Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Hail Caesar: Gannett Papers Announce Changes in Opinion Strategy

Posted By on Wed, Feb 20, 2019 at 9:10 AM

There's no good way to illustrate these stories but posts without images generate less clicks and "the need to establish consistent expectations about content pushes news outlets to cover stories in predictable ways and to use personalities as a way to build brand recognition." So here's a picture of me in front of weird paintings of fish. I'm sorry.
Today's terrible journalism news: Gannett newspapers saw fourth-quarter losses in circulation and revenue. According to Marketwatch the company is reporting a 12 percent dip in sales, with circulation revenue dropping 9 percent and print advertising dropping 24 percent. The one area where Gannett has been growing also took a hit as "digital advertising and market services declined about 3 percent."

I've been anticipating this news since all three of Gannett's major Tennessee newspapers individually announced changes framed as big improvements to their editorial pages.  Those changes, like the disappointing quarterly report, fit a pattern and seem to be part of a downward trend with no bottom in sight. 

Gannett newspapers across the state of Tennessee, including The Commercial Appeal, have run similar editorials letting readers know they are "listening.” They've heard you and are, per you, developing new and improved strategies for kinder, more inclusive opinion journalism.

Redesigns can be a good thing and the print real estate traditionally reserved for unsigned editorials and nationally syndicated columnists, absolutely should be reappraised. At the same time, relinquishing the former has to also be seen as the final gasp of an era when local and regional newspapers had (or believed they had) some weight to throw around — when thick bundles of newsprint stacked as high and wide as you could see stood in evidence. But as the marketplace of ideas flattens into the marketplace, the land and physical assets these once powerful newspapers own and occupy, are seen as possessing more immediate value than either the medium or its message.   

Gannett Tennessee's new editorial plan, as variously/similarly described in its Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis papers, includes weird Aristotelian ideals for letters to the editor which, in accordance with natural law, should not exceed 200 words in the west, 250 words in the center, and 300 words in the east of the state. The columns also suggest we'll be seeing less national political commentary and “more about solutions than takedowns of the people and organizations trying to do things,” whatever that tragically vague construction means. Of course people and their sense of place/community matter very much, as they often do in communications seeking to persuade people who live in places and communities. Obviously, there will be more local stuff! And there will be more you!

Via the CA:

"By tradition, opinion has long been the section where readers found the institutional view of The Commercial Appeal. It is also where you read guest commentaries, local and syndicated columnists, letters to the editor, editorial cartoons and, of course, the daily Bible verse.

Starting this week, we are moving away from that approach to one that showcases more community voices, puts an emphasis on analysis and an expanded newsroom engagement with Memphis through community events we sponsor.

Readers have repeatedly told us that they want to see more locally produced guest commentaries and letters to the editor. And we want to deliver more of what you want."

What also has to be understood, whether it's spelled out or not, is that all this "more" is the direct result of newsrooms constantly struggling to produce a viable product with less.

The "different but same" nature of Gannett's editorials makes it hard to take their grass roots too seriously. As a rule, newspapers have always cast a wide net but walked a narrow path, as they've attempted to attract and inform readers while also being an exciting, activated, and (most importantly) safe place for advertisers. Not to mention the fact that, newspapers have frequently listened to consumers and then intentionally adapted away from their needs/demands in a misguided effort to attract lost and non-readers. This was always done with full awareness that it made bundled distribution less attractive to the same loyal, long-suffering consumers that sustained newspapers when changing technology screwed all distribution and revenue models. Naturally, we'll observe more content shifts reflecting the relative value of newspaper properties as measured against their tangible assets or lack thereof.
This pic used to help generate clicks, but now I think it makes people think they've already read the post. Economies, content, etc.
  • This pic used to help generate clicks, but now I think it makes people think they've already read the post. Economies, content, etc.
Unbundling content is easily justified on a spreadsheet. Art columns, for example, may be well read, but they aren't given the importance of public affairs reporting (which isn't prime for advertisers), and when it comes to straight clicks, little can compare to food and beverage columns. Restaurants and national food/drink brands buy ads, so if you're a business major working for a holding company that owns a bunch of newspapers, it makes total sense to calculate the small number of readers you'll lose completely by eliminating arts coverage as long as you can effectively sell the perceived public value of hard news while expanding popular dining and related soft/syndicated news. In another example, as page counts dwindle in print space, and digital content is prioritized, sports sections may run trend stories or business/recruiting analysis instead of next day scores and review. Similarly, election results may go digital-only, etc. But as more diverse, professionally created content is stripped away in favor of paid, nonprofessional, or owned off-market content, it becomes evident that the bundle is/was exponentially more useful and valuable than any particular sets of content. And by "the bundle," I don't just mean box scores, election results, stories about street names, horoscopes, and housing, I'm also counting newsprint's famously pejorative applications as fire-starter, birdcage liner, and hand prop for would be demagogues.

To borrow from the Columbia Journalism Review, "Despite all the flaws of the traditional newspaper — and there are many — the bundling of hard news and civic information with soft news, sports, comics, and more is amazingly effective at supporting broad-based political and civic engagement."

"From 2008 to 2009 civic engagement declined more sharply in Denver and Seattle than in other major cities—a result he attributes to the closures of the Rocky Mountain News and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer during that period, which left them as one-newspaper towns. His conclusions are consistent with a 2013 study in the Journal of Media Economics, which similarly found that after The Cincinnati Post closed in late 2007, electoral competition and voter turnout declined in areas of Kentucky where the Post was the leading paper. It’s hard to prove a direct causal connection between the papers’ closings and reduced engagement, but other research has found that residents of areas where the newspaper market doesn’t match up well with congressional district boundaries were less informed about their representatives, which in turn caused legislators to be less responsive to their constituents’ needs."

So, you're a Gannett newspaper in Tennessee and your "readers have repeatedly told [you] they want to see more locally produced guest commentaries and letters to the editor." Have they? What a wonderful coincidence these super-thoughtful consumers are demanding such cost-effective (mostly free) content! Clearly Gannett, you have raised them right.
   
Consumer habits are no big mystery, so it's no insult to observe that allowing the public's interests determine public interest is like letting a toddler determine household nutrition standards. It's also bad business for companies who aren't nihilistically calculating managed blood loss against short-term profit. As an aside, and regardless of whether or not pulp has a future, this last bit touches on one of the reasons why fully digital models for local general daily news delivery, are still a sketchy proposition. Using both the digital-forward CA and Daily Memphian as examples, what's on offer is a basic selection of popular content (food/business/sports) and the kind of hard news everybody used to know about due to the social function of widely circulated newspapers, but which relatively few people may actually read/subscribe for.

As a perceived public good, journalism's power/value has always exceeded the technical reach of public affairs reporting and consumer advocacy. In other words, when newspapers were widely circulated, nobody had to actively consume hard news or advocacy to benefit from it. Going forward, this age-old assumption has to be modified to exclude deep familiarity, and with the understanding that presumed universal benefits for non-readers fade when techno/economic scales tip and enough non-readers can also be described as non-subscribers/consumers. This will be especially so in the absence of strong reciprocity and community engagement. Like newspaper properties whose practical worth is now weighted against tangible assets, once credit is lost, you're discredited.


The clip linked above is from the movie Hail Caesar. In it, you'll see George Clooney, dressed as a Roman soldier for his role in a manufactured religious epic. He's been kidnapped by a gaggle of weirdo communist writers who tell him that a man who understands economics and history can accurately predict the future. Now I don't claim any extraordinary insight into either of these fields, or any gift for precognition. But I did, rather flippantly, predict this change in direction, while ranting about newspaper history and economics, and their relationship to a controversial opinion column published in several of Gannett's Tennessee newspapers. I regret that the political-sounding headline, "MAGA Bro Pens Love Letter to MAGA CAP,"  may have kept some from reading media criticism that anticipates how modern economies and user habits will eventually yield more populist, probably non-professional content.

Welcome to eventually; Hail Caesar. 

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Friday, February 8, 2019

Information Control: Why TVA Ratepayers May Pay For Coal Ash Fallout

Posted By on Fri, Feb 8, 2019 at 1:33 PM

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Reporters sometimes do reckless things to bring home a story. By the time I got to Kingston, TN, in January, 2009, 24-hour police barricades blocked all apparent access to TVA's catastrophic pond breach — a massive coal ash spill NBC nightly news had  described as an environmental disaster 30-times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill. National news organizations and environmentalists had gotten in early before safety concerns and concerns about TVA's reputation turned the area into a forbidden zone, off limits to everybody, especially media. Of course, roadblocks are a mere speed bump for reporters armed with scribbled directions on the back of a bar napkin. Team Flyer would make it back to Memphis with photos of the "ash-bergs," as the enormous toxic sludge formations were being called, even if it meant playing a little Smokey and the Bandit.

I'm reminded of the scene in Kingston by Gannett's sobering report highlighting extraordinary information quietly buried in a TVA earnings report. The utility is finally admitting that ratepayers may soon be on the hook for legal settlements against Jacobs Engineering, a contractor working for TVA that has admitted under oath to misleading 900 employees about the  risks of coal ash exposure. This news follows 40 deaths and more than 400 reported ailments ranging from respiratory problems and rashes to heart disorders, neurological disorders and cancer.

Via Gannett:

A jury in U.S. District Court in November ruled Jacobs violated its contract with TVA for the cleanup work and endangered workers as a result. That trial revealed TVA ratepayers had paid Jacobs $60 million for that contract work.

I'm not posting today to revisit past adventures in journalism or to advance Gannett's top notch summation of what's transpired over the past decade. In keeping with a recent theme on this blog, I'd rather look back to the weeks immediately following the disaster. Knowing what we know now, I'd like to look at this in terms of access and transparency and think about what happens when there's a disaster and information is treated like a private concern rather than a public good.  
p._18_cover_story_1.jpg

If you have the time, I recommend taking a look at "Shades of Gray," my vintage coverage of the Kingston disaster, published as a Memphis Flyer cover story shortly after the event. I think it makes a good companion to Gannett's latest revelation and retrospective. Like the sub-head says, confusion reigned in the early days following the spill. It was driven, in part, by a concerted effort on behalf of TVA and coal-related interests to make sure the citizens of Kingston and Roane Co. had the absolute best possible information for TVA and coal-related interests.

Via me, 2009:

A nattily dressed man with snow-white hair waited patiently, then, when he got his turn at the microphone, erupted like a volcano: "Who can I trust? Tell me, who can I trust?" he asked, his voice quivering.

The man ran down a list cataloging the incongruous viewpoints he'd been subjected to for 18 days — the time that had passed since the waste-retaining wall at the TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant gave way, and his hometown — once a water-lover's paradise tucked into the postcard-perfect hills of East Tennessee — became the new synonym for environmental disaster. 

"Tell me who I should trust," he pleaded, obviously doubtful that [famous organizer Erin] Brockovich or the panel of scientists — and legal consultants from New York's Weitz & Luxenberg law firm — assembled in the gymnasium at Roane State Community College were less self-interested than the environmentalists, media, or coal-industry spokesmen, all of whom seemed to offer conflicting answers.

"'Who can I trust?' was the most prescient question anybody asked,"  Owen Hoffman, the president of SENES Risk Management in Oak Ridge, told The Flyer in an interview following his appearance on Brockovich's panel. In a conversation ranging from hard science to the social dynamics at play in Kingston, he described environmentalists as being so accustomed to thankless uphill struggles, they can always be counted on to accentuate negatives while acknowledging that industry spokespeople and real-estate developers "trivialize" realistic consequences to protect financial interests.

"The ties between government and industry have been too close for many years, so it's not unreasonable to wonder if the information we get from our government agencies is reliable," Hoffman said.

Private industry was a notable player in the Kingston response. And while some residents were thankful for Brockovich's contravening presence, others expressed worry about "out of town interlopers" and "sharks." There was a lot of good reporting around the Kingston disaster, but when distinctive sides present themselves, media narratives tend to favor the controversy over the concern. That was not always the case here, but was generally as the big question became, "is this sludge REALLY ALL THAT toxic?" instead of "what's the best way to get people the relief and recompense they deserve while managing this toxic sludge?" 

"I think the public has been very poorly informed,"
p._18_cover_story_5.jpg
 one toxicologist said to the crowd at a food-and-drink-heavy event sponsored by the American Coal Ash Association (ACAA). "It's wrong to characterize the ash as toxic sludge. That's a pejorative term," he said. "It's like my wife complaining that she had to drink toxic sludge because she recently had a gastrointestinal exam and the doctor made her swallow barium."

Via me, 2009:

On the night before Brockovich's town hall-style meeting, another group of scientists held a different kind of gathering at Kingston's Midtown Elementary School. Consultants from the American Coal Ash Association (ACAA) hosted a meet-and-greet event that included a massive buffet table weighted down with shrimp, meatballs, croissants stuffed with chicken salad, fruit, pastry, cookies, and a selection of exotic cheeses.

There was no official presentation, but Kingston residents could walk around and ask questions of the ACAA's scientists...

There was also a medical doctor on hand to address — and minimize — concerns about long-term health risks and a coal-ash expert who explained how using fly ash in concrete helps mitigate the greenhouse gasses released in the coal-burning process.

"I don't think anybody's going to see Blinky the three-eyed fish in the river," said Dr. Michael Bollenbacher, a radiation expert and the one showman among the ACAA's consultants. He took on tough questions from Harriman resident John Hoage, a retired attorney who has sued tobacco companies.

Bollenbacher's reference to Blinky was likely a response to the opening paragraphs of a 2007 article in Scientific American called "Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste" that had been making its way into e-mails all over Kingston.

Bollenbacher worked the crowd like a blackjack dealer, running a pair of Geiger counters over bags of local dirt and coal ash, as well as over typical household objects. The dirt and coal ash triggered little response from the machines, while the household objects made them screech...

"Did you hear what happened when I held it over the plate?" he asked, as if the red Fiestaware on the table was typical of contemporary kitchenware. But red Fiestaware, which hasn't been produced for decades, is somewhat infamous for containing uranium and lead that can be leeched out by acidic foods such as tomato sauce.

"But what do I know about any of this?" Bollenbacher asked rhetorically. "I'm just a dumb scientist, an independent consultant who doesn't have a dog in this fight."
It's only as radioactive as this plate.
  • It's only as radioactive as this plate.
Let's generously presume that the ACAA's indie consultant didn't know the plate he used to represent an ordinary household object was infamous for tickling Geiger counters. And maybe nobody assembled at the coal-friendly event had a "dog in the fight." But 10 years, and many deaths and illnesses later, it looks like coal ash loose in the environment might be at least a little more hazardous than dinner service. 

John Hoage, a retired attorney who attended the coal-friendly eat-and-greet, wasn't having it. Hoage, who had sued tobacco companies in the past, pulled out a folder of information he'd collected about the ACAA. He said the organization's membership page reads like a "Who's Who" of coal industry heavyweights. He said he didn't think anybody was telling him the whole truth.

"All of this reminds me of the 1950s," Hoag said. "The tobacco industry had scientists, too, and they used similar arguments to minimize the risks of cigarette smoke."

Hoag was particularly interested in cases related to prolonged exposure to smoke — like flight attendants trapped in smoke-filled cabins. He thought this was a more apt comparison to the situation in Kingston, than odd shots of barium related to occasional medical procedures. 
Now here's the real question: Why was there a controversy for media to report and residents/consumers to contend with in the first place? While it might be entirely true that coal ash, an ingredient in various modern building materials, can be essentially harmless when it's stabilized by containment, that information, no matter how accurate, isn't useful to anybody when vast quantities are dumped into the environment. To get to the bottom of things The Flyer found a scientist named Bryce Payne with a 15-year history of working on unrelated coal ash piles. He essentially affirmed the ACAA's most optimistic claims, but that wasn't anywhere near the end of Payne's informed assessment.

If the ash is released from the pond and exposed to substantially different environmental conditions, as happened in Kingston, however, Payne thinks there is then a substantial chance that the previously stable elements will become unstable. If that occurs there could be a net release of the toxins "that will accumulate to potentially threatening levels."
 Also:

"Among humans, the tolerance for exposure to toxic elements can vary widely," he explained. "Some can tolerate high exposures, some only very limited exposures. The same is true among plants and animals. Carp are a rough fish species, tolerant of pretty poor water quality. Other fish species cannot tolerate conditions that carp thrive in."

Payne was extremely reluctant to be interviewed at the time because, in his opinion, the  news media does a terrible job reporting on science. He worried about sensational treatment and that his comments would be decontextualized to support pro-environmentalist positions he wasn't endorsing. As Memphis fans of Dr. Heckle's science news podcast already know, bad science reporting is a legitimate concern. I think I did okay by him though, and four months later he's quoted in The Nation expressing even grimmer concerns about the state and federally backed cleanup project:

Despite warnings that the dredging may trigger a major toxic event, the TVA, backed by federal and state officials, is following through with its plans. “There apparently has been horrendous pressure to dredge at any costs,” said Bryce Payne, an independent environmental consultant who has been working on fly ash for more than fifteen years. “But the fish and similarly vulnerable biota in the Emory and Clinch River system simply will not be able to tolerate additional selenium.”

More from The Nation May, 2009:

Payne, who has offered his consulting services to the TVA and state regulators, wants officials to understand why so many of the best-laid plans could be heading toward disaster. In the March 20 e-mail to Sloan, he questioned the TDEC’s assumptions, pressed the agency to make its selenium data public and criticized Tennessee’s water-quality standards as too permissive regarding selenium. He zeroed in on the state agency’s pledge to follow up on fish tissue studies. The problem with fish tissue tests, he explained, is that selenium “bioaccumulates,” inching its way into fish and animals over months and years, not days and weeks. If you find selenium in high concentrations in fish tissue, the theory goes, you’re already in trouble. “[Fish tissue data] will not tell you how much more selenium may still come after you have finally detected that a threatening amount was there in the first place,” he told Sloan. In a telephone interview, Payne said that the threat was hard to detect: “Selenium, by its nature and chemistry, will sneak up on us,” Payne says. “It’s like the frog in the pot of slowly heating water.”

Among scientific experts, Payne is far from alone. “The folks in charge feel they don’t have the luxury to consider other ways to clean the river out,” said Joseph Skorupa, a biologist and selenium expert with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “But they should understand that letting loose selenium is a momentous decision.”
So why did it take 10 years, possibly 40 deaths, and more than 400 illnesses to get a quiet admission in an earnings report that ratepayers might be on the hook for liabilities resulting from TVA's bad stewardship at the edge of real darkness? There are lots of reasons, obviously, but I'm going to let TVA and politicians off the hook momentarily and answer in words I've typed too often lately — words readers will probably grow tired of seeing as I write more media and information-related posts over the next several months: Markets determine news content.

Let's face it, producers can only squeeze so much reality appeal from the chemistry of  Selenium, an element that, according to studies cited by the EPA,  may result in things like "discoloration of the skin, loss of nails and hair, excessive tooth decay, listlessness, lack of mental alertness etc." According to The Nation the agency "also labels selenium sulfide, a selenium compound, a 'probable human carcinogen'”  But that's not my point. Responsible science reporting doesn't make for gripping, accessible prose or TV news content attractive to the most broadly attractive consumers (to advertisers) who, according to the best sources I know on the topic, don't give a flip about public affairs reporting. Still, many commercial newsrooms thought this story worth investing in. The Flyer, a small, typically hyperlocal newsweekly from the other side of the state, thought the incident was valuable enough to send a reporter when it happened. Regional news teams followed the story year after year and the incident only received sporadic statewide or national notice. But if the Kingston spill was 30-times larger than the Exxon Valdes disaster, it wasn't half as hyped.


Gannett's latest summation, as reported in its various Tennessee papers including The Commercial Appeal, accomplishes everything good newspaper reporting is supposed to do, covering and contextualizing a lot of complicated ground. But from the onset, Kingston's narrative turned on controversy rather than urgent common cause. As is often the case with shocking events, when it stopped being breaking national news, it was never again amplified or sustained by social or legacy media long enough to force scrutiny, build mass-trust or foment opinion in the face of considerable public relations efforts by coal-related interests including, by TVA's own self-congratulatory account,100-million in dollar diplomacy investments "that improved or enhanced Roane Co." Not to mention that generous seafood-laden buffet I once covered. I can't deny, those fat shrimp assured and delighted my disaster-deprived tummy all those years ago.

WBIR's Dec., 2018 retrospective noted that TVA had given $32-million to area schools after the disaster — more dollar diplomacy. The report stated that the $1.2-billion cost of cleanup was spread out over 15 years, at no additional cost to ratepayers. 

There's a lot of blame to go around, but the worst of everything that happened in Kingston was amplified by people not knowing who to trust or to turn to for help finding good information. The death, discomfort, displacement, and personal loss is an indictment of private, state, and federal priorities. But it also represents the failures of an information industry that may never find an economic platform for sustained and meaningful public affairs reporting in the modern age. Absent that, there will always be too many deterrents, distractions and roadblocks preventing consumers from accessing the information they need and never enough barricade-evading directions scribbled on the back of bar napkins. 
Yes, we dumped a bunch of coal ash in your backyard, but aren't you hungry?
  • Yes, we dumped a bunch of coal ash in your backyard, but aren't you hungry?
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Erin Brockovich in Kingston
  • Erin Brockovich in Kingston


  

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Monday, February 4, 2019

Sick Burn — Gannett: MNG "Not Credible"; MNG: "Gannett's not Believable."

Posted By on Mon, Feb 4, 2019 at 3:24 PM

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Is it just me or is reality bending to look more like reality TV all the time?

In case you missed the news, Gannett has rejected a "vulture capital" firm's proposal to acquire the USA Today newspaper network and parent company to The Commercial Appeal.

Not only did Gannett reject MNG/Digital First Media's proposal, they also characterized the deal as being "not credible." That's not a complete surprise since the deal's prospects have ranged from "who knows?" to "it's all a sham" since it was announced and the market voiced its soulless approval.

“Buying Gannett is a tall task…I’m not sure Alden can get the financing to buy Gannett,” a media banker told The New York Post last week. The Post's story went on to note, "In fact, sources say that MNG’s ambition for years has been to be acquired by Gannett — and some speculate that friendly talks have already begun."

TWIST!

But Gannett's rejection was unsubtle: “Indeed, given MNG’s refusal to provide even the most basic answers to Gannett’s questions, it appears that MNG does not have a realistic plan to acquire Gannett." Shortly after the announcement MNG took its beef live.

Via ADWEEK:

MNG said in a statement that Gannett was the one to set up roadblocks to the discussion, which demonstrated that it was “not interested in seriously evaluating our premium cash proposal.”

MNG went on to say that Gannett’s plan for its digital businesses was “pie in the sky” and “not believable.”

This is in keeping with previous disses from Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund behind MNG/Digital First, which had previously released statements dogging “the team leading Gannett" for having, "not demonstrated that it’s capable of effectively running this enterprise.”

"The Death Star of Newspaper Chains," as  MNG had been called, still publicly insists that Gannett overpaid for digital assets and is currently "presiding over a declining core business," and cash flow. "Gannett’s deep structural problems are better fixed by experienced operators such as MNG,” MNG concluded.

Maybe this is all over now. Sniping happens when mergers loom. Still, it would make better television if, as the New York Post and Nieman Lab have considered, all this shit talk was just Alden Global secretly hoping to get with failed Gannett so the so called "pie in the sky" company could manage its newspaper properties too.    

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Friday, February 1, 2019

MAGA Bro Pens Love Letter to MAGA CAP: Dammit Gannett

Posted By on Fri, Feb 1, 2019 at 9:14 AM

"Nonpartisan" and "fair and balanced" journalism sound like great ideas. But they probably aren't what you think they are. They've been made to sound like best practices for ethical news gathering. But historically these ideas are artifacts of technology and capitalism.

I bring this stuff up because getting beyond all the usual ideological mess and straight bullshit like this tone-deaf nonsense from The Tennessean, is crucial to understanding why "writer and social media personality" Ryan Moore's weird love letter to his Make America Great Again (MAGA) hat appeared in Gannett newspapers including The Commercial Appeal.

A screen shot/excerpt from The Commercial Appeal.
  • A screen shot/excerpt from The Commercial Appeal.

America's partisan-funded press came skidding to a halt in the last quarter of the 19th century when new, high-speed printing made it possible for newspapers with enough up-front investment capital to distribute their products farther than ever before. Lots of attention is paid to the idea that "a biased news medium is bad for a self-governing people." But the thing is, at scale, it was also bad for business. Politically neutral papers could reach bigger markets becoming valuable to local interests and emerging national brands wanting less partisan places to advertise.  Economic realities forged the new journalistic ideals regarding what makes appropriate news content, not idealistic struggles for better information and freer reporting. And they still do.

A similar technological disruption bent the modern media mythos away from big-market "objectivity" toward a more useful narrative for an exploded economy: "fair and balanced." This works in a crowded field because you can't know the truth until you've heard every [hardline ideological] side, right?  When cable news blew up and America went from having only three major news networks to having so many choices you could no longer get by without a remote control, the basic idea of what constitutes respectable market shares reduced considerably. Niche marketing and partisan reporting made sense again. This is where Fox News comes from and with it the logical fallacy that all tits require right-wing tats. 

So what does any of this have to do with Gannett's MAGA-Man-crush?

Like I've said before, markets determine content and Tennessee remains a solid red patch on the political map. Gannett's earnings are in the shitter and its products, deformed as they are by a loss of local autonomy and investment, waste like plague victims. So much reporting and media opinion following the infamous MAGA-Teen's 15-minutes in the barrel, cast MAGA caps in a bad light, and judging by the color of those electoral maps I've linked above, that's the favored headgear of many if not most Tennesseans. In other words, the news smacked lots of Gannett's subscribers and potential subscribers right across the brim. 

Market served. "Tat" accomplished.

Moore's editorial is mostly familiar rhetoric about folks needing to be respectful of other folks and judging people by the content of their character, not the color of their stupid, racist hats. I could do a whole post on irony and the character of Moore's content, but that's not my purpose.

This stuff's candy — bulked up by outrage-shares and sweetened with hate-clicks. click to tweet
If serving readers/viewers/listeners is important it's probably not a good idea for news-oriented media to be in the business of promoting standard, white-male victimization narratives. If media serves a public good it's also probably a bad idea to participate in softening symbols that, regardless of what secret, special things they may mean to social media personalities, are also, inarguably, touchstones for white supremacists.

But c'mon! From a commercial POV this stuff's candy — bulked up by outrage-shares and sweetened with hate-clicks. Win-win for everybody! Unless the consumer was looking for information instead of a daily rise, in which case, not so much there.

Nevertheless, the story went big opening Moore's complaint up to a wider dialogue.

Top comment, Newsweek
  • Top comment, Newsweek

I'll conclude my rant by answering some rage-posts I've seen in my social media feed from folks justifiably wondering why MAGA-bro Moore is fronting all over their social media feeds. The real question is, why are you sharing it? And are you ready for more?

It's just business; thanks for yours.   

 

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