How Radio Wrecks the Right

February 28, 2009

One of the more interesting reads of the week was John Derbyshire’s cover article in The American Conservative.   In it, he bemoans the devlopment of “happy meal conservatism” (a phrase I love and which I predict will stick):

Gone are the intellectual tensions, the thought-provoking paradoxes, the ideological uneasiness that marked the early Right.  But however much this dumbing down has damaged the conservative brand, it appeals to millions of Americans.  McDonald’s profits rose 80 percent last year.

But of course, not even Happy Meals are free.  He also argues that Rush Limbaugh’s 14-million listener, 20+ year reign at the top of the radio dial has impeded the development what he calls “middlebrow conservatism.”   “I know,” Limbaugh told the Times, “that I have become the intellectual engine of the Republican.”   Well, I’ll be darned.  A self-proclaimed intellectual engine.  That may just be a first.

Google to Drowning Papers: “That Anvil Looks Kinda Heavy; Now, Put This Hose in Your Mouth”

February 28, 2009

As newspapers circle oblivion’s drain in an ever-tightening formation, Eric Schmidt’s crocodile tears seem to have dried already.  Google’s news aggregator will now run ads.  I mean, what can we say?  Some people do mourning more efficiently than others.   The only surprise is that Google held off on its grave dance for as long as it has.  Next up:  Craigslist offers free local display ads.

Too Little and Late Hall of Fame

February 28, 2009

On the verge of extinction, the SF Chronicle and Newsday decide, after “emergency” meetings, to put up paywalls.   It’s not a risky move, any more than it would be risky for a hospice-bound cancer patient to start an aggressive course of Jack Daniel’s therapy.  And, it’s about as likely to work.  There might well be examples of businesses that bought their way back from the brink by raising prices.  I’ve just never seen one.


See the whole, sad, delusional, and misguided Hearst memo here, and Jeff Jarvis’ on-target commentary here.

Say of the Day: John M. Daniel

February 20, 2009

Circa 1850 in the Richmond Examiner:

too many of our gazettes are in the hands of persons destitute at once of the urbanity of gentlemen, the information of scholars, and the principles of virtue”,

Nieman: Top 15 News Web Sites by Traffic

February 18, 2009

Full post here.

These Guys Rock

February 18, 2009

LA Times latest on

Here’s an example on the kind of reporting they are doing on the consequences of declines in defined benefit pension plans.  No issue in the country is a bigger deal to more people yet getting less coverage.

Hidden in Plain Sight: Eric Alterman

February 17, 2009

Via Newspaperdeathwatch, this from a guy called Eric Alterman last spring in The New Yorker  and more recently in The Nation.   If only all the participants  in the recent blogo-debate over non-profit journalism (including yours truly) would have read his stuff first! 

 I’d also commend to anyone who is interested Jay Rosen’s great summary of the Lipmann/Dewey debate in the first part of What Are Journalists For?

Some especially trenchant Alterman snippets:

 Bill Keller, the executive editor of the Times, said recently in a speech in London, “At places where editors and publishers gather, the mood these days is funereal. Editors ask one another, ‘How are you?,’ in that sober tone one employs with friends who have just emerged from rehab or a messy divorce.”  N.B.  A friend of mine who is an alumna of The  Washington Post puts the mood there more succinctly:  “It’s like theyre grieving a dying relative.”

Since 1990, a quarter of all American newspaper jobs have disappeared. The columnist Molly Ivins complained, shortly before her death, that the newspaper companies’ solution to their problem was to make “our product smaller and less helpful and less interesting.” That may help explain why the dwindling number of Americans who buy and read a daily paper are spending less time with it; the average is down to less than fifteen hours a month. Only nineteen per cent of Americans between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four claim even to look at a daily newspaper. The average age of the American newspaper reader is fifty-five and rising.

According to “Abandoning the News,” published by the Carnegie Corporation, thirty-nine per cent of respondents under the age of thirty-five told researchers that they expected to use the Internet in the future for news purposes; just eight per cent said that they would rely on a newspaper. It is a point of ironic injustice, perhaps, that when a reader surfs the Web in search of political news he frequently ends up at a site that is merely aggregating journalistic work that originated in a newspaper, but that fact is not likely to save any newspaper jobs or increase papers’ stock valuation.

Arthur Miller once described a good newspaper as “a nation talking to itself.”

The Huffington Post’s editorial processes are based on what Peretti has named the “mullet strategy.” (“Business up front, party in the back” is how his trend-spotting site BuzzFeed glosses it.) “User-generated content is all the rage, but most of it totally sucks,” Peretti says. The mullet strategy invites users to “argue and vent on the secondary pages, but professional editors keep the front page looking sharp. The mullet strategy is here to stay, because the best way for Web companies to increase traffic is to let users have control, but the best way to sell advertising is a slick, pretty front page where corporate sponsors can admire their brands.”

Dewey also criticized Lippmann’s trust in knowledge-based élites. “A class of experts is inevitably so removed from common interests as to become a class with private interests and private knowledge,” he argued. “The man who wears the shoe knows best that it pinches and where it pinches, even if the expert shoemaker is the best judge of how the trouble is to be remedied.”

In “Imagined Communities” (1983), an influential book on the origins of nationalism, the political scientist Benedict Anderson recalls Hegel’s comparison of the ritual of the morning paper to that of morning prayer: “Each communicant is well aware that the ceremony he performs is being replicated simultaneously by thousands (or millions) of others of whose existence he is confident, yet of whose identity he has not the slightest notion.” It is at least partially through the “imagined community” of the daily newspaper, Anderson writes, that nations are forged

Art Vs. Artifact

February 15, 2009

In today’s NYT, Holland Carter has what I guess you’d call a meditation on the relationship between economic cycles and artistic epistemology.  Definitely worth a read:

The contemporary art market, with its abiding reputation for foggy deals and puffy values, is a vulnerable organism, traditionally hit early and hard by economic malaise. That’s what’s happening now. Sales are vaporizing. Careers are leaking air. Chelsea rents are due. The boom that was is no more.

Anyone with memories of recessions in the early 1970s and late ’80s knows that we’ve been here before, though not exactly here. There are reasons to think that the present crisis is of a different magnitude: broader and deeper, a global black hole. Yet the same memories will lend a hopeful spin to that thought: as has been true before, a financial scouring can only be good for American art, which during the present decade has become a diminished thing.

Richard Florida in The Atlantic

February 15, 2009

Austin has always loved Richard Florida, largely because in The Rise of the Creative Class, he had so much sugar for us.  He told us what we were already telling any Fortune  reporter with a notebook.  Namely, that our city’s particular economic kismet (?) was nearly inevitable when software geeks and film hipsters are allowed the graze each other like so many molecules in a petri dish.  I took no issue with Florida’s conclusions.  It was just that the book seemed like it wanted to be a magazine article.

I have  a precisely inverted reaction to Florida’s recent Atlantic cover story, “How the Crash Will Reshape America.”  In it, we the molecules are back, and 40 or so worldwide “mega-regions” are and will remain the most productive places for us to crash into one another.   And although none of his conclusions is a shocker (e.g. home ownership in America has been over-encouraged; the Rust Belt will continue to rust; New York will come out of the financial mess just fine while the Inland Empire will not), together they suggest increasingly dystopic patterns of economic development .  With themes of this size, Florida is almost certainly is planning a book to “show his work.”   I’ll bite. 

Oh, and while I was on the Atlantic site (truly one of the best in the serious journalism business) I was reminded of Christopher Leinberger’s eerily prescient article  from March 2008 about the coming slummification of many suburbs.

Double oh.  Check out the interactive map that goes with the Florida piece.  This is the journalistic stuff that brings a tear to my eye and a song to my heart.

Rupert Murdoch, the Apostle Paul, and Presidential Rhetoric

February 14, 2009

Say what you will about the editorial direction of the Wall Street Journal since its purchase by Rupert Murdoch.  You’ll be in good company, as your fellow readers (present company included) have already said plenty.  Plenty about the paper’s yet-further rightward shift in tone.  Plenty about the risky strategy of positioning the paper as a “first-read” competitor to the New York Times, rather than the business person’s secondary “must-read.”  Plenty about the eclectic content of the paper’s newish Saturday edition.

And it’s on a Saturday that, having had the rare leisure to read the paper from front to back,  I had the following thought:  the Saturday WSJ  now equals or even surpasses the Sunday NYTin thoughtfulness and relevance on matters political and economic.  Political point-of-view aside, today’s paper prompted me to do the damndest thing:  actually to think about the thematic connections between the stories inside.

Consider this.  One of the highlights of my highlights of my life was less than a month ago as I sat with a million or so frozen-toed compatriots and listened to our new President invoke the Apostle Paul in exhorting America to “put away childish things.”   Or somewhat less poetically, “to grow the hell up.”  This was the beginning, I was sure, of what I’d wanted from my President since beforeI rang doorbells for him in Sioux City last January:  a new rhetoric of straightforward responsibility and tough choices.   An outright repudiation of the Cheney Doctrine, that “the American way of life is non-negotiable.”   An acknowledgement, as Jeb Bush put it in his WSJ  interview with Fred Barnes, of the importance of such rhetoric to real leadership.  Sounding quite wonkish, with a book about the Swedish education system tucked under this arm:

As Mr. Bush explains it, an exhausting strategy is required. “You have to have an aspirational goal, and you have to communicate it over and over and over. You have to have the humility to recognize that people aren’t watching your every word. . . . You have to be constantly adding to the reforms. You have to take the risk of measuring the success or lack of it. You have to be held accountable . . . Sometimes it’s not fun.”

One is left understanding Barbara Bush’s bemusement that George and not Jeb was anointed to extend the Bush dynasty, given that President Bush 43 most closely associated “wonk” with the sound made when an ax collides with a cedar tree.  But I digress.

Disappointingly, there’s been little room for “grow the hell up” rhetoric in the first few weeks of the Obama administration.  First, there’s been the need for an economic stimulus package to unstick the economy.  And as Bradley Schiller points out, the passage of that package has required from the adminstration a quantum of alarmism,  together with the defection of the Senators Collins, Snow, and Specter.  And second, there’s been the not very adult behavior of a whole host of erstwhile Obama acolytes who whose corner-cutting cost them their roles and Obama a great measure of credibility.

But this morning, on A4 of the WSJ, hope!

With a $787 billion stimulus package in hand, President Barack Obama will pivot quickly to address a budget deficit that could now approach $2 trillion this year.

Speaking Friday to business leaders at the White House, the president defended the surge of spending in the stimulus plan, but he made sure to add: “It’s important for us to think in the midterm and long term. And over that midterm and long term, we’re going to have to have fiscal discipline. We are not going to be able to perpetually finance the levels of debt that the federal government is currently carrying.”

Along those lines, White House budget director Peter R. Orszag has committed to instituting tougher budget-discipline rules — once the economy turns around. Those include a mandate that any “nonemergency” spending increases be offset by equal spending cuts or tax increases.

Officials say the budget blueprint to be released this month will also attempt to make public the full extent of the dire fiscal situation, by not repeating some of the accounting used in crafting President George W. Bush’s budgets. Recent budget blueprints excluded from deficit projections the long-term costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those budgets also didn’t include the cost of preventing the alternative minimum tax — instituted in 1969 to ensure the rich didn’t escape taxation — from hitting the middle class.

In other words, grown ups-acknowledge that a hamburger today has a real cost in terms of hamburgers available tomorrow.  That we are talking about almost three times the deficit level that we were mere months ago, when I was freaking out about that number.  Such is the stuff of rhetoric requisite of Presidential leadership. 

And, such is the stuff of a very interesting newspaper read.


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