Let’s Talk About Substack

Atelier Ventures' Portfolio

About a year ago, a friend asked me what I thought of Substack. For those who don’t already know, Substack is a Silicon Valley start-up providing software for people to publish their own newsletters and charge for subscriptions. It’s all the rage today with promises of monetizing the work of individual journalists. The site has even been promoted as the future of digital media, a way to cut out the middleman in the process of monetizing the content of mostly opinion writers. The company considers itself a pioneer in the new media struggle to pay journalists in the wake of disruptions to their formerly well-paying employers.

I’d never heard of it, which bothered me, because, despite retirement, I still think of myself as pretty informed about new media. I watched as others wrote about its great value and speculating it would provide financial relief for the Fourth Estate. More people asked my thoughts, so I put my new media guy hat back on, and this essay is the result of my analysis. I’ve been following the goings on enough that I’ve developed my own opinion, and I’m confident this falderal is mostly a pile of steaming bullshit. Here we go.

It’s an attempt to provide an OnlyFans model for content other than the salacious.

Substack, it turns out, is an investment child of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and a host of other investors all in the business of disrupting media. So much money is being thrown at Substack that the newest round of investing has set the company’s value at $650 million. Is it worth that? Not even close, but that won’t stop the money tree. Disrupting media is big business these days with roots in many places, so building a successful business here may not be the point.

Substack is unnatural as a new media player in 2021. It’s old media pretending to be a breakthrough. It’s a high-priced, glossy, and expensive magazine. It’s what we used to call an aggregator. The value proposition flows from the oldest mass media play in the books, bringing an “audience” to a “show.” In this case the show is the many newsletters brought together in one place for subscribers to read and enjoy.

The idea that its uniqueness is built around the term “newsletter” is actually pretty hilarious. The first journalists were paid to travel to foreign countries that were in competition with their benefactors back home. They wrote “letters” back to those business moguls who were eager to know how their competitors were doing. These were called “newsletters,” so the word actually represents the oldest form of journalism, not some bright and shining new object. Fun software notwithstanding, the content sure resembles blog posts, and there ain’t nothing groundbreaking about that! The rush of big-name journalists to the platform has gotten a lot of attention, but this really has nothing to do with excitement over this “new” model. They’re being given enormous revenue “advances” ranging up to $350 thousand dollars in order to marry their brands to Substack. If a guy knocked on your door and handed you an envelope with that much cash, I suspect you’d quite quickly join your personal brand to his. Here’s a paragraph from a Substack blog post last month:

Six months ago, as a demonstration of our confidence in the model, we started a financial program to help writers launch their own businesses on Substack – and it’s working so well that we are going to expand it rapidly. In fact, the viability of the Substack model has become so clear that Facebook and Twitter are now chasing us.

The truth is closer to the reality that you can do things with somebody else’s money that you could never justify in a more realistic business plan. It’s like a giant thumb on the scales, and therefore, the fruit of this “financial program” can’t be used to judge the value proposition presented by Substack. Anybody who thinks they will make up for all of this with future revenues likely also has a prescription for medical marijuana. It’s all bright and shiny right now, but that simply can’t last.

Today, the press is just beginning to discover things my tribe used to write about 15–20 years ago and longer. It was all there for anybody to seize, but newspapers thought they knew better than the geeks who were actually building the technology of the web, so they simply copied their print model and moved it online. This is why media companies use words like pages, display ads, and below the fold. We can now look and see our prophecies coming to pass, even though we all went to great lengths to reveal the coming disruptions before they occurred.

The point is there is nothing new or different from Substack. I don’t think there’s a viable subscriber fee big enough to support this kind of journalism model for the writers absent the investment money tossed at them ahead of time. A newspaper was itself a form of aggregator, but its offer was many for one relatively small fee. If that’s Substack’s ultimate business plan, well, that’s already failed. If anything, it’s a model for the rich, because only one percenters could afford more than a handful of these newsletter subscriptions. This, of course, makes great sense, because there are right-wing forces present in our world that would love to own the narrative that everybody else has to follow. Trump taught us that, if nothing else.

But, there’s another huge problem with this, and that is the tangible way it supports the idea of celebrity journalism. I wrote of this in 2010.

The press changed forever during and in the wake of Watergate. Never before had the press “brought down” a sitting President of the United States. The Washington Post did this through an FBI source that we now know had an agenda. It was the pinnacle of professional journalism and spawned a whole new genre known as the “investigative reporter,” a redundant term if there ever was one. It also spawned the age of the celebrity journalist, because Woodward and Bernstein are enshrined forever as sterling examples of what to emulate in the world of professional journalism.

For celebrity journalists, attention must be given to brand identity and marketing, which is usually done on somebody else’s dime. Unwanted thoughts enter in, like “I can’t say that” because I’ll have to defend it later,” or “I have to get my hair done and don’t have time for that.” It can so burdensome to be a star, right?

Of course, with celebrity comes status and with status comes compensation for such. Who knew that journalism was such a big money business? Murrow was not on the same social rung as the people he covered, but such is not the case today. Celebrity is a trap of the God/mammon variety, and the pursuit of such status cannot help but produce shaky ethical behaviors. Not always, but often enough to take a step back and ask ourselves what we’re doing.

I’ve worked big egos all my life and especially in the business of TV News. There’s something about the people who are willing to risk complete embarrassment and even shame in front of a camera that lends itself to an emotional fragility that would probably surprise those who only see them on TV. Now that new media is producing a whole slew of reporter/anchor type personalities, this thing about ego is going to continue for the industry. Substack plays to that ego by making them feel good about themselves as celebrity journalists. “Come join us” is their cry, but the bag of cash in their back pocket reveals something untoward to me.

Journalism in 2021 is a living organism consisting of millions of cells working together in real time to keep us all informed. That’s it. Twitter and Facebook are much closer to a contemporary, participatory, 21st Century news organism than anything that came before. There’s no role in that for thousands of thousands of subscription newsletters, so I can say with confidence that Substack is not only doomed but likely not what it appears to be. In the modern news rivers (h/t Dave Winer) of today, it’s pretty stupid anyway to link to pieces that require a subscription in order to read.

Moreover, news is no longer a story with a beginning, middle, and end. That was the finished product model of the deadline-based news of the past (see: News is a Process, Not a Finished Product). This means that the Substack model is bucking the movement of the news model by dangling big cash in front of writers with the fallacious belief that the OnlyFans model will work for content other than the girl next door taking her clothes off for a few dimes.

Call me a nut, but I think we’ve just about reached the end of milking the mass media model. The web is a 3‑way communications medium, the first of its kind. Yes, you can do a form of one-to-many media, but that’s a terribly juvenile approach to such a powerful technology. Fatted calves are being whacked with regularity by the evolution of those who use the technology. I’m sorry, but that’s exactly what Substack’s investors are seeking.

Substack may surprise me yet, but I doubt it. Instead of jumping head first over a big (BIG) check in their hands, perhaps these journalists who are transferring their work to Substack should instead try playing out the tape that leads to tomorrow.

Finally, this is a classic case of plausible hyperbole, which is what big investment money can provide.

My conclusion? Proceed with great caution.

Do You Believe in God?

Tickets Required for Easter Sunrise Service at Chimney Rock - Chimney Rock  at Chimney Rock State Park

If so, what is it you believe? Is He a He? Is He the God of my youth who demanded absolute dedication and was ready to whack me if I even thought about stepping out of line? Or is He the love god, who is so full of mercy that all you have to say is “I’m sorry,” and everything will be okay? And, what is your reaction to Him? Do you believe in the concept of sin and salvation, the act of redemption with God, so that you are guaranteed a seat at Heaven’s table? What is it exactly that you believe about the rise of “Christian” political power these days? Does God want or need you to change things here on earth? Is that something God wants or needs from you? What about faith? In what is your faith based? Do you believe that God helps those who help themselves? Do you believe your behavior — after having discovered God for yourself — in any way can send you to hell? If so, what kinds of behavior? Do you believe it’s your job to educate others about God and how to achieve the same rewards you have? Do you believe America is a “Christian” nation? If so, what form of Christianity is the “real” Christianity? What is that?

I personally don’t believe that white Christian nationalists actually believe in God, certainly not the God presented in the Bible. They practice the “form of godliness” warned of in the Good Book. They are modern day Pharisees and Sadducees who, like their counterparts in Biblical times, just knew that the man Jesus could not have been their Messiah, because He was promised to THEM as one who would save THEM. The guy they saw was a mere carpenter, a rabble-rouser who was organizing people to a form of religious freedom that the Israelites didn’t practice, a healer who served the needs of the commoners as well as those higher-ups who had crossed over to believe what their own eyes were seeing and what their ears were hearing.

Jesus told them of the Publican who gave of his need and was deemed righteous, while the Pharisee stood observing from a distance and said, “I’m glad I’m not like this Publican.” He was found wanting.

What is it about religious extremism that feels so good? They “just know” that they’re saved and therefore going to Heaven, and that emboldens them to speak their truth. Let me just say that God didn’t care about Adam and Eve’s truth, and He doesn’t care about yours. There is only one God, and there is only one Truth. Jesus came to give freedom to all, not just those who call themselves the “elect.” This is the great, anti-Christ deception they practice.

They will all perish as they must, for God does not suffer fools forever.

I mean, we’re talking about God here, people. God. You know, the supreme being of the universe. The guy who created everything, and through whom we live and breathe and have our being. The same God who produced a method of redemption that applies to one and all, not just a select and self-appointed few. He said, “Many who call me Lord, Lord will in no way enter the Kingdom of Heaven” and this directly applies to this ENTIRE group. There is no fence, my friends. Either you believe God or you don’t, and in my experienced opinion, this group falls into the latter. If it was any other way, their behavior would be significantly different. They would welcome the sojourner, feed the hungry, and care for the afflicted. We are judged, not by what we believe, but rather by what we practice, and these selfless practices are close to God’s heart. It cannot be reasoned away, because it takes a false witness to convince them in the first place.

I recently saw a comment on one of my Facebook friends’ stories that said, “I hate poor people, because their minds are only fixed on evil.” This wasn’t something this person made up in their own mind; it was taught and learned, and that’s exactly where the problem lies. All of this is heresy, dangerous heresy for these people from any religious perspective. The trappings of mammon are having a field day with these Christian troops.

And now after 500,000 deaths from the Covid19 virus, we have to ask, where has God been in all of this? God is merciful, but He’s also just. Who is truly surprised that we were delivered a deadly virus at the time of the rise of this Christian Nationalism heresy? I most certainly am not! I’m sorry if you lost somebody as a result (I did), but again we’re talking about God, which I firmly believe is Life itself. Do you really think you can get away with sticking your thumb in Life’s eye? Long-suffering? Yes, but not forever.

And now, with the approach of the 2022 elections, the GOP has turned off — for a season — any rationale for their own policies and are pointing their crooked fingers at the only strategy that works: focus their lies on everything that they view is wrong with the Democrats. As long as they can be presented as the enemy, the devil personified, there’s no need to talk about what the GOP wants and needs. This is the arena chosen for USA politics, and it really resonates well with these fallen Christian groups.

Meanwhile, people are leaving this form of the faith, and there is great travail and disarray within the church, and the only place for them to begin to find their way out of the hole they dug for themselves is by answering the simple question posed in this thesis.

Do you believe in God?

Google News Presents Two Equal Realities (But Only One Of Them Can Be Real)

Here, Fox displays a small truth as something sinister. Unfortunately, the New York Times also didn’t get called on, so there goes the conspiracy theory.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to get above the fray in order to see what’s happening around you. So, let’s do that today, as we look at the continued failure of our culture to stop the nonsense emanating from what’s known as Fox News.

Never has the division between the haves and the have-nots been so large and so crystal clear as it is today in the United States. The silk stocking Republican elites seek absolute license when it comes to profiting off the labor of others, while the have-nots argue on behalf of themselves and their families, many of whom are at or below the poverty level. One seeks avarice; the other wants to feed their families. It’s the most visible depiction we have of the hierarchy that runs the country from the shadows.

However, the ideological meshing of working class people with the silk stockings is necessary for the Republican Party to win elections. It’s because the real matter of profit drives only business owners, but ideology can move masses, with the key conservative ideologies today being abortion, school prayer, religious freedom, and gender. This is not by accident. These people can be convinced to side with even their own oppressors in fighting what they believe to be sin. This group, we’ve learned, is easy to manipulate in the name of ideology, but let’s always remember that the party’s primary aim is license for business practices that lead to profit. That will NEVER change.

And let’s never forget January 6, 2021, for it revealed the end game of all this manipulation.

A lot of people think that right-wing Supreme Court justices are chosen by their views on abortion, but the truth is that the real litmus test for the high court is their views on business and government. So, no matter how loudly any Republican is screaming about morality, it’s a straw man shield against talking about their self-centered values, because those values are most certainly not about you and me.

The silk stocking’s wants and needs are the real issues as we try to make sense of politics — and especially media — in the months after Trump. Trump was all business, all the time. His transparent business bias, visible through his lies about anything and anyone in opposition, was rejected by the electorate last November. America is in a state of recovery now, but those lies are finding traction through the lens of so-called right-wing media, namely Fox News.

The problem is that these propaganda arms of the GOP are finding a strange form of equality with traditional media companies even though they present another reality altogether. The last time I looked, there was only one reality, so this is a bit more than problematic.

Google News, that massive news aggregator presenting an overview of important, link-worthy stories 24/7, does a massive and destructive disservice to humanity by including Fox News in its aggregator. As I noted in my book The Gospel of Self, Fox isn’t really a news organization. Just as we weren’t at The 700 Club back in the 80s, Fox is a propaganda platform for the extreme Right. Nobody seems to argue with this, but it’s very difficult to find anybody who’s actually fighting against its participation with the form of the press that has served our democracy well since the beginning. You know, the press that’s protected by our First Amendment.

The Washington Post recently offered an opinion piece with the headline: “Fox News would be in trouble without ‘actual malice’ standard.” The article references the legal defense of the press that one offended in the press must prove actual malice and not merely the presence of the offensive item in the press. It is very difficult — and deliberately so — to sue the press over libel and slander and win.

The problem with this premise is that Fox — as a propaganda arm of the Republican Party — doesn’t qualify for the standard. It is not and doesn’t even try to be a member of the press. Therefore, it is not afforded the same rights and privileges granted the press. You can’t claim to be one and then behave in a manner that says otherwise. The Fox narrative assumes that the press is the propaganda arm of the Democratic Party, which is arguably false. Nevertheless, this is foundational stuff, and their “news gathering” process is based on it.

The issues with our Southern Border are referenced by Fox as “The Biden Border Crisis.” See what I mean?

They’re treating Biden and the Democrats as they view the mainstream press treated Trump and Republicans when he was in office. Let me repeat that. Fox is treating Biden and the Democrats as they view the mainstream press treated Trump and Republicans when he was in office. This is an extreme version of false equivalency. For example, the mainstream press noted that Trump had trouble walking down ramps, so Fox makes a HUGE deal out of Biden slipping on the steps of Air Force One. It was their lead story, for crying out loud. The assertion in this false equivalence is that Biden is weak and frail (and out of touch). Anything that they view as a mainstream news political strategy (there’s no such thing) presented while Trump was in office, they are applying to Biden and the Democrats. And this is deliberate, for the worldview they espouse is one in which north is south and light is dark.

Fox and its clones are hammering Democrats over border issues left after years of fence-building bravado from the right. The assertion here is that the border is a HUGE problem that Republicans got right and Democrats have wrong. This storyline will continue for the foreseeable future. But, here’s the thing. We don’t ever talk about why the right hates immigrants. The GOP wants immigrants out, because when they are assimilated into our culture, they vote for Democrats, so the reality is that this is actually a strategy of voter manipulation. Georgia’s Republican governor signed into law a bill last week that was designed from the get-go to make it more difficult for the black population to vote. GOP leaders know they can’t win elections without help, which has been the core motivation for gerrymandering throughout our voting history.

And, let’s face it, as long as the white folks refuse to do the crummier jobs in our culture, immigrants will more than serve our society as a whole. It’s always been that way, folks.

But the drumbeat from the right is steady and strong:

  • Democrats are the socialist enemy
  • The media is liberal politically
  • The press is the enemy of the people
  • Liberals are the enemy of the people
  • Socialists are the enemy of the people
  • In politics, everybody does the same things
  • Pro-choice is pro-abortion
  • Anti religious freedom is anti-God
  • Evangelicalism is the true Christianity
  • Capitalism is the true provider of America’s greatness
  • The New World Order is anti-American

Here’s a statement that comes up in “discussions” with extreme right-wingers. “Obama got a free pass from the press (because they’re liberal).” Actually, this is quite absurd, because it assumes Rush Limbaugh’s fallacious narrative is truth, and it’s just not. Obama’s disdain for Fox News was explained in a FactCheck.org article that fact-checked the complaint.

Anita Dunn, who was then the White House director of communications, told the New York Times in an interview on Oct. 11, 2009, that Fox News was not a legitimate news organization.

“We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent,” Dunn told the Times. “As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.”

She also said, when asked about snubbing “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace, “we’re not going to legitimize them as a news organization.”

This is the “fray” of which I wrote that we must rise above. We must view every daily drumbeat through this reality, and it’s doubly difficult due to the symbiotic relationship between the news and the business community. Simply put, you don’t see a lot of news investigations of car dealerships, right? Car dealers are BIG local advertisers, and news entities in their markets can’t afford to lose all that revenue. Practicality, it would seem, wins out in the end, and the hell with ethics.

It’s bad but not nearly as bad as deliberately presenting falsehood as news in order to manipulate consumers (and voters). How far are you willing to go in trusting anybody who spins the news for profit?

I view this as a huge question, because the generation after me will have to deal with the results.

Robert Jeffress is a Dick!

Image result for robert jeffress
Courtesy Politico

So, that didn’t take long.

America’s pastor of the white evangelical branch of Christianity, Robert Jeffress (Q) Dallas, has taken less than a month to shift the focus of his narrative away from the insurrection and back onto the good, old, unforgivable sinners of the political left. You know, those awful liberals and their socialist, communist, wealth-redistribution ideas of taking from the well-off to give to the lesser-thans, to say nothing about killing babies and forcing clean Americans to fellowship with the dirtiest kind of poor beggars and filthy sinners.

“I’m glad I’m not like that Publican over there.”

On the surface, the recent Jeffress essay on Fox Populi is about the dangers of holding on to bitterness, and Jeffress feels his followers are filled with bitterness for having been “offended” by the election results and in need of forgiveness, presumably from God. In essence, he’s saying:

I’ve forgiven myself and so has God. That means you should you, too. I’ve already turned the page on that, and look how happy I am as a result? That’s because I’ve let go of my bitterness over the election. You, too, could be happy, because we’ve got righteous work to do in making God a part of the way we ALL live 24/7. Now, let’s get to work doing the exact same things that we’ve always done.

Folks, this has nothing to do with the church, and it certainly has nothing to do with God. It is a political land grab by dangerous forces that his false witness drags along with it. It would be nice if Jeffress had bothered to mention the word “repentance” as part of the deal, but he sees his followers as having nothing for which they need to repent, except possibly bitterness in their hearts.

…if we feel justice has not been served, we trust God to ultimately right the wrong…While God doesn’t always settle the score immediately, He will settle it ultimately.

Republicans certainly have the right to believe that the election was stolen, but after they have exhausted their appeals it is time to move forward and try to win the next election.

Did you see that? By talking about his followers’ “relationship” with God, he’s able to slide in political views as if they are the same thing. Read on:

It is no secret that I was, and continue to be, an enthusiastic supporter and friend of President Trump.

I believe Donald Trump’s presidency made our nation’s laws more just by protecting unborn life and promoting religious freedom.

I was disappointed by the results of the election. During his first two weeks in office President Biden signed a number of executive orders that I find deeply troubling and wrong.

I have every intention of pushing back against the torrent of ungodly policies that I believe the Biden/ Harris administration will unleash on our country. But I refuse to allow that determination to devolve into an all-consuming anger that poisons my spirit and infects everyone close to me.

I would encourage my fellow Trump supporters to do the same. As the writer of Proverbs warned, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23, The New Living Translation).

My concern about next week’s impeachment trial is that once the expected acquittal comes half of the country will refuse to accept it, giving Democrats the ammunition they need to continue their relentless attacks on the former president. This will be akin to continually picking at a scab, ensuring that it never heals.

Jeffress wants our attention redirected away from January 6th, which is necessary for these Christian Nationalists to be granted a mulligan. No thank you, Dickhead. We know how this ends. Here’s a great response to such from Dan Rather:

“January 6 is not ancient history. And neither are the lies that brought us to the brink. Those who peddled in these lies (or even just excused them) and thus stoked an insurrectionist mob, should not be allowed to slink back into credible discourse without a serious reckoning.”

It’s truly amazing how these people think they did nothing wrong, that God is very happy with them, and that their job is to simply continue the pressure that comes with the arrogance of self-righteousness.

Fox Populi tweeted their own view, hoping perhaps to get back the thousands of followers they’ve lost since the insurrection: “Liberal media, CNN try to paint QAnon loons as new face of Republican Party.” What other options do we have? That’s the facts, ma’am, and I’m sorry that your prodding and promotion of lies has put you on the precipice, but behavior has consequences, so kindly go screw yourself!

I’ve lost all patience for this. It’s a flat-out manipulation by false witness, and Pastor Jeffress can go directly to hell for all I care. (Careful with that bitterness, Terry)

We must be diligent and never allow ourselves to be fooled again that this religious zeal is anything other than the Republican-sanctioned overthrow of the U.S. Government.

NASA and SpaceX: A Conflict of Business Personalities

Image result for nasa spacex
Image by The Infographics Show, Jul 10, 2017

For those who care, here’s another great illustration of the difference between managers and leaders in the business world of the U.S. Those familiar with my writing know of the fascinating theories of former Harvard Business School Professor Abraham Zaleznik that were first published in a 1977 Harvard Business Review article called “Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?

To review, in Zaleznik’s view, managers get things done through processes and systems, while leaders accomplish tasks through creativity and exploration. One insists upon order; the other is comfortable with what seems like chaos to some.

I’m a staunch supporter of Elon Musk and his way of doing things. Musk is a leader, one who simply points his company in the direction of his vision in order to see what happens. Risk is a familiar friend to people like Musk, because they know instinctively that answers to complex problems can’t always be determined ahead of time. Instead, they require experimentation. And risk.

Enter NASA into the equation. To be sure, NASA is manager-heavy, as are all government bureaucracies. Read this simple statement in an article by Futurism from new NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk when asked about NASA’s support for Elon Musk’s Starship program. Jurczyk seems to be saying “no thanks,” but it’s his reasoning that reveals the real problem for NASA with SpaceX.

“I know what the timelines are for the [Space Launch System], but it’s hard to determine what the timeline is and capabilities are for the Starship,” Jurczyk said in a new interview with Futurism. He added that it’s “just hard for me to determine how we would leverage capabilities like Starship and the Super Heavy that would launch Starship without understanding their timeline, their capabilities, and a lot more detail.”

As a result, Jurczyk points to NASA’s own system as better prepared for real manned space missions.

“What I can say now is that the Space Launch System is farther along than the Starship or any other commercial [project] with respect to a super heavy-lift capability that’s purpose-built for human spaceflight missions,” he said.

Jurczyk wants to see SpaceX’s plan. Moreover, he wants to govern that plan. However, SpaceX doesn’t really have an elaborate plan until they figure out a few things first. This is an insurmountable conflict between the basic methods of getting things done, because Musk literally cannot provide a true business plan with timelines that Jurczyk and his other managers could and would pick apart based on their understanding of how space exploration must proceed. They want their checklists and their timelines. They’re in no hurry either, and that has to gall Elon Musk.

The chilling thing is that our government has authority over private sector practices in the name of public safety, which they are already using to slow the momentum that Musk has with Starship. Headlines of violations of the FAA rules governing rocket launches cost SpaceX nearly an entire week before resolution. During that time, Musk criticized the FAA for its outdated approach to spaceflight testing. What he was really angry with was being hand strapped by rules that seem unnecessary to SpaceX in the accomplishment of its goals. Musk isn’t being arrogant when he makes such claims, and Jurczyk isn’t being foolish in asking for Musk’s detailed plans. They are simply two different approaches to doing business.

The question is always which one should be in charge?

NASAspaceflight.com: A shining example of new media

Starship SN9 loses a Raptor during flip. RUD comes as future Starships line  up - NASASpaceFlight.com
Remarkable photo of SN9 by Jack Beyer just prior to crashing

I spent much of my day Tuesday with YouTube watching the drama at the SpaceX testing facility in Boca Chica Texas as the company successfully launched its prototype Starship SN9. The drama, of course, was centered around whether SpaceX would stick the landing, which it didn’t. The drama ended quickly, and now it’s on to version SN10, for SpaceX is a company determined to rewrite everything when it comes to rockets and space exploration. For a guy from Huntsville, Alabama — also known as Rocket City — this is great fun.

I watched this with 300 thousand others worldwide via the live stream of one of the most shining examples of everything that’s new in news coverage these days, NASASpaceflight.com. I need to talk about this, because it’s a model of how to do live coverage of news events in 2021, and my hat’s off to Chris Bergin and the entire NASASpaceflight.com team.

Back in my early days of writing about how the internet would change media, one of the most obvious trends to people like me was what J.D. Lasica termed “the personal media revolution.” This group of observers included people like Dan Gillmor, Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen, Dave Winer, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Michael Rosenblum, and a host of others who shared the vision. But, NASASpaceflight.com has laid the foundation for something so completely new that it challenges all forms of existing media for supremacy in covering space and the companies vying for a piece of the revenue pie involving outer space.

Here’s what they do so well.

NASASpaceflight.com is a virtual company, employing several experts from different parts of the world. They are not affiliated with NASA whatsoever. It was founded 15 year ago by Chris Bergin, a British journalist who cut his teeth during the shuttle period of space travel. Others are scattered around the U.S. They have only one reporter on the ground in Boca Chica, but their best source of information at the SpaceX complex comes from a Boca Chica photographer referred to only as Mary (@bocachicagal). To cover the entire area, NASASpaceflight uses robotic cameras controlled by the anchor team themselves from various points around the country.

Without a single direct source from SpaceX, they’ve developed their own launch sequence based solely on observations of the various stages of fueling and launching a Starship. The point is that rocket experts, through direct observation via robotic cameras, are able to build their own loose countdown based purely on observation. They simply don’t need an official countdown to do their job, and that’s part of the charm they bring to television news.

But it is the anchor team itself that brings everything home to viewers, for these people are serious students of science with a touch of nerd humor. It’s their genuine love of rockets that drives their business and their narrative. They are absolutely over-the-top when it comes to science, and it gives the viewers a chance to interact with genuine experts during the long hours of waiting via the chat and super chat functions of YouTube. They lovingly refer to their work as “roadside rocket science.” Their work is expensive but is paid for in a large part by crowd-funding from those viewers they serve so well. The size of the donations — in nearly every currency of the world — is truly staggering, and it’s a model that could be scaled to handle other news niches.

And, there’s no doubting that NASASpaceflight has a very narrow niche, which is another one of the many factors that make hours and hours of live coverage so watchable. They know what they’re talking about.

Another factor is the humor that develops and is continued throughout their coverage. They have an online store of merchandise created from these humorous thoughts, and the biggest problem they have is with their site crashing as so many people rush to buy the shirts, hats, etcetera. There are a great many inside jokes that the newcomer to the coverage are taught through clever mentions of those jokes.

I found myself laughing out loud many times throughout the coverage. It’s fascinating how well humor works in a time of extremely dramatic events. The team has no problem just being themselves, and they often joke about how they could never be stiff-shirted network correspondents. The transparency of this actually adds to the authority of their observations, because it feels exactly like it’s intended to feel — like being invited to watch the launch with a group of extremely intelligent and knowledgable friends.

And, make no mistake, these people know photography, cameras, live-streaming, and video technology better than most so-called professional news people. If you don’t mind the lousy pun, it isn’t rocket science, and smart people can easily outdo the pros who are locked into their systems and deadlines. It’s far more logical to hire scientists and let them practice journalism than to hire journalists and try to make them scientists.

Another thing that’s noteworthy is how well the NASASpaceflight.com team works with YouTube. Google has put in place the tools that the company needs to present their work — at no cost to them — and help them raise money. It’s truly remarkable, but an example of how the personal media revolution has helped itself to the goodies that used to be reserved only for the pros.

So, now it’s on to Starship SN10, but don’t worry. NASASpaceflight.com will put in place a reminder for you when they plan to go live.

I just love it.