Friday, July 02, 2010

Giving 'Em What For

Popular Science (PopSci) has a hit piece on global warming denialists "villains". Commenters are giving 'em hell. Here's a great one:
I really shouldn't be surprised that Popular Science...oh excuse me, that should be "Pop Sci", has become one of those publications which, with the passing of the torch to younger staff, has abandoned its long and proud history of objectivity and disinterested coverage in favor of a blatantly partisan stance and biased and subjective articles. Shame on you.

It amazes, and saddens me some, to see the grande dames of the print news media such as the New York Times, and the venerable weekly and monthly magazines of general and specialized interest, such as yours, as they flounder in the increasingly desperate search for the way to keep circulation from slipping away entirely. We readers...well, former readers for the most part...can almost feel the rising panic in management and staff of these once great edifices as they seek what apparently seems to them to be the great secret to stemming the huge loss in circulation which they have suffered for years.

What is saddest is not the looming (and by this point all but certain) deaths of these once-great publications, but the self-delusion which keeps the staff and management from taking necessary steps to save their publications and their jobs. Because they are deceiving themselves about what the problem is and what can be done to fix it.

The print media industry has already written the narrative of its demise. Like the old newspaper practice of writing celebrities' and public figures' obituaries long before their deaths, the news media and related media have been preparing the story of their demise for a few years now. But unlike an obituary for Madonna, the news media and magazines are already easing out their story about how they died. Tossing it out there so that they can "soften up the beach" and prepare the public for when it really happens. That way they can control the story, and thus write history before it happens. The sad thing is, they are so wrong about why they will have died. What's sadder: it was entirely avoidable...that is if they hadn't let their vanity and partisanship get in the way.

They want to world to think they are dying because of the "free news" of the internet. Yep, o woe unto them, the Internet killed the newspapers and magazine industry. That bastard Internet! That's the story they're putting out; that's the story that soothes their egos and allows their world view to remain intact. It almost looks like they're intentionally failing so that they can "prove" this scenario.

How else to explain the NYT's ludicrous attempts a few years ago to charge for virtually every bit of the Tines online? It failed some would say was always the intended result. But it isn't the Internet which is killing off the tree media: it's the arrogance and ignorance of the publishers, managers, editors and staffers.

It's their arrogance in dismissing, and often overtly insulting, anyone who might remotely support an idea which smacks of political conservatism. It is beyond rational dispute that the news industry is a politically monochrome institution. Somewhere around 90% of the entire industry's population of reporters, editors, managers and publishers, down to its proofreaders, fact-checkers, support staff and photographers, describe themselves as among the most politically liberal members of American society. It might be nice to think of the press room gang, truck drivers and distribution team as Archie Bunker-type blue-collar heroes, etc., etc. Except the old printing operation that took 100 guys in little newspaper hats has been forever replaced by a $20-million computerized production line run by 5 middle-manager types. And those guys are hardcore union men, along with the truck drivers, distributors and circulation managers.

So it's no secret that conservatives are few and far between in the news media. They're simply not welcome. Now, if the news industry followed those principles of objectivity and disinterested coverage which they used to proudly parrot (they don't even bother with the facade today), there would be no problem.

Indeed, the news industry once was pretty good at that stuff. From, say, the 40's through the mid-70's, sticking pretty much to the "5 W's (and 1 H)". There was no opinion masquerading as fact; the personal perspective, much less the biases, of the reporter were usually absent; and news was covered without regard (in the best of cases) to who was involved and what the consequences might be for parties involved.

But with the coming of Watergate, and the lionization of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, all that went to hell. Reporting became "a calling". From a vaguely disreputable undertaking seen to be largely peopled by job-hopping low-grade alcoholics who had failed at many other jobs, news reporting was transformed into a sort of spiritual quest, a modern reshaping of the Grail legend into the search for Truth by the (Self-)Righteous Knights of the Holy Typewriter.

And it only got worse, as "the news" was changed from the traditional search for reliable information about events of all types which had occurred in the community, into a way to "change the system". Kids left high school intent on becoming "journalists" now, who would "make the world a better place". Anyone who felt a need to improve the lot of mankind (and that's what they called humanity then) before, say, 1975, became doctors, nurses, teachers, firemen, policemen, pastors and members of the Peace Corps. After Watergate, everybody wanted to be Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

And non-liberals stopped becoming reporters, uh, "journalists". And true to human nature, those liberals who remained couldn't stay intellectually honest. They often skewed stories to help Democrats and hurt Republicans; they spiked anything which might hurt their team. This kind of partisanship has reached its apogee with the coming of The One. It was embarrassing to watch the way the news media prostrated itself for Obama. It's still going, as scandal after outrage after crime is intentionally going unreported.

And finally, why have the newspapers and magazines lost their subscribers? Because that majority of the news-users, the news-buyers, area actually conservative and libertarian in their outlook on things in general. We're actually a majority of the market. We're the heavy news-eaters. We're intelligent; we're successful; we're experienced; and we can tell BS when someone serves it up to us as BBQ. We're tired of being pissed on by the news media. Of being ignored if we're lucky, insulted and accused if we're not. It is primarily the rise of an far more objective news outlet in Fox News which has hurt the traditional news media the most. Even in their mockery and frothing accusations against Fox News, the leftward leaning media members prove the case against themselves: because if they were able to look with unbiased eyes they would see that Fox is not a conservative organ, but a more nearly objective news organization than has been available for some three decades.

From Fox's astounding success has flowed the conservative blogosphere, which is cutting gaping wounds into the traditional news media. We consumers of these blogs and news aggregators don't require pristine objective reporting; we just want bias and interest acknowledged, and we'll make the decisions from there. That inability to admit bias is what has hurt the traditional media the most, by far.

And now "PopSci" has made the same mistake. I promise you, that if you follow this path, you'll die too. Just like the NYT; just like Newsweek; just like MSNBC and even CNN. For they are all stumbling toward their deaths. And all because they can't bring themselves to admit that their arrogance, their bias and their slanted coverage has driven their readers and viewers away.

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