It will if freedom remains on the American agenda. From our July-August issue.
Will the next press be capitalist?
Whether drained by arrogant habits or strained by admirable commitment, “old” media organizations as currently configured and staffed devour cash—and increasingly fail to replace it.
Leviathans like the New York Times Company and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. confront an immediate financial crunch, and the economic prospects of their small-market brethren are bleak. Every week struggling daily papers (national, regional, and local) pink-slip employees. Television broadcasters’ budgets also shrink as their viewers migrate to YouTube. Even TV cable companies face a new CNN Syndrome—Cash Needed Now.
The New York Times Company and News Corp. have faith in paper—newspapers—and access to very deep pockets. Both behemoths appear to be pursuing a “last man standing” survival strategy, News Corp.’s ploy is financed by its owner’s corporate billions, while The Gray Lady—echoing Blanche DuBois in her denialridden decline—relies on the kindness of Mexi can billionaire Carlos Slim. Since early spring 2009 Slim’s massive transfusion of millions in risk capital has kept the New York Times printing and pontificating— and palpitating, though just barely. Red ink continues to stain the Times’s quarterly corporate report.
The “last billionaire standing” gambit bets the recession kills billionaire-less competitors, and it certainly has a capitalist angle. “Early market instability, later market lock-in” is a business management nostrum. Murdoch and Slim bet they can survive transitional market instability and lock up markets in the “next economic expansion.” In that brave new after-world advertisers will have few premium market options.
Call their reality program SURVIVOR: Old Media, Next Monopolist, a Darwinian wager backed by extraordinary wealth and capitalist calculation, but very likely strapped with a severe case of newsprint nostalgia, an ink-stained faith in the revival of Gutenberg. Both Murdoch and Slim love newspapers, and perhaps they can afford an expensive December affaire de coeur with dead trees. Novelist William “Naked Lunch” Burroughs proved talented, con nected trust fund millionaires can afford heroin habits and live for decades using quality dope. Lessprivileged addicts beg, borrow, steal, and then—naked truth—die without dignity.
National, regional, and local media organizations without billionaire loot are begging, borrowing, and fading fast. For better and worse, in the United States we are witnessing the public death of a business model that uses paid political and commercial advertising to support high-volume printing presses and expensive broadcast technologies operating on government-allocated airwaves. We are also watching the less-publicized demise of a social order thoroughly attached to that business model’s economically productive era.
These deaths—sped by the poisons of corporate stagnation and ideological bias—have a subtle but not insignificant political dimension. The connection between free political speech and a free society is fundamental. No, the First Amendment wasn’t about investigative reporting, but keeping the political system honest—the political system that protects the First Amendment—all but requires it. Factual, fair, and original investigative reporting that carefully examines the ethics, finances, claims, actions, and assumptions of vested, powerful interest groups, individuals, corporations, and government institutions is—to use the buzzword of software developers—the “killer application” of worthy journalism. Free societies need well-armed soldiers to thwart external enemies and honest, relentless, investigative reporters free of partisan collusion to vex internal tyrants. Corruption and cronyism damage democracy, but so does cynicism, and hard evidence publicly empowering voters (and occasionally prosecutors) is the best systemic cure.
Newspapers at the local, regional, and national levels, and (after the invention of the telegraph) their “paid and ubiquitous” stringers, wire services, have carried the burden of investigative reporting. The reasons are in part tradition, but the power of the written word plays a role. Investigative reporting isn’t a glamorous face job—it requires persistence and courage, not personality and coiffure. The best investigative reporting requires an enterprising spirit—in the capitalist and reporter slang meaning of “enterprising.”
But the newspapers are dying. The American Society of Newspaper Editors canceled its 2009 convention, scheduled for Chicago in April. The ASNE press release (available on the Internet) cited “the challenging times faced by its members.” It has now changed its name to the American Society of News Editors, its newspaper subscription not quite canceled….
Perhaps the next press will be socialist.
Medicare is now an entitlement. The next stimulus may feature “Media-Care”—government subsidy if not ownership. As it is, a certain type of “media character” (I cannot write “journalist”) is always searching for a monarch to serve. In the United States this “media character” usually suffers from “BBC envy.” The afflicted “media character” instantly damns anyone who suggests the Beeb news brand isn’t perfect. She won’t consider the argument that a free, “classically liberal” economy puts a premium on the truth (competitive business demands facts, good and bad) and the BBC in its early years—when it established its stiffupper rep—was a government-owned broadcast monopoly supported by a liberal economy with globe-girdling interests.
But let’s say the BBC is something of a historical exception and speculate that despite parliamentary finagling, ideological causes célèbres, and Eurosocialism “BBC exceptionalism” will remain an eternal constant. The common “government” news media model is China’s Xinhua or a “semi-official” actor like Egypt’s Al-Ahram. The monarch’s purse, whether in the form of direct government control, governmental bullying, or even hobbyist billionaire with a George Soros-like ideological incline, always has strings.
Sun Tzu aficionados and “Unrestricted Warfare” fans take note: China’s current leaders still see a state-owned “news agency” as a tool for waging information war—which is why I specified the content objective of honest operations. StrategyPage.com recently pointed out (January 27, 2009):
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online