Push. Dig. Push. Dig.

AP Photo

Sometimes, events in media are so bizarre that all you can do is just laugh.

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University (a great school) has been given a $1.9 million grant from the Knight Foundation “that will provide funding over three years to fund initiatives aimed at ensuring TV news companies remain competitive in broadcast and digital storytelling.” The AP says the money will be used to “research the future of television news.”

Okay.

The story reports that part of the grant will be used to develop “an online hub where newsrooms can see the latest strategies their counterparts elsewhere are trying out.”

“The best way I can describe it is I think it’s going to be a resource where someone can come to this site from anywhere and get a sense of what new ideas are floating around in space, what works and what doesn’t,” said Cronkite Associate Dean Mark Lodato.

The school also plans to become a testing ground for improved local news content and dissemination.

“In an academic space like ASU, you can fail and understand the progress. It’s very hard to do that in a corporate environment when corporate dollars and people’s jobs are at risk,” Lodato said.

This reminds me of the failed “Newspaper Next” project by the American Press Institute over 10 years ago. One thing we learned back then is that it’s pure foolishness to ask the people digging the hole you’re in to come up with a solution to the hole. It’s impossible. They can’t stop digging, and that means every solution involves some form of digging. Dig. Dig. Dig. The money will be used to make sure that TV remains competitive in “broadcast and digital storytelling,” as if that’s a problem. Dig. Dig. Dig. Moreover, the hole doesn’t have anything to do with content in the first place; it’s about paradigm shifts in advertising, so why not study that? Our world today is all about pull strategies, because the devices we’re using to consume content these days are too personal to willingly permit pushing. Again, you can’t ask people pushing to come up with something different, because all they know is push. Push. Dig. Push. Dig. You get the idea.

And, I love how Dean Lodato has already pronounced failure. No need to say it after-the-fact if you admit it up front. Moreover, there’s no more competitive business in all the world than local television news, and if you think stations will drop their pants and reveal their “new ideas,” you’re effing nuts. Besides, that’s what consultants do, right? No, I’m not talking about dropping pants.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve become a total cynic when it comes to this stuff, but I view this as a colossal waste of time, attention, and resources. Besides, the industry doesn’t care. They’re far too busy licking their chops over the $8 billion that’s projected to be spent with them during this year’s mid-term elections. Most of that will likely go straight to the bottom line regardless of whether the fundamentals justify the candidate spending. Therefore, from a corporate perspective – is there really any other that matters? – there’s no problem.

And so it goes.

In defense of (some) Trump supporters

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump yell at reporters as they arrive for a campaign rally, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

You may think me nuts, but there are a few things we need to know in order to better understand the cultural complaints of the people who put Donald Trump into office in 2016. Democrats especially need to consider these five points, for the stakes in November couldn’t be higher. I know there’s a lot of craziness within Trump’s coalition (I wrote a book about part of it), but I’m talking about a group of people who had fair reason to want a change and for their voice to be heard. These people cannot simply be dismissed as ignorant, racist, xenophobic, extremist, or just plain wrong. It’s useful to think of their vote as a reaction to culture and not one driven by a grand manipulator, for each of these things really does have reasonable, fair, and debatable opposition.

  1. Instead of getting caught up in argumentative discourse about America being a Christian nation, why not instead examine the matter of a unilateral shift from BC/AD to BCE/CE? This is a serious matter, for heartland people – most of them Christian – weren’t consulted when academia decided that we’d be better served as a people by removing the inconvenient history of Christianity’s influence on the basic reference to historical eras. To these honest, well-intentioned, and hard-working people, it’s an attempt to remove their influence in the matters of the day by altering history books.
  2. To white people in middle America, the “Urban” culture – with its music, entertainment, and use of foul language – triggers their fear of the unknown. So foreign is so-called “Gangsta Rap,” for example, that it assaults their sensibilities, and the Top-40 is increasingly unrecognizable to them. This is a concern, because music and the arts are gateway drugs to the teenage mind, and when popularity dictates emulation, parents react. “Motherfucker,” George Carlin taught us, is a word of aggression, and white parents raised on modesty and gentleness aren’t likely to be amused. This is not per se racism – at least I don’t think it is – although it may feel that way to the creators of the media, who, if they were honest, would likely admit they aren’t really targeting this particular audience in the first place.
  3. To the slower-paced, solid foundation, self-sufficient people of the heartland, the world of political correctness is illogical and unnecessarily disruptive. The idea that the speaker is responsible for offending the listener and therefore must control her language or provide “trigger warnings” is foolish, because it seems to run in only one direction. Everyone else can be offended, it seems, except them, and this smacks of outside manipulation. Moreover, they’re not especially fond of paying a fortune to send their children away to institutions of higher learning where the schools cow-tow to the demands of students wanting “safe” spaces.
  4. A core value of heartland folks is that one must play the game of life with the hand we are dealt, like all of nature must. This is what mystifies so many when it comes to sexual relations, sexual preferences, and especially decisions by others to change their sexual assignment. Again, they look to their history and to nature and feel their wisdom in such matters is ridiculed without justification and that the culture is moving away from them without their consent. They don’t so much mind this for others, but they fear its presence may one day find its way into their own homes. Frankly, it’s okay for them to feel terrified.
  5. Finally, in all cultural matters, heartlanders feel they are automatically and pejoratively labeled intolerant unless they give their tacit approval to the constant and rapid changes coming from the progressive community. This is used as a hammer to bludgeon them into acceptance. It’s one thing, they feel, to argue over such extreme views but another entirely to simply initiate change unilaterally. To them, this leaves the bitter taste of conspiracy, and as long as this is the method used by people wanting change, they will withhold their blessing until given the chance of legitimate participation in the discussion.

We are all often fooled by the assumptions we make, and there’s a real opportunity here to accept our differences and talk about compromises. It’s always been and always will be a two-way street, although Trump’s top negotiation method, we’re learning, is to strip his opponents of their resources in order to get exactly what he wants and only what he wants. Just ask the Palestinians.

While I identify more with the progressive side of culture, I think it’s a great sickness to view life as either/or, black and white, all or nothing, right or wrong, etc. This is the problem with labels and pigeon holes, and it’s something “we the people” must resist as we embrace postmodern living. It’s beyond foolish; it’s just plain stupid to look at only extremes when assessing relationships. It’s lazy, sloppy thinking, and it puts us on a playing field where defense is the only weapon.

We can do better than that. We simply must, because what other choice do we have? Really?

The Religion of Conservative News

I met a woman this year who has the gift of personal prophecy. By that I mean that she’s genuinely very sensitive and able to offer wisdom and encouragement to people who benefit deeply from her words. We can argue over whether this is a real spiritual gift or whether she’s just good at reading people, but to me, it doesn’t matter, for both are the same thing. There’s no doubt that certain fundamentalists have taken this idea and used it for foolishness, but as a sensitive person myself, I can confirm that “reading” others isn’t a form of magic, nor is it all that unique. One can’t brag of specialness for self-centered purposes when such insight is spread around to many.

Nevertheless, a lot of gifted people simply keep their mouths shut, and this woman is a bit different in that sense. Rather than sharing publicly, however, she usually shares her thoughts only with the person to whom they’re intended. I like that. There’s a genuineness to it, and I respect her for that.

She’s very much a loving Christian and often provides uplifting posts on Facebook, but she also has a significant blindspot. She spreads false information about politics based on fake news sources that she consumes with regularity. When I pointed out to her recently that she was actually “bearing false witness” on one particular piece of delicious clickbait, she got angry and basically told me to keep my mouth shut. Fair enough, although I regrettably have no filter when it comes to such, so I’ve been known to really piss people off. I used to care, but I guess I just don’t anymore.

She actually pulled the post after a few days, and I appreciate that. We really don’t need stuff like that influencing others.

This woman is part of a large group of conservative Christians who struggle with my book, The Gospel of Self, How Jesus Joined The GOP, because they don’t like my position on so-called conservative news. I believe it’s propaganda, and I should know, since I was one of the people who helped create it. A full fifteen years before Fox News, there was The 700 Club and CBN News. We wrote the book on conservative propaganda as news, so any argument that attempts to validate it as real news isn’t really worth having. It’s a chasing of the wind, but it does reveal how far off the mark many of these Evangelicals have drifted. They honestly believe that the mainstream press openly supports a liberal agenda for the country and is their arch enemy in the flesh. They seem incapable of reason when it comes to certain things, and this is one of them.

Kaitlyn Scheiss

Some observers are beginning to see the ritual of nightly consuming Fox News as a solemn rite of worship, an idolatry so deceptive that it’s impacted most of Evangelical Christianity. Dallas Theological Seminary graduate student Kaitlyn Schiess offered such insight in an excellent New York Times article, How to Escape From Roy Moore’s Evangelicalism. It came in a discussion of Evangelicals leaping to the defense of Roy Moore, despite the nature and degree of his history with young girls and allegations of sexual contact.

To Ms. Schiess, this is one more sign that a new ritual has superseded Sunday worship and weeknight Bible studies: a profane devotional practice, with immense power to shape evangelicals’ beliefs. This “liturgy” is the nightly consumption of conservative cable news. Liberals love to complain about conservatives’ steady diet of misinformation through partisan media, but Ms. Schiess’s complaint is more profound: Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson aren’t just purveyors of distorted news, but high priests of a false religion.

“The reason Fox News is so formative is that it’s this repetitive, almost ritualistic thing that people do every night,” Ms. Schiess told me. “It forms in them particular fears and desires, an idea of America. This is convincing on a less than logical level, and the church is not communicating to them in that same way.”

This is a brilliant deduction, and I can verify that the devotion expressed by people such as my friend above borders on brainwashing, because it oversteps facts, truth, and logical thinking en route to its fallacious conclusions. Why not view it as a form of worship? After all, that’s what we did at The 700 Club. Here was a Christian talk show featuring Christian guests, Christian themes, and Christian prayers that was a bonafide substitution for church in the early days of the televangelist movement. When we began to weave news coverage into the mix, there was little question in our presentation that it was as much a part of being a Christian as prayer. When Fox News came into being in 1996, conservatives had already been nurtured and convinced of its necessity and its vision. We did that, and the worse thing we did was to believe our own hype. Pat Robertson is so lost today that he can’t separate the faith from his politics, and he’s still among the top influencers when it comes to the agenda of Evangelicals and the Republican Party.

God is judging this version of the church today, and I’m beginning to hear arguments to this effect from voices other than my own. We need to repent and turn from this wickedness, or the church has little hope for tomorrow. We steadfastly blame others – like those dirty liberals – for the sad state of our nation and the world today, when we should be examining our own hearts.

Ever evangelizing, we shake our fists up at those walking by, as we travel along the flow of the gutter toward the awaiting sewer. “Curse you, World,” is our cry. “You’re all going to hellllllllllllllll.”

The Winds of Change

Hello, friends. I feel a familiar tug in the wake of recent dealings with The Huffington Post, and I need to take a step back and reconsider everything regarding my mission in Life as I continue to get older. I’ve got another book in the works, and perhaps that’s where my attention needs to be right now. I’m tired of being broke, and the book that I’ve dedicated my life to over the past couple of years (The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined The GOP)  isn’t selling like I thought it might. But this latest business with the online publication I’d hoped would help has left me a bit cynical and very disappointed

I’ve enjoyed commenting on current events for HuffPost, but this episode affirms my belief that our society has no real wish to deal with its problems, because we are complicit in their continuation, even to the point of rooting for them. My piece on Harvey Weinstein was rejected due to “the assumption of pathology and the discussion of victims’ responses and clothing choices, among other things.” This is, of course, their right and perhaps even their duty, but it tells me that despite my experience on the issue, my opinion simply doesn’t matter. Offered the confessions of a reformed serial sexual predator, the editors couldn’t bring themselves to consider another perspective in the matter. Meanwhile, I’ve read countless expert and non-expert opinions on Weinstein, all of which make assumptions of pathology or character defects. This is similar to responses I’ve received regarding articles about Christianity that I’ve produced, so I’m thinking that perhaps it’s time to just move along. One of the great tests of leadership is to turn around and see if anybody’s following. Just like what happened in media circles, with religion and feminism, there’s too much at stake to risk going off-road with sacred cows. And so, I need to back away – at least for a bit – and give some thought to where I go from here.

I’ll continue promoting my book, because I still believe it’s an important read in the age of Trump. I got an invitation to participate in a major book event in Tucson in March, and that’ll be a lot of fun.

I’ll publish here the article that was rejected by the folks at The Huffington Post and let you be the judge. It took guts to step out and admit what I did in that piece, but I really thought it would help advance the discussion. I know where Harvey Weinstein is getting treatment, and I know who is helping him. I’ve taken very similar steps, but apparently that’s of no consequence.

We’ll see.

When “great economic news” isn’t

(AP Photo/LM Otero)

I’m not sure why I feel so compelled to make this post other than to document to my own satisfaction the outrageousness of Donald Trump’s complaint that the mass media is ignoring “the great economic news” since he took office. This ridiculous campaign to ping the minds of his supporters follows the pattern that I and many of my friends have expressed as honest concern for America. It’s the responsibility of every citizen to keep themselves informed, and I guess that’s what I’m trying to do here.

So, with apologies for burying the lede, let’s begin with the president’s assertions and his evidence.

The Dow and the Nasdaq are up since January. Well, yes, but they’ve been trending up for many years (since the collapse in 2008 corrected by Trump nemesis, Barack Obama).

According to Mother Jones, employment for the “drilling and energy sectors” has been flat since Trump took over, and “the S&P 500 Energy Sector has been dropping all year and is well below its Election Day level.”

600,000 new jobs? This is highly misleading, but who cares, right? Newsweek did some necessary research: “So far in 2017, the U.S. economy has added an average of 178,000 jobs per month—slightly lower than the 2016 average of 187,000 under the Obama administration. And Trump is currently some way short of his promise to create 25 million jobs in the next decade, or 208,333 per month.”

Unemployment has been on a downward path for many years, including when that awful Barack Obama was in office.

There are no real studies on “enthusiasm,” so even if we give that to the president, the whole glowing Twitter report is badly inflated.

What Donald Trump has accomplished with these tweets, however, is to make yet another assault on the press as “fake news” and provide talking points for followers who will gobble them up like candy. This is beyond dangerous for a free society that must rely on accurate economic forecasts to help the rest of us cope. Here’s what I mean.

The 1,000 Carrier jobs that Trump “saved” during the election were not saved at all. All will be gone by Christmas. The new coal mine that was opened in Pennsylvania was approved long before the president was even elected. According to CNN Money, “Get ready for more ‘closing sale’ signs in the windows of your local retailers.” It’s really quite dismal for retail. Malls closing. Department stores closing. Even mom & pop stores are closing. And then there’s this from CNN Tech:

Robots have already cost millions of factory jobs across the nation.

Next up could be jobs at your local stores.

 Between 6 million to 7.5 million existing jobs are at risk of being replaced over the course of the next 10 years by some form of automation, according to a new study this week from by financial services firm Cornerstone Capital Group.

That represents at least 38% of the current retail work force, which consists of 16 million workers. Retail could actually lose a greater proportion of jobs to automation than manufacturing has, according to the study.

There’s absolutely nothing about any of this that’s coming from the White House, least of all a plan on how the have-nots (you and me) will deal with this stuff. Maybe that’s what makes me so sick about the prancing Donald Trump, who is really only in this for himself and his silk stocking buddies.

Media mergers and hanging on

I need to step away from book promotion for a minute to make a comment the current state of local media. First, there’s the merger/sale this week between Sinclair Media and Tribune Media that will give Sinclair over 200 local stations in the American TV world. In that world (mass marketing/mass media), the bigger the footprint, the greater the profit, for the core competency of media companies is the ability to produce an audience for marketers. Secondly, an interesting article today in the Columbia Journalism Review about the fiscal health of Gannett and its future headlines this way: “Gannett and the last great local hope.”

Sinclair and Gannett will take their places in the halls of commerce as the last buggy whip makers for the mass media industries of television and newspapers, and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with this, there’s a much bigger problem ahead for local communities, and that is the loss of local advertising. I’ve been harping on this for so many years that I’ve grown weary of the sound of my own voice, and while the prophecies of 15 years ago are now coming to pass, the industry still doesn’t understand what’s really taking place.

The old saw about business disruptions goes like this: “If the railroads had known what business they were really in, they would have owned all the early airline companies.” The railroads were in the transportation business, not “the railroad business,” and that was their Waterloo. In like manner, media companies are in the advertising industry, not the radio, television, or newspaper industries. Follow the disruptions in advertising, and you’ll see the downfalls in local media.

But it’s even worse than you think, for the ascending advertising giants are all digital ad exchanges and ad networks. They have the ability to serve ads to any and every browser anywhere and at any time, so the collection of data about those individual browsers (you don’t need a person’s name) has been the task of anyone wishing to remain relevant in the ad space. Local media companies have simply turned away from this most important task (“It’s not our business model.”).

One of the most significant obstacles that the net overcomes is geography, and so local advertisers – who used to spend their money with all sorts of local media companies – are now spending that money outside their markets with people who can do this browser-level targeting.

Gordon Borrell

Ask Gordon Borrell about how much money – real money – is moving from businesses in your community to advertising companies outside your market. You’ll be shocked, or you won’t believe it. These outside interests pay no taxes, support no community chests, employ no local people, and support no local organizations such as youth sports and so on. The money goes straight out of your community and into their pockets. It doesn’t pass go. It doesn’t collect $200. It just strips your community of a vital part of what makes it a community in the first place.

And yet, there is silence where there ought to be cries for help, because local media companies have badly failed the communities they used to serve by assuming that one can remain an analog mass marketing vehicle in the age of digital competition – not for the content they create (which is all we talk about) – but for the money that supports the production and creation of that content.

And so Sinclair grows and Gannett hangs on, both victims of their own corporate malfeasance. One thing they will never be able to say is that they weren’t warned.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.