Tag Archives: journalism

The long slow crash of journalism. How will it affect us?

Summary: The news business will radically change during the next generation, and few seem to see the core problems of overcapacity (both too many companies and too many journalists) and the coming wave of automation. This post takes a brief look at both.

“Reading the morning newspaper is the realist’s morning prayer. One orients one’s attitude toward the world either by God or by what the world is.
— Hegel (1770 – 1831).


The news business is fine!

Ezra Klein, deacon of established opinion, asks “Is the media becoming a wire service?” They wish that were so. Wire services are still a business. Journalism today repeats one of the common stories of our day: a rich industry faces new competition, but prefers to listen to the band play while its ship sinks.

The obvious fact is that there are too many journalists and news corporations given their market (i.e., advertisers and paid subscribers). For most of its history their business consisted of protected markets — by industry and geographic area — each shielded from serious outside competition.  Technology has vaporized those walls.

Today few care (except the old folks) what the local paper says except about local news (which they will not pay for, and whose ever-fewer local advertisers can support only in a bare bones fashion). Reporters at local news agencies can occasionally break stories, getting their 15 minutes of fame. But that’s not a living.

Meanwhile stockbrokers read the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times, liberals read The Guardian, conservatives read Breitbart and watch the pretty journalists on Fox, professionals read the New York Times, nerds read the splendid analytical work of Der Spiegel when it shows up on their Facebook page, and everybody reads hot stories when broken by the British tabloids (they break an amazingly high fraction of hot American stories).

These giants and the other news giants seem likely to grow, absorbing the audiences of the thousands of other news providers.

The consolidation process works slowly. The Boston Globe had its first issue in 1872 and became one of the nation’s top ten papers. In 1993 the New York Times bought its parent corp. for $1.1 billion (with the Globe its major asset). In 2013 John W. Henry bought it as a hobby and status symbol.  The Washington Post was the core holding of the Graham family, one of the social lions of Washington DC. In 2013 Jeff Bezos bought it for $250 million (i.e., small change to him), probably to boost his status and political influence.

Most news companies will not find angel investors, only new owners that accept growth or austerity. For most the eventual choices are consolidation or slow death.

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Alaska’s climate scientists tell us the rest of the news, what Obama forgot to mention

Summary: Obama journeys to Alaska and says things. Our journalist-stenographers reprint this as news. They do not consult local experts, and so miss an important part of the story. This post gives you the rest of the news.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Alaska temperatures 1949-2014

From the Alaska Climate Research Center. Click to enlarge.

The great oddity of the climate change campaign is the disinterest of journalists in reporting it well. Stories about our certain doom often omit vital context (e.g., burning off the world’s fossil fuels means the 21st century relies on coal for energy, like the 19thC), forget to mention the IPCC when it disagrees with alarmists (e.g., about the danger of a methane apocalypse), and ignore the host of research facilities studying relevant aspects of our changing world.

We see that last factor at work in journalists’ reporting about Obama’s climate campaign tour of Alaska. Google News shows no stories in the mainstream news mentioning the findings of the Alaska Climate Research Center. I have posted their work in response to previous panicky stories about Alaska melting in 2009, in 2013, and again here.

Here is their Temperature Changes in Alaska page (updated annually; red emphasis added). It’s quite clear.

“This page features the trends in mean annual and seasonal temperatures for Alaska’s first-order observing stations since 1949, the time period for which the most reliable meteorological data are available. The temperature change varies from one climatic zone to another as well as for different seasons. If a linear trend is taken through mean annual temperatures, the average change over the last 6 decades is 3.0°F.

“… Considering just a linear trend can mask some important variability characteristics in the time series. The figure at right shows clearly that this trend is non-linear: a linear trend might have been expected from the fairly steady observed increase of CO2 during this time period. The figure shows the temperature departure from the long-term mean (1949-2009) for all stations. It can be seen that there are large variations from year to year and the 5-year moving average demonstrates large increase in 1976.

“The period 1949 to 1975 was substantially colder than the period from 1977 to 2009, however since 1977 little additional warming has occurred in Alaska with the exception of Barrow and a few other locations. The stepwise shift appearing in the temperature data in 1976 corresponds to a phase shift of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation from a negative phase to a positive phase. Synoptic conditions with the positive phase tend to consist of increased southerly flow and warm air advection into Alaska during the winter, resulting in positive temperature anomalies.”

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News! Journalists doing their job, critically reporting on rising seas & the bee-pocalypse.

Summary: In their desperate race for survival in a world with too many journalists, they’ve given a warm reception to all kinds of doomsters. Events this week suggest that at least some journalists have realized that they have no competitive advantage at clickbait, but that there will always be a market for good journalism — especially when challenging the conventional wisdom.

Janet Leigh as Marion Crane in "Psycho" (1960).



  1. The bee-pocalypse.
  2. The sea rise over our cities.
  3. For more information.


(1)  The coming bee-pocalypse

The story of the bee-pocalypse shows why we’re so poorly misinformed despite the massive growth of the news media, both professional and amateurs. The story has run for years, but with little debunking in the major news media. That they don’t grapple with major stories, especially such easily debunked ones, shows one reason they’re in decline.

For 8 years we’ve heard about death of honey bees (probably due to pesticides) and the resulting wreck of agriculture, told with varying degrees of hysteria by a wide range of publications. Some examples are “Better Planet: Beepocalypse. Can we save honey bees from Colony Collapse Disorder?“ by Josie Glausiusz in Discover (July 2007),  “Honey bee apocalypse may not be caused by evil corporations after all” by George Dvorsky at io9 (June 2012) and “The New Silent Spring: America is one bad winter away from a food disaster, thanks to dying bees“ by Todd Woody at Quartz (May 2013).

Feeding the hysteria, Bryan Walsh wrote incendiary articles at the once-great Time magazine…

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A post-holiday bulletin: government fear-mongering makes us less prepared!

Summary:  We’ve survived yet another brush with death from terror, although we disregarded the barrage of warnings on cable news to wet our pants on command of the FBI. There are lessons from this, if we wish to learn. Fear-mongering makes us less prepared for the eventual attack.  This is a post-holiday follow-up to Prepare for terror on the 4th of July!  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“Tell the world. Tell this to everybody, wherever they are. Watch the skies everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies.”
— Last line in The Thing from Another World (1951)

While waiting for ISIS to attack the San Francisco Bay Area, our household held a festival of 1950’s science fiction films. In them generals often ordered “If you see a UFO, shoot it down!” (without knowing why they came). For breaks we switched from 1950’s government-manufactured fear to cable news — to see 21st century government manufactured fear.

The different is that this time we have learned, through repetition, to ignore these warnings. Yet we have not learned sufficiently to see that we pay for the vast apparatus that creates these warnings. We pay for the endless stream of fake terror cells — recruited, trained, sponsored, and busted by the FBI — for the legions of clerks who write the bogus analysis and press releases — and for the suits who solemnly recite evidence-less warnings to “be vigilant.”

Covering their asses, desensitizing us to real warnings

It’s the principal-agent conflict at work. it’s in the best interest of the government security officials to give countless warnings, so that the eventual real attack (large or small) will be covered. This means that their warnings become disregarded but expensive-to-produce noise. Only adult supervision from the White House and Congress can help, and they show no interest in doing so.

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Choose your facts: learn about the El Niño from journalists or activists

Summary: Today we look at news coverage of the weather, another demonstration of our bad info diet. Friday’s post contrasted reporting about the new El Niño by NOAA with that by activists. Today we contrast reporting by climate alarmist (amateurs’ analysis) with that by the major news media.  (1st of 2 posts today.)

Graphic of El Nino


  1. Activists’ climate porn.
  2. Good journalism.
  3. Sound analysis.
  4. For More Information.
  5. What is an El Niño?

(1)  Activists give us climate porn

Like those on the Right, Leftists often get their information from tribal sources that filter the news, crafting it into stories that stoke the faithful. Such as “Super El Nino Likely as Huge Warm Water Wave Hits West Coast, Extreme Marine Die Off Developing” by George Birchard (geochemist; bio here), Daily Kos.

In early March, the strongest wave of tropical convection ever measured (known as the Madden Julian Oscillation) by modern meteorology moved into the western Pacific … Last year the largest Kelvin wave ever seen in the Pacific ocean developed …

This has little resemblance to the reports from NOAA. He does not mention that records on El Niño only go back to 1950, and satellite records back to 1979 — brief periods as climate cycles go. No mention of the Spring prediction barrier, which make forecasts less reliable at this time. No mention that this cycle differs in many ways from those on record, making predictions less reliable. Nothing comparing the size of cycles during the past 60 years.

Those who prefer straight climate porn turn to Robert Marston Fanney (fantasy writer; bio here) at his blog RobertScribbler (“Scribbling for economic, social, and environmental justice”). Despite having no visible background in climate science, last year he ignited the Left’s hysteria about a monster super El Nino (which didn’t happen).

He tries again this year with “Summer El Nino on The Way; Long Range Models Are Still Freaking Out“. Although better than his bizarre columns last year about El Nino, it’s still vivid and misleading. Here’s an example…

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The day after Hersh: rebuttals & more evidence about the bin Laden hit

Summary: On Sunday the London Review of Books published Hersh’s article trashing Obama’s story about the raid to kill bin Laden. The next day told us much about America, with the reflexive denials by government officials, their support by the government’s fanboys, and the rapid arrival of more evidence supporting Hersh’s analysis.  {1st of 2 posts today.} Obama officially announces bin Laden's death


  1. The lesson we refuse to learn.
  2. The government’s fanboys speak!
  3. Supporting evidence.
  4. Other posts in this series.
  5. For More Information.

(1)  The lesson we refuse to learn

Seymour Hersh’s “The Killing of Osama bin Laden” and Americans’ response to it illustrates what I wrote about in both of yesterday’s posts. By now a large body of evidence refutes key elements of the government’s story about the bin Laden hit, the books about it, and the film Zero Dark Thirty. It’s the most useful news story of 2015, an opportunity for us to learn so that we do not swallow the next lie. On the other hand, this is just another on the long list of lies about key events — a defining characteristic of the post-WWII era. By now the every American should know that The first rule of American war is not to believe what we’re told. It’s a lesson we seem unable to learn.

(2)  Immediate denials from the government & its fanboys

As always, reports of government lies are met by denials by government officials. Like Pavlov’s dogs, the government fanboys (geopolitical experts, journalists, Wall Street gurus) immediately bark in support. Max Fisher at Vox ( (who was in turn brutally taken down by journalist Corey Pein. “Given the current climate in the US, it’s hard to imagine worthwhile investigative reporting on intelligence and foreign policy that doesn’t make some use of such {anonymous} sources.”). Peter Bergen at CNN. Max Boot at Commentary (he’s not always wrong). Quartz asks questions with obvious answers (questions that Hersh answered).  Most of this is dressed-up incredulity, neither analysis nor fact-checking. This resembles the waves of mockery that greeted the revelations by Snowden about NSA surveilance. Three years later we see that Snowden was largely correct. Of course there have been few (no?) admissions of error by his critics. Much depends on how many Americans have learned skepticism from the events since 9/11. Our reaction to Hersh’s story will provide an answer.

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Politics in modern America: A users’ guide for journalists and reformers

Summary:  The posts this week mark a conclusion to years of analysis on the FM website, as I struggle to understand what’s happening to America. The last piece of the puzzle came with my absurdly slow realization that Fox News is the model news provider for our New America. This is the fourth and last in a series briefly describing where we are, and what I personally am attempting to do about it. These posts rarely speak in the first person, but this is the exception.

American Power



  1. A look at America’s classes
  2. The mass market for information
  3. Another path
  4. For More Information


(1)  A look at America’s classes

Many American do not know the strength of the class system in America during the Gilded Age, before its disruption by WWII and the creation afterwards of a large middle class. For an entertaining introduction, I recommend watching Stella Dallas, with Barbara Stanwyck in the title role (1937). It describes the powerful role of class in our past, and perhaps in our future.

Time has disproved most of Marx’s economics, but it has validated much of his sociology. George Orwell gives us an updated model of a class structure that fits our America. There is the bourgeois, the top few percent who own most of America (the 1% own over a third; the top 3% over half). There is the inner party, the highly-paid senior leadership of our political and corporate institutions. There is the outer party of managers and professionals. There are the proles, America’s workers and its underclass.

The bourgeois and inner party are the insiders. They have a common interest with their peers in preserving the political and social systems that have given them so much, so most are conservative in the literal meaning of the term. They desire tinkering with the details, shifting America to the Left or Right — but not radical change. They have leisure time, autonomy, and agency (the ability to influence events), which gives them a perspective on the world radically different than that of the lower classes.

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