All posts filed under: journalism

Journalism’s Death by a Thousand Tweets

Upon further reflection, it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the Internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for—directly or indirectly—by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get… well, what we get. And it’s getting worse. ~Evan Williams, co-founder and former CEO of Twitter Imagine you want to create a digital platform that will both destroy—or, at the very least, seriously enfeeble—the journalism profession, and simultaneously make you a vast amount of money. How should you do it? Well, first you should ensure that the primary goal of your platform has absolutely nothing to do with the stated goals of the journalism profession. More specifically, the aim of your platform should not be to hold the powerful to account or, more broadly, to report on …

Our Oppressive Moment

As one of the signatories to the much-discussed “Open Letter” in Harper’s magazine, I’ve been bemused by the objection that we are merely whiners—people with impregnable career success, flustered that social media is forcing us to experience unprecedented criticism, particularly in the wake of the Floyd protests. This represents a stark misunderstanding of why I and many others signed it. I am certainly not complaining about being criticized. As someone frequently described as “contrarian” on the fraught topic of race, I have been roasted for my views for over 20 years—it’s just that, when I started out, I received invective scrawled on paper folded into envelopes instead of typed into tweets. The sheer volume of criticism is greater, of course, but the last thing I would do is sign a letter protesting it. For writers of commentary on controversial subjects, the barrage keeps us on our toes. Haters can be ignored, but informed excoriation can help sharpen our arguments and ensure we remain acquainted with the views of the other side. The Harper’s letter is …

In Defense of ‘Reactionary Liberalism’—A Reply to Osita Nwanevu

I am a liberal conservative, or as the New Republic‘s Osita Nwanevu would have it, a “reactionary liberal.” I lean right-of-center and, as I have argued before, I believe that many of the West’s most cherished values—individualism, due process, free speech and inquiry, and the rule of law—are imperiled by radical progressivism. So, I was delighted to be challenged by Nwanevu’s recent article entitled “The Willful Blindness of Reactionary Liberalism.” Although the piece is highly tendentious, it is a vigorous defense of progressive identity politics and an attack on liberals like me. Nwanevu’s basic thesis is that progressives are actually the modern champions of the liberal tradition and that those who oppose and criticize them from the Left (Matt Taibbi and Jonathan Chait) or the Right (Andrew Sullivan) or both (the members of what was once known as the Intellectual Dark Web) are actually fighting a reactionary battle against an expansion of freedom. Therefore, Nwanevu argues, it is progressivism’s enemies who are illiberal. He describes liberalism—correctly, so far as it goes—as “an ideology of the …

Jeffrey Epstein’s Money Tainted My Workplace. Then Ronan Farrow’s Botched Reporting Trashed My Reputation

“You really need to pull over. You can’t drive all the way to Illinois without some rest,” my spouse implored, as he tried to speak sense to me on the phone while looking online for hotels in Eastern Pennsylvania. I could stop in Bethlehem, he said without irony. He had found a Hampton Inn that looked nice. It was already one in the morning. But I didn’t stop. I didn’t want to. I wasn’t tired and I couldn’t bear the thought of it. I didn’t want to wake up in some chain hotel and see my picture on five different TVs in the breakfast room. I kept on driving. Earlier that evening, the night of Sunday, September 8th, 2019, I’d run into my apartment building near the Brown University campus in Providence, Rhode Island, and grabbed my clothes, a toothbrush, some deodorant, and my house plants—all the stuff I thought I’d want to have with me over the next few weeks. I jammed everything into my 2005 Corolla for the drive to Illinois. It was …

The New York Times and the Importance of Conclusion Neutrality

Earlier this month, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas wrote a controversial New York Times op-ed arguing that President Trump should send the US military to quell riots in cities across the country. The article produced a staff mutiny within the Times and a predictable and philosophically banal debate outside it. On one hand, there was a defense of a free press—in the pages of the Times itself, Bret Stephens wrote “it is not the duty of the paper to make people feel safe”—and on the other, a call for the Times not to provide platforms for “dangerous” ideas. This episode is representative of a longstanding debate over where the line around permissible opinion should be drawn by the media. When David Remnick disinvited Stephen K. Bannon from the New Yorker Festival, we witnessed the same argument between those who emphasize the hypothetical dangers of some speech, and those who believe open intellectual inquiry is the best means of ultimately overcoming “bad” ideas. Invariably missing from these debates is a thoughtful interrogation of the principle …

The Battle for Russian Journalism

Russia is a heavily authoritarian state, where the ruling class serves itself first and best. The country’s politics revolve almost entirely around the figure of Vladimir Putin, who has been the nation’s president (with one four-year break) since 2000. Closely researched books—such as Putin’s Kleptocracy by the late academic Karen Dawisha, and Putin’s People by the journalist Catherine Belton—convincingly expose his personal corruption and the culture of theft among his closest associates. These people see themselves, in Belton’s phrase, as “anointed custodians,” and have decided that their mission to restore at least part of the empire of which Russia was shorn by the break-up of the USSR entitles them to great power and rewards. Nevertheless, Putin’s Russia is not Xi Jinping’s China nor Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s Egypt—there does exist some space for civil society. It is more like an upscaled nuclear-armed version of Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. An opposition exists, but it cannot win. The leader may be criticised, but not replaced (except, in Putin’s case, when he arranges it as a manoeuvre to extend his reign). Protests are …

Condemn this Violence without Equivocation

I thank God that the brutal and senseless killing of George Floyd—an unarmed black man—by the white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, was captured on video for all the world to see. That shocking episode provides irrefutable evidence—yet again—of the callous, corrupt, and inhumane practices that are being used by some of those to whom we have granted the fearsome authority and weighty responsibility of policing the streets of our cities. Chauvin’s behavior (and that of his fellow officers, who are depicted in the video standing idly by for what seems like an eternity, while Chauvin casually kneels on Floyd’s neck choking the life out of him) is contemptible, enraging, and entirely unacceptable. This would be true, of course, regardless of the victim’s or the policeman’s race. Yet, given our country’s history, when the murderous cop is white and the dead civilian is black, it is truer still. So, it is essential that those who committed this apparent crime be held accountable in a duly constituted court and, should they be found guilty, punished to …

Ronan Farrow’s Botched Journalism is Troubling. The Response to It Has Been Worse

On January 9th, during jury selection for the sex-assault trial of Harvey Weinstein, Ronan Farrow tweeted that a “source” with knowledge of the proceedings had told him that “close to 50 potential jurors have been sent home” because they’d read his book, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators. In fact, the number of jurors sent home for that reason was two, as a New York Times reporter had already noted. Source involved in Weinstein trial tells me close to 50 potential jurors have been sent home because they said they’d read Catch and Kill. — Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) January 10, 2020 Twitter typically isn’t journalism, and Farrow wasn’t tweeting in his capacity as a reporter. But the fact that he believed the vastly inflated figure to be accurate, saw fit to boast to his followers about it, and even stood by the number when later challenged on it, is indicative of his robust sense of self-regard and the ease with which he is seduced by dramatic but dubious narratives. As …

Is the New York Times Bad For Democracy?

In a recent column entitled “Why the Success of the New York Times May Be Bad News for Journalism,” media columnist Ben Smith outlines a number of anti-competitive practices by his parent company. His conclusion is that the Times may be well on its way to becoming a monopoly. But why does this matter to readers? I’d like to tally some of the problems that might arise from a lack of viable competition in the journalism industry. To summarize, the New York Times is now a behemoth in the digital news industry, massively outperforming its competitors when it comes to digital subscribers. It poaches the best editors and reporters from other news organizations, swallows their distinctive qualities whole, and now plans to move into the audio industry, with a potential purchase of Serial Productions (a prominent podcast studio that is currently valued at $75 million). Having talked to many aspiring journalists myself, I know that few would dare to refuse an offer at the Times. The Times’s success would be welcome were it not at …

As Newspapers Fade, Journalists Are Finding New Ways to Cover Local News

Until January 2019, reporter Tim Swarens had devoted his entire 35-year career to journalism—the last 15 years spent as a reporter and editor at the Indianapolis Star. The end came as a shock. “I did not expect to end my career by being walked out the door by security,” he told me over coffee. His work had earned him awards from numerous prestigious bodies, including the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, and the Eugene C. Pulliam Fellowship for Editorial Writing. He loved his job, and assumed that his reputation would allow him to do it until retirement: “For me, there was never any alternative to being a journalist.”  According to a recent Pew Research Center study, the number of newsroom employees at U.S. newspapers declined by nearly half between 2008 and 2018, from about 71,000 to 38,000. In some cases, contractions or shutdowns at major-market outlets (such as the Chicago Tribune) receive coverage in other publications. But the situation is even more troubling in smaller …