What is the biggest problem with the news media in America today?
Mr Rosen: The cost of changing settled routines seems too high, but the cost of not changing is, in the long term, even higher. A good example is the predicament of the newspaper press: the print edition provides most of the revenues, but it cannot provide a future. I know of no evidence to show that young people are picking up the print habit. So if the cost of abandoning print is too high, the cost of sticking with it may be even higher, though slower to reveal itself. That’s a problem.
Another example is the decline of trust. In the mid-1970s over 70% of Americans told Gallup they had a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the press. Today: 47%. Clearly, something isn’t working. But revisions to the code of conduct that has led to this decline would be seen by most journalists as increasing the risk of mistrust. I’ve tried to argue that the View from Nowhere—also called objectivity—should be replaced by “here’s where we’re coming from.” That strikes most people in the American press as dangerous and unworkable. But the current course is unsustainable: trust continues to decline, with a big acceleration after 2003. When I mention this to journalists, they say: “Trust in all big institutions has declined, Jay.” Which is true (except for the military). But is that really an answer? You’re supposed to be the watchdogs over dubious actors. Why aren’t you an exception?
I could go on, but I think you see the pattern. Change is too expensive; the status quo is unsustainable.
A colleague over at Democracy in America (DiA), The Economist‘s blog about American politics, has written a very interesting post on the nature of online commenters. While the formality of composing a letter to the editor continues to generate considered and often polite prose by even the most aggrieved readers, the immediacy and anonymity of online commenting seems to encourage a tendency to insult and attack. "Faceless communication leads to disinhibition, whether it’s online, in a car or on the phone with a customer-service representative… Psychologists even have a name for the online phenomenon: ‘online disinhibition effect‘."
Publishers keen on a solution to nasty commenters will follow what happens at the Buffalo News. The paper has just proposed requiring readers to supply accurate identification if they want to weigh in, which is promising. (As one of the 65 commenters on the DiA post wrote, "I used to think anonymity was a good thing… However, over time my view has changed to the opposite. For every unique voice, there are thousands of mindless, thuggish screams.")
In a rare extended interview, we speak to Michael Hastings, whose article in Rolling Stone magazine led to the firing of General Stanley McChrystal. Hastings’ piece quoted McChrystal and his aides making disparaging remarks about top administration officials, and exposed long-standing disagreements between civilian and military officials over the conduct of the war. The Senate confirmed General David Petraues as McChrystal’s replacement on Wednesday, one day after McChrystal announced his retirement from the military on Tuesday after a 34-year career.
It started with an email sent to the Chevrolet employees at their Detroit headquarters and warned them not to use the word Chevy in lieu of the far more formal Chevrolet. GM PR people added that there was a plastic jar put into the hallway there so that each time someone heard another use the now “forbidden” word, they would deposit money as a personal penance. This decision, they said, was simply protecting the brand image of Chevrolet, much the way Coke or Apple protected its image. The memo was signed by the President of Chevrolet and GM’s Vice President for Marketing.
Apparently at Ed Whitacre’s new GM, morons have retaken the institution.
Are they not aware that “Chevy” has been an affectionate nickname for Chevrolet for at least 80 years and is not likely to go away? Did these executives not know that “Coke” is to “Coca-Cola” what “Chevy” is to “Chevrolet”?
People don’t call their computers “Apple” — “Mac” being to “Macintosh” what “Chevy” is to “Chevrolet” — and certainly nobody calls anything “my Apple iPod.”
The door of a dry-cleaner-size storefront in an industrial park in Wareham, Massachusetts, an hour south of Boston, might not look like a portal to the future of American manufacturing, but it is. This is the headquarters of Local Motors, the first open source car company to reach production. Step inside and the office reveals itself as a mind-blowing example of the power of micro-factories.
In June, Local Motors will officially release the Rally Fighter, a $50,000 off-road (but street-legal) racer. The design was crowdsourced, as was the selection of mostly off-the-shelf components, and the final assembly will be done by the customers themselves in local assembly centers as part of a “build experience.” Several more designs are in the pipeline, and the company says it can take a new vehicle from sketch to market in 18 months, about the time it takes Detroit to change the specs on some door trim. Each design is released under a share-friendly Creative Commons license, and customers are encouraged to enhance the designs and produce their own components that they can sell to their peers.
The Rally Fighter was prototyped in the workshop at the back of the Wareham office, but manufacturing muscle also came from Factory Five Racing, a kit-car company and Local Motors investor located just down the road. Of course, the kit-car business has been around for decades, standing as a proof of concept for how small manufacturing can work in the car industry. Kit cars combine hand-welded steel tube chassis and fiberglass bodies with stock engines and accessories. Amateurs assemble the cars at their homes, which exempts the vehicles from many regulatory restrictions (similar to home-built experimental aircraft). Factory Five has sold about 8,000 kits to date.
Perhaps that’s not the most polite way of putting it, but fact checking continues to emerge as a favorite practice of the public and certain elements of the press. (Though most of us in the press spend more time calling bullshit on each other than checking our own work.) In a recent column for Columbia Journalism Review, I stated that fact checking “is becoming one of the great American pastimes of the Internet age.”
Everybody loves to call bullshit. Thanks to the Internet, it’s easier than ever before.
The irony is that this trend emerges at a time when professional fact checkers, who traditionally worked at magazines, are being laid off. As a result, it appears as though the future of fact checking is in open, public and participatory systems and organizations, rather than the closed, professional systems traditionally used by large magazines. The Internet has made this shift possible.
Here’s a selection of fact checking-related news from the past year:
Marketing a film like “Precious,” which is being released by Lionsgate on November 6th, would present a challenge to any film studio, regardless of its backing by Oprah and Tyler Perry and the advance buzz the movie is getting.
The film’s 26 year-old star, Gabourey Sidibe, is a virtual unknown, while the subject matter is what sales execs would call a downer. Sidibe plays Clareece “Precious” Jones, an obese, illiterate teenager in 1980s Harlem who lives with an abusive mother and has been impregnated by her father, twice.
How do you advertise that plot on a billboard? In fact, the film’s print campaign features some of the most visually compelling poster art in recent memory. Despite a supporting role by Mariah Carey, Lionsgate has forsaken the typical “big face” approach of trading on a star’s head shot to sell a movie. Instead, the posters use bold color and sophisticated graphics to create an evocative tone.
Chrystia Freeland – video.
Which brings up an interesting, and not trivial question: why is the U.S. , home of no anti-trust enforcement during the last eight years, home of raw capitalism, supposed home of competition, about to be without a single decent source of unbiased news? And why is Britain, socialist leader among English-speaking peoples, suddenly the Keeper of the Realm when it comes to objective news reporting? Who wouldn’t take the BBC over the U.S.’ National Public Radio? Who wouldn’t take the Financial Times over the WSJ? Or the Guardian over the NYT?
The British have not lost the ability to be “fair and balanced,” the self-mocking theme of Fox TV, although Rupert has certainly taken out a lot of the competition.
Why is it, for instance, that the best programs on U.S. politics, the Kennedy assassination, global warming, and even Israel – South African nuclear cooperation, have all come out of Britain? Why can they tell our news stories better than we can? Mostly, I think, they are just neutral. There is something strong in the British psyche that still believes in telling the truth, that still sees the news as news, and not as advertising conveyor belt. The U.S. has totally lost this view, with the exceptions noted above, and in some small papers, although many of those have gone their own sad, ad-driven route.
Indeed, in a time when owners are pointing to a lack of ads to support their product, I think they are missing the whole point: they are losing subscribers, and the ads are following.
Today, I read the FT religiously, the NYT increasingly, and the WSJ almost not at all. I’m not alone; several friends have recently canceled their WSJ subscriptions, so fed up are they with Murdoch’s machinations. I don’t see how the WSJ can survive, being a Murdoch bauble, even if he sees it as the crown jewel. What he thinks doeesn’t matter, or worse, matteres and is morally wrong, as advertisers on Fox have proven lately by dropping the Beck show like a stone.
The Financial Times is an excellent read (their iPhone app is better than either the Wall Street Journal’s or the NY Times). I think the Wall Street Journal and New York Times have interesting articles from time to time. Kudos to the Financial Times for sticking to their knitting, as it were.