Trouble For The Town That NASA Built?

Northrop Grumman Facebook Ad for Huntsville

As people in North Alabama go about their daily lives, they do so without an active press watching out for their best interests. There’s no real newspaper to speak of, as Huntsville’s a part of the AL.com franchise. Huntsville is a boom town that recently captured the title of Alabama’s biggest city from Birmingham, so it stands to reason that it would support efforts to keep an eye on all that money floating around. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and so residents here tend to whistle along in the hope that their leaders aren’t (just) in it for themselves. That’s what happens absent a press that takes its job seriously.

The emperor of Huntsville is NASA, and nobody here has the courage to call a boondoggle what it is, because it puts so much food in so many mouths that it would be inappropriate to say that NASA is leading the parade completely naked. There’s been a significant disruption to the space industry in the form of reusable boosters, led by Elon Musk and the team at Space‑X. While Huntsville relies on our government to support space efforts, the private sector is advancing by giant leaps and bounds.

NASA is well aware of what’s happening, as well as those in Congress who approve or disapprove the massive funding of NASA and NASA projects. SpaceX is winning NASA contracts with increasing frequency based on a history of innovation, expertise, and outstanding performance. When SpaceX won the $2.9 billion Artemis lunar lander contract over Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, a Marshall Space Flight Center regular, Bezos sued NASA. The suit was tossed in court, and this was a bellwether event in U.S. space program history, although not publicly acknowledged in North Alabama.

NASA and Huntsville have long been the center of activity between the government and the private sector. One drive through Cummings Research Park, and you’ll see the logos of every private company involved in the U.S. space program, although many go back to the heyday of the race to space between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Huntsville is a museum for the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle programs. The Saturn‑5 that stands along the interstate is a testimony to the gargantuan effort by Werner von Braun’s Nazi rocket team that led up to it and set the U.S. on the path to outer space dominance in a changing world. The problem is that the technology has passed us by. Being married to the archaic means we cannot — dare not — do anything that might conflict with the government. NASA is tied to taxpayers, and therein lies the real problem. U.S. Senators simply cannot continue to fund such a monster forever, and its end is likely to surprise everybody here, because no one’s really reporting about it. The government has watched as NASA has shifted its most precious cargo — astronauts — to SpaceX, which has handled the responsibility with class and perfection. SpaceX has successfully landed over 100 boosters, most of them via landing platforms at sea. Think about that for a minute. Its Falcon9 program has been incredibly successful, especially as it relates to delivering cargo and people to and from the International Space Station.

But what about Huntsville? It’s all hyperbole and golly gee about the Artemis program and its Space Launch System (SLS) approved by Congress and taxpayer-funded. It makes much more sense for NASA to invest in the real future instead of one that’s built on politics and warm, fuzzy memories of days gone by. Cost overruns for SLS and its contractors (here in Huntsville) are enormous and continuous, and the handwriting on the wall is not favorable for a reliable future for the space program in Huntsville. And all of this is taking place without the watchful eyes of even the hint of a questioning press.

Absent a vibrant local press, information becomes public relations or some other form of favorable propaganda. The Huntsville Business Journal, for example, is producing a 3‑part series “Huntsville Takes the Lead to ‘Rock-it’ Back to the Moon” that goes far beyond the make-up of a simple puff piece. It’s hard propaganda that sings the praises of Huntsville’s businesses who are living off the nipple of NASA’s money. Here are just a few quotes from the series:

…Today, a new generation of space explorers is taking over. They are watching and learning and building their own bright futures right here in the Rocket City. They are the Artemis generation, who will once again lead the way as America returns to the moon, this time with the Space Launch Systems (SLS) – the most powerful rocket ever developed…

…“Currently, the SLS program has contributed $2.4 billion to Alabama’s economy; 13,000 jobs across the state; and generated more than $55 million in state and local taxes,” Mayor (Tommy) Battle said. “When you look at how much it is adding to our economy and then look at what it is adding to the world, you realize we are doing something no one else can do, that we’ve done it before, and we are doing it again…

…Home to the propulsion systems associated with the rockets we currently fly, and every successful rocket we have flown in the past, the Rocket City is once again at the heart of world-changing feats and life and death-defying technology.

Rocket scientists here in Huntsville are already working on hardware for five iterations of the Artemis Space Launch Systems (SLS), America’s next generation exploration class rocket, and the only rocket that can fly the manned Orion spacecraft safety to the moon.

Fifteen percent more power than the Saturn V, the SLS is the only exploration class vehicle capable of sending humans into deep space along with large systems that are necessary to live and work in deep space.

And none of these missions can get off earth and escape earth’s gravity field without the SLS, managed and for a large part, built here in Huntsville!…

I hope you can see the denial present in this “news.” The Marshall Space Flight Center needs a rock solid relationship with SpaceX in order to continue with the moniker “Rocket City,” because Musk and others from the private sector (who worry about things like cost instead of just dipping into tax dollars for more) are taking over everything. Likewise, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center needs “used” SpaceX props for its museum. Without those show pieces, the place is, again, a museum about the early days of space.

What does exist of a “press” here in Huntsville seems completely sold on the idea that SLS, Artemis, and the Orion lander are the future of space. Meanwhile, the open nature of SpaceX’s work gives us daily views of what’s taking place in Boca Chica, Texas and the SpaceX Starship program. NASA funds some projects, including a Starship orbit around the moon. Elon Musk, however, has his sights set on Mars and colonizing the red planet. SpaceX has yet to test its genius Starship booster and Starship combination and is waiting for an environmental impact study from the FAA (which certainly has the ears of NASA) before approving a test flight of Booster 4 and Starship 20. This system will destroy the Huntsville claim that SLS is the most powerful rocket ever developed.

Government-generated environmental concerns have kept SpaceX from testing its innovative system, and there’s talk of delays and even moving from Boca Chica to the Florida space coast. Meanwhile, Huntsville holds its breath, for this event is likely to get ALL of the global attention of space industry watchers (including Congress) and firmly place SLS in the junk bin of technological disruption.

Generally speaking, the press outside Huntsville includes skepticism about SLS, but it’s not something you’ll receive here. The bane of local media is always its relationship with local advertisers, and this is no different. Local news departments, for example, stay away from complaints about car dealers, because sales departments would have a cow!

The SpaceX vision includes fuel tankers in space, space stations, and everything else that would be necessary for humans to become an interplanetary species. And Elon Musk’s primary concerns are the outer space aspirations of countries like China, Russia, and other U.S. (business) adversaries. SpaceX gladly embraces these challenges, while NASA and Huntsville are hung up on the costly and time-consuming elements of doing it the old way. The damage to North Alabama’s economy will eventually be devastating.

The Government Accounting Office’s 2021 NASA report will be out this Spring, and it will describe even greater cost-overruns, errors, and delays in the SLS program. There’s talk of another launch delay, possibly to the summer of 2022. In the end, SLS will deliver on its promise to send Americans back to the moon, but as each month passes, Huntsville sinks deeper and deeper into the quagmire of yesterday when it comes to innovation and the future. There simply is no future in outer space without reusability, and that’s not what NASA is doing with SLS.

Behind all the public cheerleading for NASA, leadership here knows of what’s happening, and that may be the biggest story of all. Hush everybody, for as long as the emperor THINKS he’s clothed, what’s the problem?

Deconstructing Narratives

In the study of postmodernism, one is confronted with the concept of narratives — overarching and comprehensive accounts of events, experiences, and social and cultural phenomena based on an appeal to universal truth or universal values. The narrative is the story that’s presented about the event, one that legitimizes power, authority, and social customs.

Each of us in the U.S. makes assumptions about life based on some or many narratives that seem to have been set in stone and against which we have no choice but to go along. We’re in a season where skepticism is increasing, however, as more and more people discover that these things aren’t really concrete but stem from the narratives of others like the ruling class, those who have the power to force rules and hierarchies on the powerless. This growing skepticism is a frightening perspective for the status quo, who demands that the rules be followed regardless of their source. Here, the great enemy is the postmodern exercise known as deconstruction, where narratives are examined to uncover both source and path. Deconstruction is the great commoner counterweight to the status quo.

Here’s an example from my own history. In the early 1970s, I was a morning news producer and part-time Assignment Editor for WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee. I lived in the suburb of Shorewood, not very far from the campus of WTMJ, and had to be in work around 4 o’clock in the morning. My street was a one-way street that ended at a normally busy street. I needed to turn left, but there was a sign saying “No Left Turn.” There was zero traffic on the street, so I simply turned left, and one morning, a cop was watching. I got a ticket and was pretty upset about it. I can’t emphasize enough that the street was completely empty.

I did research and discovered that many years earlier, a woman pushing a baby stroller was run over by a car making a left turn at the intersection. The driver didn’t see the woman, because he was blinded by the setting sun, which was directly in his eyes. The story got a lot of attention, and so the authorities banned all left turns at the intersection. Based on that narrative, I was able to successfully argue that the circumstances at the intersection were very different in the middle of the night, and I convinced the Traffic Safety Commission to change the law from No Left Turn to No Left Turn 7am-7pm. If I hadn’t found the narrative that was used to justify the law in the first place, I would’ve had much more difficulty reaching the commissioners.

The point is it can be very valuable to know and understand the narrative behind the things we encounter around us and elsewhere. So let’s dig deeper. According to the New World Encyclopedia:

A grand narrative or metanarrative is one that claims to explain various events in history, gives meaning by connecting disperse events and phenomena by appealing to some kind of universal knowledge or schema. The term grand narratives can be applied to a wide range of thoughts which includes Marxism, religious doctrines, belief in progress, universal reason, and others.

The concept was created by Jean-François Lyotard in his work, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979). In this text, Lyotard refers to what he describes as the postmodern condition, which he characterized as increasing skepticism toward the totalizing nature of “metanarratives” or “grand narratives.”

…Many Christians believe that human nature, since the Fall (Genesis 3), is characteristically sinful, but has the possibility of redemption and experiencing eternal life in heaven; thus representing a belief in a universal rule and a telos for humankind.”

The challenge for all of us in 2021 is to recognize narratives when confronted with events — especially those political — so that we might have a chance of separating the facts from the bullshit. If we adapt to this form of understanding, we’ll see it everywhere, because every person, every business, every institution has a narrative that helps explain their language and their behavior. A personal narrative is called “agency,” the freedom I have to present myself to the world in any way that feels right to me. The problem, of course, is that we’re all human beings, and agency narratives can easily slip into selfishness, which is a serious problem for those who are trying to exercise love in their lives.

MAGA Christianity, for example, is narrative, and that’s exactly why it’s so dangerous. Universal plausibility, not fact, is what determines the story, so the grand narrative presented is false but effective in providing its denizens with what sounds like a reasonable story.

“The democrats are socialists who want to take your hard-earned money and give it to those who ought to just work like the rest of us.”

This is, of course, quite false, but it fits the conservative grand narrative that the rich people are the smart folks in our culture and provide a path for people to follow, because wherever democrats are in charge, there is waste. All one has to do to succeed in this life, therefore, is follow the rules and conform to the narrative, including the popular myth that teaching a man to fish is better than giving him a fish. The simple truth here is that the fishing pond doesn’t evenly spread the fish (resources) out in such a way that they can be caught equally.

If you understand narratives, you’ll begin to understand the old adage that “in war, the victor writes the history,” and you’ll also start asking questions about the narratives that you uncover. If you’re super lucky, you’ll soon begin — at some level — the postmodern practice of deconstructing those same narratives in an honest search for truth. History is not truth. History is narrative. As Peter Lurie pointed out in his marvelous 2003 essay “Why the Web Will Win the Culture Wars for the Left: Deconstructing Hyperlinks”, the web puts us automatically within deconstruction’s reach, because every link beckons us to dig deeper and discover for ourselves. We have no idea where this is going to lead culturally, except that it is going to be terribly difficult for the status quo.

“The content available online is much less important than the manner in which it is delivered; indeed, the way the Web is structured. Its influence is structural rather than informational, and its structure is agnostic. For that reason, parental controls of the sort that AOL can offer give no comfort to conservatives. It’s not that Johnny will Google “hardcore” or “T&A” rather than “family values;” rather, it’s that Johnny will come to think, consciously or not, of everything he reads as linked, associative and contingent. He will be disinclined to accept the authority of any text, whether religious, political or artistic, since he has learned that there is no such thing as the last word, or indeed even a series of words that do not link, in some way, to some other text or game. For those who grow up reading online, reading will come to seem a game, one that endlessly plays out in unlimited directions. The web, in providing link after associative link, commentary upon every picture and paragraph, allows, indeed requires, users to engage in a postmodernist inquiry.”

Be a deconstructor, but think positively. This is a time of tremendous opportunity. Distance yourself from the status quo, for it is crashing and will blow up in time. Before that happens, however, the heat on all of this is going to be burning furiously, and it points right now to civil war. Trump and his cronies continue to pull followers further to the right, and there will come a point when all their guns will begin firing. The ensuing terror will exceed that of 9/11, because this will be perpetuated by our neighbors, not foreigners who already hate all of us. Follow the narrative to get a glimpse of tomorrow. By presenting their political ideas as an overarching narrative, followers have no choice but to go along to the very end. The appeal, after all, is universal plausibility.

The media doesn’t get this, because the media presents itself as a special class, which is part of its own narrative. In other words, the media is simply unwilling and therefore not capable of presenting life as narrative. Goodness, that would be a lot of work.

A citizenry that does its own deconstructing is not easily fooled by political narratives, and that’s where we’re all headed thanks to the World Wide Web. This shift in human understanding is eonic in nature, and we can say with great confidence that the era of modernism is over, which likely accounts for all of the current conflict between ideologies that we’re experiencing today. One era dies; another rises. Welcome to the era of postmodernism.

The irony is that this changing narrative was brought about by a pandemic and the shutting down of the culture for a season. Suddenly home alone and with tons of “free” time, people retreated into survival mode and began a great awakening amongst the people that “jobs” aren’t all they’re cracked up to be and that nobody really cares for anybody else, just themselves. This has spawned an entire generation of unsatisfied people who’re working the system to start their own businesses and thus be their own employers. Uber, Lyft, GrubHub, Doordash, and others have given many of these people a way to make a few bucks while exploring their options. I use Uber several times a month, and my survey of drivers strongly suggests this is so.

So, who’ll run things when the era matures? We will. The people. And that has a chance to be glorious.

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?)

The Re-Rise of the Newsletter

The professional news industry is being forced to return to its roots by a world it doesn’t — and probably never will — fully understand. It began with the industry’s initial response to the digital disruption, which was to reproduce its entire finished product for the web. The web, however, wasn’t built by newspapers; it was built by highly creative and rebellious geeks who changed the world without the status quo telling them it needed changing.

The web was a brand new communications invention, not a new distribution channel for old ways of doing things, and in missing this truth, the industry was completely lost. The newspaper people wanted to present their finished product online, but the geeks knew from the start that this was inefficient and a cheap substitute for what was possible.

Blog software, with its reverse chronological flow, came first, quickly followed by ways to distribute content apart from its host. Social media is, at core, the news “audience” talking amongst themselves, which was contrary to the top-down relationship that the press had with its readers. The shift to mobile brought new challenges, the biggest being a playing field built around scrolling and video in portrait mode. News drifted away from the finished product variety and into the world of continuous news.

Of course, the biggest disruptor by far was how advertising was changing to adapt to the new, and a realization that smart marketers could provide ads at the browser level and based on the behaviors of that browser. This offered a much greater likelihood of advertiser return-on-investment. History books will cite this as causing the death of newspapers, but it’s really more a case of ignorance, for newspapers still lack the technology and the networks to provide this to local advertisers. The industry has ceded defeat to Google without even firing a shot.

And, now comes the newest era of the email newsletter, a technology that’s been around since the dawn of email but generally only used to provide links to the industry’s “real” content online. The shift today, however, includes those who give the energy it takes to produce actual content for newsletters, and it’s a godsend to overwhelmed news consumers. This trend is going to continue until a company’s online newsletter will become the primary method that news organizations use to disseminate news and information.

People can pass them around, which often results in new subscribers.

The first trader newsletters during the Middle Ages — actual letters from observers in far away places — were the precursor to the newspaper industry. Wikipedia notes that “Trader’s newsletters covered various topics such as the availability and pricing of goods, political news, and other events that would influence trade.” This is the essence of today’s developing process, and it suits not only the web’s unique abilities but also that most precious of earthly commodities: time.

I’ll be 74 this summer, and I spend most of my days online in an endless search for knowledge. Even with all that time, I still feel uninformed, because studying modern times is like trying to take a sip from a firehose. It’s the primary reason I’ve turned to newsletters. They’re out there; you just have to find them. Here are five newsletters that hit my inbox overnight or every morning:

The New York Times: While this is primarily a tool to “drive traffic” back to its newspaper site, the content is growing to include small story summaries throughout. It’s a way to follow the Times without subscribing to its main product.

Mondoweiss: I have family of Palestinians that lived in Amman, Jordan for a great many years, so my window on the Middle East is a little different than most. I don’t trust the Israeli’s, and I need an outlet that understands this. Mondoweiss is a terrific example of a point-of-view news organization that represents an extreme minority in the West. I need that to stay informed.

Dave Winer: Dave is one of the real gems in providing important technology news in a highly conversational format. I also really like Dave as a person, and his takes on life in general also give me food for thought. Dave’s is a constant voice on Twitter, and he uses his newsletter to summarize those thoughts. Moreover, and this is important, Dave is always a yard ahead of everybody else, and if he’s taking the trouble to produce a newsletter, it’s something that requires my attention.

Mathew Ingram: Mathew provides summaries and links to the stories he finds important. I trust Mathew and lean on his understanding to help my own.

Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy: CNN’s Reliable Sources is (by a mile) the most useful contemporary newsletter in the market today. It is the model for others to copy, for it’s loaded with content written for readers of the newsletter. What a concept! Oh, it contains marketing and links, but it is written to be read, and the summaries are specifically aimed at people such as myself and all of those who just don’t have the time to invest in reading complete stories.

There are many others out there, and I’ll probably be extending my subscription list as I find those suited to my tastes. The point is that I get to decide what I wish to influence my thinking, not the forced and irritating offerings of the artificial and manipulative hegemony known as objectivity. That old standard disappeared with the advent of continuous streams of news. Journalism has always spoken with the authority of overseers, which is the luxury afforded to those who could afford a printing press. Today, every single person on the net is a media company and able to distribute their content just like the big boys.

To those who would drag out the ol’ echo chamber meme to accuse me of circular logic, let me state once again that my experience in helping to create right wing news means that I know that it’s just political propaganda disguised as news. Give me a little credit for that tidbit, because I’ve already turned the page on it.

If you don’t subscribe to newsletters, my advice is to begin today. Click on the links I’ve provided, if you’re interested in those. If you find yourself being fed content that you find bitter or tasteless, unsubscribing is just a click away.

To those in the news industry, if you don’t produce a newsletter, what are you waiting for? The only rules are that it can’t be a vehicle that merely “drives traffic” back to its point of origin, and ads should be presented as content, perhaps even written by the newsletter’s author(s).