Monday, December 03, 2012

Print newspapers are dying... just follow the (ad) money

At North Country Public Radio's In Box blog, Brian Mann posted an interesting graphic which highlighted the flow of advertising dollars away from the traditional print media toward online sources. It provoked an interesting discussion, but it shows the decreasing relevance of newspapers. And that's unfortunate.

The problem with the newspapers is that the main product is fundamentally the same as it’s been for a long time even as the broader media landscape has transformed radically.

Sure, newspapers added bells and whistles like websites, video, Twitter and blogs. Journalists themselves are absolutely doing things a lot differently. But the core product, the print newspaper, is fundamentally unchanged. And that's why the industry is dying.

The typical local newspaper contains some local news. Lots of canned wire service news stories, often shortened into meaninglessness. Tons of syndicated features. Press releases. You’ll notice that all of the stuff, save the first, is identical to what you can get elsewhere for free.

Newspapers have adapted to the changing reality via the (often free) bells and whistles but they haven’t adapted the core product that they’re all asking people to pay money for.

They need to recognize that people are getting their national news elsewhere. They’re getting their infotainment elsewhere. They’re getting their sports scores and standings elsewhere. They're getting their movie listings and recipes elsewhere. The print newspaper can’t compete with other media in these areas. They need to focus like a laser beam on what makes them truly unique: LOCAL news and other local content.

Sure, they will say “Blah blah blah we do x local stories each day” devoid of context. One weekday print issue of the Post-Star, I counted every single story and tagged it as created by a staff member or not. About 40% of the stories were created by one of their journalists. I’m not picking on the Post-Star (they’re just the one I read every day). Most smaller newspapers are like this. Many have a much lower percentage of local content.

Newspapers are losing money because they aren’t offering enough original, unique content to  make people think, “I *can’t* not read the paper today because I will miss stories I can’t get anywhere else.” Most local papers don’t have nearly enough of those stories. They need to re-direct their resources. 

Slash syndicated features to the bare minimum (people freak out about puzzles and cartoons so keep those and the better op-ed columnists but get rid of the syndicated fluff stories). Get rid of all other wire service content. Take all that money and re-direct into more and more local content.

Sclerotic 'experts' may say it’s crazy. But when your industry is in a death spiral, not be willing to risk big changes is what’s crazy.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Canadians are richer than Americans: because of a rational sociopolitical setup

I read in Foreign Policy that the average Canadian is for the first time richer than the average American. The article states that Canada slashed its deficit in the 90s, but so did the US under Clinton - even generating a surplus - before Bush's tax cuts for the rich and wars spending and Obama's poorly designed stimulus package. 

So is this increased prosperity because Canadians have a rational health care system that provides coverage for all thus reducing costs? Or because they resisted the ideology of mindless deregulation for its own sake thus largely inoculating themselves from the effects of the 2008 financial crash? Or maybe because their government isn't nearly as comprehensively owned by corporations and is much more diverse thus resulting in wiser public policy? Or maybe a combination of these?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Obama is a terrorist president? Liberals don't care either way.

NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday ran an interview with Gregory Johnsen, author of a book about the US bombing campaign in Yemen and the way its massively undermined America's national security. The author points out that when the bombing campaign began, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula counted only 200 members; now it's many times higher. This is because all the 'collateral damage' caused by the bombings has created a massive amount of resentment and thus new recruits for the armed organization.

In, Glenn Greenwald highlights a despicable practice of the Obama administration. It not only does 'regular' bombings of suspected terrorists but it also specifically targets funerals and those who've come to the aid of victims in earlier bombings. Greenwald points out that this is a signature tactic of Hamas and other groups designated 'terrorist' by the very same US government.

It really shows how tribal and devoid of principle American *voters* have become; we can't blame it all on politicians. If the Nobel Peace Prize winner had done this as a member of the conservative tribe, liberals (or what passes for them in this country) would have taken to the streets in indignant outrage demanding that this abominable president be impeached and tried for war crimes. And rightly so.

But because he did so as a member of their tribe, there is a deafening silence amongst so-called liberals while they entertain themselves mocking whichever irrelevant figure happens to be designated the right-wing buffoon of the week.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Climate change denialists will flip flop

I predict that within 5 or 6 years, conservative ideology will drop its Flat Earther denial of climate change. Instead, they will start saying, “There’s nothing we can do to reverse it (because they’ve stonewalled for 20 years) so let’s benefit while we can.” 

Here’s why.

A good barometer of reality is to look at how big business invests large sums of money. Big business is amoral. It is not burdened by ethics - except when it makes for good PR and thus good for the overall bottom line - or by ideology. It does not wear rose-colored glasses. Its primary objective is to make money. Everything else is based toward that goal.

As such, it make decisions on how to make that money based on a cold-hearted unsentimental analysis of reality. I’m not saying it’s bad or good. It’s just how they do things. 

If big energy companies are investing hugesums of money in exploiting the areas of the Arctic, it is because they are adapting to the reality that the ice is melting and what’s underneath is more easily accessible. 

If they’re adapting to the reality, maybe we should start doing so as well.

Friday, November 09, 2012

America won’t go bankrupt just because Barack Obama got re-elected...

... and if it does, it’ll be the consequence of very bipartisan efforts.

Here’s a little reality check for all the hysteria out there I’ve seen.

Democrats will continue to control the presidency and the US Senate.

Republicans will continue to control the US House, almost 60% of the governorships and, quite significantly, almost 65% of the state legislative chambers.

We’re not suddenly lurching toward a Democratic Party dictatorship. The two corporate controlled parties have a pretty good split on power amongst themselves. 

(And if you believe Republicans and Democrats are two different social issues-based factions of the same corporate-controlled party, then it’s been that way since Clinton’s reign. Obama’s re-election changes this in no way.)

To all the people who didn’t care about the debt/deficit during Bush’s reign and suddenly got all worked up once a Democrat entered the White House, here’s a little reminder of 8th grade social studies.

All federal spending bills originate in the House of Representatives.

The president can submit a budget but it’s nothing more than a suggestion. No budgets get passed without the approval of the House. The House will remain comfortably controlled by... Republicans.

The national debt increased from nothing to a little under $5 trillion in the 220 or so years leading up to 1995. Though it started increasing consistently during the Reagan administration in the 1980s.

Since 1995, the national debt has increased by $12 trillion in a mere 18 years.

The Republicans have controlled the House for 14 of those 18 years. The Democrats have controlled the presidency for 10 of those 18 years.

So if you think the debt is a problem, it’s a problem that resulted out of that most sainted of actions: bipartisanship.

If the nation goes bankrupt, which it wouldn’t if we had rational military spending (another sensible idea blocked by bipartisanship), it won’t be because Pres. Obama and the Democrats did it by themselves.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

I was wrong: people really are content with our political system

Looks like it's time for a mea culpa.

It seems Americans are overwhelmingly content with how our political system is functioning.

I believe there were only four candidates who were on the ballot in enough states to form an electoral college majority. Democrat Obama, Republican Romney, Green Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson.

If you wanted a candidate who represented real human beings (presuming you didn't consider corporations to be such), if you wanted someone who opposed militarism and if you wanted someone who opposed corporate control of government, there were only two choices: Stein and Johnson. They were very different candidates but they were the only candidates who were pushing those fundamental conditions needed to make America into a true republican democracy.

I thought the time was right for a decent smaller party showing. People were very lukewarm about Obama and Romney. The last few years saw some very significant grassroots movements in the Tea Party (which we forget really was grassroots originally before it was hijacked by the far right money machine), by Occupy movement and the Ron Paul insurgency inside the Republican Party. This was anti-establishment discontent we hadn't seen since the days of the Vietnam aggression. Johnson and Stein were two very active, substantive candidates. They were aggressive in their use of social media (whose influence on politics is vastly overstated but in the face of a media blacklist, it was the best they could do). Each represented a significant demographic: true small government advocates dissatisfied with Republican hypocrisy on the issue and progressives disillusioned with Obama's complete abandonment of their agenda. I knew the media blacklist would be a significant barrier but I still Johnson and Stein had a reasonable shot to get 5 or 6 percent of the vote between them.

They actually combined to get 1.3 percent of the vote; all smaller candidates only combined for 2 percent. Now, 1.3 and 2 percents were orders of magnitude greater than the amount of media coverage they received, but it was still only 2 percent who voted for real change of some sort or other to our political system. 

Thus 98 percent of voters voted to fundamentally preserve the status quo.

Americans complain about divided government but elected another divided government.

Congress has an approval rating of 21 percent but 90-something percent of incumbents were re-elected, as is usually the case.

People complain about both Democrats and Republicans but over 99 percent of members of Congress will be of those two parties.

Everything bad piece of public policy Americans complain about was enacted by Republicans, Democrats or, more often, both. Every 'onerous tax,' every 'job killing regulation,' every billion wasted on corporate welfare, every war of aggression that you complain about was enacted by one or both of the parties supported by 98 percent of the voters.

From this, I can draw one of two conclusions. Either Americans are actually fairly satisfied with the functioning of our political system or they are unhappy but aren't really interested in doing anything about it. Either way, the incessant whining is not compatible with either of these two options. If you're happy, why are you whining? If you're unhappy, then go beyond whining and try to do something about it.

I was wrong. I believed people when they said they wanted certain things or held certain values. But I guess was wrong to assume they'd vote for those things or values. And of course, some truly did. But from what I can tell, most didn't. Most voted against a candidate, not for one. That's their prerogative. And I'd be wrong to say I don't understand the reasoning. But I simply fail to see how change will every happen if only 2 percent of the people are willing to make it happen. 

Or maybe they really don't want it to happen. Maybe they are not interested in any sort of real change on the federal level. So be it. I accept that's democracy. Just quit whining when you get what you choose.

Now people need to take the next step and quit whining about what they don't want or are not willing to change.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Why you, not big government, should 'do something' about gas prices

I'm sick and tired of hearing people whine that the government “do something” about gas prices. It’s called the free market, as this piece in the Times-Union explains. And there really isn’t anything the government can do in the short-term anyways (not that they should if they could... as a non-driver, I’m tired of subsidizing a car culture that refuses to return the favor). Even the drilling that the Sarah Palins of this country are demanding would not have any meaningful impact on supply for 20 years.

If you're sick of high gas prices, don't cry to mommy big government to do the nebulous 'something.' Do something for yourself. Trade in your gas guzzler for something more efficient. Bike or walk or carpool more often. Take public transit.

(And before anyone tries the false dichotomy, there are more choices than just all car or no car. One can still own a car and have a more efficient model or simply use it less often)
Don’t blame the government for your refusal to adapt. 

If food prices go up, I am more careful about what I buy. If electric prices go up, I use power more wisely. If gas prices go up, make more careful transportation choices.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The conservative vision of America: a spoiled brat

The conservative vision of America in the world is that of a spoiled child. To them, the United States is like that boy we all know whose mommy has spent his whole life telling him how special he is, how uniquely amazing he is, how he should be immune from any consequences the big, bad world might impose for improper behavior because that special little angel can’t possibly do any wrong. The boy's self-esteem must be protected at any cost, even if it means he isn't expected to learn any important life lessons. He is never told he is doing something wrong because that might harm his precious self-esteem. And may God protect the person who suggest that the boy is occasionally imperfect, for the wrath of the boy’s enabler shall be merciless. This is how conservatives treat America in the world.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Secularism and civilization

The riots in the Islamic world over an anti-Islamic video (ie: people responding to vile accusations against them by proving them true) have reinforced one thing for me. The biggest single indicator of a civilized society today is the degree to which that society is influenced by the separation of church and state.

People have every right to follow their religious faith in their own lives. They do not have the right to impose their faith on everyone else. Civilized societies recognize this. Regressive ones do not.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The insidiousness of lazy, casual bias

In a rapidly changing landscape, there is one article of faith among the pooh-bahs of the press: the main reason that traditional media are better than the new media is trustworthiness. Blogs, Twitter and other Internet outlets merely echo rumor and speculation, often because of an ideological agenda. Newspapers, magazines and broadcasters are superior because they always verify claims before publishing them. Or at least that's the contention.

The actions of the Glens Falls Post-Star give lie to this claim and also highlights the daily's rapidly declining standards. 

The Post-Star has long been a divisive part of the community with its editorials reflexively hostile to teachers unions. These editorials wrongly demonize teachers for wanted to be treated like high-qualified professionals when the real culprit for high school taxes is a completely insane structure of education funding in the state. However, a recent editorial highlights just how lazy and casual this bias is.

Its October 1 "Boos and Bravos" section, which states the paper's formal editorial opinion, deplored the 16-month contract impasse between the teachers union and the school board in Warrensburg. Pretty vanilla stuff. In the past, the paper has also called for more transparency in budget negotiations. No objection there.

But the paper goes on to declare that because of the wording of state education law, it can only surmise that this is a stall tactic by the teachers union...

Wait, what?

I thought they were a newspaper. Why do they have to "surmise"?

If they wanted, they could do some actual journalism to try to reveal whether the impasse really was because of a "stall tactic" or whether there was some other reason. 

What would a responsible news outlet would do? Do in a little digging, find out the truth and then let that reality guide their editorial opinion 

Instead, the paper does exactly what the pooh-bahs so often convict the new media of doing: publishing reckless, inflammatory speculation to suit an ideological agenda.

The previous week, the paper did publish a news article on the impasse. But the article did not quote district or union officials as to their positions. 

The paper may or may not have reported on such details in the past, but if it had, then it could have cited those details rather than just "surmising." 

It just assumes that this particular impasse is the teachers fault -- a position that conveniently correlates with its past editorials against teachers unions -- for no concrete reason. This sort of lazy, casual bias is the most insidious kind.

The gutting of The Post-Star's staff and the economic straits of its parent company have been widely chronicled in this blog.

Maybe The Post-Star doesn't have the resources to do decent journalism of the sort that getting to the bottom of this story might require. But if they can't inform the public about what's going on in Warrensburg, then it should remain silent until it's willing and able do its job. Reckless speculation with no stated basis in fact is beneath what a purportedly responsible news organization should be engaging in.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Pro-civil rights senator's defeat sends wrong messages

You often hear people whining that elected officials have no independent thought, that they merely vote the party line, that they just stick their finger in the wind rather than do what's right. And yet when a politician does show independent thought, bucks the party line and does what he thinks is right, the public too often punishes him. The situation of New York state Sen. Roy McDonald is a case in point.

McDonald was one of four Republicans senators who voted in 2011 to approve a marriage equality law in the state. Without those four votes, the measure would have failed in the GOP-controlled chamber.

As a result, McDonald, who'd never faced a primary challenge to his re-election, was opposed by Kathy Marchione. As Saratoga County clerk, Marchione once pulled a George Wallace, threatening not to apply the same-sex marriage law if it passed.

Marchione very narrowly won the Republican primary. McDonald decided he wouldn't contest the general election, despite having a slot on the Independence Party line.

The most common criticism of his vote in favor of civil rights for gay people seemed to be that he went against the will of the majority of his constituents. This is debatable. But even if that was true, his vote was to respect his oath of office which demanded that he respect the New York and US constitutions, both of which contain equal protection clauses.

Another, more stupid, criticism was that McDonald only did this to get 'gay money,' after the revelation that gay rights groups had donated to his campaign. In reality, if he'd taken the easy way out and voted against gay marriage, he never would've had a far right primary opponent and wouldn't have needed the 'gay money.' Needless to say, much 'anti-gay money' was funneled to Marchione's campaign as well.

The general election will be interesting since Marchione, whose campaign was almost entirely based on her opposition to civil rights for gays, will face openly-gay Democrat Robin Andrews.

It was surely unpleasant for someone with such a conservative voting record as McDonald's to be so crucified by the neo-Taliban for a single vote. Still, it's unfortunate that he choose to not contest the general election. Instead, he let a tiny fringe kick him out of office.

Civil rights opponents are crowing about McDonald's primary defeat. But they should be careful to overestimate their victory. All three other Republican legislators who voted for civil rights and contested primaries won those elections, though some were subjected to some disgusting bigotry as well. Secondly, McDonald was rejected by only a tiny minority of his constituents, all from one party. We'll never know how he would've fared had he subjected himself to the entire electorate.   

Each New York senate district contains around 311,000 people.  About 14,500 people voted in the GOP primary. Thus, his fate as an elected representative was decided by fewer than 5% of his constituents, all from a single party, and only a razor thin majority of that rejected him. The other 95% won't even have a say. This is democracy?

Sen. McDonald lost his job because 2.4% of his constituents, all from a single party, didn't like the job he was doing. There's something about this that fundamentally doesn't sit well.

He should've stayed in the race. His job as senator was given to him by everybody in the district; his service shouldn't be taken away from everyone else just because 2.4% of them didn't like one of his votes.