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?)

Dirty Trick #33: Rewriting History

Public manipulation by special interests has become a giant and painful carbuncle on the skin of the West today, and it threatens the very foundations of our liberty. We witness it every day, and yet people get away with it, because the public doesn’t have a clue. From the controlling narcissist to the special interest, manipulation is a dangerous game being played at all levels of our culture and something I think we ought to be teaching in high school (along with journalism). Permit me to offer two quotes by Edward Bernays, the father of professional public relations. He was one of the original thinkers on the subject and literally wrote the book on propaganda:

From his 1947 essay and 1955 book “The Engineering of Consent:”

If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it.

From his 1923 book Crystalizing Public Opinion:

Those who manipulate the organized habits and opinions of the masses constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.

This is the most under-reported story in the West, because the press not only views it as standard operating procedure in a civilized culture, but it also participates in the manipulation, sometimes knowingly but more often unawares. Again, if smart manipulators are going to be on the loose plying their trade, then we must somehow arm our citizens to recognize what’s going on. My recommended reading for this task is a little book that would serve well as a textbook for the class, The Thinker’s Guide To FALLACIES: The Art of Mental Trickery and Manipulation. I can’t possibly over-recommend this guidebook.

Today, I want to talk about Dirty Trick #33 from the book: Re-write History (Have it your way). It’s a very clever way to win an argument, because it undercuts your opponent by removing their foundational support evidence. It’s one of the most evil and seditious manipulations of all, and its practitioners can be so slick that it’s often difficult to figure out what’s really going on. Here’s part of what the book says:

“The fact is that human memory is continually working to re-describe events of the past in such a way as to exonerate itself and condemn its detractors. Historical writing often follows suit, especially in the writing of textbooks for schools. So, in telling a story about the past, manipulators feel free to distort the past in whatever ways they believe they can get away with. As always, the skilled manipulator is ready with (self-justifying) excuses.”

Sometimes, this appears obvious, such as what happens when the victor in a war is given the responsibility to write the history of the war. It’s guaranteed to be skewed. Other times, however, it is very, very subtle, and I want to point to two current examples of this taking place in our midst, one from the political right and one from the political left. That way, I can be criticized by everybody.

On the left, we have the transgender community — in an effort to justify itself — creatively rewriting history by redefining what it means to be normal in terms of gender identification. This is vitally important to the movement, because words like “normal” shove them into a corner labelled “abnormal” or “deviant,” and this bias comes naturally without people even giving a thought to the idea of gender preference. So, in order to make “trans” more palpable with the rest of society, it’s necessary to offer the idea that all gender difference is a result of nature, for if this can be done, then those who used to be tagged as abnormal or deviant can no longer be labeled as such. It’s just the luck of the draw.

And so, we have a new term inserted by the trans community into the English language: cisgender, cisgendered, or any derivative of cis, which is the opposite of trans. According to Google, it means “denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.” It’s presented as a privilege, which means those so labelled can be the oppressors in society. So, what used to be considered “normal” is now just another position on a spectrum of gender identification. There is no normal. Everybody naturally exists along a linear scale with cis on one end and trans on the other end. Variations on the gender thought stream exist between the extremes, but we’re all just one, big happy family of different personal gender hands that we have no choice but to play, and that is a rewriting of history to the nth degree.

The term was originated in 1991 by German sexologist Volkmar Sigusch, so it’s a brand new piece of thinking. However, as Dirty Trick #33 advises, historical writing will ensue, and our children will be presented with this concept as historical fact. Mission accomplished through a manipulative logical fallacy. Those who oppose the thinking are deemed intolerant, and so it goes.

On the right, we have something that is even more sinister in its manipulation and one in which I participated in my role as executive producer of The 700 Club in the years prior to Pat Robertson running for President in 1988. We innovated what we called “TV Journalism With a Different Spirit,” news from a Biblical, Christian, and conservative perspective. We took ourselves seriously, and to present ourselves to the public, we needed to rewrite history. We did so by presenting as fact the assertion that all “news” is determined by political bias. Therefore, we simply took a position to the political right on the thought spectrum of journalism. This action meant that everybody else — from CBS News to the New York Times — was to the political left of us. This was a core principle upon which we functioned.

This, however, is a total fallacy, because “the news” is not a political product. Political information vehicles are called propaganda, and we’re back to the whole public manipulation theme. Think about it. News organizations used to operate on a belief in objectivity, and while we’ve all come to believe that objectivity was an unattainable ideal, we were always careful to be fair and present opposing thinking to anything that was presented as “new.” We took seriously the responsibility of writing the first draft of history, and our ethical rules were built upon that role. But the news is new, and that’s a cultural problem for conservatives, who are happiest with a tamper-proof status quo. New is progressive, and therein lies the rub.

As I wrote in my book, The Gospel of Self, before there was Fox News, there was CBN News, and we wrote the playbook for propaganda as news. It’s important to note that in the practice of this, there’s no need to provide balance. In fact, opposition to a right wing perspective can be mocked freely, because, after all, this isn’t journalism at all. It. Is. Propaganda. Once again, as Dirty Trick #33 warns, historical writing has ensued since we rewrote history, and now our children are taught to believe that all news is political, and that there are two distinct “sides” in the institution of journalism.

Don’t get me wrong; I do think the arrogance of the press has contributed to its own demise and that objectivity was an unrealistic ideal in the first place. However — and this is what’s important — as long as the press plays only defense in the game of public manipulation, those quietly guiding the disruption — the fundamentalist conservatives — will continue to advance in the culture. The left is being defined by the right today, and this is the dangerous fruit of logical fallacies. For as long as we view justice and mercy as two opposing sides of the same coin, we will always favor one or the other, depending on who’s in charge.

We need to avoid these stacked decks by understanding logical fallacies when they are presented. Otherwise, we’re like punching bag wives in the hands of evil but gifted narcissist husbands for whom all of this is as natural as breathing.

Push. Dig. Push. Dig.

AP Photo

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

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

Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so it goes.

When “great economic news” isn’t

(AP Photo/LM Otero)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up could be jobs at your local stores.

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

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

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

Media mergers and hanging on

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

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

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

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

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

Gordon Borrell

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

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

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

You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

War Propaganda as “Weaponized Narrative”

Weaponized Narrative Is the New Battlespace is a fascinating and highly perceptive take on the use of manipulating narrative to impact culture. The idea is that individuals, institutions, and nations are using disinformation campaigns to manipulate others to their bidding through the creation of easy-to-understand stories that support the interests of the storyteller. Technology is the bad guy.

Weaponized narrative seeks to undermine an opponent’s civilization, identity, and will by generating complexity, confusion, and political and social schisms. It can be used tactically, as part of explicit military or geopolitical conflict; or strategically, as a way to reduce, neutralize, and defeat a civilization, state, or organization. Done well, it limits or even eliminates the need for armed force to achieve political and military aims.

The efforts to muscle into the affairs of the American presidency, Brexit, the Ukraine, the Baltics, and NATO reflect a shift to a “post-factual” political and cultural environment that is vulnerable to weaponized narrative.

The writers, however, Brad Allenby and Joel Garreau, oo-directors of The Weaponized Narrative Initiative of the Center on the Future of War, a partnership of Arizona State University and the Washington think tank New America, make four critical errors in their own narrative.

  1. The most glaring is that the entire concept is framed within a modernist world view where top-down, one-to-many-communications is the operating mechanism for communicating deceit. This embraces the worship of order, the vision of a psychopath (benevolent or otherwise) seated at a command and control desk pushing levers this way and that with a sinister smile enveloping a cigarette that appears to have been there for at least a week. Elevating this to an act of war is old wine in new wineskins, because reality isn’t nearly as Orwellian as the fear-mongers would have us believe.
  2. The second error works with the first. It’s a blindness to the disruption created by the bottom of today’s communications pyramid being able to talk with each other and back “up” to the top. This ability turns mass marketing on its head, although you’d be hard-pressed to find any institution that will embrace it. Some political types are tapping the space, but it is always with the assumption that it can be used to get others to pass their narrative around. This is just more modernist thinking, and the future will include educating the bottom in such a way that fooling them will get more and more difficult. I realize some will call this utopian, because it’s too chaotic and we still live in a time where a disruption to order can only be dystopian. I reject this assumption. At best, therefore, this “weaponized narrative” is temporary and not systemic, as the writers believe.
  3. Thirdly, while presented as something new, it really isn’t. Controlling narrative has been around for centuries. It was practiced by the Roman Church until the printing press allowed the laity to access that which had been reserved for the priesthood, and everything changed. It was called “propaganda” by the father of public relations Edward Bernays, a social engineer who used a form of weaponized narrative on behalf of his clients, including the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Bernays was a member of the Creel Committee, organized by Woodrow Wilson to help America justify getting into World War I. If this isn’t “weaponized narrative,” I don’t know what it is.
  4. Finally, how does one pen an article about weaponized narrative without mentioning the real experts at the practice, Israel? The fear of being tagged antisemite blocks all reason when it comes to investigating this phenomenon, for not only is Israel writing the book on how to weaponize narrative, they are doing it in full view of everybody. Within the public information office of the State of Israel are special departments who work with companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to quash anything they view as “incitement” against the crimes they commit daily in the Middle East. This is a frightening reality, for Israel can turn any event into self-defense, regardless of the heinousness of crime. It truly boggles the mind that two highly intelligent people can publish an introductory article on a concept so important without even a mention of the successful efforts of hasbara.

The article also presents America as behind other players in the world in this skill, but the jury is still out on that one. It’s self-serving in the spirit of the Shirky Principle, for the effort the writers are leading attempts to understand weaponized narrative and present solutions. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here, for the article really does present some brilliant thinking and prose:

Narrative is as old as tribes. Humans are pattern-seeking storytelling animals. We cannot endure an absence of meaning. Rather than look up at the distribution of lights in the night sky and deal with randomness, we will eagerly connect those dots and adorn them with the most elaborate – even poetic – tales of heroes and princesses and bears and dippers. We have a hard-wired need for myth. Narrative is basic to what it means to be human.

It’s easy to critical, but this is not nitpicking. The solution to any form of totalitarianism is along the bottom of the new communications pyramid, and I don’t think these manipulative storytellers can count on ignorance forever.

BONUS LINK:  U.S. To Build A “Weaponized Narrative” Into The Future Of War