Sunday, January 6, 2019

It's Not Just Me...

Both the Washington Post and New York Times have devolved into clickbait sites - according to a former editor of the Times!

I have noted before that it seems that the Post and the Times, once revered institutions (indeed, the latter being the "newspaper of record" in the past) seemed to have veered off into new territory.  Instead of traditional reporting of the who-what-where-when-why kind of deal, they offer opinion pieces - often freighted with emotional tags and high-index words - in place of news stories.  Indeed, even the headlines are politicized.

So instead of a critique of Trump's policies, we are treated to stories that Trump is "alone in the Whitehouse" and tromping around, talking to busts and paintings in a Nixonian way, asking in vain, "why do they want to impeach me?"

I was talking with a very smart person the other day - someone much smarter than myself. They had multiple graduate degrees and their main concern about the Trump Administration was the fact that Trump was alone in the White House like Macaulay Culkin and apparently losing his mind. They basically barfed up to me almost word-for-word an article from The Washington Post.

When some redneck barfs up a Fox news story to me word-for-word, I'm not really surprised. People who are not very smart get hooked by these sensationalist stories. What concerned me was that this person was a very smart person, but they were still hooked by these emotionally freighted opinion pieces masquerading as news.

This sort of "reporting" which is based on "confidential sources" and speculation isn't really news.  It isn't factually based, and what's more is irrelevant.   The right-wing press did the same sort of treatment of Clinton - claiming that Hillary was throwing lamps at Bill and screaming at him - as if that was more important a story than welfare reform or balancing the budget.

Policies are what matters, and maybe that is why the press is seizing on these trivial stories.  Because when you come right down to it, Trump's policies are pretty standard Republican stuff.   Standard, except perhaps for the deficit spending (although that seems to be a new GOP tradition) and the tariffs (which were a GOP tradition in Teddy Roosevelt's day).   What the "Impeach Trump!" crowd doesn't seem to register is that when Trump is removed, Vice-President Pence becomes commander-in-chief, and he has an even more radical agenda to promote.

The Hill, which is an online newspaper filled with pop-ups, pop-unders, and auto-loading videos, recently reported that the former editor of the Times is saying the same thing.  Note:  You may not want to click on the link to the original story, as the SPAM on "The Hill" may lock up your computer for several minutes, and you will have to "X" out of several ads and videos just to read the article.  Another example of journalism in this new age!   But anyway, from the article:
Abramson, who served as the Times's top news editor from 2011 until her firing in 2014, criticizes current executive editor Dean Baquet in her forthcoming book, saying some of the publication's news articles have become “unmistakably anti-Trump.” 
“Though Baquet said publicly he didn’t want the Times to be the opposition party, his news pages were unmistakably anti-Trump,” Abramson wrote in the book, excerpts of which were released this week. 
“Some headlines contained raw opinion, as did some of the stories that were labeled as news analysis.” 
She argues that the Times has been motivated to slant its coverage to be critical of Trump after adding more than 600,000 subscribers during his first six months in office. 
“Given its mostly liberal audience, there was an implicit financial reward for the Times in running lots of Trump stories, almost all of them negative: they drove big traffic numbers and, despite the blip of cancellations after the election, inflated subscription orders to levels no one anticipated," Abramson wrote. 
Abramson argued in her book that the Times’s longtime rival, The Washington Post, is also guilty of mixing opinion stories with unbiased new stories.
In other words, this move to Trump-bashing news isn't about a "liberal bias" against Trump, it is merely good business practice these days, as Trump-bashing articles generate a lot of clicks, and thus revenue for cash-starved newspapers who are on the brink of extinction, nationwide.   To put it more succinctly, we are the problem, not the newspapers.  They are only feeding "raw meat" to the lions, which is what the lions want.

I ran into this same effect when I monetized my blog for a year as an experiment (and I may do it again, just to make some spare change, the way the economy is going!).   During the election, anything I said about Hillary or Trump generated a lot of hits and thus a lot of cash for me (several hundred dollars!).

A fellow in California said the same thing, before his website was shut down.  He made up news stories about Hillary and Trump and found that the rabid Trump supporters would click on anything he said about Hillary, even that she was a reptile space-alien.   He made thousands of dollars a week this way, but of course, after the election, it all died down quite a bit.  He was the one who coined the phrase "red meat" - he noted that if he threw "red meat" to his readers, they ate it up and his click-through revenue went through the roof.

One would think that Trump would understand this more than anyone else. His entire business model as of late has been in generating controversy as a television reality star. The New York Times and Washington Post are just following suit, saying outlandish things and hoping it generates some click revenue.

Today, the Times and the Post bury the substantial articles in the back pages and put the emotional click-bait grab-you-by-the-balls stuff on the front page.  They are doing this to survive because in this day and age, they can tell what we like to read, so they give us more of the same.

There is a lot not to like about Trump, including the low-level corruption (or  perhaps high-level) as well has his specific policies. Deficit spending and tariffs could derail the economy but... BORING! Yea, you were falling asleep there, weren't you? You'd rather hear juicy gossip about America's newest Kardashians, amirite?  Maybe this week, Jared will get a sex change - if he already hasn't!  It;s good for ratings!

We have an acting attorney general caught up in an invention broker scheme.  It is about as bad as if he ran a chain of check-cashing stores.  But to explain the con and why it is such a bad thing takes more than one tweet can contain. We have devolved into a nation of tweets, sound-bites, and headlines.   And no one can read anymore, or hold a coherent thought. Vonnegaut's nightmare of the future has been realized.

So we don't see any in-depth reporting on this.  The news media keeps score on the economy based on the DJIA and how many points it lurches upward and downward every day (with increasing frequency - something no one wants to talk about).    Political coverage today sounds like coverage of Vietnam back in 1968 - where we are treated to a nightly "body count" of people indicted or sent to jail or under investigation.  But there is no word as to what is actually going on, and we, the viewers, can't really make it all out, based on the two-minute clips of the fighting.

And apparently, we like this stuff which is why they do it.   The problem is, of course, that often we click on these "clickbait" stories just to see how outlandish they are, or because the headlines pique our curiosity.   So even as we decry clickbait journalism, we end up enhancing it.

Of course, one could argue that this sort of thing has been going on for a long time.  The phrase "yellow journalism" is over a hundred years old. And we've always had tabloid newspapers which relied on sensationalist headlines to generate sales.  But in the past, we always expected the mainstream newspapers to do the right thing - eventually. I'm not sure that's going to happen in this modern electronic age.

Seems we can't win, doesn't it?