Archive for the ‘television’ Tag

The future of Internet news, circa 1981

This ancient clip from a local San Francisco broadcast has been floating around for a while, but it keeps popping up in discussions about the fate of the newspaper industry, so I couldn’t resist. It’s pretty priceless viewing if you haven’t seen it.

And not just because it’s hilariously antique — it’s also a prelude to a cautionary tale. Believe it or not, the San Francisco Examiner was once working on the cutting edge of the Internet. The Examiner’s David Cole certainly intended no irony when interviewed then about their “electronic newspaper” experiment: “We’re trying to figure out what it’s going to mean to us as editors and reporters and what it means to the home user. And we’re not in it to make money. We’re probably not going to lose a lot, but we aren’t going to make much, either.”



Online media pioneer Scott Rosenberg (at the Examiner himself back in the 1980s and a mentor of mine at Salon in the early 2000s) wrote insightfully about this clip a few weeks back, and how far the newspaper industry hasn’t come:

The spirit of experimentation that the Examiner set out with in 1981 dried up, replaced by an industry-wide allergy to fundamental change. “Let’s use the new technology,” editors and executives would say, “but let’s not let the technology change our profession or our industry.” They largely succeeded in resisting change. Now it’s catching up with them.

That’s probably putting it lightly, considering the current state of the San Francisco Chronicle (a participant in the 1981 “experiment”), the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Rocky Mountain News and so many others.

Today, a heartfelt eulogy from Nancy Mitchell, a former reporter for the freshly defunct Rocky, carries its own layer of irony. Mitchell’s sentiments are genuine and noble, and certainly appreciated by this fellow newspaper fan and ardent believer in the value of quality reporting.

But Mitchell falls yet into the trap described above — denial of inexorable industry transformation, and a failure of imagination. She blames faceless management types at the Rocky for attempting foolish or half-baked ways to recast the paper in a time of dramatic change. (No doubt they did.) She quietly denigrates experimentation with digital tools like blogs, Flickr and Twitter, as if nobody interested in serious journalism should have to deal with “the anxiety attached to learning the gimmicks.” She seeks shelter in a credo once posted in her managing editor’s office: “Three simple rules, not produced by a focus group: Get the news. Tell the truth. Don’t be dull. I’d like to believe we did all three.”

What Mitchell doesn’t seem to realize is that all three — and more — increasingly can and will be done digitally. The audience will be there to engage with it. Business models will arise to support it. Technology will keep transforming it. It seems obvious to say it’s the way the world is fast going, whether with reporting, commentary or many other information-based creations. Just note where her piece was published, of course, and how you’re encountering it right now.

Putting lipstick on a bear

The Dow Jones average is swimming down around 6,800 today, hitting a new 12-year low. If in a basic sense the stock market represents a rough overall valuation of the U.S. economy, then the U.S. economy is now worth less than it was in April of 1997. Whether that’s realistic I have no idea, but either way it seems a rather stunning measure.

In recent days, by way of working on a forthcoming magazine article, I’ve been taking in a sizable dose of CNBC, the ubiquitous financial news network. The channel is watched obsessively by most on Wall Street (I saw this firsthand on a recent reporting trip to the New York Stock Exchange and surrounds), and its constant chatter can be found in airport lounges, urban corner stores and no doubt the many living rooms of America’s investor class. The personalities hosting CNBC’s various shows do produce substantive reporting on the financial world daily, but much of the air time is filled with infotainment, emphasis on tainment. In addition to the usual stream of industry banter and speculative investing ideas, these days there’s no shortage of finger-pointing commentary about the policy maneuvers of the Obama administration.

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Still, you can’t run a popular cable network on a steady drip of downer, so today the hosts of CNBC’s “Power Lunch” have been trying their darn best to dress up another ugly day on Wall Street. Courtesy of their “smart strategies special,” cue the segment: Three ways to make money in value stocks!

“Apparently there are more value stocks out there than ever,” announces Sue Herera, preparing to welcome two money managers who’ll offer favored picks.

“Value stocks are being created right now,” declares a smiling Bill Griffith, glancing sidelong at the sinking averages.

Good luck, folks. As James Grant noted in a sobering roundup of financial experts in yesterday’s Times, the truth about vicious bear markets is that they end when investors finally give up hope. “Hope sustains life,” Grant writes, “but misplaced hope prolongs recessions.”

A reality check for the recovery plan haters

It doesn’t seem particularly out of the ordinary when Rush Limbaugh looks at Obama’s economic recovery plan and reiterates his desire to see the president fail. Or when Gov. Bobby Jindal, purportedly the rising star of the Republican Party, argues that federal spending is a bad way to pull the nation back from the brink. But these are no ordinary times — faced with the greatest domestic crisis in modern memory, at what point does hard-line politics make for sheer lunacy?

While reporting for a forthcoming magazine piece, I spoke recently with economist Dean Baker about some of the political right’s machinations regarding the economic meltdown.

“One thing that was amazing to me was people blaming the housing crisis on the Community Reinvestment Act. It makes no sense whatsoever,” said Baker, who is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. “The idea was widely circulated, so there are a lot of people out there who believe that what lies at the center of the crisis is that the government forced banks to make loans to poor people and minorities. That’s absurd, and the media should’ve been doing more to point that out.”

A few did, at least: Businessweek’s Aaron Pressman explained last fall why the 1977 federal law, requiring banks to lend in low-income neighborhoods where they take deposits, had little to do with the insidious subprime mortgages that inflated the housing bubble. (Pressman further pointed out that the Bush government in fact weakened the CRA, while enabling Wall Street to gorge on dubious derivatives and absurd leverage.) But the blame game holds powerful emotional appeal in dark days, and the warriors of the right soldier on in earnest. hannityfox Fox News’ Sean Hannity keeps repeating a debunked GOP talking point that the freshly signed $787 billion recovery package contains a $30 million provision to save a salt marsh mouse in San Francisco. Simply erroneous, as Congressman Joe Sestak pointed out this week on Hannity’s own show. (Here’s the video.)

Baker worries that partisan warfare will squelch political appetite for additional stimulus — which he believes will be necessary going forward. Obama had to fight hard just to get the first big spending plan through Congress. “Nobody wants to waste money,” Baker said, pointing out that job creation and a particular project’s usefulness are different issues. “But if the alternative is that people think we’re somehow going to benefit by not spending money, then they’re just on another planet.” Without more government spending to come, he said, “we could see this downward spiral continue for some time.”