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Not waving but drowning

Dan Rather is calling on the state (naturally) to prop up the old mainstream media and had this to say:

“If we do nothing more than stand back and hope that innovation alone will solve this crisis,” he said, “then our best-trained journalists will lose their jobs.”

From your lips to God’s ear, Dan.

But innovation is indeed ‘solving’ this ‘crisis’ as the meteoric spread of blogs and other forms of new media are demonstrating. And Dan, if you think all those bloggers who are pissing on the ashes are trying to help put the flames out, I assure you their motives are rather… different.

(Via Instapundit)

24 comments to Not waving but drowning

  • Brad

    “our best trained journalists will lose their jobs”

    Oh dear. Not THAT!

    This is so loaded it makes my head spin.

    Just who decides who the “best trained” journalists are? YOU, Mr. Rather? Based on? That they agree with you of course. He doesn’t say that ALL news be aided, just the “best”.

    It is amazing just how much certain media people and certain scientists and certain educators conflate their worth beyond all proportion and are due some sort of subsidy – ultimately coercively taken.

    Just how much we have become fascistic already boggles my mind, and just how brazenly the likes of Rather are calling for de facto State News Bureaus (as if the AP were anything but….).

    But should we expect anything else? Since education has long been about State supported philosophies, it is only logical that ongoing “educational” efforts be through subsidization of, and control of, media outlets too.

    I’ve quoted Mr. Pete Townshend’s “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” many times. As every day goes by I am more inclined to recall “it’s all building up to something, something that can only be redeemed with fire……” (sorry if it itself is derived from some other source I don’t know of).

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Mr. Rather is probably correct. But since ‘journalism’ is the craft of producing cheap, entertaining filler to go between the ads, I can’t see a big problem here.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I recall that one of the top executives at the Guardian, which of course is already a quasi-state organisation because of its heavy dependence on public sector job advertisements, has called for public funding of media (such as the Guardian).

    The transparency of these people in some ways is useful to us. This is the Enemy Class in plain sight. And they are shitting themselves.

  • Laird

    Note that he said “our best-trained journalists will lose their jobs.” Not the best ones, mind you, merely the best-trained. What he conveniently neglected to mention was that the best ones will undoubtedly find jobs with the new media.

    Once upon a time the “best-trained” buggy whip makers lost their jobs, too, Mr. Rather, as did the best-trained telegraph operators, gaslamp lighters, and other relics of a prior age. People with obsolete job skills must retrain themselves to do something useful. That’s life.

  • RRS

    How and by whom have the best-trained been trained -
    and – to what ends?

  • Steve

    Just how many ways are there to cut and paste a press release?

  • David Gillies

    Rather attempted to rig a Presidential Election with a crude forgery. He should remain in obscurity where he belongs.

  • Timothy

    The MSM is terrified that its journalists, most of whom haven’t been trained to understand anything but merely to be professional journalists, are being out-competed by bloggers and others online who actually understand the subjects they’re writing about.

  • Ostralion

    In the book,’Here Comes Everyone’, the writer points out that the Federal Government of America recently tried to define a journalist, for purposes of defining them when giving journalists freedom of the press.
    It couldn’t.
    Journalists once used to be attached to publishers, who were few in number. But you don’t need to be a rich man to be a publisher of magazines now! We can all do it from home! So does that also mean we are all journalists?
    As other commenters have said, the day of the professional journalist seems limited. The really good ones might go on to become great publishers of e-magazines and such like, but the rest will have to diversify into lobbyists for the few journalists left.

  • If we are going to have this discussion I think it behooves us to tackle the strongest arguments of the pro old media side rather than the weakest.

    There are the commentariat, and the packagers of news who are indeed being made obsolete by online media and blogs.

    Then there are those who use the considerable resources of their organizations to uncover new information.

    While investigative journalism of sorts does appear on blogs and they have sometimes beaten the mainstream media to the punch, a lot of what goes on in blogs and so on is commentary and essentially reactive. Commercial media companies enjoy considerable resources they can use to gain new information.

    If you want to argue about whether Caesar should cross the Rubicon or not, old media has nothing more useful to say about this than the blogosphere. Indeed they have rather less to say about it in my opinion.
    If on the other hand you want to know whether he has already crossed, how many legions he has and how many miles from the city gates he is, then I am not sure that blogging can provide an equivalent substitute.

    Of course true investigative journalism is a very small part of what the mass media does. Most of it just
    consists of rewriting news wire reports in the house style of the publication concerned, finding some sort of locally relevant spin and dressing the whole thing up with fluff and commentary.

    But the uncovering of new information is something for which paid news divisions are undoubtedly useful and I think that this is where the demise of the news room could hurt us.

  • Kevin B

    Jay, if the old media did true investigative journalism then it might be worth keeping. If they had discovered what Barack Obama did at Columbia and Harvard or how he managed CAC and what his relationship with Bill Ayers was, as well as telling us about Sarah Palin’s husband’s brother’s best friend’s drug conviction in 1992, then it would be reasonable to assert their usefulness. As it is, we rely on smaller publications, of the sort that would never qualify for Rather’s subsidy to find these things out, and bloggers to disseminate them world wide.

    As for Caesar crossing the Rubicon? It would be all over twitter. Yesterday we cricket fans found out that Australia had dropped their opening batsman before the journalists had a clue and before the Aussie managment released the news. The guy tweeted it.

  • Alisa

    Jay, I used to think like you, until I have noticed that the MSM almost entirely stopped collecting hard news from around the world themselves. They either rely on local reporters, or they increasingly rely on blogs and websites like Youtube, where locals post the latest news, such as the recent riots in Iran, or the tsunami in Asia a few years ago. The only “news” that regular folks don’t have direct access to is the recycled infotainment called ‘politics’. And do we really consider the latest Big O’s (or even Little W’s) press-conference to be ‘hard news’?

  • Jack Olson

    In “Public Opinion”, Walter Lippman argued that the public simply could not know enough about every subject to draw well-informed conclusions about it. That was especially true, he said, where political or commercial organizations are deliberately trying to manipulate public opinion. Therefore, he argued that the public needs journalists to collect the relevant facts about an issue and draw the public’s conclusions for them.

    The flaw in that argument is the principal-agent problem. The reporters as the agents of the public might decide to provide the public predigested conclusions which reflect the interest of the agent instead of the principal-public. For instance, as when the American news media gave far more favorable coverage to Senator Obama in the 2008 election than any other candidate. Whatever their motives for this, the distrust they earned for their newspapers and television channels has accelerated their decline as more and more readers and viewers abandon them. Federal subsidy for reporters wouldn’t remove that distrust, it would intensify it as the public would suspect the subsidized reporters of being the public relations officers of whoever is in power.

  • Laird

    We’re in an evolutionary phase (which is always traumatic for the participants) during which there is still a place for the old-line news media (and “journalists”, whatever that may mean). But clearly the blogosphere is becoming a significant source of investigative journalism, and my bet is that in time it will become the best source. Look at the work being done by Guido Fawkes in the UK (exposing “smeargate”), or Little Green Footballs in the US (instrumental in bringing down Dan Rather himself). There are many others, too, and in time the market will determine which are the most reliable. (And for that matter, how many “investigative” pieces in the mainstream press have been revealed as outright frauds?)

    “Investigative journalism” doesn’t require “considerable resources” or a large support organization, mostly simple persistence and a few contacts. We’re witnessing the death throes of these dinosaurs.

  • Eric

    I’m sympathetic to the idea news organizations provide a valuable service in actually gathering the news, but their response to online competition has been to scale back news gathering efforts and publish more fluff. And even the way they’re doing the scaling back has more to do with what they want than what their customers want. Bureaus in out-of-the-way places are being closed, while every news organization has celebrity stenographers attending events in Washington.

    Not only did they embarrass themselves last election, but they were also severely outperformed by Michael Yon and Michael Totten in Iraq and Afghanistan. Asking retired generals to opine on strategies is no substitute for walking patrols with troops.

  • Well, we’re all some kind of free marketeers here, so one question we should be asking is, “Can blogging news pay for itself?”

    Whenever somebody suggests a volunteer-whatever, I raise an eyebrow. Everything needs to pay for itself. “Free” content has to be paid for either by the provider or advertisers. People are used to paying for newspapers, but don’t expect to pay for anything on the web. So where’s the funding for the free news? Even if your stringers are all doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, there is hosting to pay for. All the work done on the hypothetical blogging news costs opportunity.

    Is there a sound economic basis for the hope of replacing the MSM? Blogs don’t seem to make much money, so far as I can tell.

  • Laird

    The market will find a way. It always does. Banner advertising, click-through fees, subscriptions, detailed reports (or even whole e-books) sold for a fee (with the summary free), and probably things we haven’t even thought of yet.

  • Robin Goodfellow

    Let us remember that the mainstream media is and has been the primary method for the public to be exposed to and interact with the government for the last several decades. The media is as much responsible for the nature of modern politics as anything else. I will certainly not be sad to see that system go.

  • The market will find a way. It always does. Banner advertising, click-through fees, subscriptions, detailed reports (or even whole e-books) sold for a fee (with the summary free), and probably things we haven’t even thought of yet.

    Well, it’s about time it started thinking of them then. It’s a bit like people talking about seasteading. I read these articles and think, well, if this thing has a market, go raise some capital and build one. Why are you all sitting around talking about it?

    Let’s suppose we fine denizens of the Samizdatosphere decide we’re going to start one of these NewNews sites. What’s our business plan? I’m personally very keen. How do we start?

  • Ivan

    Ian B:

    Well, we’re all some kind of free marketeers here, so one question we should be asking is, “Can blogging news pay for itself?”
    [...]
    Is there a sound economic basis for the hope of replacing the MSM? Blogs don’t seem to make much money, so far as I can tell.

    But they don’t need to. The whole point is that the cost of setting up a website is minuscule compared to a newspaper or a TV channel. Lots of people are already writing excellent blogs full of news and commentary just for fun, vanity, ideological venting, and perhaps only a small advertising revenue. Why would relaying news and commentary need to be a vastly profitable large enterprise? Blogs also have the advantage over the MSM that they tend to be upfront about their ideological agenda, unlike the arrogantly sleazy claims of “objectivity” from professional journalists.

    The real problem I see is not economic, but political. What is commonly called the “MSM” is de facto the official press of the present intellectual establishment, by which I mean the whole rat’s nest of government bureaucracy, academia, “NGOs,” etc. MSM has pretty much the same role for this establishment as Pravda had for the Communist Party in the USSR. Of course, the relationship is less coarse and obvious and couched in a fog of vapid platitudes that hide the real nature of the relationship much more effectively, but the principle is the same. This holds both for explicit government organs like the BBC and the privately owned MSM outlets (whose relations with the government in practice, however, can’t be compared at all with truly independent private persons and entities).

    The primary purpose of the MSM is not dispensing information, but placing an imprint of respectability on issues, concerns, opinions, and parties in public controversies; this way, a strong positive feedback loop is formed that further strengthens the iron grip on public discourse held by the intellectual establishment from which the professional journalists get their opinions, and whose integral part they are. This is the true strength of the MSM, which may well survive even if their traditional business models go down the toilet. Even if the New York Times, the BBC, and the Guardian are reduced to mere websites because papers and TVs have fallen out of use, it may still turn out that ideas featured and propagandized on these websites are ipso facto respectable, whereas a blog that falls out of the exclusive MSM club is condemned as loony fringe to the extent that it disagrees with them, just like it’s the case now.

    What makes NYT and the BBC what they are is not their ownership of printing presses and transmitters, nor even BBC’s funding from the public purse — it’s their all-pervading roots in the intellectual establishment, and I’m not at all certain if their position will be undermined if these assets become technologically obsolete and replaced by the web.

  • Is there a sound economic basis for the hope of replacing the MSM? Blogs don’t seem to make much money, so far as I can tell.

    But they don’t need to.

    They don’t? All businesses need to make money. That’s the purpose of businesses.

    The whole point is that the cost of setting up a website is minuscule compared to a newspaper or a TV channel.

    Well, a website is pretty cheap yes, if the bandwidth is low, there are relatively few readers, and the cost of producing information is low. Unfortunately, that largely means vanity publishing without the cost of collecting significant amounts of information. It’s cheap as chips to tell a few hundred people your opinions. It becomes more expensive when you want to progress beyond that.

    Lots of people are already writing excellent blogs full of news and commentary just for fun, vanity, ideological venting, and perhaps only a small advertising revenue.

    Well no, not really. A lot of people are writing polemic and commentary for small specialist audiences. They’re not publishing to a mass market, as the MSM do. Wander around looking at the well known libertarian blogs and you’ll see the same names over and over again, all commenting on each others blogs. The mass audience isn’t there. I suspect you could fit the entire British libertarian blogosphere into a decent sized pub. You could fit the conservative blogosphere in another one, and the socialist blogosphere in a third.

    You want to get the message and the propaganda out to a wide audience, you need to create a big genuinely information and entertainment thing which is actually sourcing information rather than commenting on that which is already known, and once you start doing that, you need big hosting, and more importantly big information collecting, and it all starts costing a lot more money than Mr Angry of Penge ranting about how the FSA have banned digestive biscuits and Gordon Brown is a twat.

    Why would relaying news and commentary need to be a vastly profitable large enterprise?

    It needs to pay for itself, that is all. Any suggestions?

  • Kevin B

    Ian, just off the top of my head, maybe we need to start from the inside.

    Go to an existing small TV company – Dave* springs to mind – and persuade them to set aside an hour on a Sunday morning to broadcast a studio discussion of the week’s news from a libertarian perspective.

    Fill the studio with a rotating cast of characters from your pub full of pundits and let her rip**. Go for a viral marketing approach by spamming the blogoshere relentlessly and pushing the blogs of the participants as well as having a video broadcast of the programme on the Dave website.

    If it takes off to any extent, you could have guests from conservative and socialist blogs, and maybe even attract the likes of Hannan.

    You could then at least see if there’s a market for the kind of ideas that are expounded in the libertarian blogosphere.

    * Dave is a small digital channel that makes it’s living broadcasting repeats from the major channels. Mostly Jeremy Clarkson shows such as Top Gear.

    ** I would advise avoiding a discussion of the LVT, at least on the first programme.

  • Ivan

    Ian B:

    They don’t? All businesses need to make money. That’s the purpose of businesses.

    The question is — does there need to be a big news business at all? Is it possible for large news media outlets to disappear altogether and be replaced with a large informal network of amateur/part time/small business news sources? Or do you think that the phenomenon of mass news media is inevitable in any case, and if yes, why?

    You want to get the message and the propaganda out to a wide audience, you need to create a big genuinely information and entertainment thing which is actually sourcing information rather than commenting on that which is already known, and once you start doing that, you need big hosting, and more importantly big information collecting, and it all starts costing a lot more money than Mr Angry of Penge ranting about how the FSA have banned digestive biscuits and Gordon Brown is a twat.

    Trouble is, I find the concept of mass media inherently problematic. In fact, I view it with very much the same skepticism with which you’ve recently been commenting on mass schooling — it’s not just the present state of it that is problematic, but in fact the whole phenomenon contains the seeds of mass indoctrination even in its best possible instance. Any media outlet large enough to influence the public opinion by itself, even if it starts as magnificently libertarian, will be under immense pressure to adopt various ideological lines on a myriad of issues, simply because public opinion is a necessary ingredient for political influence — and political influence is not gained via libertarian ideas. It may not happen overnight, but this process will eventually corrode its entire libertarian foundation. Thus, the idea of a large news outlet pushing a libertarian line consistently and incorruptibly strikes me as rather utopian.

    Also, think about it: why does the image of Mr. Angry of Penge cursing the nanny state immediately evoke laughter, when in fact, his rants are likely to have a much better grip on reality than the learned diatribes from the pages of respectable newspapers, even if his grammar and writing style might leave something to be desired? (Just like a few decades back, the rants of Mr. Angry of Moscow cursing the bread queues would have given a much more accurate view of the Soviet reality than the Pravda editorials — or those of the New York Times, for that matter.) Well, I’d say we’ve been conditioned to view the mass media as the only truly respectable outlets, so the ideal we’d like to have is a respectable libertarian mass media outlet. However, whether such a thing can ever exist in reality is unclear at best.

  • Paul Marks

    Dan “Air National Guard of Texas Computer records from the 1960′s” Rather, is a liar and not even a good one.

    He is not even much good as a smear merchant (as the above error of his, trying to smear President Bush, shows).

    His “argument” was that investigate journalism would suffer if the mainstream media goes bankrupt – and that this would harm democracy.

    Accept that I remember last year Sean Hannity (and others) almost on their knees BEGGING the mainstream media to investigate Senator Barack Obama.

    “You do not believe me about his life long far left links, or about his decades in the corrupt Chicago Machine – O.K. INVESTIGATE, PROVE ME WRONG”.

    But the mainstream media choose to ignore the pleas of people like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck and to ignore books such as “The Case Against Barack Obama” (which gave detailed information of his personal corruption). This ignoring of the political and financial background of someone running to be President of the United States led that tough Long Island man Sean Hannity to declare (in despair) that “Journalism is dead”.

    Instead the mainstream media sent their journalists off to Alaska – hoping to find dirt on Sarah Palin.

    So they went in search of mythical dirt (such as the lie that Palin removed books from a local library when she was Mayor of a town) whilst ignoring the mile high dirt of Chicago Obama.

    That is why the mainstream media are going bankrupt – not (with respect) the rise of the internet (after all Fox News is making money hand over fist with its old business model) but because they push false stories and ignore true ones.

    It is that simple.

    Eventually even the ordinary members of the public (who the mainstream media people, and academics, so despise) work out that things are being kept from them (here the internet does help – although talk radio and cable news help more) and that a lot of what the mainstream media is telling them just is not true.

    And thus they stopping buying the (lying) newspapers, and stop watching the (lying) “mainstream” television networks.