The Culture Heaves in Response to the Internet

In my writings about culture and the web, I’ve always presented the upside of free people connected. However, I’ve also given reasons why the culture would reject such a freedom in the name of self‐protection. “The” culture, of course, is steeped in traditions and promises that set the path from nobody to somebody in a democracy, and as C.S. Lewis famously pointed out, the farther up the ladder one advances, the more it becomes their duty to keep others off the ladder altogether.

Why?

Because human beings are self‐centered at core and absent an internal governor, need a bayonet at their backs in order to get along with others. It is one of the great necessities of government to prevent these “rulers” from destroying others in the name of advancing themselves. Government, it turns out however, can be bought and forced into compliance with the corporate will. The opposite of government is not freedom, as many would have us believe. The opposite of government is licentiousness.

And so the culture sets the rules for what it determines to be civilization, which often then turns out to be anything but civil. The net doesn’t play well with this, for it connects people to each other absent a hierarchical filter, while the hierarchy that represents our civilization demands command and control in order to maintain its place within the whole. We either can’t or won’t see this for what it is: a blatant attempt by the wealthy to tighten their grip around the culture, so it can be used to separate them even further from the have‐nots of the world.

And, astonishingly, many of these people claim to be “Christian.” White evangelical leaders are more than happy to look past their licentious behavior, because their contributions help raise these ministers’ profiles, lifestyles, and cultural power. The web cuts right through this by allowing — even fostering — non‐hierarchical communications and the dispersal of filterless information.

This is the inherent conflict that the culture has with the web, for the culture is a set of siloed hierarchies that work (poorly) together for their own best interests. The net looks at this and responds: “Inefficient!” And, so has begun attempts by the culture to wrestle control back from the people who are horizontally connected, even though most don’t realize the disruption they represent. This, too, is intentional.

We need leadership where nothing else will do. Having managed our way into this shrinking corner, the people long for leaders who’ll rescue us from the trap of being born without the privileges of wealth. In the world, this is a bad place to exist. How do faithful people then respond? Do we challenge the hegemony that is slipping into the deep abyss of obsolescence? Or, in the name familiarity, stick with the culture’s promise of the American Dream. And, if information is power in a connected universe, then what do we do with it? The cultural war today is largely one over information and the conflict over whose information will reign over all?

This brings us to the focal point of the 21st Century’s culture war — the business of news.

The news is a self‐governing institution in the U.S. We have the First Amendment to thank for that, although that freedom is under attack on many fronts today. It has to be self‐governing, because of the watchdog role it plays over government. We can’t have the press governed in any other way, especially by that same government. Any person with even an ounce of reason can understand this.

And self‐government means exactly that. The news industry abides by a code of ethics that means much more to its denizens than the average person thinks. Failure to follow this code is required when presenting point‐of‐view journalism as “news,” for at that point, they fall out of the protections of those who use the code to govern their practice. Again, this is not an unreasonable premise for an institution of the West that can have no outside governance.

The bias of the news is that its mission is towards what’s new. It doesn’t qualify to the mission, if it isn’t new. Like it or not, this is inherent to the industry and cannot be denied. But, and here’s where it gets tricky, embracing the new is not a political position. It’s a bias, yes, but it is not a political bias for that would likewise be contrary to its real bias. If there is an exception to this, it would fall into the category of unsupported enthusiasm for that which is new. What we must realize, however, is that those who profit most from the accusation of political bias are those who themselves are guilty of spreading political talking points as news. Conservative news is not a response to the political liberalization of the press; it’s a pro‐active tactic in a one‐sided propaganda war. It’s meant to accomplish two things: one, to convince everyday people that their only enemy is the evil‐intended political left, the mouthpiece of which is the liberal press. Two, that since there is a liberal press, it is right and justified that there should also be a conservative press. With this false narrative, they place themselves in the same arena with the real journalists, those who abide by a code of ethics, which prohibits them from behaving in the manner with which they’re being accused.

So what happens when an organization calls itself “news” but refuses to be self‐governed according to what the institution requires? Many things, but especially a rejection by the institution, and this is significant, for it’s not the point‐of‐view, per se, that’s being called into question but the organization’s insistence that it is, in fact, playing by the rules when it so clearly is not. Moreover, in order to grant itself the protections afforded those who do play by the rules, the organization must attempt to paint the entire institution with the broad brush of identical — albeit opposite — bias, In other words, the organization must claim that it is simply a response to the politics of the institution. Such a claim doesn’t have to be true in order to be pressed, and this is what infuriates those who are, indeed, functioning with the self‐governance provided by the institution.

This is where we are today in the struggle for information control, and if we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves permanently assigned to the status of needy, a position from which there is no escape.

We are living in times of shifting cultural norms. America is no longer a white nation, and this shows no signs of abatement. We can either accept this or kick against it, but if we’re going to assume the latter position, we must be prepared for a future of weeping and gnashing of teeth, for their really is zero hope of going backwards.

The answers are in our connectivity. If not, today’s hierarchies wouldn’t be so desperately afraid of it?

Welcome to the culture wars of the 2020s and beyond.

A Few Complaints (in the spirit of George Carlin).

Angry TerryOne of the beauties of being a septuagenarian is that we get to complain a lot. It’s kind of expected once you’ve achieved your three score and ten. From the “get off my lawn” contingent to the “back then” group to those who’ve been reduced to moaning about the weather or our joints, old people can’t help but complain. So, I’ve got a few for you this morning. As a reader, please remember that you’ve no need to respond, because I just need to complain. Let’s leave it at that.

So here are a few people who I think need to lead colonization efforts on Mars:

These morons who believe everything that Donald Trump tells them. These are the same bozos who brag that their man is the greatest President in the history of the union and just spent the weekend roasting pre‐Easter weenies in his name. I mean, seriously? The guy just cut taxes for the 1% and increased them on everybody else by getting into a trade war in the name of America first! Who do you think pays for those tariffed goods? We do, folks. And he lies. He just makes stuff up to continue some thought stream he just mounted to make himself look good. Don’t these people see any of this stuff?

Here’s another group of people who ought to be made to fart over the Kilauea blow hole:

These Supreme Court judges who vote along party lines. I thought these guys were supposed to be impartial and “vote their conscience!” And what about these conservative morons who’ve been saying for years that the Supreme Court isn’t supposed to “make law,” that they’re only supposed to decide cases. Screw judicial precedents, they said. Just make a final judgment on whatever case is before them, but don’t let those decisions carry the weight of law. Okay, so what about all this talk about overturning Roe v Wade? Isn’t that making law, or does this case‐by‐case business only pertain to things you don’t care about?

Now, let’s talk about another bunch that we ought to send to the sun for a soft touch down:

These heroes at Fox News who parrot the Conservative party line as “news.” Everybody else is fake but not them! Liberals and conservatives present two completely different narratives of governing, and since “the media” is biased on behalf of liberals, there needs to be a media outlet that presents and defends a different narrative, one that insists that unbridled capitalism and liberty (or is it license) are what matter most. These manipulators of truth sit atop their haughty pedestals directly challenging perceptions that they believe come from a place of liberal bias. It doesn’t matter if their allegations are true or not, only that they create the illusion that they speak on behalf of conservatives (or is that “everybody?”). Journalists cannot be pushers of propaganda or any party line, and especially not if they justify it by claiming their political opponents do the same thing. They don’t.

And now, here’s another group of nut sacks that we should probably just execute with a scrotal vise and get it over with:

These people who actually believe that Snopes is a liberal partisan hack. So, if Fox News declares that black is white, and that declaration is challenged online, it’s very likely that Snopes.com would make a “correction” for its readers. But the conservative narrative pitched by Fox doesn’t allow for disagreement, and anyone who does so MUST be a liberal. Hence, nothing from Snopes can be believed, and therefore, social media participants who try to warn their followers are in league with liberal media. Of course, the truth is that Snopes is no respecter of political position when it comes to rooting out that which is fake in our information‐driven world. Doesn’t matter.

Then, there’s a group that really ought to be stranded on a tiny deserted island with no bathroom. When they attempt to take a shit in the ocean, may a horde of prehistoric alligators consume them for lunch:

These so‐called Christians who believe personal responsibility is the best version of godliness. This is the crowd that speaks down to the poor in a voice and tone designed for maximum shame and disgust. They want us to acknowledge their greatness in “following God’s word” in terms of tangible success and especially wealth. They claim that they came out on top, because they followed the rules, which includes the blessings of God Almighty. Worse, their claim is that time and chance had nothing to do with it, which means anybody with any sense ought to follow their path.

And, finally, let’s put the magnifying glass over a group of folks who ought to be locked up with a host of White Walkers for companionship:

These idiots who give absolute impunity to Israel in its treatment of its neighbors. They believe anyone who speaks against God’s plan for Israel — which they derive from their interpretation of ancient scriptures — will end up within the gates of Hell. Seriously, these artificially‐created people base acceptance of the aggressive violence of the Israeli Defense Forces on God’s lasting covenant with Abraham and his progeny (which inconveniently included both Isaac and Ishmael). They also seriously believe that the correct interpretation of the United Nations actions after World War II and its Holocaust is that God Almighty brought end times prophecy into the here and now in 1948, and that to believe anything else is anti‐Semitic.

Honestly, people, this is the world in which we now live, and those of us who object are supposed to just sit back and have these groups take over the planet. I don’t think so, and after we’ve recovered from the shock that these positions are held by an enormous umbrella group known as “conservatives,” we need to pick up our weapons and fight. They view life as a zero sum game that they not only WILL win but are actually “supposed to” win.

God help us all.

The Prodigal Finally Likes Himself

Courtesy Bob Andres, Atlanta Journal Constitution

In the aftermath of Tiger Woods’ spectacular win at Augusta today, I think it’s important we take a look at what exactly he’s overcome in this “comeback,” as Jim Nantz so eloquently put it. I’m one of the few to write about this, because I’m one of those who understands his journey as a human being.

While we all marveled back in his heyday about how Tiger’s parents raised him to be a golfing phenom. There’s virtually nothing written about the psychological aspects of such “raising,” but it reared its ugly head 10‐years ago, when Tiger was discovered to have multiple rough sex partners that he turned to instead of his trophy wife. When his personal life collapsed, so did his golfing magic, and Tiger was forced to begin the journey only those of us who’ve been there can truly understand.

I wrote two pieces about this in 2010, The Lonely Journey of Tiger Woods in February after his public amends in front of the press, and then a follow‐up in August after the total collapse of his game, The Lonesome Valley of Tiger Woods.

In the first, I talked about his recovery and all of the public guessing taking place. No one could ever again expect the same Tiger Woods.

“The question for Tiger is not how does he get his wife back or how does he get his family back or how does he get his life back or how does he get his adoration back or even how does he get his swing back. Much more than that is on‐the‐line here, for a young man’s very life is at stake. Tiger is, after all, a human being…”

http://thepomoblog.com/index.php/the-lonely-journey-of-tiger-woods/

The second piece examined the depth of the problem, and it came in the wake of a disaster on the golf course.

“Tiger Woods’ miserable performance at Firestone this week has all the usual suspects asking all the usual questions about the man. He shot the worst 72‐hole score of his career, and finished second‐to‐the last in the field. His final score was 39 shots higher than the record he set at the tournament 10 years ago. It was nothing short of ugly…

http://thepomoblog.com/index.php/the-lonely-journey-of-tiger-woods/

…Everybody wants to say (but doesn’t dare) that his sexual dalliances finally catching up with him was too big a psychological issue for even the stone‐willed Tiger to overcome. His personal life in shambles, Tiger is hitting bottom, and that’s the sad outcome of such self‐destructive behavior. He had it coming. So there.

As I’ve written before, of all the addictions, sexual addiction is the most misunderstood, because its subsequent behavior is so culturally reprehensible. What makes a man with everything and with perhaps the most recognizable face in the world think he can get away with a bevy of girlfriends outside his marriage? Those unfamiliar with sexual addiction can only point their judgmental fingers at Tiger and reason based on their own knowledge, their own perceptions, their own explanations of such behavior.

But addiction is an evil beyond the grasp of those who don’t know it. Reasons are irrelevant to the cure. Reasons don’t matter. What does matter is that the sickness that gripped this wonderful athlete and man is deep within his being. At core, he simply doesn’t like himself very much — in fact, can’t like himself — so it is impossible, without a LOT of work, for him to accomplish greatness for himself. Impossible.”

But that’s exactly what I think he has now accomplished. Yes, he’s older, and that itself brings a certain wisdom to the way one thinks. However, he’s finally come home to the path that life has chosen for him, and it doesn’t include the constant beating he gave himself for not making everybody else happy all the time.

For more evidence, take a close look at his new girlfriend, her background, and how they met. Erica Herman is cute but hardly the trophy wife that was Elin Nordegren. Ms Herman met Tiger at the restaurant of his that she was managing in 2017, and they’ve been together ever since. In his mind, she’s more of a successful — albeit garden‐variety — local business woman, not a princess. She’s his pal in addition to his lover. He more easily trusts that she’s in it for him, and that is profound healing medicine for a man who’s always had to think of others first.

In the deep recesses of his mind, her outside matches his insides, and he is extremely comfortable with that. He needs someone who will defer to him, because he feels so strongly that only those bad girls would do it earlier. Their badness matched the badness that he felt about himself, and it was easier to overpower them with his charm and need to please. Meanwhile, he left his trophy wife home alone — as he would perhaps a nanny — and she eventually refused to take it anymore, especially when his public dalliances caught up him. The desperation with which he tried to cover it up is the best evidence of the depth of his debauchery. The panic in his voice on that tape recorded call with his mistress of the moment was unmistakable.

But, with a person with the likely make‐up of Erica Herman, Tiger is able to drop all the masks and the pretenses that accompanied his poor behavior, and that’s the best indication that he’s finding himself. The result is he is now — finally — able to win for himself. In the Butler Cabin, Tiger said what he was feeling was different and that “I like it.” To me, that says much more than that he enjoyed the feeling of winning again, which is what most analysts are likely to conclude.

If what I believe has come to pass, I think the entire world of professional golf needs to look out, because the psychological weight loss that comes with being comfortable in your own skin often produces remarkable results. He’s no longer bearing the weight of possible rejection on his back, because he no longer has to be perfect for others.

Tiger Woods likes himself. Thank God for that.

The thin ice of censorship

Jeremy Littau
Jeremy Littau

Journalist, professor, and internet culture expert Jeremy Littau offered a Twitter rant last week in the wake of the New Zealand shooter posting a live video on Facebook. I’ve put together his posts, so that we can all study this in its entirety.

So this is probably going to get me in a lot of trouble with the free speech wing of my corner of academia, but …. it’s time we have a serious conversation about what social media regulation looks like. The past two years I find myself favoring it more than I used to.

Early in my academic work I was drawn to the power of self‐publishing. In many ways I still am. It’s important to remember that giving people a platform with a microphone gives ordinary people a type of power they don’t have in a world of big media. I still believe in that.

But those were ideals at early stages. Scale reveals flaws and problems of design. And some of these mass shootings the past few years have revealed some serious holes in the free‐speech argument.

To recap, we have a live video here, spread by social networks, and a manifesto that is imminently linkable. The flow from self‐publishing to attention to news brings attention to the source material. The goal for the terrorist here is publicity, and he’s getting it.

News gonna news. Its job is to cover things. But the system of news production we have is based on a pre‐internet world where there are no links to the source material. You got everything through the journalist gatekeeper, filtered in a world without hyperlinks.

But in a social‐internet world, news is publicity. It’s an invitation to google or search social media for the video or manifesto. Not everyone will do it, but many will. @zephoria has talked about this extensively, that it is an unwitting engine for recruitment of radicals.

Unleashing social live video is akin to experimenting on ourselves. Like many things that were done by the internet’s early builders, we did it because we could. And so we did. Clearly there are a lot of good things being done with live video, but at what cost?

I don’t even know how to weigh this, so don’t ask me how. I just know my kids are growing up in a world where they’re going to hear about and be able to search (or be unwilling viewers of) live shooting videos because our tech simply can’t keep up with extremists.

This is too fast for any system, human or otherwise. There’s only one choke point we can reasonably put in the system, and that’s to deplatform extremists. But not after they spew their filth, but before it. I can hear you “what about“ing from here.

The example I keep hearing is whether we want Facebook to decide. I think that’s the wrong framing. We are currently letting Facebook’s audience decide and they’re the ones spreading it. The enemy isn’t Facebook; it’s us.

If your car has faulty brakes, you recall the car, fix it, and put it out on the road. Live video is a broken system and enables some of the worst abuses on social. Put this thing back in the garage until we can design a system that doesn’t tear at our social fabric.

I am not an expert on the tech/code side of this. My sense, though, is we’re using things like algorithms and machine learning to deal with abuse post hoc. Social science can help here. We know abusers have certain patterns. We can stop the horse before it leaves the barn.

I can hear your objections: it sounds Orwellian. But we we are not designing solutions to meet a serious threat. We can’t have a social media shooter making their sick version of a live documentary every month and expect it to not damage society in profound ways.

MASS SHOOTINGS HAVE A WAY of making the theoretical talk about Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and their role in spreading hate all too real.

https://twitter.com/JeremyLittau

Mr. Littau makes several good points here, and when Jeremy speaks, we of his tribe tend to listen. I think his fear is well‐stated, and I agree we need to have a discussion about this. BUT. The post‐modern era is decidedly horizontal, and censorship of any form requires a hierarchy administering what’s acceptable and what’s not. Frankly, that scares me a whole lot more than innocent eyes seeing man’s inhumanity to man.

Today’s news is the newsgathering process made public, and as those of us who’ve been around for awhile know that the process can be very ugly and messy at times. We’ve decided as a people that this freedom to make up our own minds in that process is the pinnacle of the freedom offered by the First Amendment, because WE ARE THE MEDIA today.

It took us a long time to get here, and we should not give it up easily.

When Journalists Accept Confusion

As regular readers here know, I have Palestinian in‐laws and grandchildren, for my oldest daughter is Muslim (of which, I highly approve) and is married to a man who was born in Palestine but was forced to relocate to Jordan in the wake of the six‐day “war” in his homeland. This has forced me to do my own study of the history of the conflict in the region, because my window to the world is likely quite different than yours. I’ve nothing to “sell” in this regard; I’m simply being the journalist I was trained to be and practiced for 45‐plus years in the industry.

Image result for activist Alison Weir
Alison Weir

In viewing videos from California activist Alison Weir (and Executive Director of If Americans Knew) via YouTube, I’ve found a kindred spirit whom I wasn’t aware existed until now, thanks to my son‐in‐law. And, her explanation of the ignorance she once knew is very similar to my own. The timeframe for this quote is the mid‐2000s:

“Five years ago, I guess it was, I knew almost nothing about Israel and Palestine. I skimmed the headlines on the topic. I accepted the confusion of what I read, and like most people, I just moved on. It seemed distant and really irrelevant to my daily life.”

After seeing images of children throwing rocks against Israeli tanks during the second infatata, Weir began to take it seriously and wonder what was really going on. Her research as a journalist lifted the veil of ignorance and opened her eyes to the truth, that American media provides only a HIGHLY propagandized — and therefore one‐sided — version of reality in the Middle East.

I’ve had the same revelation, and I’ve come to believe that this is available to anyone who searches for it. It begins with this statement by Ms. Weir:

“I accepted the confusion of what I read.”

This is a remarkable admission for any journalist. What is it about confusion that favors our just giving up on it? Accepting confusion is a terrible habit, especially if that confusion is fed by somebody’s lies, but if I’m to be truthful, I must admit to the same acceptance prior to 2006. That’s when I visited my daughter’s family in Amman, Jordan, where my confusion was multiplied by stories of oppression and violence by the Israelis that bordered on the unbelievable. No wonder I was confused. Among these seemingly preposterous exclamations was the story of armed Israeli settlers who roamed the roads in the West Bank in automobiles, shooting and killing Palestinians at will. I simply couldn’t bring myself to accept what I was being told.

Confusion, it seems, is a balm given to those who look the other way in the face of evidence to the contrary. I’d rather be confused than accept that reality is really quite simple. I need it to be confusing, because I need to embrace Israel as the birthplace of my faith. Poor, innocent, lovable Israel.

After I returned stateside, I began investigating the particular claim I’d heard. I found that the NBC News Bureau in Israel was run by a former coworker of mine during my years in Milwaukee, so I called him one day. To my utter amazement, he confirmed completely the story I’d been told in Amman, that cars filled with armed Israeli “settlers” regularly drove around the West Bank killing Palestinians with impunity. How, I asked him, was it that I’d never heard of, much less seen, such a story? Why, I asked, didn’t he do stories on such things? “We do them all the time,” he responded, “but they get spiked in New York.”

So there it was, right in front of me, and I still had trouble believing such atrocities. I began to look deeper and seek out sources of information beyond the mainstream. My family was a great help, for the entirety of the Arab press wrote about such. I found Mondoweiss, an online publication specializing in stories about the Palestinian crisis but told from the perspective of non‐Israelis. It is quite an eye‐opening experience to subscribe to the daily Mondoweiss newsletter. There’s little attempt at balance here, but reading it helps me realize that there still is a remarkable “other side” to the story we are fed by Netanyahu, the Israelis, and the American press.

The confusion lifted, and my view became clearer and clearer the more I investigated via the web. One thing that had colored my view was my history working with Pat Robertson and The 700 Club. We owned a radio station in Lebanon and gave aid to the Marjayoun Hospital (of which the IRS was concerned). We were “with” the Israelis every step of the way, but not because we were in the least concerned about the conflict involving Palestinians. Rather, we were in for a pound, because we preached (as did other evangelicals) that 1948 was a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy regarding the return of Jesus Christ for his 1,000 year reign (depending on your view of the Rapture). Israel had to return to Jewish Nation status before this would happen, so we preached that the end was near. Moreover, his return has to be in Jerusalem, which is why Christians are so happy with Donald Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol.

Zionism, the political movement, and Judaism, the religion of the Jews, are not the same thing, no matter how the Netanyahu government presents it in discussions of antisemitism, the expressions of those who “hate” the Jews. Israel is not a theocracy, and its government is certainly of man. It’s okay to criticize Zionism without being automatically labeled anti‐Semitic, although Netanyahu wants the two connected for propaganda purposes.

The defense of Zionism begins with the Holocaust, and Israel’s right wing is quick to reference it and to do so with regularity. Zionists need the connection to maintain any semblance of moral high ground in denying Palestinians any rights whatsoever. Consider the IDF celebrity Elor Azarya, who served just nine months in prison for the extrajudicial execution (a.k.a. murder) of Palestinian teenager Abdel Fattah al‐Sharif. He was convicted of manslaughter, but the people of Israel refused to accept it. Here’s a part of what I wrote in December of 2017:

The people of Israel — not just the government, the people — want Azarya released, because they view him as a hero and his extrajudicial execution of a Palestinian teenager in the streets of Hebron last year as completely justified. I’m serious. Azarya was 19‐years old when he blew the brains out of an incapacitated and bleeding Palestinian who was lying prone on his stomach in a pool of blood. Azarya pulled his rifle, walked a few steps to get close to his victim and shot him in the head. All of this was caught on videotape. This blatant murder was reduced to manslaughter with Azarya sentenced to 18 months in prison, four months of which was immediately suspended. The people of Israel want him released, and the latest news is that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin might just pardon him. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called Azarya, “Everyone’s son” in calling for his release. You should also know that there are questions about the belief that Azarya’s victim was, in fact, the man who attacked an Israeli soldier with a knife on the day he was executed. The whole mess stinks, and yet Azarya’s smiling face is plastered all over the country as a symbol of the fine young men who defend Israel and her government.

Forensics revealed that it was Azarya’s bullet that killed al‐Sharif, but it didn’t matter. This is a blatant example of Israeli treatment of Palestinians but by no means unique. Many of these murders have been captured on videotape, but no one in the West is moved whatsoever. It’s just too darned confusing.

Americans ARE confused by events, because everything we read is driven by the Israelis and their propaganda practice, hasbara. Although Zionism has been around since the 19th Century, it was the 20th Century and the German Holocaust that energized it in such a way as to bring about the modern nation of Israel. For Israel to be justified, it must continue to lean on the Holocaust in such a way as to present itself as a lamb surrounded by wolves.

It is hardly that. Israel has nukes. Israel has a powerful military with cutting edge technology and weaponry that’s the envy of the world. It also receives from the U.S. $10 million each and every day (weekends included) to sustain its edge in controlling its corner of the world.

And, so, the question that needs to be asked most is “what do we get out of this?” It’s a fair question and one that journalists shouldn’t be prohibited from asking. And, perhaps if that happened, we wouldn’t be nearly so confused as we are.

Big J Institutions Ignore the Digital Truth

January 2019 was another tough month for media companies struggling with ongoing revenue declines. Layoffs came in bunches as Gannett, Buzzfeed, Verizon, The Huffington Post, and others tried to balance the books against losses on the inbound side of the ledger. The problem, however, isn’t those always‐evil “market forces;” it’s now and always has been an inability to correctly read the declines and respond accordingly. To use a very old illustration, if the railroads had known they were in the transportation business, they would’ve owned the airlines. But, no; they assumed they were in the railroad business, which allowed the disruptors in. Same with media: they’re not in the news business; they’re in the advertising business.

The digital advertising market is far bigger than local media companies understand, and this remains the top obstacle in all efforts to “save” local media (and “media” in general). The most baffling element of this is how these companies refuse to even compete for all the dollars locally, choosing instead to compete only for dollars already spent on their models. As a result, the local digital media market is only 15 percent of what’s available totally. And, the saddest part of all of the indictments of media managers is that the market is growing while the traditional forms of advertising are shrinking, so you’d think these corporate managers would want a different business model. They don’t.

Nobody knows this better than Gordon Borrell, the man who provides the measurements for how well or bad these companies are doing. Borrell provides details sliced many ways, but perhaps the most revealing is his recent data on what he now calls the “addressable” digital market. This is a percentage of the total digital advertising market that believe the local media company sales pitches and spend money with these companies. This figure is the share of the market that media companies serve, and it has been shrinking for as long as I’ve known Gordon. What media companies don’t seem to understand is that their model is inefficient, because it’s based on the archaic marketing rules (reach/frequency) governing mass marketing. Meanwhile, digital pure play companies (those who exist to provide targeted ads to individual browsers based on those browsers’ history) get 85 percent of the total market.

In a webinar last month, Borrell provided data about this “addressable” market, and while it remains a big number, it’s nowhere near the overall marketplace. Here’s a snapshot of that (provided to us by Borrell), and it shows the futility of chasing only those dollars spent with a mass marketing model.

Data provided by Borrell Associates

This graph reveals that all of these media companies today are competing for only 15 percent of the total market. In Texas, they call this “dumber than a bucket of hair,” but Borrell is much more circumspect, calling this obvious failure a product of the environment in which local media companies operate. That’s fine, but shallow industry thinking is never created by “the devil made me do it;” it’s a question of knowledge, tools, and the intelligence on how to proceed.

Many years ago — before I went to work for AR&D in 2006 — I was invited to make a presentation to a media group in Tampa. Sweeping changes were just beginning to impact their business, and they wanted a summary of those changes, so they could figure out what to do. At the end of my session, I was asked a question that completely altered my focus on “the problem” they faced. “This is all great, Terry,” the top dog said, “but where’s the money?” I didn’t have a very good answer for them, so I spent the next 10 years studying the question. The conclusion I reached early on was that if these companies continued to proceed with only mass marketing as their model, they would soon fade from relevance altogether.

So, to me, the issue wasn’t about content, because while media content was certainly being disrupted, the blow to their business model was the only one that really mattered. Nobody listened, in part because these companies are run by mostly older men, who seek first to help themselves and their families in a comfortable retirement. Rocking the boat isn’t conducive to that end, and this is another part of Gordon’s “environment” that contributes to making foolish decisions at the top.

On another occasion, I was making a presentation to the top managers of an east coast media company. Among the strategies I recommended was to get into the local search business. The owner of the privately‐held company was present, and he asked me, “You really want me to compete against Google?” I said, “Of course. Google is competing against you.” The company tried a couple of things I recommended, but their need to move every innovation into their mass media business model proved me right.

I simply couldn’t convince anybody that targeting individual browsers in the community was the Holy Grail of digital advertising and abdicating this to the pure plays was corporate malfeasance. At core, the problem begins with executives believing they’re in the news business. They’re not. They’re in the advertising business, and that’s where their focus should be.

And, here’s the most chilling aspect of this: local media companies are unable to see the impact the disruption to advertising is having on the local communities they serve. Here’s another image from Borrell’s addressable market presentation:

85% of digital advertising money that originates in the community goes to pure play internet companies. That money leaves the market forever. These companies pay no local taxes, employ no local people, contribute to nobody’s community chest, and are a net drain on the economic well‐being of the community. This money drain is staggering compared to what local media companies are getting, and it shows no sign of a reversal any time soon.

Finally, I had a telephone conversation once with a guy from an ad exchange about the possibility of partnering with local media companies. In what was an embarrassing reality, this sales executive told me, “We don’t need to partner with anybody, Terry, because we already have access to 100% of the browsers in any market anyway.” 

You can ask Borrell about all of this for yourselves at his annual Local Online Advertising Conference March 11–12 in New York.

If I owned a local business, I certainly would want my money to go where it’s the most efficient and effective for growth, and all the evidence loudly screams that targeting local browsers is the way to go. The sales pitch of the account exec representing my favorite TV station seems shallow and archaic in comparison. There are no secrets that media salespeople can manipulate to their advantage anymore, and maybe that’s the real problem.

Regardless, managers who wince as if I’m calling their baby “ugly” have only themselves to blame, because the things I preached back then have certainly all come to pass. It ain’t rocket science, folks, and here’s a final prophecy for consideration. Either local media companies band together to attack the problem at the local level, or there will only be room for one “winner” in each market in the not‐so‐distant future.