HomeTag: newsphobia


Why would you do things like put climate denialists on Q&A to square an imaginary ledger? Why would you put Pauline Hanson on breakfast TV, resurrecting a dangerous criminal racist with a battler redemption arc? Why, through nine long months of lockdown, were we bombarded with opinions from sociopathic economists that have now definitively been proven incorrect?

What were we hoping to achieve with all that?!?!?! […]

For all the failed institutions of a largely dysfunctional nation, America’s best media is still better than ours. They have spines. They have a long, proud history of standing up to negligent, criminal Presidents and acting in the public interest. Not always, and not often – and definitely not when there’s bipartisan bombs to be dropped in the Middle East – but still far more often and effectively than we do on balance.

On Australian newsphobia.

2020-12-22T08:40:52+11:0014th January, 2021|Tags: , |

The death of local.

Readership for newspapers has been declining since the early 1970s. By the 1980s, Gen Xers growing up in newspaper-reading households were increasingly shunning the format, year over year. For a smart newspaper company, the internet presented an opportunity to capture young readers who hadn’t formed the newspaper habits of their parents.

That opportunity was wasted. Most newspaper chains were publicly traded companies that had conditioned investors to expect high profit margins, often in excess of 30 percent. A company that wanted to prepare itself for a digital future would have been spending those profits on R&D. But because readership was dropping—even while newspapers were wildly profitable—companies met investor expectations by making subtle cuts to newsrooms, freezing positions and leaving openings unfilled.

Media’s real tragic mistake was that by the time the internet came around, it was treated as a place to dump content, a “shovelware” strategy. Treating the internet like a newspaper represented a serious misjudgment of the platform. The internet wasn’t just paper—it was also the paperboy. It was a content, platform, and distribution model all in one.

Newspapers were slow to realize that they had been operating in a pseudo-monopoly for years, one neatly defined by the limits of geography and technology. They fundamentally misunderstood the distribution role of the internet.

On the death of newspapers.

2020-12-03T08:05:32+11:0013th December, 2020|Tags: , |


In 2019, [theDutch public broadcaster] ran an experiment with 10 different advertisers, including American Express, to compare the performance of [online] ads shown to users who opted in or out of being tracked. On the most important metric, conversions—the share of people who ended up taking the action the advertiser cared about, whether it was adding an item to their cart or signing up for a subscription or credit card—contextual ads did as well or better than microtargeted ones.

“When do people want to buy a Snickers?” said van Bentheim, recalling a conversation he had with someone who worked at an ad agency. “It’s not because someone is in a specific age or in a specific region or has a high income; it’s because they are hungry and they are looking at food at that moment.”

Lies my Google Ads sales rep told me.

The issue at hand is which model of advertising works better: micro-targeted (advertising to individuals because The Algorithm has determined them to be in a certain demographic segment), or contextual (advertising based on what an an ad will be seen next to). For going on two decades now, Google and, later, Facebook have been pushing the former at the expense of the latter, primarily because they’re the data gatekeepers that make the former “work”… and also because neither company really has any way of making money outside of this.

There’s only one problem: micro-targeted advertising fails to produce substantial conversion gains (i.e. how many people click on an ad) pretty much consistently every time it’s studied. Where it does show gains they’re in the single digits, and are arguably offset by all the downsides to targeted advertising, which run the gamut from “annoying” (remember Tumblr ads?) to “destroying democracy as we know it maybe?” (erosion of privacy, clickbait’s negative influence on journalism).

The upside to all of this, is that the slow-but-inexorable hand of change is on its way; everything from browsers nixing third-party cookies to jurisdictions like the EU tightening privacy regulations. The days of open-slather back channel data sales are (hopefully) coming to a close, though don’t expect Google and Facebook to go down without a fight…

2020-11-16T07:45:51+11:0018th November, 2020|Tags: , , , |


In discussing journalistic objectivity, [press critic Jay] Rosen agrees that the media’s work should not be politicized, i.e., produced expressly to help one party/candidate or another.

On the other hand, he says, media cannot help but be political. Modern journalism was meant to play a political role, to expose the truth and hold politicians accountable to the small-l liberal values that make liberal democracy possible. It cannot remain neutral when those values are under threat. Like other institutions — science, the academy, and the US government itself — its very purpose is to both exemplify and defend those values. Its work is impossible without them.

The press should always be fair in the application of its values and standards, but doing so will mean making clear when there is an asymmetry.

David Roberts on objectivity.

2020-06-09T11:02:18+10:002nd August, 2020|Tags: , , |

False nihilism.

For most of recent history, the goal of propaganda was to reinforce a consistent narrative. But zone-flooding takes a different approach: It seeks to disorient audiences with an avalanche of competing stories.

And it produces a certain nihilism in which people are so skeptical about the possibility of finding the truth that they give up the search. The fact that 60 percent of Americans say they encounter conflicting reports about the same event is an example of what I mean. In the face of such confusion, it’s not surprising that less than half the country trusts what they read in the press.

Bannon articulated the zone-flooding philosophy well, but he did not invent it. In our time, it was pioneered by Vladimir Putin in post-Soviet Russia. Putin uses the media to engineer a fog of disinformation, producing just enough distrust to ensure that the public can never mobilize around a coherent narrative.

Sean Illing on manufacturing discontent.

2020-02-25T09:26:12+11:0022nd June, 2020|Tags: , |

Centrist bias.

Meanwhile, a quarter-century covering national politics has convinced me that the more pervasive force shaping coverage of Washington and elections is what might be thought of as centrist bias, flowing from reporters and sources alike. It is a headwind for Warren, Sanders, the “squad” on Capitol Hill, even for Trump. This bias is marked by an instinctual suspicion of anything suggesting ideological zealotry, an admiration for difference-splitting, a conviction that politics should be a tidier and more rational process than it usually is.

A confession: I’ve got it. A pretty strong bout, actually.

I am not terribly self-conscious about my predispositions to see politics and governance a certain way. These wouldn’t be my predispositions if I didn’t think they had something going for them. But the recognition of bias imposes an obligation to push against default thinking and explore the possibility that it is wrong.

Here’s the main reason it might be wrong: The most consequential history is usually not driven by the center.

John F. Harris has a moment of reflection (almost).

This entire post is like that “no, it is the children who are wrong” meme come to life…

2020-05-12T08:39:06+10:0024th May, 2020|Tags: , |

Snowflake avalanche.

This isn’t even a question of economics, per se, as Deadspin — and, indeed, G/O Media entities as a whole — are profitable. Deadspin’s future isn’t in jeopardy because it wasn’t making enough money, but because a jury in Florida decided that Hulk Hogan was owed over a hundred million dollars because his public image was embarrassed, in a case bankrolled by Peter Thiel due to a personal vendetta against Gawker. The network of profitable sites was then sold to Univision and used as collateral by its private equity owners, which piled on billions of dollars of debt. Those sites were then sold to Great Hill Partners, another private equity group, which installed as CEO a guy who seems to hate everything about the sites, and who used to run the Internet Advertising Bureau — which might explain why all of these websites are now laden with garbage advertising.

All of this is to say that blogging is a format that is still very much alive, especially if you stretch the definition. But the most powerful people in the room desperately dislike the validity of independent and unconventional writing, and are doing all they can to dismantle it.

Nick Heer on journalism.

It’s also worth pointing out Hulk Hogan’s “public image” was “embarrassed” because he was caught saying racist things on camera. So, y’know. There’s that. And, for those who missed it, Thiel’s vendetta was because Gawker once ran a story pointing out he’s gay… but also a huge bank-roller of far-right (and thus often anti-gay) causes.

Either way, the point is that a pair of millionaires who got caught out being shitlords and got hurt fee-fees because of it basically burnt and salted the earth for an entire segment of online journalism…

2019-12-12T08:25:10+11:0024th March, 2020|Tags: , |

Nice chaps.

Partisanship is not a result of us not hearing enough about George H.W. Bush talking to his grandkids. It’s largely a result of one party devoting itself to racist, reactionary politics in the service of global corporate interests, but that’s another conversation for another time. More importantly, if you’re an immigrant who is now too terrified to get free baby formula for your child because you heard it might mean you can’t get a green card, you probably don’t care very much whether John Bolton’s guilty pleasure is watching Real Housewives; if you’re a poor person in Arkansas and you just found out you got dropped from Medicaid because of work requirements you didn’t know existed, it’s not all that relevant to you if John Kelly stubbed his toe and said the F-word.

For comfortable D.C. journalists—the sort who might go from the Ivy League to a Buckley Fellowship at the National Review and then to a more prestigious magazine and a CNN gig—the material effects of politics are much less likely to reach you. Politics is, as Chris Hooks wrote in 2016, “the way we distribute pain”—it’s “how we determine who gets medication and who dies young, who learns in a class of twenty kids and who learns in a class of thirty.” But what is politics if you’re privileged enough to insulate yourself from that pain? How do you view politics if you can pay for private schools? If you have good, employer-sponsored healthcare? It’s unlikely you’ll ever have to deal with Medicaid work requirements or skip taking the meds you need to make rent. You don’t have to choose between feeding your kids and buying their birthday gifts. So the import of politics isn’t “will I be able to eat” or “will I be deported,” it’s “are they nice chaps?”

Libby Watson on politics.

Watson is talking here about the scourge of access journalism specifically, but this also applies to a good 99%+ of the middle class, for whom life does not change very much under one party or another, and thus politics is reduced to, variously, “who did I find most charming on TV” at best… and “who will most hurt those [immigrants/single mothers/poor people/hipsters/uni students/insert-other-maligned-group-here] I don’t like” at worst.

But, y’know. Gods forbid anyone be partisan about anything. How déclassé!

2019-01-07T08:05:35+11:0014th May, 2019|Tags: , |
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