Tag Archives: Journalism

Failed state, culture, civilization?

It feels like I am running out of genuinely new things to add about the corrosive storm engulfing us. Eric Sandy and I seem, largely independently, to be getting a stronger and stronger sense that “The brakes are cut, everybody. There is no exit ramp.”

At a guess, it seems to be staring us all in the face that the President of the United States already fully intends to pursue some kind of power play which might turn out like the beer hall putsch, or might turn out like the Reichstag fire, but is quite openly his intent.

But our systems don’t really seem to know how to handle that so mostly it’s all proceeding as it would anyway.

It’s better than nothing, certainly, that people like Greg Sargent and James Fallows have recently made clear, powerful statements that US journalism is still allowing Trump to exploit its failings as effectively as four years ago. But, realistically, the accuracy of the critique is, at this point, also a convincing argument against expecting that failure to change suddenly within the next couple of months.

I don’t think journalism is really unique in this regard, either. I’m reminded of Robert X. Cringely‘s proposal years ago that in a crisis, institutions do the same thing they do at other times, just more so.

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The Paper Goeth into the Night

Within the past week, corporate ownership basically delivered the deathblow to traditional journalism in Cleveland. The skeleton staff of alternative weekly Scene has covered these events quite well, but in brief, owners pushed out most reporters still employed at the metro’s last remaining print daily newspaper.

I comment, here, mostly to connect the obvious dots that both broad industry trends and the specific policies of said owners have been pointing toward this outcome for years, so the stunned reaction is rather frustrating.

I grant that the past week’s actions by Plain Dealer owners, Advance Publications, pushed the familiar pace a bit. The past week’s brazen dishonesty and dickishness from Advance, and their minion Chris Quinn, also justify some measure of surprise.

But the approach of this substantive outcome has been perfectly visible for years, as has a means which was fundamentally dishonest and dickish.

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The Internet vs Federalism

Such memories as today remain of the late “Tip” O’Neill are, I suspect, propped up by his grammatically tricky dictum “all politics is local.” I don’t really remember Tip, and relied on autocomplete for the spelling of his last name in fact, but I remember this. That having been said, I have increasingly remembered this maxim in a context of something obsolete, as years have gone by.

Today, though, some impressively precocious grouchy-old-man scolding from Millennial pundit Matthew Yglesias suggested one or two new wrinkles to the intersection of local politics and 21st-century America. Yglesias makes the point that plenty of politics is still local or at least sub-national, even though Democrats’ focus (and, I would argue, America’s generally to a great extent) has been swallowed up by the presidency.

I don’t disagree with this, but I did have to question Yglesias’s grounds for his tone of righteous lecturing. Both his own product and that of his employer, Vox, as a whole devote much much more attention to national and above all presidential politics than to anything else. (Consider that America has elections this fall but about 99% of Vox‘s considerable  elections coverage in 2015 has been about 2016 races.) Thinking about this, though, I had to ask myself: what gets more clicks?

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Peak President

The proposal that America fixates too much on the presidency is not exactly new or novel.

It has probably been more than a decade since I began marking midterm elections’ completion by suggesting, sourly, that “it’s so nice this is out of the way, and journalists can devote themselves exclusively to presidential politics once again.” I believe it has been at least a few years since Matthew Yglesias argued—I don’t recall whether it was at Vox or Slate, and in any event it was probably not a totally new suggestion—that liberals in particular have invested too much in pursuit of the White House while neglecting every other component of American government. Earlier this year, Yglesias’s Vox colleague Dylan Matthews wrote an essay suggesting that the eventual outcome of America’s political dysfunction will be neither collapse nor coup but, instead, gradual transformation of the presidency into an “elective dictatorship.” I found Matthews’s scenario quite easy to imagine.

Today, though, it occurred to me that revisiting this issue might permit some fruitful juxtaposition of two or three phenomena that have been bugging me, lately.

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The Cleveland Plain Dealer Fails, Fibs

One week ago, the Plain Dealer published an item by Mr. Ted Diadun about “The challenge of covering a race when there is no race.” Like a lot of things involving the Plain Dealer in the 21st century, it’s basically just a lot of sad piled on top of more sad. Essentially, Diadun indulges in some whining about what an unreasonable hardship it is for his colleagues that the Democratic candidate for governor has sunk low in the polls and looks unlikely to revive. Even we can’t fake a competitive horse-race narrative from this, it’s just unfair!, etc. Then, Diadun goes on to announce that, events having simply forced abandonment of standard practices, the Plain Dealer will actually publish some information about other state races (but only the big two party nominees, of course)! 

You could just picture Diadun with his chest puffed out, simply beaming with pride about what good sports he and his pals are, and how generous it is of them to make such an effort for the community in this way. Unfortunately, I found myself unable to summon up the adulation he seemed to be anticipating. I just couldn’t work out a coherent concept of what he believes political journalism is for, making it difficult to evaluate the Plain Dealer‘s predicament and response on its own terms.

I wrote an e-mail to Mr. Diadun outlining my questions. His official profile declares: “As the reader representative, I encourage comments, complaints, suggestions, compliments, debates, questions about fairness or anything else dealing with The Plain Dealer that a reader might want to talk about. I respond to calls and e-mails…” Sadly, a week has gone by and I still have received no response from “the reader representative.” More sadly, I have never received any response to any missives directed to tdiadiun@plaind.com and must conclude that “I respond to calls and e-mails” is basically just empty BS. Saddest of all, possibly, this may have something to do with the fact that Mr. Diadun has no good answers to the following questions. You be the judge:

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