Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Semi-Shorter Megan lecture series

Having neither formal training nor success as a journalist, Megan feels qualified to expound on the topic of journalism. Yes, we all know this method is the basis of her career.

A Great Business Opportunity:

This is most of my (slightly edited) response to one of Glenn Greenwald's angry readers who has declared that he is no longer reading the MSM, and that good journalists could make readers interested in any topic. I thought it worth sharing
... I know there is no wit in saying this, but fuck you, Megan. Just put it up as a post, don't make us watch you masturbate.
If you think that it is possible to make the public read about anything, I invite you--or for that matter, Glenn Greenwald--to go do so. There are a large number of good journalists out there. Hire them, and send them to write the stories you think everyone is deliberately undercovering. Then sell lots of papers with those stories in them. It should be a simple matter to make money doing this, since the only thing required is to have good journalists. If your thesis were true, this would be an excellent place to put all of your retirement savings.

But in fact, you'd lose everything. People wouldn't buy the paper if the headlines didn't interest them. It is hard to make people read stories in a paper they don't own.
Ever heard of the Huffington Post? Oh, right, it's not print.
Nor is there any previously unexploited reservoir of interest in these topics. The broadcast media have extremely good data on exactly what people watch, and when they choose to change the channel; stories like the ones that Glenn and I want to cover are the ones that make them flip the channel. Web media have very good data on what people read and how long they read it; stories like the ones that Glenn and I want written do not attract large numbers of readers.
You simply do not comprehend journalism, Megan. I can't wait to read your next two posts on the topic. It is not the nature of journalism that forces "journalists" like you and Joe Klein to be fucking idiots because you think it sells. To begin with, you and Joe Klein are simply fucking idiots. Additionally, the demands of corporate ownership include placing profitability above all other concerns and the non-coverage of a great deal of corporate malfeasance, which is why useful fucking idiots now dominate the field.
I think it's great that you and people like you are seeking out different voices. But there is no conspiracy, not even of the cosy oligopolistic "why bother" type. Almost every journalist in Washington came here wanting to cover the kinds of things Glenn Greenwald wants written about; almost every editor here was one of those reporters, and assumed their current job hoping to break these kinds of stories. They are simply limited by the tastes of their readers.
Yep.... yep. Fuck you, Megan.

The real problem with the media is . . .:
The fragmentation of media is good for people like me and Glenn Greenwald, since we get to go deeper into issues than any television station, maybe any news outlet, ever could. But it has had funny effects on the MSM news cycle. The news cycle is now dominated by television because everything is so fragmented. Even though television stations are losing viewers, the decline of the print press and the fragmentation of the web mean that television's role in forming the "common narrative" is growing even as television itself becomes less common.
The problem with the media is that it enables people like Megan McArdle to troll and deride people like Glenn Greenwald then call herself his colleague. See also Matt Drudge or Fox News talking about Helen Thomas.
The other sad truth is that readers--even readers of the New York Times--like those stories. Whether or not we should, we care tremendously about the ordinary things that signal to us what kind of politicians our leaders are.

I'd argue that whether George Bush became president had a lot more to do with what happened over the last eight years than John Yoo did. Presidential candidates are big stories. And because trivial details of their lives matter tremendously in the elections, those trivial details are big stories. Not because journalists think that they're metaphysically important, but because they drive political outcomes.
I'd argue that whether George Bush became president had a lot more to do with what happened over the last eight years than John Yoo did.
I'm going to go smoke a joint. I'll be right back.
Holy fuckshit. It's still there. She actually wrote that. I have to just move on.
What Mr Greenwald sees as malign influence, I see as a structural problem that I don't know how to solve. And in some sense, I'm not sure that we should solve it. Mr Greenwald accuses me of being elitist for saying that Americans are morons who don't care about torture memos. I think there's something elitist about that claim--that people who don't care about what Greenwald and I want to write about must therefore be morons. I figure most of them are people who've had a long day with work and kids, and just don't have the energy for parsing complicated, troubling stories. Some people derive energy from reading political news that makes them angry, but most people don't. They just want to relax and have a few hours of enjoyment before they get up and do the whole thing again tomorrow.
They're not stupid, they're just dim.
I don't know that this diagnosis is right either, of course, but the main thing is that I don't see something judgemental in observing that most people don't want to read what Mr Greenwald and I would most love to write. I think that it's rather more elitist to assume that failing to share the burning interests of a handful of hypereducated wordsmiths necessarily means that there's something wrong with you.
Shit, remember folks, we're just talking about torture. We're all geeky wonks, here.

Media's sacred trust is sadly not a sacred trust fund: "sacred trust fund". Yeah.
Don't I have obligations as a journalist beyond crass money grasping? Haven't I been invested with a sacred trust that shouldn't be held hostage to profit? Indeed I have: to report stories that are factually correct and more importantly, to the best of my knowledge and ability, fundamentally true. But I don't think that I have a duty to lose vast sums of money doing so--I already took quite a hefty paycut when I devoted my MBA to journalism. I gave, as they say, at the office. So did everyone else who took their college degree into journalism, from editors on down. Nor do newspaper owners exactly mint money.
Poor Megan. Her narcissism forced her to make less money than her simply greedy classmates. May humanity someday earn her sacrifice.
But this is actually sort of besides the point that I was trying to make when I said that newspapers can't print stories readers don't want to read. Both my conservative and my liberal commenters have gotten bogged down in an argument about whether it is possible to make a profit selling stories of the kind Glenn Greenwald desires. I doubt it is on mass scale, but it sort of doesn't matter.
I might be wrong, so let's not dwell on it.
The object in writing these stories is presumably to get people to read them, not merely to acquire the moral satisfaction of a job well done. You cannot get people to read them if they do not acquire your paper. If you fill the paper with stories they do not want to read, they will not take your paper even if it is free. Just ask the people shoving gratis dailies at harassed commuters in subway stations.
And the degradation of journalistic standards brought in by people like you and your corporate heroes, Megan, plays no role in people searching out alternate venues for their news.
You can slip stories that people do not particularly care to read in among a lot of stories that they do want to read. Editors do this all the time, which is how they win pulitzers; those series are generally things that very few people want to read, but impress other editors. Editors also like important stories about topics of vital national interest, which is why they run stories about things like John Yoo. In a general daily that is not owned by Murdochs, Sulzbergers, or Grahams, those stories are already getting quite a hefty readership subsidy from Barack Obama's bowling prowess and the parrot who phoned 911 during a house fire.
I'm beginning to wonder whether Megan has ever read a newspaper.
Writing more stories will not bring in the many, many subscribers who aren't reading the ones you've already printed. It may chase away casual readers who were willing to peruse one or two, but not eight in a month. (It will also chase those readers away from other vital topics, like mark-to-market accounting).

In short, Glenn Greenwald wants major media outlets to use more of their real estate to push the stories he wants. He claims that this is possible because in fact, readers want to read those stories, only the media is too lazy to print them. I aver that this is weapons-grade poppycock; media outlets have a very good idea of what people read, and if there were vast unmet demand for such stories, editors would have met it.
I want more stories about how the last 8 years of American history didn't really happen and this is all some elaborate, Dallas style, dream. Where do I find a newspaper or magazine that will tell me this, Megan?
Oh, and fuck you.


NutellaonToast said...

Again, I can't believe that you read all that.

Oh, and, yes, I agree, fuck her.

Margalis said...

"I'd argue that whether George Bush became president had a lot more to do with what happened over the last eight years than John Yoo did."

My brain exploded trying to parse this sentence.

Apparently the meaning here is that instead of covering John Yoo's torture memo we covering the fact the Bush is President?

This just in - Bush elected in 2000!


spencer said...

And let's not ignore her assertion that the content of a newspaper is solely determined by the paper's editors, with no input or interference from upper management. And as anyone with any experience at real-world observation understands, upper management often has other economic interests that might not be best served by blistering investigative reportage into torture or other government skullduggery.

I mean, seriously - if a media company is trying to curry favor with an administration, would it make sense for that company's outlets to actively antagonize that administration by reporting on the torture it has been conducting?

Is Megan seriously arguing that never happens?

See, this is why I have nothing but contempt for just about every libertarian I have ever met - almost none of them seem to have any idea of how complex a place the world really is. Megan is Exhibit A.

Clever Pseudonym said...

"I aver that this is weapons-grade poppycock."

Hell, if that stupid sentence is going to especially burn my eyes, then you all have to suffer too.

I can tolerate Megan calling herself a "journalist." By loose definition, a lot of bloggers could fit the bill. But when she starts describing what she does as "reporting," it pisses me off. Sorry, sugar. Nothing you've ever done could remotely be considered reporting. Even when she went to Vietnam, the most interesting observation she could muster was "these slitty eyed yellowish people sure are quaint." Who does she think she is? Bob flipping Woodward or something? Leave it alone, McArdle. You're making a fool of yourself.

Blake said...

Hmm. It's almost 3:00 p.m. Eastern, an hour and a half before quitting time and Megan hasn't posted anything all day.

What are the odds that the higher ups at the Atlantic are meeting with her and taking her to town for: a) disgracing the professional of journalism by stating as fact that editors only publish articles aimed at the dumbest of readers, and abhor substantive political reporting; b) that she's disgraced the Atlantic with her rantings; and c) that that's not what they're paying her to do?

I wouldn't be surprised to see some changes at Asymmetrical Information in the near future, like beginning tomorrow.

Also, Nutella, there's a very odd and elliptical comment by anonymouse at 12:10 p.m., threatening you and me.

spencer said...

Dare to dream, blake, dare to dream.

(Not about the oblique threat, of course; I'm talking about all that other stuff.)

brad said...

Don't get your hopes up, she's probably just working on a new recipe.
As for anonymouse, much easier to talk shit in the back alleys of home turf, not so easy to bring it to us.
Besides, his whole claim is demonstrably false. We're usually at least a couple hours behind our muse, if not a day or two.

spencer said...

Just put it up as a post, don't make us watch you masturbate.

Also, there is no amount of brain bleach that can remove the, erm, unfortunate mental image that this sentence conjures up.

Clever Pseudonym said...

Oh, that anonymouse plea to "get a life" is stupid, considering the jackass probably spends more time writing gaseous, long-winded responses to Megan's posts than all of you do collectively writing this entire site. Not that there's any merit to a remark like "get a life" anyway. I have one. And I'll spend my time however I damn well please, thankyouverymuch.

NutellaonToast said...

I can't find his threat, where is it?

Clever Pseudonym said...

NoT -- it's around the 12:10 mark. I didn't think it was a threat so much as an order to cease and desist.

"Meanwhile, it is downright hilarious that the first five comments managed to attact Bleak and Toasted Nuthatch. Credibility? Broken Records? What would it take, in your eyes, for the hostess to regain credibility -- should she maybe dedicate a new blog to the destruction of your careers and then repeat the same inane obsceneties over and over in an obsessive-compulsitve dissection of every comment you ever make?

You know what I'm talking about. Get a life, guys. Really."

NutellaonToast said...

yeah, I found it. Thanks