of fabricating stories about North Korea”). That story in Chosun Ilbo relied on "a single unidentified source." With the exception of North Korea expert Jean H. Lee, BBC Seoul correspondent Laura Bicker and a few others, this one report was enough to get most journalists, from Chris Hayes on down, jumping on the “he’s dead” bandwagon.<p> The media panicked -- a panic soon joined by the politicians. Two days later, Kim Hyok-chol was sitting beside Kim Jong Un at an arts performance put on by the wives of North Korean military officials. So much for having been shot. Some outlets issued stories of the new developments, such as CNN’s follow-up story, "'Executed' North Korean diplomat is alive, sources say.” Although Norton bemoaned on June 4th that many of these outlets had yet to issue corrections or retractions, at the time of my writing -- nearly three weeks after that date -- few corrections have been added, and the last sentence of the original Reuters piece still reads: “'Executing or completely removing people like him would send a very bad signal to the United States because he was the public face of the talks and it could indicate they are negating all they have discussed,’ Hong said." That appears just above a hyperlink affirming "The Thompson Reuters Trust Principles."<p>The lessons from the incorrect execution reports are clear. First, “fake news” is not just for suspicious-looking links at the bottom of webpages promising a complete list of presidential IQs, claims that a leading presidential candidate is a robot or “Can You Believe It’s” of what Maureen McCormick “looks like now.” Just as the Gulf of Tonkin taught us that even organizations as trusted as the White House can mislead us, the most respected media outlets can do the same. It’s not just the fly-by-nights that take us astray. Second, this episode shows that “pack journalism” is as real today as it was when it was bemoaned during the days of the “Boys on the Bus.” During the election of 1972, journalists were sent by their respective outlets to do their own digging, but they all ended up writing the same things as everyone else. Today, it’s much the same, except iPhones have replaced pens and pencils and fewer journalists smoke. Groupthink is as real for the media companies as it is for straight-ticket voters. All the while, the rush to publish culture, where being first is the ballgame, hardly helps.<p>But perhaps the best lesson is one from grade school, when the teachers would tell us in the third grade about the folktale of the man who told rumors and how it was as impossible to take back a piece of gossip as to chase down every feather released from a pillow into the wind. Countless people across the globe saw these reports. “Another North Korean official executed,” they read. Then they went on with their days, remembering this ever so faintly -- but they will share these stories, perhaps at Fourth of July barbeques, shake their heads at how terrible it is, maybe vote with this event at the back of their minds. Who knows whom they will tell and how that person too will shake his head. "How terrible,” they will say.<p>As difficult as picking up feathers, indeed.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Are the Republican and Democratic Parties Realigning?


Tucker Carlson endorsed Elizabeth Warren’s economic plan. That’s kind of a big deal, as the expression goes. On the evening of June 5th, Carlson on his nightly Fox News program began his opening monologue by quoting at length from a piece whose author he did not reveal until he finished reading. He narrated its author’s complaints about American corporations prioritizing short-term returns for shareholders, a third of whom are foreign nationals, producing goods overseas to maximize the bottom line, while at the same time caring little -- in the author’s view -- for American workers.<p>Carlson then surprised his largely Republican viewership by revealing that the points came from an unlikely source: Senator Elizabeth Warren. "She sounds like Donald Trump at his best," Carlson said, before endorsing her concept of "Economic Patriotism." However, Carlson was quick to make clear that he retained considerable disagreements with Warren on social issues and further suggested that most members of Congress -- in both parties -- were a far cry from what the majority of Americans believe. "What there isn't is a caucus that represents where most Americans actually are: nationalist on economics, fairly traditional on the social issues," he said. "Imagine someone who genuinely respected the nuclear family but at the same time was willing to take your side against rapacious credit card companies. Would you vote for someone like that? Of course you would. Who wouldn't?" If commentators in the years to come look back on the watershed moments in a possible shift in the composition of the Republican and Democratic parties, this may be identified as one of significance.<p>Political scientists used to believe in something called "realigning elections" -- elections that happened approximately once a generation and represented a major shift in who comprised the respective parties. The year 1932 is the canonical example; it was when African Americans, academics, Southern whites and urban centers were all united under the Democratic Party. But then a realigning election didn't happen for a while and political scientists largely abandoned the concept as a legitimate framework. At present, though, maybe one could be on the horizon.<p>Could we be witnessing a shift in the years to come where the Republicans replace the Democrats as the catch-all political party? With respect to commentators like Juan Williams, who argued in a June 17th op-ed in The Hill that President Trump would be the last Republican president (a prediction also made by commentators after George W. Bush's presidency), they may be missing something. The Republican Party, instead of becoming the party of aging white people, as Williams suggests it will, may indeed become the opposite: the big tent party the Democratic Party had long been in American politics. This especially becomes the case as the Republican Party pivots more towards the center-left economic policies endorsed by Carlson (and sometimes by President Trump, such as when he withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership ). All the while, it seems that the Democratic Party -- like the struggling Paul Ryan-wing of the Republican Party -- will stick, at least for the time being, with the neoliberalism of Reagan and Clinton.<p>Abortion, arguably the defining social issue in American politics, also comes to play as a powerful case study. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez asserted in 2017 that if one is a Democrat, supporting abortion is "not negotiable" -- a view, more or less, also articulated this month by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in Iowa. (Governor Cuomo also included pro-life people on the list of those whose views have "no place in the state of New York.") This is in contrast to, say, former President Jimmy Carter, who has argued for precisely the opposite -- or Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, who just signed a so-called "heartbeat" bill into law in his state.<p>The relevant point here, though, is that the current leaders of the Democratic Party, including Perez and Gillibrand, are saying this while simultaneously courting avidly Hispanic voters, the most pro-life ethnic group in the United States. (Nicaraguan Americans were, for instance, noteworthy cheerleaders for Governor Kemp's heartbeat bill in Georgia signed earlier this year.) As León Krauze observed in Slate shortly after the 2018 midterm elections, "The Hispanic vote is growing, but that's not necessarily great news for Democrats."<p>Similarly, though, Candace Owens may still be the exception when it comes to black women and the Republican Party; interestingly, younger black voters are significantly more likely to support Republican candidates than older black voters. While some attribute this to older black voters being less removed from the age of Jim Crow, another explanation that is probably just as likely concerns the Republican Party's increasing shift towards policy combinations, such as economic protectionism and social conservatism. I have sat in political science classrooms at Yale and heard professors say that the perfect political philosophy to capture Black America would be a mixture of social conservatism and center-left economic policies. The Republican Party isn't fully there yet, but 17% of black men voted for Ted Cruz and 11% voted for pro-Trump Georgia Governor Brian Kemp. (Black women still remain overwhelmingly Democratic).<p>As we know, it takes a long time to shed partisan identity, which often is formed and etched into a person's overall identity at a young age. Most people are the same party at 50 that they were at 20. This is one reason why so many state houses and governors' mansions in the South remained Democratic until quite recently, even when these states had reliably voted Republican in presidential elections. But Tucker Carlson's endorsement of Warren's economic plan mirrors a number of ideological shifts in the Republican Party leadership, as populism starts to carry the day.<p>Not long ago, in the age of neoliberalism, which arguably ended at the conclusion of President Obama's second term, it was common to hear the refrain, "I'm socially liberal and fiscally conservative." I wonder now if the 2020's will give rise to the opposite sentiment being in vogue -- maybe something closer to: "I'd like to see everyone get a fair shake and, at the same time, we need to respect old-school values." If the parties begin to realign, there's no doubt that media companies will have little choice but to move with them.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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“Doxxing” of a Bronx Man Shows News Media at Its Worst


The Daily Beast recently did something it shouldn’t have. On June 1st, the site published a lengthy exposé on a black forklift driver from the Bronx who was identified as the person who created the video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appearing to be drunk. The video in question, which featured slowed-down audio that made Pelosi sound as if she were intoxicated, was widely shared, even being tweeted by Rudy Giuliani. It’s hard to decipher the intent of the man behind the video, whom I will avoid naming so as not to add further insult to injury. Perhaps he did create the video to deceive people into thinking the Speaker was, in fact, under the influence. But it’s just as likely he made it to be humorous, hardly expecting it to, as they say, “go viral.”<p>The bottom line is that Kevin Poulsen, one of The Daily Beast’s contributing editors, decided to embark on writing a 2,000 word hit piece on a relatively harmless private citizen, who happened to be very vocally pro-Trump, for the crime of mocking a politician that the head honchos at The Daily Beast happened to favor. The piece, mind you, didn’t just name him -- or reveal his occupation or his age. No, it went into great detail and exposed some very embarrassing personal information, from comprehensively detailing his criminal history to dredging up a year-old Instagram post, which Poulsen summarily judged as “featur[ing] misogyny,” to describe the content of his disagreements with an ex-girlfriend.<p>The scariest part of the whole matter might be recent reports rolling in that Facebook helped The Daily Beast’s reporters track the man down.<p>Pulitzer Prize winner and Intercept co-founding editor Glenn Greenwald didn’t like what The Daily Beast did, so he tweeted: “Can't believe (honestly) that journalists don't see why it's so repellent to unleash the resources of a major news outlet on an obscure, anonymous, powerless, quasi-unemployed citizen for the crime of trivially mocking the most powerful political leaders.” Greenwald was joined by former Democratic strategist Yashar Ali: "I gotta say, it sets a really bad precedent when a private citizen, particularly someone who is working a blue collar job, has their identity publicly revealed simply because they made a video of a politician appearing to be drunk.”<p>A number of commentary pieces in a similar vein would follow shortly thereafter. In the true American spirit, the general public or, in this case, Twitter users laid down the harshest judgements on Poulsen and Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief Noah Shachtman, sarcastically thanking them time and again for providing a news report so deserving of a Pulitzer. Greenwald also used the occasion to draw attention to a July 2017 piece published at The Intercept, which chronicled how CNN threatened to do the same thing and dox the Reddit user who created the video of President Trump punching the CNN logo. CNN relented when the user issued a lengthy public apology (still under his pseudonym), but the company promised to follow through on the doxxing should he do anything along similar lines in the future.<p>Maybe I’m naive, but news outlets, at least in my mind, still have an obligation to report on stories of widespread value that have a substantive impact on people’s lives -- or are of unique philosophical, cultural or historical interest. Although it might sound hackneyed, worn impotent by overuse, well-functioning media organizations ought to serve as a check on the truly powerful members of a society, including major corporations, members of Congress, large donors, major presidential candidates, the occupant of the Oval Office (no matter his political party) -- and even other media outlets. But in my defense, as C.S. Lewis used to say, “it is quacks and cranks” who try to introduce entirely new ways of looking at things.<p>There is, indeed, great journalism being done -- for example, by the reporters at the Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune taking a page out of Katherine Boo's work in the early ‘90s and uncovering disturbing abuses at mental hospitals throughout Florida, or the Reuters photographers who captured the plight of refugees in Myanmar. These are the award-winning, shining ideals for which journalism can strive, but, at the very least, journalists can avoid sinking to the lows of using their vast resources and soft power to intimidate, bully and embarrass people whose politics they find unpalatable -- in this case, humiliating the powerless in defense of the most powerful woman in the world.<p>Sadly, this Daily Beast piece likely received exponentially more attention than any investigation of mental asylums or foreign conflicts ever would.<p>The Daily Beast event is situated in a larger context and shares some points of intersection with the emergent deplatforming conversation, where major companies and content platforms such as YouTube and Facebook remove the accounts of individuals they find objectionable. (This is resulting in an uptick in entrepreneurship, with a growing number of platform startups promising not to engage in censorship.) But both demonstrate the power of media companies and their capability to either humiliate or demonetize people whose beliefs they don’t much care for. Whatever the intent of the Daily Beast story -- whether it was to make a few bucks on a juicy scoop, endear the publication to politicians its team favors or demonstrate its edit staff's superior sleuthing skills -- it represented a failure of discretion and a missed opportunity for a publication to use its resources, talented journalists and larger readership to talk about things that are a bit more substantive. If they aren’t willing to do that going forward, at the very least, they can opt against ruining people who don’t need to be ruined.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this content with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Nickl’s Sumorwuo Zaza on the Future of Subscription-Based Media


Sumorwuo Zaza is the CEO of Nickl, a Brooklyn-based venture aiming to improve the relationships between media companies and their subscribers. Prior to co-founding Nickl, Zaza worked as the director of the international division at The Huffington Post. In this interview, we discuss possible shifts towards subscription-based revenue, how media companies can engage with viewers of varying loyalty and the future of Google and Facebook’s relationship with advertising revenue.<p>Erich Prince: Prior to starting at Nickl, you worked at The Huffington Post. What is surprising for many people is the difficulty HuffPo has had in generating profits despite large volumes of page views. What made it so difficult to translate clicks into profits?<p>Sumorwuo Zaza: When I think back to my time there, the first thing that jumped out [was] that everyone was angry that digital advertising was getting eaten up pretty quickly. All of the industry reports we were reading said that [digital advertising] was growing year over year, but it was clear that Facebook, Google and maybe a few other tech companies were capturing the growth. When I started really digging into the numbers, I realized that more than anything we had a lot of different consumer sets. There were people who loved Huffington Post and wanted to read it day and night; then there were people who just found an article on Facebook and were happy to see it, but it didn’t really matter if it was from us or, say, BuzzFeed. The key marketing barrier was that we were treating all these people the same -- that we had loyalists and visitors that we would never see again. They had the same experience and were monetized the same. That, to me, was the biggest insight that led to the founding of Nickl.<p>Prince: So, one of the main things online media companies need to do is find a way to monetize people who are choosing to read them reliably instead of just happening to read an article here and there?<p>Zaza: Exactly. It’s not a new concept. If you think about it, the most successful forms of media, specifically TV, have a combo business model. So, you have channels that are paid for by way of cable licensing agreements and there are channels that have an ad feed. They are still doing advertisements. Obviously, if you are a channel that has brands people really love, you can do things like events; you can do things like merchandise. There’re just a lot of ways to think about how to make a business or how to have a relationship with a customer with media. When I was at Huffington Post, there was only one way to pursue this relationship: get as many eyeballs [as we could] on the page and throw ads in front of them.<p>Prince: Are payrolls the future?<p>Zaza: Payrolls are a part of the future. My hunch is that everyone will try payroll because media always tends to go through the cycle like “X is the solution.” I remember when everyone was like, “Video is the solution.” You go a little further back and it was, “Boombox is the solution.” But it’s so brand specific. I think we are going to be in an 18-24-month period where people will say, “Paywall is the solution.” Everyone is going to try it, and they are going to figure out the limitations. Some brands are going to win; a lot of brands are not going to do as well as they hoped. Then they’ll figure out some combination. They’ll do licensing agreements; they’ll do micropayments; they’ll do events. But I do think a direct-to-consumer model is going to be a big staple for the long term.<p>Prince: Are we going to move away from a climate where people expect to be able to read content for free and have that reading subsidized by ads?<p>Zaza: I think so. The challenge is that it’s hard to change, and especially to internalize, behavior at the organizational level when everyone from the editors to the revenue people is compensated and incentivized by scale. It’s hard to say, “Okay, let’s incentivize everyone by customer lifetime value and customer acquisition cost.” It’s like, “What? I don’t even know what those things are!” But everyone is going to have to figure out how to get there on their own, and my sense is that it’s going to be topic specific. If you are in news -- and I mean breaking news -- I think it’s going to still be ad-supported because speed is the name of the game. If you are in any type of analysis that’s related to lifestyle, you’re going to have a better time doing direct-to-consumer because people really want that content.<p>Prince: What’s going to be the impact of Apple News?<p>Zaza: There are a couple of things happening. One, people who said payroll, payment and direct-to-consumer [are] the future just got validated in a big way with Apple entering the space. They’re obviously a tech company, [but] they see a lot of opportunities in media. The second thing is that people will discover that aggregation is different from bundling. When people talk about bundling, they’re always like, “Well I don’t want to work with that brand.” At Nickl, we really think about a world where you can work with brands but still keep your own website and still keep your own identity.<p>Prince: Last year, Google and Facebook collectively swallowed close to 60% of ad revenue. Do you see a future where the media companies start to capture a larger share?<p>Zaza: It’s “no” because the reason Facebook and Google have captured so much of the digital ads space really comes down to some of the structural constraints of advertising on mobile. Facebook and Google, because they have first-party data and because they have their own ecosystems, are able to match a user to his or her behavior. When you are a media company and you don’t have an app that has a hundred million people, you’re not really able to compete. It’s something we talk about all the time. It’s hard to be a media company! You have to do a lot of homework; you have to think about delivery; you have to think about audio; and now, all of a sudden, you’re going to become an expert on data collection synthesis and creating robust user profiles.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this content with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Profits First, Ideology Second?


Note: To clarify, as OpenSecrets -- the preeminent source for tracking campaign contributions -- often does, "The organizations themselves did not donate; rather the money came from the organizations' PACs, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate families." So, regarding the companies mentioned in the column that follows, bear in mind it is their individuals and PACs that made the contributions in question.<p>Elizabeth Warren turned down an invitation to attend a Fox News town hall. She did so quite publicly, of course, via Twitter, writing that, "Fox News is a hate-for-profit racket that gives a megaphone to racists and conspiracists -- it's designed to turn us against each other, risking life and death consequences." Her announcement came in the wake of a number of Democratic presidential candidates, including Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, attending events hosted by the network. While some praised Warren for her decision, Susan Page, the Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, appearing on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews took the more realpolitik view and argued that it was a calculated effort by Warren to stir up a Democratic primary base that is very anti-Fox News. Warren was, apparently, even "fundraising on that stance against Fox News" later that same day.<p>What the commentators failed to mention is that Warren, like many other Democratic politicians, has been no stranger to accepting contributions from either individuals or political action committees (PACs) associated with News Corp, the parent company of Fox News. For instance, in the 2018 election cycle, Warren took $3,163 in contributions from folks associated with News Corp. Is that a ton of money? Perhaps not, but it's more than the $2,500 Warren made a show of eschewing when she learned that it had come from Beverly Sackler, the widow of Raymond Sackler, the former head of Purdue Pharma, a company that manufactures opioids. Granted, the money in question (with the News Corp markings) did not come from Murdoch's personal account, but the point remains. Perhaps just as fundamentally, if one is going to grandstand, he or she should expect some scrutiny in return.<p>Those associated with the major media companies, though, make some contributions that many of their viewers would probably find rather surprising. In the 2018 election cycle, individuals and PACs associated with News Corp, the company being widely criticized for pushing the entire world right, gave more than twice as many contributions to Democrats as to Republicans. On the other side of the coin, those affiliated with Comcast, the parent company of NBCUniversal and, therefore, MSNBC, contributed 12% more to Republicans than Democrats in the last election cycle. The highest dollar recipient of News Corp PAC money in 2018 was none other than Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, who was followed closely by Jerry Nadler, with Mazie Hirono not far behind -- the latter two politicians being inveterate targets of conservative commentators' ire.<p>This is nothing unique to the Trump era. The story was basically the same for Comcast and News Corp (then News Corporation) in 2012, with Comcast also displaying a marked preference for "committee members and representatives in states where it has a large cable footprint." Over at the Walt Disney Company, the owner of ABC, there was almost identical support sent the way of both Republican and Democratic candidates. All the companies preferred to support incumbents on the whole, while News Corp.'s people sent, again, about twice as much money to Republicans over Democrats. Is there really a chasm between the C-Suites of these companies and the professed convictions of their anchors? And, all the while, is some conception of "it's the bottom line, stupid" making fools of those watching at home?<p>Companies hedging their bets politically is nothing new and it happens across industries. (It's much of the reason why Beto O'Rourke was second only to Ted Cruz in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry in 2018 or why Wall Street is hardly a stranger at playing both sides.) But it seems odder when it comes to media, given that in the minds of so many people, media often takes an ideological turn, particularly today. Perhaps some scales may have fallen from eyes when Les Moonves during his tenure as Chairman of CBS Corp. was recorded at a Morgan Stanley conference saying that, "[Donald Trump's candidacy] may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS," before continuing to assert that, "I've never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going."<p>Similarly, Rupert Murdoch's preference, particularly in his earlier days, was clearly for the bottom line. After the death of his father, Sir Keith Murdoch, the younger Murdoch began corresponding with an editor who worked for his father, Rohan Rivett. His early letters to Rivett, upon taking over his father's paper, encouraged the editor to focus on what sells, rather than on "advocacy journalism." Murdoch, in the words of biographer William Shawcross, wanted more "cats up in trees in Adelaide and fewer uprisings in Ankara." This trend continued to mark much of Murdoch's early career. Shawcross also suggests that "Murdoch had always liked to be on the same side as the party in government," which might explain, say, The Sun, under Murdoch, avidly endorsing the 1970 Labour candidate, Harold Wilson, with the headline, "Why It Must Be Labour," but then earnestly congratulating Edward Heath, the conservative victor, when election results rolled in the next day. Even in 2016, when an election victory by Donald Trump seemed far from certain, Murdoch made a call to Clinton headquarters suggesting a possible openness to siding with the Democrats. (Not to mention that Trump and Murdoch disagreed sharply on immigration, interventionist foreign policy and free trade.)<p>Michael Steele got into hot water when he was still chair of the Republican National Committee for suggesting that Rush Limbaugh was more an entertainer than he was a true evangelist for conservative principles -- a view also shared by Michael Smerconish. The assumption implicit here is that entertainers and media companies alike sometimes play up ideology for no other reason than because it sells. (Rush Limbaugh's $400 million eight-year contract signed in 2008 was larger than the entire 2013 sale price of The Washington Post.) Those who point to Rachel Maddow's friendship and breakfasts with Roger Ailes as evidence that the media is one monolithic club without any ideology at all go way too far, and they forget that ideologically committed journalists and producers are a dime a dozen. But these are often not the people making the calls on the business side.<p>The facts can't be denied when it comes to looking at the campaign contributions and lobbying choices made by those at the large media companies. Despite bashing Mazie Hirono on the air, News Corp's PACs are helping to pay her campaign bills, and, while Maddow and friends take issue with the Republicans on prime time, Comcast's PAC has been sending $115,000 the way of the Republican National Committee. But, as any businessperson knows, it's easier to fight city hall when you helped the current occupant get there.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Ben Shapiro and the Blurring Line between Punditry and News


Ben Shapiro, the conservative commentator, Daily Wire editor and host of the country's 33rd most popular podcast, had a meltdown. Appearing on BBC Two'sPolitics Live on May 9th, Shapiro fielded a few questions from Andrew Neil, the British television presenter and chairman of Press Holdings Media Group (the owner of the conservative publication The Spectator). It appeared, at first, to be a routine interview to discuss Shapiro's new book The Right Side of History, which was released in March, but then things got heated.<p>The quick-talking Shapiro didn't take it well when Neil played devil's advocate, opposing a few policy positions Shapiro is known to favor: "Why don't you say you're on the left? It's a serious question," Shapiro asked Neil after one such line of questioning. To which Neil, the longstanding conservative media person, replied, "Mr. Shapiro, if you only knew how ridiculous that statement is, you wouldn't have said it." Things got more and more tense as Neil probed a few claims Shapiro makes in his book, with Shapiro even going so far as to attack Neil by saying, "I don't frankly give a damn what you think of me since I've never heard of you." Shapiro then left the interview, ripping off his microphone, as Neil thanked him, "for showing that anger is not part of American political discourse."<p>The exchange, which is really worth watching in full, was notable for a few reasons. Firstly, Shapiro, who was in many respects made famous for so decisively defeating others in debates, was shown not to be as invincible as once thought. (George W. Bush, when awarding a Medal of Freedom to Milton Friedman in 2002, joked that his wife, Rose, was the only person ever to have beaten him an argument. The same can no longer be said of Shapiro, the curator of the 2010's response to Free to Choose.) Secondly, it showed that it is much easier to be a good sport when on the winning side of things. But most fundamentally, it showed how journalism ought to work -- and how it so often falls short in the United States and elsewhere. Despite Neil being a conservative himself, he didn't pull a single punch because, in his capacity as a journalist on BBC, he was being just that: a journalist -- not a commentator or "an advocacy journalist."<p>To this effect, Neil tweeted two days later: "So now I'm an evil leftist AND a right-wing fanatic. Who knew what drivel Twitter can descend to? Especially since I have not expressed a position on any matter of public debate for over a decade now, as befits a BBC presenter." To suggest that this comes down to a difference between American and British political discourse is to miss the point, and the BBC, of course, is no stranger to criticism (including for primarily giving air time to the positions championed by the two mainstream political parties, Conservative and Labour, and, thereby, having a "pro-establishment" bias). The British press, particularly on the print side, is notorious for its sensationalism, just as the goings-on in Westminster make the chambers of Capitol Hill seem like a train's quiet car. Rupert Murdoch, to this point, fresh from London, found the American press almost dull -- given its efforts at impartiality -- during his earliest forays into American media in 1973.<p>The partisanship of American media has fluctuated over time. During much of the 19th century, there was arguably little distinction to be drawn between the political parties and the newspapers that aligned with them; editors at some papers, as told by journalism professor James L. Baughman, moonlighted as advisors to the very politicians they were covering. But, by the middle of the 20th century, American media -- mostly driven by economic forces -- made it so "American political debate [was] increasingly conducted in a bland, even-tempered atmosphere and extremists of any kind are becoming rare." (Some commentators have attributed this move to the middle as actually an aberration in the history of partisanship in media -- and driven by advertisers wanting to reach people of all political persuasions in the same outlet.)<p>But then came the end of the FCC's fairness doctrine in 1987, The Telecommunications Act in 1996 and the growing trends towards combining news reporting with analysis, arguably opening a Pandora's Box of blurred lines between reporting the facts and commenting on them. Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and MSNBC rose in prominence, and now we have the partisan press of today. So, it's little wonder Shapiro would have such a difficult time allowing for the possibility that someone questioning him earnestly would, in fact, be on his side of the political aisle. As Neil mentioned during the interview, "I know that broadcasting in America is now so polarized that on one program you only have the left and on another one you just have the right. My job is to question those who have strong views and put an alternative to them." This all comes at a time when the Rand Corporation this month issued a report which argues that during the period of 1989-2017, "U.S.-based journalism has gradually shifted away from objective news and offers more opinion-based content that appeals to emotion and relies heavily on argumentation and advocacy."<p>"There are not many bucks to be made on the BBC, unlike American broadcasting," responded Neil to Shapiro's claim that the former was trying to make him look good bad for a "quick buck." The BBC, after all, is funded primarily through the license fee paid by British households rather than advertising revenue -- not to mention the BBC's Royal Charter requiring some degree of balancing the viewpoints. Perhaps that's part of the story.<p>No media outlet is perfect in its objectivity. And, as has been noted, the BBC has faced as much criticism as anyone, from the previously mentioned point on a pro-establishment bias to its coverage of certain ethnic and religious groups (including Catholics) to the means by which it is primarily funded. But sincere efforts at impartiality on the part of journalists should be rewarded -- no matter where they work. Neil's questioning of Shapiro -- save for a few moments where it may have arguably ventured into "gotcha" territory -- was commendable. Anderson Cooper's commitment to abstain from voting so long as he is in journalism is similarly admirable -- as are the rare occasions when broadcast journalists refrain from kicking someone who is already down. Perhaps one day we will need a Profiles in Courage-style book written about those who, in the age of a polarized media, resisted the urge to join the partisan herd. But until then, journalists would be wise to take a page from Neil and thoroughly question every interviewee, even those on their ideological team. If they do, there's a good chance they both might learn something.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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A Bad Marriage: Venture Capital and Online Media?


Wesley Yang, an editor at Esquire who is also well-known for his writings on the cultural identity of Asian-Americans, was the talk of Twitter earlier this month. This time, however, it was for an observation on the nature of online media, rather than for his thoughts on race or the Asian-American experience. He quoted a Vox article reporting The Walt Disney Company's growing concern that the $400 million it had invested in Vice Media was unlikely to generate returns. Yang's concern was not so much that digital media had in and of itself been greatly overvalued and everyone was now sobering up, thus bringing prices back to earth. Rather, the underlying issue might be something closer to this: The strategies some digital media companies use to raise money undermines the quality of their content, the loyalty of their staff and, in turn, eventually the brand and company themselves.<p>Yang, drawing from the Vox piece, highlighted some staggering figures. "Mic, which raised more than $60 million, sold for less than $5 million late last year." "Mashable, which was valued at about $250 million in 2016, sold for less than $50 million in 2017." "The properties formerly known as Gawker Media, plus The Onion and other sites, just sold for a price that's likely well below $50 million." "Univision, the TV conglomerate which sold them off, had paid $135 million for the Gawker sites alone in 2016."<p>Part of the lower sale prices may indeed reflect the oft-cited reasons, which include Facebook and Google together zapping up a 60% share of advertising revenue on the web, concerns that digital media lacks the growth potential of other types of tech, or the remarkable inability of some media companies, despite racking up countless clicks, to generate hard profits. (In fairness, Mashable wasn't exactly raking in profits when it raised its $13.3 million initial funding round led by Updata Partners in January 2014.) These factors might very well contribute to an investor climate that is arguably beginning to sour on online media. But perhaps there's another culprit: pressures exerted by some investors themselves, particularly in venture capital.<p>Despite the concerns floating around about the financial health and sustainability of online media, venture capital isn't yet panicking and still seems to be willing to throw money at it. For example, The Outline, a New York-based online magazine spearheaded by Joshua Topolsky (formerly of The Verge), raised a further $5.15 million in May, 2018, with a round led by RRE Ventures. Topolsky, a veteran of the online media space, had cautioned that he wanted The Outline's growth to be steady. He was aware of the dangers of pushing for the high sorts of returns that can cause online media to get too big too fast and potentially go the way of Mic, Mashable and company. (The Outline sold for an undisclosed amount in April of this year to Bustle Digital Group, which also had purchased Mic and Elite Daily.) <p>But, with respect to Topolsky's caution about injecting too much capital too quickly, the marriage between venture capital and online media is increasingly being called into question. The basic concern goes something like this: Venture capital is looking for high returns over a short period of time. In order to achieve those returns, the pressure is on to pump out a large volume of content -- and content that generates clicks. If the site then gets big enough, the venture capital firm can hit its "home run" and cash out. If not, so be it; a venture capital firm, after all, expects many of its individual investments won't pan out; but the media company often comes down too as a casualty.<p>In order to generate the large volumes of traffic that some investors want, these media companies have perfect formulas to determine which articles bring in the most clicks, often through sites such as Facebook. Mic, for instance, found that articles with headlines in the form of, "I'm This, But I Think That" were particularly popular. (A couple of actual examples: "5 Powerful Reasons I'm a (Male) Feminist" or "An Open Letter to the Pope From a Gay Man.") This worked well, until it didn't -- likely when readers got tired of this pre-packaged format, knowing precisely what to expect if they did indeed succumb to clicking on the link in their Facebook timelines. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of it, though, is when "directors of search engine optimization" would start telling editors to tell writers what to write, meaning that content was being written based on keywords likely to bring clicks -- not on topics of substantive importance.<p>Although this may work in the short term to generate large numbers of clicks and the advertising revenue that follows, the process often devalues the brand, and the long-term health of the media company is left in serious jeopardy. Mic is arguably the shining example of this inaction. (A piece in none other than The Outline chronicles this best.) But it descended from being a rising star in the media landscape, even scoring a sit-down with President Obama, to losing both its credibility and the loyalty of its staff, many of whom were committed political liberals. They became disillusioned with Mic's founders and financial backers' focus on generating page views, which eventually came at the cost of thoughtful content. (A story not unlike that of The New Republic under Chris Hughes.)<p>Perhaps this is why a growing number of online media companies have been raising money, at least seed rounds, from more ideologically motivated investors, who are arguably benefactors as much as they are "investors." For instance, Foster Friess provided $3 million to The Daily Caller, and, more recently, Ben Shapiro's upstart The Daily Wire was bankrolled by "several million dollars in seed funding" from the Wilks brothers. Even Claire Lehmann, the editor of the quick-growing Australian media venture Quillette, responded with a foot on the break to Mark Carnegie's investment in her publication earlier this month, noting, "It's not exactly philanthropy, but no one who is investing is expecting to make a huge sum of money in the next 12 or 24 months." (Carnegie is a venture capitalist by trade but an independent Quillette donor.)<p>Similar criticisms could be made about venture capital regardless of industry; but, in media, where brand trust is the ballgame, these fears are all the more relevant. For media companies looking to achieve slow and steady growth, the venture capital route might be an avenue to treat with the utmost caution. But, should more media companies begin to follow the trend towards relying more and more on subscriptions in addition to advertising for their revenue, quickly achieving major pageviews, a priority more associated with advertising revenue, might become less relevant. In any case, venture capital so far, in online media, has arguably struggled to foster the sort of reader loyalty that, "Like any great relationship ... just gets better and better as the years roll on."<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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News: Sensational? Partisan? And Now for Something Completely Different!


In the summer of 2018, Gallup released its list of the most trusted American social institutions, with the military and "small business" leading the charge. But, second only to Congress, the least trusted institution was television news, followed closely by newspapers. As for the origin of this distrust, viewers worried about accuracy in reporting, sensationalism (including "clickbait") and the perception that news sources publish stories before verifying all the facts. In total, 94% of Republicans, 66% of moderates and 42% of Democrats indicated that their trust in media has declined over the past decade. And this isn't even to mention other charges levied against the news media: marked degrees of partisanship in coverage and an alleged disproportionate focus on the goings-on in a few major cities, with much of the rest of the country arguably underrepresented in airtime.<p>But there is a silver lining: Nearly 70% of those who have lost trust in news expressed optimism and asserted that, despite the news media's current flaws, their trust could be regained. This expression of hopefulness is paired with the fact that the viewership of news remains robust. Despite declines from 2016-2017 in evening news, viewers across Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, daytime viewers remained fairly constant, and annual revenues increased for all three. Advertising in news also remains healthy; last year, Mark Miller of NBCUniversal emphasized that news was one area that was "defying gravity" and experiencing growth. Even if the world has turned over many times since the time when "the newspaper advertisement [was] the most effective and cost-efficient method of advertising the world had known," the evolving news space continues to attract dollars, particularly in an age with increasing interest in politics.<p>The growing focus on politics in the age of Trump, revenue increases for some news providers and dissatisfaction with the current media climate may represent opportunities for those looking to challenge the status quo. Even if brands such as The New York Times might still score highly in trust, recent comments, for instance, by former editor Jill Abramson, acknowledging the publication's anti-Trump bias underscore that even the most trusted names are susceptible to (or even seek out) partisanship in coverage. Similarly, some media buyers such as Aaron Perlstein of Noble People have expressed concern about increasingly partisan content: "The topics covered are not content safe and highly polarized." It's no surprise then that new players would look to explore the potential demand for more centrist content.<p>On the television side, there is some precedent for trying something new. In 2004, Al Gore and his business partner, Joel Hyatt, created Current TV. Imagining an alternative to the trends of that time, Gore and Hyatt -- and almost anticipating the stratospheric rise of the likes of YouTube -- sought to engage younger demographics in the creation of news content by inviting them to submit their own video footage. Gore also wanted Current TV to pursue the lofty goal of "[democratizing] ... television first and the media industry generally." (Current TV would later be acquired by Al Jazeera in 2013 and its distribution pathways would be used in the establishment of Al Jazeera America.)<p>These days Newsy, a premium news channel with OTT and cable distribution with a focus on providing anti-partisan news to younger audiences, has sought to respond to the current zeitgeist by emphasizing that they "seek to inform and not influence their audience." Newsy, whose cable channel is less than two years old, aims for a viewership much younger than that of, say, Fox News or MSNBC. Featuring discussion and debate between ideologically different parties, Newsy has sought to present a range of viewpoints in a manner more engaging than other networks' token conservative or liberal being ganged up on by other commentators or the shouting matches between the conservative half of the table and the liberal side on Meet the Press.<p>Similar to Newsy's emphasis on seeking to avoid overt partisanship, BBC World News, a platform associated with less partisan coverage and a greater emphasis on reporting the facts, posted a 7% increase in global viewers in 2017 from the year before. Newsy's footprint continues to emerge as well with over seven million OTT downloads and a nationwide linear footprint that approaches 40 million households. Although no news platform can avoid bias altogether, the effort to stick to the facts always counts for something. And, with the partisan noise of post-2016 politics perhaps reaching a boiling point, it makes sense that many frustrated consumers of news may be increasingly looking for substitutes for the sensationalism, just as some voters might be excited by, say, the independent candidacy of a Howard Schultz.<p>To this point, on the internet side, in 2016 upstart news outlet Axios raised ten million dollars, arguing that "media is broken -- and too often a scam," and promising something new. Bringing in more than $10 million in revenue during its first seven months in operation, the company would raise a further $20 million in 2017 and nearly double its staff. Its content, often only 300 words long, is tailor-made for quick viewing in the digital age. Similarly, in the short time since 2015, there has been the creation of the entire new commentary space, dubbed "the Intellectual Dark Web," which has witnessed its respective podcasters and online magazines post millions of new viewers -- viewers disenchanted with the partisanship and predictability of more mainstream outlets. All the while, noted centrist Michael Smerconish, the Sirius XM and Saturday morning host of CNN's Smerconish, and the always-civil Rick Ungar, the co-host of Sirius XM's Potus' Steele and Ungar, are doubling down on their centrist pitches by launching their own respective online media ventures.<p>Although these new outlets, like those that have come before, may still fall victim to it -- after all, "if it bleeds, it leads" -- they seek to provide other options to a public that is increasingly dissatisfied with some of the trends in the more established brands. But as the increasing growth of such ventures as Newsy and Axios demonstrates, people still want news. So, even while 72% of Americans believe that the mainstream news outlets all but lie to viewers, there is little doubt that opportunities exist for news providers that can restore some trust. After all, the viewers themselves have made it clear that they're eagerly waiting to be won back over.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Ninety-Seven Percent of Americans Live Somewhere Other than New York City


During the 2016 presidential primaries, Senator Ted Cruz's debate talking point on so-called "New York values" didn't go so well. His attempt to criticize the moral rectitude and quality of character of New Yorkers was met with a stinging response from then-candidate Donald Trump. "When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York," Trump roared. "We rebuilt downtown Manhattan, and everybody in the world watched, and everybody in the world loved New York and loved News Yorkers. And I have to tell you, that was a very insulting comment that Ted made." Some pundits called the exchange the beginning of the end of Senator Cruz's candidacy.<p>Attacks on the so-called "coastal elites" have become a hallmark of post-2016 politics and, similarly, some conservative commentators have voiced concern about the media's apparent New York frame of reference. Cruz's comment was indeed out of line; painting New Yorkers or Californians with a broad brush is as unfair as defining Nebraskans by rural stereotypes. But, as tempting as it may be to dismiss Cruz's line of thinking out-of-hand as divisive class and geographical warfare, perhaps the spirit of what his comment represents -- the divide between a few cities and the rest of the country -- needs to be taken seriously. So many of the people who shape American media, after all, live and work on one 13.4-mile island at the Eastern edge of the continent. This becomes all the more relevant due to the steady decline of many local and regional newspapers, leaving online media and a few major papers -- many of which are run from New York -- the increasingly dominant news sources for Americans.<p>Nowhere is the disproportionate influence of New York City seen more than in the online media space, particularly in online magazines. The writers and editors generally live in New York, and it shows. One can hardly get through three paragraphs on many of the Millennial-targeted publications without constant references to locations around New York City (and only one-and-a-half of the boroughs, of course). The place-dropping is incessant: "Gramercy," "Battery Park," "the Village." Only 2.6% of Americans live in New York City, but reading through many of these publications, one would think that number is infinitely greater. Forget about references to what countless Americans have as their cultural touchstones: say Ephrata, Pennsylvania's "The Green Dragon" or spending the first night of summer watching the Gwinnett Stripers play.<p>The story is likely more a socioeconomic one than a geographical one. (Trump's populist message, for instance, carried him to victory in every county in New York during the Republican primary, except for one: New York County.) Even if New York City is sometimes unfortunately appropriated as part of this political warfare, in fairness to its detractors, the out-of-touch characterization might be becoming more and more real.<p>The average rent in Manhattan is $3,667 per month, which is 68% above the national average, and the average sale price of a home in Manhattan is about six-and-half times the national average. Although income is relatively evenly distributed, purchasing power in Manhattan is a far cry from most places in the rest of the country. In her New York Times piece "What Is Middle Class in Manhattan?," Amy O'Leary says "someone making $70,000 a year in other parts of the country would need to make $166,000 in Manhattan to enjoy the same purchasing power." All the while, New York City continues to attract graduates of elite colleges at an astounding rate; 25.4% of Princeton graduates moved to New York City after graduation -- more than triple the next closest destination city of Washington, D.C. -- and it was the top destination for graduates of six of the eight Ivy League schools.<p>But perhaps more fundamentally, Manhattan is no longer the Manhattan of times gone by, with the unique, cultural mosaics of its past. The New York accent is dying. Little Italy has shrunk almost out of existence from 50 square blocks to three (thanks in large part to skyrocketing rents) and landmarks there, such as the Ravenite Social Club, have morphed into shoe and handbag boutiques.<p>It's a point foreshadowed by the 1994 Seinfeld episode, The Mom & Pop Store. "It's your go-go corporate takeover lifestyles that are driving out these mom-and-pop stores and destroying the fabric of this neighborhood," Kramer says. George, of course, replies, as George would, "If my mom and pop ran a store, I wouldn't shop there!" But the point remains -- or, as the community radio show host Jamison Maley likes to say, "They're trying to turn entire working-class neighborhoods into one giant sushi bar," thus pushing more and more New Yorkers out of Manhattan.<p>Just as the Miramax logo appears offset against the New York skyline or the last shot of NBC Nightly News is people meandering around Rockefeller Center, even academic papers written on news audiences often rely on samples based heavily in the Northeast. The shallowness of some journalists' efforts to comprehend other parts of America shows. Sometimes they even take an almost voyeuristic tone, such as the numerous photo-essays on so-called "Donald Trump's America" depicting, say, a washed-up Vietnam veteran staring through the uncleaned windows of a nearly empty diner. Characterizing these individuals as "Trump's Americans" is as monolithic and reductive as portraying New Yorkers as Senator Cruz did, and it makes it all the more difficult to understand them politically or in terms of their preferences for media.<p>Just as there are political echo chambers, there are media echo chambers too, where those making decisions in media -- on the content side, the advertising side and everything in between -- are often living in just a handful of places, most of which are wealthy and urban. Just as if you're only socializing with Republicans, you might be less likely to understand Democrats, if you're mostly spending time in a handful of urban centers, it might be harder to take the pulse of much of the rest of the country. For instance, how many Americans get their news from radio in their cars driving back and forth from work rather than from podcasts on the subway, why an athlete kneeling for the national anthem might be such a big deal or why so many Americans might have a soft spot for watching The Voice instead of Game of Thrones.<p>So, in a world of echo chambers in both politics and media, it's important to remember that 97.4% of Americans live somewhere other than New York City. Even with the near fetishization of many urban centers on the part of content-makers, 11% of Americans have never left the state they were born in, let alone "threaded the needle" in touring the upmarket locales. And even if some did make the trek, the growing chasm between the country's wealthiest enclaves and the rest of the map might have many people, before long, humming along to Jim Croce's semi-autobiographical tune "New York's Not My Home."<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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The Local News Crisis: Can Television and Digital Fill the Gap?


Something interesting has been happening on the other side of the Hudson. In August, the New Jersey legislature passed the "Civic Information Bill," which designated $5 million in state funding for local news. The state, sandwiched between the local television markets of New York and Philadelphia, has relied heavily on newspapers in the past for local news. Thus, New Jersey has been hit heavily by drying up local papers. Critics have, of course, rightfully pointed out concerns about anything resembling government-funded media, even as praise for the measure tumbled in from the organization Free Press to The Philadelphia Inquirer. But, more than anything, the New Jersey proposal is indicative of the dire state of affairs when it comes to the financial health of local news.<p>The statistic frequently cited by those monitoring the decline of local journalism is that 1,800 newspapers have shuttered in the past decade-and-a-half. And, even for those publications that have stayed alive, layoffs have been rampant; newsroom employment in the United States fell 23% between 2008 and 2017 with a net loss of 27,000 jobs. Pulitzer Prize-winner Matt Rainey told me: "I'm not working in journalism anymore. I can't make a living in it ... Unfortunately, we have no local journalism anymore in the county where I live. You can't find anything that's going on unless you jump on the local Facebook or Patch to see some kind of informal or unofficial story."<p>Patch, of course, had struggled under AOL ownership but returned to profitability in 2016 under majority management by Hale Global, and now boasts an Alexa rank of 81 in the United States. Then there are the entrepreneurs, who made their money in other ventures, who have entered the local news space. One is Michael Golden, a Philadelphia-based online-retail entrepreneur who is running websites for local news in metro Philadelphia. With publications such as The New York Times, though hardly a local paper, now experiencing increased revenues in digital subscriptions, perhaps that's a model for regional and city papers to take a page from.<p>But perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle is local television news. Although viewership of local television news dropped 9% from 2016 to 2017, it remains the most viewed television news, surpassing both network and cable. (Of course, viewerships do tend to decline in non-election years.) In addition to boasting more employees than the average local newspaper, local television has been called by the Knight Foundation, "the dominant news source for Americans," and they regularly experience strong revenue streams, particularly from the political advertisements that roll in during election years. As of late, local television has been investing in new content and technology to boost audiences and also appeal to new demographics.<p>Valari Staab, President of NBCUniversal-Owned Television Stations, discussed with me the sizable investments her company has been making in weather-tracking technology, especially given that weather reporting is the No. 1 driver of viewers to her stations. "Our radars are live, whereas the National Weather Service's are always on some kind of delay," she explained. And it's not just weather. Staab also described the extensive effort her company has made in customer service improvements.<p>All the while, innovations have been rolling in from other parts of the country, including from NBC affiliated stations. WRAL-TV, the NBC affiliate in Raleigh, NC, created a popular iPhone app in 2010 that laid the groundwork for other stations to follow suit. Denver's KUSA 9News has been successfully experimenting with personality driven news coverage.<p>On the business to business side, Frank Comerford, the Chief Revenue Officer of that same division at NBCUniversal, emphasized how their company does its best to give advertisers the ability to run the same ads in a "bundled way" to reach audiences digitally and on the television side -- in both English and Spanish. Local news, after all, is big business, with local TV over-the-air advertising revenue reaching $17.4 billion in 2017.<p>A healthy state of local television is likely good news for communities, particularly when the fate of regional newspapers is uncertain. "Everything is vetted," Comerford told me before Staab chimed in to add that local television news tends to follow the rules of journalism more closely than some race-to-publish-first online outlets.<p>"There is a difference in the way that we conduct our journalism," she said.<p>Also, the rising role of Telemundo owned-and-operated stations might provide an antidote to what may be the most pressing existential threat to the health of local news: its demographic crisis. Although local news generally caters to an older audience, Telemundo's top advertising demographic is adults 18-49.<p>One common thread that runs through much of the discussion on local and community news is that there is an almost public service component to providing local news. This makes sense for a few reasons. For starters, most communities that have lost their local newspapers (therefore becoming "news deserts") lag behind national averages in annual median income and percentage of residents who are college graduates. On the political side, local news is often a watchdog against local governments that have been more likely to engage in wasteful spending when local media shutters. Lastly, local news prevents the nationalization of issues. So, while 71% of Americans remain in blissful ignorance of the challenges that many avenues of local news have faced, perhaps the innovations and investments by certain companies in this space might save those who rely on local news from a rude wake-up call. <p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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With Mueller in the Rearview, the Media’s in the Crosshairs


Note: To avoid the very thing some media outlets are being accused of – prematurely jumping to conclusions -- I will make some comments here, knowing that much is subject to change in the months to come, should the situation evolve, new findings emerge if the Mueller report is released to Congress or should other ongoing investigations cast a different light on the situation.<p>The USA Today headline sitting in news racks across the country last Monday morning read: “No Conspiracy,” just above a photograph of Robert Mueller walking out of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington after attending Sunday services there the day before. After 22 months, the special counsel did not determine that “... members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Although remaining agnostic on the question of obstruction of justice, for political observers and consumers of news this was the end of a long, concerning and emotionally exhausting period of American politics. But, as of late, the media’s role in it all is taking center stage.<p>Jon Gabriel, the Editor-in-Chief of the conservative platform Ricochet, went to Twitter shortly after word broke that no further indictment was expected: “The news media peddled false info about Russian collusion for two years -- and they made billions doing it. They have every incentive to cook up a new false narrative." These sorts of hot takes might be expected from members of the “conservative team,” but they were joined by many other journalists, including progressives.<p>Glenn Greenwald shared his thoughts: “Let me just say, [MSNBC] should have their top host on primetime go before the cameras and hang their heads in shame and apologize for lying to people for three straight years, exploiting their fears to great profit.”<p>Matt Taibbi, an editor at Rolling Stone, made the comparison between the media’s coverage of Mueller and “Weapons of Mass Destruction”: “ ... WMD damaged the media’s reputation. Russiagate may have destroyed it.”<p>Aaron Maté, writing in The Nation, chimed in: "The implosion of the collusion theory is a humiliation for everyone who promoted it."<p>Bob Woodward, appearing on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews last Monday evening, however, defended the media’s coverage of the probe: “... the media is being criticized now. There was all this hyperventilation about alleged collusion ... I think the media, my newspaper The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times did a very good job with all these allegations and lies out there. There’s no way you’re going to sit at home…”<p>Fair enough. But it’s hard to deny that there weren’t certain commentators almost willing it all to be true. As one compilation video making the rounds on social media shows, outlets such as MSNBC and CNN were just a bit too fond of apocalyptic proclamations and near-promises that impeachment was imminent. The video, for example, includes more than two minutes of one alarming phrase alone, being repeated again and, again, that “the walls are closing [on President Trump].”<p>Rachel Maddow, whom The Washington Post's Paul Farhi called "the queen of collusion," dropped approximately 500,000 viewers from the Monday before the probe closed to Monday, March 25th. MSNBC's second most-watched primetime program, The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, saw a similar decline. Even as commentators such as Joe Scarborough generally stood by the press’ coverage of the investigation, he did concede that there were certain "bad actors" in the commentator circuit who wouldn't be invited "back on our show."<p>Just as Sean Hannity had to acknowledge that he is not a journalist per se, but rather an “advocacy journalist, or an opinion journalist,” it seems similar self-re-characterizations may be requested of others in the media space in the weeks to come.<p>Taibbi wasn’t alone in wondering aloud if there were legitimate parallels to be drawn between “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and the coverage of Mueller. Back in August, a full seven months before the conclusion of the probe, Jack Hunter, writing in The American Conservative, also made the same bold comparison, suggesting that Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and company unflinchingly bought the Bush administration’s narrative of events hook, line and sinker. But after all, much of the rest of the media did, too. (David Remnick of The New Yorker would later state that his publication’s acceptance of the Bush administration’s position was the greatest regret of his career at the magazine.) And, of course, in 2004, Daniel Okrent, the first public editor of The New York Times, would issue a lengthy apology for the paper’s “institutional” failure of journalism in covering the claims that led to the War in Iraq.<p>Some, of course, vehemently objected to the comparison, saying that there is no equivalency between a political investigation and a war that led to the deaths of -- estimates vary -- hundreds of thousands. But, in both cases, respected members of the American government and intelligence community went on the record and the media took their words as truth -- whether it be Colin Powell during his 2003 speech to the United Nations or former CIA Director John Brennan, Representative Adam Schiff and the like’s bulletproof confidence that President Trump was at the end of his rope. Even as former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper cautioned that Brennan’s rhetoric had gone too far, the media still continued to give the former CIA Director the most ample airtime, while many hosts seemed all too excited to share in his prognostications.<p>Who knows what the months ahead will bring? But the degree of certainty displayed by many in the press ought to be cause for concern. Essential to journalism is the need to verify. Recall the old code journalists are supposed to live by: “If your mother tells you she loves you, find a second source.” And this is not even to mention the type of rhetoric employed.<p>Of course, sensationalism today is used on all sides, and Fox News is no stranger to it, but we need to do better.<p>For those of us outside of the newsroom, perhaps it’s worth pondering a question posed by Georgetown Law Professor Randy Barnett: “If the Mueller Report finds no collusion with Russia by the sitting president to secure his election -- the charge that induced a special counsel -- how many will consider this to be bad news and be disappointed? How many Trump critics will be relieved their worst fears were untrue?” Say what you want about the President, but the fact that the current executive branch isn’t, in fact, comprised of Russian co-conspirators ought to make us all breathe a collective, national sigh of relief.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this content with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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When the Media Goes Positive


Occasionally, an editor acknowledges what we all know to be true: that it's not the viewer's imagination -- the press really does prefer bad news to good news. As stories of crimes, political scandals and conflict fill the airwaves, one might wonder if the news media is making things seem nastier than they are. It's a point cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker has argued when he suggested that the coverage choices of the news media may distort our views. For example, we overestimate the number of tornado deaths since producers are suckers for catastrophic deaths, rather than much more common killers, such as asthma. Channeling sociologist Johan Galtung, Pinker contends that if newspapers came out every fifty years instead of daily, they'd tell the story of remarkable macro-strides, such as rising life expectancy and a dearth of world wars. But, instead, the news makes the world seem rather frightening.<p>With respect to the chicken and the egg, however, it appears that viewers actually like bad news. A multi-decade survey of "American News Preferences" compiled by the Pew Research Center determined that the categories of news that generated the most viewer attention were: "War/Terrorism, Bad Weather, Man-made Disasters and Natural Disasters." Of course, the question remains as to if the proliferation of bad news is a supply issue or a demand issue. Is it what producers want to show, what viewers want to see or both?<p>In any event, some of the news media has been pushing back against the doom and gloom. The Today Show, for example, has been spreading cheer with segments such as the Morning Boost. ABC World News Tonight, since 1986, has given us the ABC Person of the Week. Those chosen are often doing the altruistic, courageous and inspiring, such as the recent choices of a Santa Claus actor who focuses on helping blind children, responders to Hurricane Michael and a young girl overcoming a disability to throw out opening pitches at MLB stadiums with a prosthetic hand. A personal favorite of mine comes at the end of CBS' Sunday Morning when the show features calming scenery from national parks and wildlife refuges across the country.<p>This effort is not just at the national level. Channel 9, the NBC-affiliate station serving Denver has been featuring It's Friday! This is your good news. Also in Denver, on the print side, The Denver Post has a section aptly labeled "Good News." There, the paper runs a range of stories from the feel-good to the inspiring. There's the report of a Denver couple that has traveled far and wide seeking to photograph every remaining Holocaust survivor in the nation. On a lighter note, there was the feature on the birth of a new two-toed sloth at the Denver Zoo<p>Just as there might have been comic relief in the theater of the past, now we have "pleasant relief" where the news media, perhaps aware of its perception as the inveterate bearer of bad news, takes a break to tell us that there are things to be happy about amid the constant coverage of conflicts and political shenanigans. But is this why the viewer tunes in?<p>One study seeks to answer precisely this question, and its results are telling. Left to their own devices, independent of what editors and network producers determine ought to be the news, participants in a study organized by Marc Trussler and Stuart Soroka at McGill University overwhelmingly chose to read negative rather than positive or neutral news stories. Despite saying that "the media was too focused on negative stories" and articulating that they preferred good news, that's not what they chose to read when actually given the chance. Tracking eye movement, the researchers found that participants in the study spent more time reading content that was negative, and this was also the case for those who had previously claimed to prefer good news. As the authors noted, previous studies on the subject had focused more on the supply-side of bad news, but it seems now that the demand for it is very much present.<p>Seeking to explain this tendency, some turn to psychology and negativity biases, while others look to evolutionary biology and argue on behalf of the benefit of collecting negative information. The more practical among us, however, might instead choose to note that the more negative the magazine cover, the greater the sales -- or, negative superlatives in headlines ("Never," "Bad," "Worst") generate significantly greater numbers of eyeballs than positive ones. It's little wonder, then, that a Change.org petition suggesting that papers "Stop publishing bad news headlines on the front page in the week before Christmas and instead find good news stories that will uplift people" didn't make it to the top of the website's petition list. Perhaps, if one wanted the uplifting, they would tune into TV Land instead of the evening news.<p>There's nothing wrong with news outlets rewarding viewers for grinding through the heartache and battlefield reporting with something positive and uplifting. But while peppering in the occasional good story might serve for a welcome break, it will likely continue to be the exception rather than the rule. As Gresham's Law of Media tells us, bad news drives out the good. But, for the bottom lines of media companies, that might be exactly how the cookie ought to crumble.<p>Photo credit: Jon Tyson - Unsplash<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Twitter: A News Network in Its Own Right?


President Trump isn't the only one. Twitter has become the platform of choice for much of the political and so-called commentary class. Scrolling through Twitter and adding one's two cents, for journalists, politicos and authors, has become what it was for eighth graders a few short years ago to spend their entire evenings browsing through Facebook. Stephen King, for example, spends so much time tweeting that one wonders how he has time to write a single sentence for any forthcoming books. He's just one in a sea of professors, authors and politicians who have taken their talents to the Twitter feed -- where they appear to have a captive audience.<p>According to a Pew study, more than two-thirds of American adults in 2018 were getting some portion of their news from social media. During the 2016 presidential election, 35% of 18-29 year-olds cited social media as the "most helpful type of source for learning about the 2016 election," nearly triple the number that cited "cable TV." Although the majority of Americans 65 and older still prefer cable, the share of older Americans turning to social media for news has been increasing as well. Even if Twitter is not yet what TechCrunch called "the CNN of the new media generation," its influence would be hard to ignore.<p>Even if all social media is on the rise, there's something special about Twitter. Part of it is likely due to the concision element. Tweets are capped at 280 characters, but for most of Twitter's lifespan, the character limit was a rigid 140. Although some have cited this threshold as a conscious decision on the part of the company to emphasize brevity, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey asserted that the original choice was an arbitrary decision based on SMS messages' 160 character limit. (Interestingly enough, however, according to a TechCrunch analysis piece published a year after the change, the new policy did little to increase the actual length of tweets sent). Regardless, the short and sweet carries the day, a far cry from Facebook posts the length of books.<p>Another aspect of Twitter's popularity is likely due to the potential it offers nearly anyone to become the pundit du jour. Just as some restaurant owners claim that all of their clients writing on Yelp think they're James Beard, today it seems anyone with Twitter installed on their iPhone can try their hand at being George F. Will. One is only a pithy sentence and a retweet away from a flash of stardom. For instance, Ryan Cale, a Lynchburg, Virginia man with fewer than 6,000 followers, achieved his 15 minutes of fame on March 3rd when he garnered a "retweet" from President Trump. It's a reach that the top commenter on the bottom of a Hill or New York Times article could only dream of. And, even if one doesn't receive that coveted retweet, editorializing on Twitter still remains a bit more interactive than yelling at a television.<p>Thanks in part to this president, now it's the news outlets scrambling, on nearly a daily occasion, to create stories about what happened on Twitter the night before. Sometimes Twitter is driving the news as much as the news is driving Twitter. For instance, just last week it was The Hill pumping out stories on Hillary Clinton's decision to tweet a GIF from the 2004 film, Mean Girls. Similarly, thanks to President Trump, The Washington Post now leads analysis pieces with lines such as, "President Trump announced the complete, immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria with a tweet ..."<p>Although some theorists argue that social media is the root of much evil today, that's probably a bit melodramatic. With concerns about professionalism well-taken, there is, however, something to be said for politicians on both sides of the aisle being able to speak to constituents in an unfiltered way. But there are valid concerns, too. Jake Coyle of the Associated Press argued that "something is lost" when a Twitter sound bite replaces a long-form interview or press conference. Russell Kirk might be turning in his grave to hear that Twitter has perhaps made his worst fear of, "... [condensing] profound and intricate systems into a few pretentious phrases" into a reality. For those of us who maintain that one can tell the quality of a piece of writing by the number of proper nouns per paragraph -- the density of the specifics, so to speak -- one wonders if the oversimplification that social media causes might serve to cheapen things.<p>For those sensitive to these criticisms, it's probably not yet time to despair. When it comes to the overlap between social media and more traditional news sources, it is particularly interesting to note that it appears Twitter serves as a supplement rather than a replacement for the more established mediums. The Twitter news consumers, who tend to be more educated and younger than those who consume news on other social media platforms, also generally draw on a range of news sources -- not just their Twitter feeds.<p>One could view Twitter as another step in the 21st century's effort to decentralize knowledge, as Wikipedia has done. More prosaically, for those who want to be the first in the office to learn what's going on, Twitter often gives the first glimpse at what will be on cable a couple hours later. So, even if we're still debating whether Jack Dorsey and Ted Turner belong in the same sentence when it comes to news, it seems a case could be made.<p>On the supply side, spending the day tweeting has become almost the apotheosis of the career ladder for many in the academic and political space. After years of building a name through rolling up sleeves and hard work, a day spent tweeting every thought that comes to mind seems to be the pinnacle of modern intellectual life. For the millions of Americans scrolling through these observations, it seems that these tweets serve as a welcome addition to -- though not yet a replacement for -- television news.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Is Funding the "Policy Mags" an Act of Charity?


And so goes The Weekly Standard. On December 14 its owner, Clarity Media Group, announced that the conservative magazine's December 17 issue would be its last. Founded in 1995, with Bill Kristol, John Podhoretz and Fred Barnes at the helm, the magazine became extremely influential during the Bush years, being dubbed (as The New Republic was for Bill Clinton) the "in-flight magazine of Air Force One." But as the commentator class has unanimously concluded, The Weekly Standard, which became the platform of the "Never Trumpers," lost its battle with the President and his supporters. Clarity Media Group, in its press release, focused on the magazine's lost fight with the bottom line. But, in the "policy mag" space, who hasn't struggled in that department?<p>The National Review has only been profitable for one year of its existence and never broke even during William F. Buckley's tenure. The New Republic has been notoriously financially strapped. And The Nation went 138 years without turning a profit. But these publications, financially viable or otherwise, seem to have little trouble finding benefactors to support them.<p>Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, established First Look Media in 2013, most notably promising Glenn Greenwald and crew $250 million to, among other projects, launch their flagship whistleblowing publication The Intercept. With no illusions of making money off upsetting the powerful, The Intercept is organized as a non-profit. Philip Anschutz, whose business interests have included oil drilling, railroads and Major League Soccer, owns Clarity Media Group, which acquired The Weekly Standard from News Corporation in 2009. When it came to that particular holding, Mr. Anschutz couldn't have been unaware that The Weekly Standard had never been profitable, a piece of information that might have been betrayed by an estimated sale price of only $1 million.<p>Even the bigger names like The New Yorker have considered seeking out an altruistic patron when times got tough. As Lillian Ross put it: "To keep The New Yorker from falling into the wrong hands, Mr. Shawn, the editor, considered reaching out to Warren Buffett to 'come to the magazine's rescue.'"<p>A particularly interesting story, though, is that of The New Republic. Struggling to stay afloat, its editor at the time courted Chris Hughes, the 28-year-old former roommate of Mark Zuckerberg, who had made hundreds of million dollars through his stock ownership in Facebook. An avid reader and believer in politically liberal causes, he signed on to buy the magazine in 2012. Initially, its staff celebrated the young blood and new energy of their 20-something new owner. And Mr. Hughes, at first, spent lavishly. He opened new office spaces, moved the magazine's Washington, D.C., headquarters to a posh part of the city, hired design firms to outfit the new location with state-of-the-art furnishings and went around hiring every talented writer he could find. For a while he was fine with spending freely with no "ROI" in sight.<p>But then he wasn't. Mr. Hughes decided he was going to turn The New Republic into a business, after all. He outlined plans for New Republic-branded coffee shops and stores, and he proposed organizing conferences to be hosted under the name of the magazine. Perhaps most troubling, though, to many on the staff was his new-found push for catchier content, rather than the longform political writing for which the magazine was known.<p>Eventually, Mr. Hughes would fire the magazine's top editor to replace him with a digital strategist, as the focus became on clicks rather than deep-thought. The day after the firing, "15 top editors ... and 13 contributing editors" resigned. John B. Judis, a senior editor, summarized the exodus: "What made this different is that the firings were inextricably tied to Mr. Hughes' embrace of a new profit-driven model for The New Republic that threatened the vital role that it and other political magazines have played in American democracy."<p>Those who own these magazines exhibit various degrees of editorial control, but when the staff is concerned with idealism and the owners look for profits, sometimes the tensions boil over. Perhaps that's the reason that headlines read: "The New Republic is dead, thanks to its owner, Chris Hughes" or "Chris Hughes broke The New Republic -- and my heart." But the desire to turn these magazines profitable is very much there. Mr. Greenwald of The Intercept, seemingly frustrated with the possibility of profit being written off entirely, argued, "We don't want to be a charity ... We need to figure out how to be self-sustaining down the road. Whether that's ads or something else, we're going to have serious discussions."<p>But, for those who own the policy mags, the question remains as to whether they are investors or patrons. It also invites questions as to the reading preferences of the general public. There's a reason more general interest magazines such as The Atlantic (profitable for the past eight years) and The New Yorker (also turning a profit) have expanded their coverage into the more horse-race and scandal du jour topics. Whereas, the policy mags have firmly resisted this shift. As they used to say of The Weekly Standard, if you read about an event there, it probably happened two weeks before.<p>For those who choose to spend a portion of their fortunes sustaining the policy mags, one wonders how similar it is to supporting political candidates. But for many businesspeople in the media, the motivation seems more to be about influencing hearts and minds rather than turning a profit. When it comes to those like Mr. Anschutz who are clearly in the ideology business (judging by campaign contributions), when a publication gets too out of whack with the spirit of the times, the charitable contributions might run their course.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Coverage of the Shutdown Reminds Us That Spin Rules the Day


On Sunday, January 27, the president took to Twitter, unexpectedly criticizing his favorite network. "Never thought I'd say this but I think @johnrobertsFox and @GillianHTurner @FoxNews have even less understanding of the Wall negotiations than the folks at FAKE NEWS CNN & NBC!" As the dust settled after 35 days of a partially-shuttered government, the media began to tell its version of events.<p>No matter how one spins it, though, the shutdown wasn't exactly great for the president's approval ratings. (In fairness, Gallup has suggested that the shutdown did little to affect his support among Republicans or Democrats, only among the mystical segment of Americans who identify, truthfully or otherwise, as "independents.") But according to FiveThirtyEight, perhaps the most reliable polling aggregator, the president started the week after the shutdown with an approval rating of 39.4%, the lowest any president has faced this early on since reliable polling began.<p>Echoing this point, the next morning The Hill ran a story with the headline: "Nearly half of Americans say they have no confidence 'at all' in Trump: poll." Citing an ABC News-Washington Post poll, The Hill explained that only 35% of Americans trust the president "to make the right decisions for the country's future." Conspicuously absent from The Hill's reporting, however, was the next line of the actual text of the ABC News-Washington Post poll: There was a near-identical lack of trust for Democrats in Congress (34%), Speaker Pelosi (30%) and Republicans in Congress (30%).<p>This is similar to the more anecdotal segment run by CNN in the midst of the shutdown where furloughed government workers blamed both the president and Congress for the standoff. So, there might be a fairly widespread sense of dissatisfaction with the political system, but if you watch Fox News, the Democrats get the blame. And if you turn on MSNBC, the story is nearly the opposite.<p>As David Greenberg might have put it, it was just another week in the "Republic of Spin." In Greenberg's book, the story, however, is that of the presidents, the staffers and pollsters -- and how they have spent decades perfecting the art of getting a more objective media and a more impartial electorate to see things as their bosses do. Nowadays, they barely have to do the legwork. In a polarized media environment, there's hardly a need for the middleman. The network hosts do the job for them. And if that fails, they just bring in the backroom strategists themselves. Instead of Karl Rove working behind the scenes to get the media to see things the conservative way, now he's sitting, clear as day, behind the news desk himself.<p>When it comes to the end of the shutdown, Sean Hannity told us that, "A deal has been reached to reopen the government temporarily ... [The president has] given Congress three weeks now to agree on legislation to build the wall [and] secure our borders." Jake Tapper on CNN put it a bit differently: "The government has been shut down for absolutely no reason." MSNBC's coverage was peppered with the words "capitulated" and "surrendered," a far cry from what Fox News would have you believe.<p>HuffPost, in solidarity with MSNBC, released a compilation video of the president's collective interviews with Fox News in which reporters can be heard taking a break from discussing policy to provide the softballs: "It was your birthday, get any good presents?" "How are you going to celebrate Father's Day?" "Chuck Schumer, the president of CNN and Alec Baldwin. If you had to fire one person right now, who would you fire?"<p>There's always something cringeworthy about an overly obsequious reporter, whether it's ESPN's Jeff Darlington's recent starstruck sit-down with Tom Brady or a nominally objective political reporter cow tailing to the most powerful person in the room.<p>But the left-leaning outlets do the same. As former New York Times editor Jill Abramson suggested last month, much of the media is markedly anti-Trump. Why? For the same reason that Fox News does what it does. It helps their bottom lines. New York Times readers and MSNBC viewers want to see the president bashed, just as Fox News viewers want to see him exalted. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the two most popular cable channels in number of prime time viewers are the two most polarized: Fox News and MSNBC.<p>This is a point articulately made by economists Antony Davies and James R. Harrigan in their August 2018 Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed, "Fox News, MSNBC make the world seem scarier than it is." The authors, who noted that "Fox News and MSNBC agree on one thing: The United States is going to hell in a handcart," go on to suggest that "major news media have become machines that convert bad news into profits." When push comes to shove, perhaps we don't actually like objectivity as much as we might say we do at dinner parties.<p>Americans might claim not to like the direction the country is heading, Congress or the media. Yet, despite the griping about the press, they're Johnny-on-the-spot to consume the spin. Turning on the networks these days is almost like asking an establishment politician what he believes ought to be done about education reform; you can predict 80% of the words of his answer before he even opens his mouth.<p>Photo credit: Andy Feliciotti / Unsplash<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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When It Came to the Shutdown, Was the Media Informing or Entertaining?


The late-night comedians have been having their fun. They did the same during the government shutdown in October of 2013, when Conan O'Brien paraded through the back offices of his studio determining which employees were essential and which could be temporarily laid-off. Finding employees "buying pies online" and asking them to make their case whether they were indeed essential, O'Brien later polled all of the workers to determine who on his staff was the top candidate to be furloughed given the tight budget. The unanimous choice was, of course, the frequent target of O'Brien's jokes: Jordan Schlansky.<p>This time around the late-night comedians continued to make light of things, as is, of course, their job. Stephen Colbert indicated that the government shutdown was preventing craft breweries from having their labels approved, which provided a segue into a bit where the comedian twisted the name of various beer brands to tell the story of the shutdown. Jimmy Kimmel notably hired furloughed federal employees to perform humorous tasks on his set, such as having a federal prison guard shake a tambourine as a member of his band.<p>With the obvious exception of the aftermath of 9/11, it's been the job of our late-night comics to make us laugh during trying political times -- but what about the rest of the media? Have they actually been telling us what's going on or have they been focused on the optics and political stunts? As the partial government shutdown dragged on -- having become the longest in American history -- what was the actual effect on the country of those 800,000 or so federal workers staying home? From a look at the news, the answer didn't exactly jump off the screen.<p>CBS News, in fairness, ran a very informative segment on January 7 with Elaine Quijano. Bringing in Damian Paletta, a Washington Post reporter, the segment provided a comprehensive overview of the potential risk to SNAP, the federal government's food stamp program, should the shutdown continue into February. Paletta explained that the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program, had enough reserve funding to make it a few more weeks before a rationing of sorts would need to take place. After covering the SNAP situation, Quijano and Paletta also took time to discuss how 90% of the IRS staff being furloughed could affect tax returns and potentially push back the April 15 filing deadline, a topic of discussion also covered by a January 18 segment on MSNBC's Velshi & Ruhle.<p>Fortunately, the shutdown ended earlier today, at least for the next three weeks, temporarily alleviating such concerns.<p>The majority of the other information-oriented segments on the shutdown focused on the plight of the federal workers whose paychecks had been nowhere to be found. CNN featured a piece on January 21 in which a focus group of five furloughed federal workers in Dallas discussed their difficulties meeting expenses during the partial shutdown. The tagline for the video on CNN's YouTube channel ("Government worker who voted for Trump: I feel betrayed") was, admittedly, a bit misleading, given that the workers expressed near-equal frustration with the President, the Speaker of the House and Congress as a whole. That said, these rather frequent segments on the financial struggles of workers served as stirring depictions of the consequences of the stalemate.<p>One wonders, though, if the media should have been telling us more about the ongoing effects on policy, given that so many federal workers were off the job and not even able to check their e-mail accounts. For example, a CBS news piece on the State Department focused more on whether the rent payments or meals usually provided to the diplomats were being delivered, with comparatively little attention devoted to how diplomacy itself was being impacted. (This is not to say that these are not important questions for the well-being of Americans stationed abroad. But a little more discussion on the diplomatic missions themselves may have gone a long way.)<p>Without a doubt, the lion's share of discussion in the news media has focused on the wall, whether the President would have been wise to cave amid falling approval ratings or whether Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi resembled a Grant Wood painting during their joint response to the President's address. The media enjoyed the optics of the shutdown, while coverage of the actual policy implications was lacking. Would a viewer glean that the Departments of Energy and Education, for example, were untouched, while the Department of the Interior was shuttered? What happens when so many Treasury Department employees stay home? This would be an interesting opportunity to shed light on what these departments and their employees do, indeed, do, but perhaps it's more entertaining for viewers to chronicle the State of the Union security grandstanding.<p>Maybe the media is just responding to what its viewers want. As some Democratic Party strategists (and those who might have worked for more establishment Republicans during the primaries) have bemoaned, Americans don't always like the nitty gritty of policy and instead prefer sweeping generalities, heavy on rhetoric and light on specifics. It's a point foreshadowed by an excellent 2006 paper in The International Journal of Press/Politics in which Jesper Strömbäck and Daniela Dimitrova argue that American media coverage -- as compared to that of Sweden's -- displays a remarkable preference for the "episodic" and viewing politics as a strategic game, rather than focusing on context or an in-depth interpretation of political events.<p>In the age of 24-hour news cycles, sometimes the line between informing and entertaining is blurred. Perhaps that's part of the reason something like Vox's pitch of "Understand the News" has resonated as it has. The theorists can sit and debate whether for-profit media companies have a duty to inform the public on the details of policy, but, in the meantime, producers can always opt for that perennial favorite visual: A flustered reporter standing with the White House in the background chronicling another breakdown in communication between an American president and his loyal opposition.<p>Photo credit: Andy Feliciotti/Unsplash<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Something Is Happening in the Commentary Space


MediaVillage is pleased to introduce our new critical commentary on media news coverage by Erich Prince. Published weekly, “News on the Record” will share behind-the-scenes insights and knowledge on the issues and realities confronting all of us who take the ethics, honesty and influence of media news seriously.<p>In the time since The New York Times published an opinion piece on the so-called “Intellectual Dark Web” in May, Quillette, arguably the standard-bearer of the space, has continued its march forward. The readership of the Sydney, Australia-based online magazine has nearly doubled since May, as prominent intellectual figures have praised the magazine for its commitment to covering some of the sticky topics that many mainstream publications have recently steered clear of. Founded in 2015 by Claire Lehmann, a grad school early leaver, the magazine has risen from a niche publication in a corner of the internet to become a major hub of thought. Its number of Twitter followers is rapidly rivaling or surpassing that of The Week, The New Republic, Harper's Magazine and midsized-city newspapers such as The Des Moines Register or The Providence Journal. Politico magazine, keeping up with the buzz, included a 3,500-word feature on Ms. Lehmann in its November/December 2018 issue. And flipping through The Wall Street Journal as of late, one might encounter an op-ed author’s biography to read that so-and-so is “an editor at Quillette.”<p>As this New York Times op-ed so poignantly argued, Quillette is just one example in a sea of new cerebrally minded media outlets that have been picking up steam on the web. And this media movement is not just confined to online journals. Ben Shapiro and Dave Rubin, two media personalities often associated with the “Intellectual Dark Web,” have witnessed their respective podcast and YouTube series balloon as well. Shapiro logs more than 15 million downloads per month, and Rubin’s Rubin Report has grown nearly 32% in its number of YouTube subscribers since May.<p>From Shapiro, an ardent Ted Cruz supporter, to Areo magazine editor Helen Pluckrose, whose Twitter bio reads that she is a “secular, liberal humanist” to Rubin (the Democrats left him, he might say), the content-makers behind these media projects come from political factions of all sorts. To this effect, Bret Weinstein, the Evergreen State biology professor pressured to resign for opposing a minority walkout day at his school and a newly-minted member of the “Intellectual Dark Web,” tweeted just before New Year’s Eve: "In 2018 we turned a corner -- the phony narrative began to give way. The left isn't dead. It is fiercely divided. And the center isn't about centrists or centrism. It is where good faith players of every stripe come to discuss the tensions that shape society." Weinstein, a vocal Bernie Sanders supporter, finds himself to have some unlikely bedfellows in this media movement, from conservative feminists to left-leaning libertarians.<p>So where does the hunger for these platforms come from? Sure, some of it comes from the quality of the writing. Perhaps some of the interest lies in the topics of coverage, which touch on the perennially interesting subjects of social issues, gender and the campus ideology wars that have dominated headlines in recent years. But, in reality, the popularity of these publications is likely a product of these times. With the media and political landscapes increasingly moving towards mudslinging and hot takes, Quillette, Areo, and the thinkers who support them are looking to provide an antidote. Perhaps this is the reason their critics have labeled this group of publications and thinkers as “reactionary.”<p>And how does this group of publications (and media projects) make their money? Unlike some of the other political magazines, like the now-defunct Weekly Standard, which relied heavily on the generosity of a phenomenally wealthy patron or two, these outlets take a page from the crowdfunding model of the 21st century, which is, perhaps by no coincidence, also coming to prominence in the political realm as well. Like The Guardian, they ask for the financial support of their readers. And they’ve been getting it.<p>But their money-making remains linked to their ideology. Some are not agnostic as to the source of their funding. Similar, perhaps, to the dream of the divestment movements at universities, Rubin and Jordan Peterson (a thinker who has been a big help to Quillette) decided to leave Patreon in late December after the platform removed the page of a British commentator who had used a racial epithet. Alleging that Patreon was guilty of political discrimination, Rubin and Peterson decided it was worth upsetting their comfortable revenue streams and taking their business elsewhere.<p>Although the readerships of Quillette and the like are still far from those of the so-called papers of record, their rise while others are falling has some interesting lessons to teach us. Quillette’s bounce rate, according to Amazon’s Alexa data, continues to beat out that of other publications, from politically oriented outlets like Roll Call to more long-form magazines such as The Atlantic or The New Yorker. Rapidly flying in the face of those who say the news industry is marching steadily towards clickbait, at these sites, to get to the bottom line, one might actually have to read the entire piece.<p>But more than anything, their rise must be seen in context. Malhar Mali, the founder of Areo, described its founding on November 22, 2016 as a distinct response to a polarized media climate. Seeking to offer a response to “Huffington Post and Breitbart,” Mr. Mali, like Quillette, emphasized free and thoughtful exchange, with a touch of the controversial. These publications, like any, aren’t entirely removed from self-selection according to political bias as more and more conservative writers have been congregating at Quillette and liberal writers at Areo. Nevertheless, their unexpected growth tells us that there is still a hunger for the thoughtful and the feather-ruffling, even when such isn't betrayed prematurely by a headline or a feature photograph.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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Is the Press Prepared for the Possible Easing of Partisan Tensions?


When it comes to polarization, perhaps the tide is finally turning. It’s likely no coincidence, for example, that many of the tributes to John McCain gravitated towards stories of reaching across the aisle or showing civility to political opponents. It was a similar theme echoed by Joe Biden speaking earlier this summer in North Carolina when he stressed to the audience that even his most conservative adversaries, including Jesse Helms, deserved both respect and an open mind.<p>Even though gridlock still dominates both Capitol Hill and America at-large, the harbingers of de-escalation are beginning to gather. Voters are paying attention to the hushes that perhaps a 2020 fusion ticket between Republican John Kasich and Democrat John Hickenlooper would shake-up the partisanship. Twenty Democratic candidates competing for House seats in November have been taking a more centrist approach and even publicly denouncing their party’s leadership. Is it time the press gets itself ready for the possible easing of partisan tensions?<p>Interested in<p>1stFive<p>READ MORE<p>Sometimes when we're in the thick of things, the tendency can be to expect that they'll go on forever. Whether it’s the stock market or a basketball player’s shooting streak, it can be hard to internalize that trends so often reverse. So, despite the pundits acting as if polarization is a uniquely modern occurrence that will continue to shoot upwards indefinitely, the simple fact is that polarization, like so many phenomena, has ebbed and flowed at various points in time.<p>The 1910’s was a period of high polarization, for example. The 1930’s through the 1950’s, thanks to the so-called “conservative coalition,” tended to keep the two parties somewhat grounded. Then, for various reasons, things started to go off the rails in the 1990’s. Now, we’re awash with facts and figures reciting the number of Americans who believe the other party is a threat to the country or what percentage of Americans dread the idea of their child marrying someone from the other side.<p>The past decade gave us polarized responses to the Obama presidency, the Tea Party and the election of 2016 and dramatic displays of partisanship in city streets and the halls of Congress. But today, we’re hearing more from organizations aimed at promoting compromise, from Joe Lieberman and No Labels to Better Angels to Unite America. Also, moderate Democrats like Clarke Tucker and Conor Lamb are gaining steam in primary races and winning special elections. And, on the Republican side, elected officials such as Ben Sasse are making it known that they won't roll over for President Trump.<p>But how is the media responding to these rumblings of ebbing gridlock? Right now, by continuing with business as usual and doubling down on the divisive content. All the while, only 32% of Americans are professing their confidence in the media, and 72% say that "traditional major news sources report news they know to be fake, false or purposely misleading." The Reuters Institute reports that the United States has some of the most polarized media in the world, and John Boehner stressed to Politico Magazine that, “modern-day media, and social media” are at the heart of the partisan division.<p>Although the partisan content may sell to some segments of the population, a Gallup poll last month registered 42% of Americans identifying as independents, a full 15 points higher than the number identifying as Republicans (and 16 points higher than Democrats). This is an increase from the 39% of Americans who called themselves independent in 2016.<p>With the approval ratings of the two main parties continuing to slope downwards, it’s not surprising that John McCain, Joe Biden, No Labels and the politics of civility are resonating as they are. Yet, the combative interviews, divisive headlines and incessant harping on division continue on the part of the press. The coverage of McCain’s death was a shining example. The media most wanted to discuss if the White House flag was at half-mast for long enough, the President’s absence at his funeral, or a couple of sentences in his daughter’s eulogy. Forget about Biden’s, “I'm a Democrat, and I love John McCain” speech or even the kind words of tributes offered by liberal stalwarts like Pelosi and Schumer.<p>However, some publications are looking to get out in front of this potential shift -- or at the very least provide an alternative to the divisive sound bites. Whether it be Arc Digital, Quillette, Areo Magazine or my publication Merion West, online outlets are pushing back against the partisan echo chambers. At Merion West we are overwhelmed by notes from readers telling us how much they appreciate an earnest commitment to representing all sides.<p>With all due respect to those such as Jane Mansbridge and her Washington Post op-ed proclaiming that "... polarization is here to stay," a quick look at history tells us to expect otherwise. As the political realm starts to warm up to moderates and tires of the gridlock and name-calling, will the media take this opportunity to anticipate a rediscovery of the center? Instead of hunkering down and continuing to prove John Boehner right, perhaps this is the time to start moving away from the extremes. It seems, after all, that many Americans have already started on that journey.<p>Click the social buttons above or below to share this content with your friends and colleagues.<p>The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.<p>

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