The Press is Killing Democracy

CBS Sunday Evening Newscast reveals an example of by-passing the truth in favor of “independence.”

Let’s review a couple of important truths about our current culture and the shift to the postmodern era of Western Civilization.

In 1990, Historian Chris Lasch published his revelatory essay “The Lost Art of Political Argument.” Lasch wrote that we could track the decline in participation in the political process in America with the rise of the professionalization of the press. He further argued that the idea of objectivity originated to provide a sterile environment within which to plant advertising and its more destructive cousin, public relations. The public is increasingly aware of how they are manipulated by these two forces, and the internet is providing them with something to do about it.

Enter J.D. Lasica with his book “Darknet” and Dan Gillmor’s “We, The Media,” both of which described the personal media revolution taking place all around us. As surely as postmodernism is the age of participation, people in the new era would be making their own media to not only inform but entertain each other. Look what’s happened since. A pandemic hits, people lose jobs, people have a year off with stimulus and unemployment payments, which in many cases supercharged the rise of everything from YouTube to Instagram to OnlyFriends, Patreon and beyond. We actually now have an employment problem, because so many people have found better and freer ways to make ends meet. Even the term “job” has a different meaning today than it did back in the Modern Era.

These two important factors have worked together to put us in the precarious position we find ourselves today with the press, because the press doesn’t know how to respond. Does it cling to the idea of objectivity or does it opt for a more truthful way to share what’s happening in the world. Even old, tried and true methods don’t hold up anymore, and very smart but dangerous thinking has crept into the public discussion. However, based on what you read, hear, and see these days, you’d really never know it. It’s just the same‑o, same‑o “bothsideism” (as Jay Rosen calls it). It’s still still the AUTOMATIC default for the press, and it’s killing the pursuit of truth in order to stay free of the appearance of political labels. Chris Lasch is rolling over in his grave.

Here’s a current example. On the Sunday night CBS Evening News broadcast, reporter Debra Alfarone did a live shot from Washington that contained new polling on the state of the Republican Party. CBS News found that 80% of Republicans approved of removing Liz Cheney from GOP leadership on Capitol Hill. Ms. Alfarone said that Cheney is now “…paying the price for saying she would not enable or spread President Trump’s destructive lies — that’s her quote — that the 2020 election was stolen.”

The “that’s her quote” places Trump’s lies on an even playing field with those who embrace the truth that Donald Trump LOST the election and that Joe Biden is the real President. In other words, it’s presented as merely Liz Cheney’s opinion, which must be weighed against all the other opinions. Bullshit! Here, once again, the press is trying to present this as a standard, both sides have different points of view, which is surely a fallacy of immense proportions. The danger of Donald Trump’s lies is self-evident. Do we really need to play the old “objectivity” game with such a group? It’s a false balance, because one side isn’t sharing the truth.

Pursuit of the truth should be the objective of the press in the Postmodern Era, because the last century has been a heyday for the extreme wealthy manipulating everybody else with the sole purpose of deepening their own pockets.

What Ms. Alfarone should have said was “Liz Cheney is now suffering for being a truth-teller in the matter of Donald Trump’s ridiculous claims that the election was stolen from him.”

See the difference? One is an open question that says “Did Trump actually win? There’s a difference of opinion out there.” The other asks “Why are these people so deceived as to think Trump actually won?”

I mean, it’s no wonder America is confused right now. But, Terry, isn’t that taking the side of the Democrats? Are you serious? It’s called taking a stand for truth, just as Liz Cheney has done with her own people. Why is the press so extraordinarily afraid of simply seeing right and wrong? “Harrumph, well, Terry, it’s complicated.” No, it’s not.

This bothsideism delegitimizes so-called legitimate news organizations, and here’s the rub: the public knows it. To perform in such a way is to validate a fallacy, and how can that possibly be justified in furtherance of the truth? If it’s a lie, SAY SO! Is it dangerous? Absolutely!

But the Republicans will use it to add to their liberal media allegations! However, that is not of sufficient weight to justify falling back on “we just report about the differences.” What good is journalism if it is not married to the truth? It’s worse than useless; it’s destroying our culture, and let me add that the future absolutely does not align with bothsideism or false equivalencies.

Jay Rosen is equally disturbed by this and has been a strong advocate for new thinking. He told me via email, however, that “Both sides thinking and practices will never die. It’s the zero degree or most basic way to demo that you’re news, not politics.” That fear is a holdover from a prior age, and it’s being successfully used to manipulate us all today. The press is so concerned with maintaining the institution it represents that it has no defense against the forces of change in our world.

The destiny of the objective press is to die. Transparency is taking its place, and there are too many of us out here who choose not to tolerate being fed such nonsense from an earlier era.

Liz Cheney’s quote is truth and doesn’t need any balance.

Dear Parents and Grandparents

The Scroggins Family of St. Louis

I want to speak to you here as a person with a peculiar study focus. I don’t know why or how, but I’m able to see what appears obvious to me, the birth and growth of the Postmodern Era in human history. Modernity with its logical systems focus has painted itself into a corner and must give way to the new. As modernity was birthed in the printing press, postmodernity was conceived and delivered from the womb of the web. I do not speak of philosophical postmodernism, but rather the changing of the eras in history. The mantra of modernity is “I think and reason, therefore I understand” but it has changed to “I participate, therefore I understand.”

Are you with me?

We must be able to see what’s coming in terms of the big things as this era develops further. We may not be around for the payoff that our children and grandchildren will experience, but there are ways we can equip ourselves to help them today, beginning with an acknowledgement that life is definitely changing. It’s super important for them to participate, even though we’re making this up as we go along.

We are all connected now. That means I can connect directly and sideways with everybody else or just a select few. This is something completely new, and we can’t even image how much life on earth is being and will be changed as a result.

First, a warning. You either do this for them, or somebody else — with less concern for their individuality — will do it for them, and this is not a best practice for tomorrow.

Even to the young man, let’s say, who’s only interested in working in the trades, either for somebody or as an independent contractor, even he will sink or swim on his ability to use the network effectively. It’s the way of future competition, and nobody will be exempt.

Our digital identities will actually be more important than what we know under the sun, and this is where we can help our progeny.

  • Equip them before they are even able to help themselves. Buy domains. Secure usernames. Sit with them and help them develop their online IDs. If they don’t control their own brands, someone else will do it for them.
  • Show them the dangers, but don’t dwell on it, for it’s their creativity that needs tapping more than their security needs protecting.
  • Teach them about links and how everything is linked together. Links are the currency of the web, and you need to teach them why. These links teach a practical lesson in deconstructionism, something that is of enormous value in helping our children shape their lives. It must be taught early and often.
  • Do not discourage their involvement in video games, because they teach mental and manual dexterity and mind-to-finger channeling, skills they will likely need downstream.
  • Teach them to avoid being herded into traps by the lust of their own eyes.
  • Buy a generator for your home, so you can teach the value of being prepared for anything.
  • Show them that their attention is the only real scarcity in the commerce that’s being brought into existence, and as Kevin Kelly says, “We should be paid for it.” This means that postmodern advertising will seek out customers and pay them to watch their ads. The logic of this is solid, but feathers will be ruffled in the process of its development.
  • Teach them to back-up their work before they go to bed at night. Use a form of a server in your home that can serve as storage and back-up for everything.
  • Put searchable books in your digital library, including everything they’ll need for school and the interests that they display.
  • Get them private lessons in Google/YouTube, coding, Photoshop, WordPress, and social media. There are people in your community who will do this on any level you wish.
  • Teach them to think of school as a place where they can practice their branding, to not be swayed by eyes that are being exposed to cultural fads and stereotypes. Just keep them pressing forwards.
  • Show them that the more dependent we become on electricity, the more vulnerable are EMP weapons. Personal protection against such will be a thriving business downstream. Think “shielding” or similar responses.
  • Teach them all you can about human nature, and how it doesn’t change in the digital world. Teach them to study the whys of human nature, which will open the door to better understanding motive. A certain degree of cynicism is healthy, because they will certainly be exposed to propaganda in their search for truth. Teach them discernment.
  • Personal branding belongs to each and every person on the block, and it’s perhaps the most important subject to learn while growing up.
  • Do not forsake teaching them grammar and good English, for technology is still learning nuance.
  • Teach them the true nature of God, for God is most certainly One who participates with us in our everyday lives and provides an internal governor for our behavior.

No matter how much modernist people insist that IRL is better than URL, we’re learning in the 21st-Century that the efficiencies of URL render much of life to be wasteful. Take the current kerfuffle over the Post Office and mail-in ballots. Do you honestly think we can’t eventually create a secure voting system online? The web may lose some of its anonymity, but would that really be all that bad?

I see the day when the opportunities of the web vastly outweigh concerns from our old ways of doing things. We will listen to the naysayers and thank them for their concern, but we must never put them in charge.

Modernity is done; long live the Age of Participation.

Are You (and your kids) TV Ready?

The seminal marketing (see Doc’s comment below) book for the digital age was The Cluetrain Manifesto, first published in 1999. The first thesis was “Markets are conversations,” and I immediately sensed that this line of thinking would become my own, for I couldn’t argue with the book’s wisdom. It is still highly relevant today, especially if you’re lacking some foundational thinking about the web. It’s available for free here.

Dan Gillmor’s “We the Media” in 2004 and J.D. Lasica’s “Darknet: Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation” in 2005 were the first two books to generally describe the disruption of personal media. J.D., in fact, coined the phrase “personal media revolution” to tag what was about to descend upon our culture. And, oh boy, has it ever! I was so convinced of its certainty, that I dedicated many years to study it and report back to television clients about the enormity of it all.

Nobody cared. They were making too much money doing things the old way, and that was professional media’s great downfall. These executives could only see as far as their business model could carry them. They were married to one-to-many marketing and too blind to even see the disruption of targeting individual browsers. Online, I would tell them, afforded two-way advertising wherein the ad was served to eyeballs, but the server received information back from the ad. It was obvious to some of us that the pros were doomed.

When I was teaching college students, they’d ask, for example, what’s the best way to get to be a sportscaster? My response was always, “Just BE a sportscaster. Establish your brand. Blossom where you’re planted. You don’t need the institution to ‘do’ sports, not when you can do it on your own.”

The web loathes filters and their roadblocks, which it views as inefficient annoyances that serve no useful purpose. The web’s basic function is to connect people in a 3‑dimensional media form. It can be one-to-many, many-to-one, and most importantly, many to many, thus turning every browser into a form of media company itself, including the people formerly known as the advertisers.

The personal media revolution has advanced so far today (and it’s got a long, long way to go yet) that everyday people have been able to exploit the free time granted them through the coronavirus to explore beyond surfing or connecting via social media. No institution has been more impacted that adult entertainment. Yup, that’s right; good old porn. For the uneducated, Only Fans and many other similar sites offer software that enables anybody to become a porn star and get paid directly by the audiences they “serve.” This same concept is giving new light to each of the arts, and this is a good thing for our culture.

While this is highly chaotic to many other institutions of the West (and I could go on), but the aspect of this that needs the most discussion is how TV itself is being reinvented. The very definition of the TV is changing. In the beginning, it was reserved for broadcasters only. As each new form of video delivery appeared on the scene, they, too, were tagged (by the disruptors) as “TV.”

And today, YouTube is exploding with fresh content posted by this personal media revolution, and they are called “TV.” In the world of Reality TV, the vast majority of contestants are seasoned TV performers before they set foot on the set. In truth, those who apply to be on reality shows see the experience as a way to dramatically increase their individual influence on social media as experienced TV performers.

On the show Married at First Sight (MAFS), this same thinking applies, although this show can involve some very unusual contestants. Take Henry, of Henry and Christina, one of the couples married at first sight in the current season. Henry is, well, a little quirky with quite an awful set of parents who doubtless contributed to his lack of social skills. Reddit, that online gathering of talkative people with opinions who enjoy the company of others of a similar ilk, has a whole section on MAFS.

One Redditor (as they’re called) who goes by NoWayJeFe, had this to say about Henry: “Decent guy just not TV ready.” It would seem being “TV ready” is a prerequisite for appearing on these sorts of shows, but it speaks volumes about where we are as a society. It would seem that from the earliest years, kids are now learning how to be “TV ready” from the time they face their first cameras and microphones, even if it’s just an iPad.

There’s the Barbie TV News Team dolls, where little girls can pretend to be the real thing. Take a quick look at YouTube’s kids channels, and you’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer number of kids playing TV. It’s almost a rite of passage these days, and in so doing, these kids and teens are learning what we all have known for a long time in the world of television news: it’s just not all that hard to do. Sorry if I’m toe-stepping here, but it’s just much, much easier than all the “broadcast” schools would have us believe. I mean, where’s the money for an industry that can be easily duplicated with an iPhone?

Think TV has shot its wad in 2020? Think again, because there are no rules to these youngsters as they invent their own uses for the video medium. They start by copying but soon move to innovating. Those who pretend its rocket science are slowly going to fade into the setting sun.

To parents and grandparents, are your kids TV ready? If not, that would be a great investment for their future. Get them what they need to make media. Buy usernames or obtain them for free on the various sites that require them. They will fight their own media wars downstream, and those who’ve been properly prepared will have a head start.

But what do I know, right? We’ll see. Maybe I won’t see how far it goes, but you certainly may. And, those kids of yours will be the ones who’ll need these skills the most.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Hey local TV. This remains a viable business opportunity. You balked at it all those years ago, but it’s still there. Who better to teach local people to be TV ready than local TV?)

Another media disruption ahead

caitlindeweyCaitlin Dewey is a canary in the coal mine of the web, and she’s singing a warning to everyone. I sense what she’s saying, and I’ll bet you do, too. Profit through disruptive advertising and the damned reliance on platforms are slowly sucking the air out of our grand experiment in connectivity.

Caitlin is the digital culture critic for The Washington Post and one of the hippest web denizens around. She’s a brilliant and funny writer and also produces a weekly must-read newsletter (Links I Would Gchat You if We Were Friends) that I’ve been enjoying from the beginning. When she speaks, we need to listen, and here’s a part of what she wrote this week:

Friends, I am homeless. Not physically. I mean this in a virtual sense. I *write* about Internet culture, and I feel like I have no home base on the web. I tweeted about this last week in the context of Twitter, which I haven’t been on too much since. (Trust me, when you’re off Twitter, you miss n‑o-t-h-i-n‑g of significance.) But it also applies to Facebook, which I’ve never been too active on because it creeps me out. And Instagram, which I’ve tired of since the ads hit my account. Even Pinterest, which I unironically love and have long considered a form of relaxation on par with watching HGTV, is drowning in bad ads and “promoted” pins and other crap that ruins it for me.

I dunno, guys — am I getting old? Am I the world’s least-suited Internet writer? There has to be a place for people like me, but maybe it’s not yet on “THE CYBER.” I like Snapchat alright. Reddit is good. Idk, I have Goodreads? Like are the mainstream social networks all terrible now, or is this just me?!

It’s not just Caitlin, and it’s interesting that she’s seeing this and writing about it today, for the canary-in-the-coal-mine analogy is accurate. The Evolving User Paradigm is a relentless taskmaster that sits still for no one. Change is a constant online, but advertising based in the modernist mindset requires controllable equilibrium, and therein lies the rub. Closed platforms are required for what’s viewed as “success,” but as we learned as far back as AOL, they cannot sustain user interest forever. Chaos will win everytime when web denizens grow beyond the highly managed boundaries of platforms. Caitlin Dewey isn’t unique; she’s just way ahead of the curve in terms of use and understanding of the internet. Others will get there, too, and eventually everybody.

The first round of digital media innovation, which has created the commercial web that Caitlin is lamenting, is on the verge of collapsing, because the innovators have given away possibility in the name of old fashioned profit, and who could blame them? The problem is that the inevitable end of pouring new wine into old wineskins is explosive ruin, and that’s what’s been happening over the last twenty years.

Madison Avenue knows only mass marketing, which relies on basically two strategies:

  • Accompany content, which is the method of operation for print media.
  • Interrupt content, which is the method of operation for broadcasting (and increasingly the web).

So despite elaborate and sophisticated data used to create highly efficient targeting, advertisers still fall back on these two strategies, and it’s what’s destroying the experience to which Caitlin refers. Both are clumsy and the enemy of participation, and neither will sustain the status quo for long. It’s also what creates the addiction to platforms, a.k.a. apps, like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — she calls them the “mainstream social networks.” THE network can do so much better, and that will be the next level of innovation.

davewinerBlogging’s most original thinker Dave Winer has already figured out ways to build simple open source outliners and other tools that stand alone in a browser, and I always pay attention to Dave. Moreover, Dave is seeing the same thing Caitlin is suggesting, which adds to the weight of the prophecy above;

When Jerry (Garcia) died in 1995, I wrote:

Like the big tree that fell last March, the death of a huge human being like Jerry Garcia frees up a huge amount of space. Once there was a tree, now there are seedlings. After the sadness, there will be huge creativity.

Same would probably be true if Facebook ever relented and stopped stifling the web and embraced it instead. Then the growth could flow through them instead of around them. Ultimately I think the web will go on, treating Facebook like the outage that it has chosen to be.

In a comment to this post on Facebook, Dave also stated: “I have a BAD FEELING about Facebook because they are being such bad net citizens.”

My friends, the promise of a horizontal society available via the network will survive attempts to wrestle its chaotic nature to the capitalist ground. Investing in such attempts may produce results for a season, but none will be lasting, especially when growth is a necessary element of such. It’s not like IRL, where control is obtained from the top-down, and I’ll continue to keep my eyes on the visionaries of our time.

Where they inject reality and clueless people with money piss all over it, get your popcorn ready, because the show’s about to begin.

FBI Director Says Cameras Increase Crime

Let’s review: One of the “sure bets” for the future is the continuing cultural disruption of what Jay Rosen tagged “The Great Horizontal” — everyday people being connected and able to communicate as media companies across-the-bottom of culture. Every top-to-bottom institution of the West will be disrupted, assuming net neutrality continues to be the law of the land. Of course, the predictable reaction to disruption is to defend, and we’re seeing this in ways big and small.

As I recently wrote, for example, the Israeli narrative machine is finding it harder to maintain hegemony in the face of citizen videos, like this one, that show a brutal and mistaken arrest.

FBI Director James Comey

FBI Director James Comey

Last week, during a forum at the University of Chicago Law School, FBI Director James Comey actually said that police anxiety over ever-present cellphone cameras and viral videos partly explains why violent crime has risen in several large U.S. cities. According to CBS News, Comey said it has negatively impacted relations between police and citizens.

Ya think?

“I don’t know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year, and that wind is surely changing behavior,” Comey said.

He added that some of the behavioral change in police officers has been for the good “as we continue to have important discussions about police conduct and de-escalation and the use of deadly force.”

Comey likened the strain between law enforcement and local communities to two lines diverging, saying repeatedly that authorities must continue to work at improving their relationships with citizens. But he added: “I actually feel the lines continuing to arc away from each other, incident by incident, video by video.”

We’ll all just have to adapt, because this is only going to get worse for institutions that depend on information control in order to function. We’re going to require tort reform of some sort to deal with the liability issues that will arise, but mostly, we’re just going to have to function as better citizens, all of us.

We’re also going to be seeing a lot of “what if” stories in the press from various players who have a lot of lose in flow of information at the bottom. The institution of medicine, for example, will fight hard to keep others from what they will call the “practice of medicine” along the bottom, which they will lobby hard to protect. Think of tools, for example, that have the best interests of the patients in mind — like the sharing of individual experiences — rather than those of the institution. Third-party insurance will be impacted, because cost is such a big part of medicine.

So get yourself ready for a bumpy ride and keep the network free. The cries of Chicken Little will surely be heard, because institutions don’t know how to function absent equilibrium.

We’re going to have to learn.

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

Ateamsm“I pity the fool” is my favorite saying from the A‑Team, the 80’s NBC drama/comedy featuring a team of actors with terrific chemistry. That line is from Mr. T, but the title line comes from the leader of the A‑Team, actor George Peppard. It’s tongue-in-cheek, or sorts, because it was always used after something went terribly wrong, but the group ended up winning after all. I’m referencing it here today, because I want to share a couple of recent illustrations about my own prophecies from years past.

We’re at the dawn of the postmodern era, the age of participation (See my October 2003 essay, Participatory Journalism). While my industry, local TV, found my words fascinating, none of it made sense to them. I kept studying, analyzing and writing, but wherever I went to speak, people I was desperate to reach simply couldn’t grasp the concepts. Today, however, I can see things I predicted coming to pass, which both encourages me and makes me sad. “If only” is a phrase with much sorrow for someone who cares.

I live in Huntsville, Alabama, and while I once was the news director at WAAY-TV, my favorite TV news source is WHNT/News19. We got 8 inches of snow Wednesday and Wednesday night, so Thursday, the entire community was shut down. It was a very special snow day for families across the Tennessee Valley, and WHNT-TV led their evening news with clips and photos sent to them by average people (and some REALLY talented). In truth, the programs were filled with such stuff, so the reality was that everyday people produced the news that was on the TV station. This is what I’ve meant by the “Age of Participation.” Everybody is a media company today. Every. Body. And Jay Rosen’s “Great Horizontal” is pumping out content every hour of every day. What was “the news” yesterday here in Huntsville? Grown-ups and kids playing in the snow. The sun came out. It got up to 42 degrees. Roads cleared quickly. And through it all, everybody (well, nearly everybody) had the day off.

the dress

Then, there’s the story being featured nearly everywhere of “the dress” that’s gone viral. What color is it anyway? Is it blue and black or is it white and gold? It began as a question posed by the everyday owner of the dress on Tumblr and spread like wildfire after a Scottish entertainer passed it along. Even major celebrities got in on the act, people like Taylor Swift and, of course, Kim Kardashian. The mystery was solved by another everyday guy who simply tilted the screen of his laptop back and forth. Science then got in on the act, with Wired calling it an optical illusion.

The point is that “the news” is increasingly created and reported by you and me. Meanwhile, the debate over “real” journalism marches on, something I would suggest is a pretty serious waste of time. I mean, what IS “real journalism” anyway? The professionalization of the press is less than a hundred years old, and it has led to the cultural mess we have today, because “the pros” covet celebrity (I mean, CBS led the friggin’ Evening News with Bob Simon’s death — led the news with it! Really!).

We’ve lost our way, folks, but I trust the people to eventually find a way to keep each other informed about what’s important. The only issue is access, but that, too, has become a part of the Age of Participation.

The people formerly known as “the audience” are a whole lot smarter than we ever thought.