Discussion topics for the week
Posted by aogSunday, 08 June 2008 at 15:25 TrackBack Ping URL

Random thoughts for discussion —

  1. Much is made of Senator McCain stiff arming the conservatives in the GOP. One reason this is considered a mistake is because of the loss of fund raising opportunities. But if McCain decides to go with public financing, as rumoured, then he may figure he can raise the limit without any conservative support, so that’s no loss. Issue: does public financing serve to enable candidates for major parties to depend on much narrower factions of the party, because the candidate can hit the limit with many fewer donors?
  2. Naturally, McCain is going to get labeled as True Evil by the Obama campaign and its fellow travelers, but I wonder if it won’t be especially nasty because McCain takes away one of the key anti-Bush tropes, that of the chicken-hawk. Discuss: Isn’t the MAL most viscous when it’s about to have its argument avoidance toys taken away?
  3. Apparently the post-mortems from the HRC campaign are starting to emerge. One is that HRC didn’t have enough money. Well, that’s true for the period in which Obama first became a real threat, but as with HRC’s political orientation, the problem wasn’t the raising but the spending of the cash. Burning through $100M while thinking you’re inevitable is not exactly an exemplar of fiscal competence. Discuss: is this just the health care fiasco in another guise?
Comments — Formatting by Textile
pj Wednesday, 11 June 2008 at 15:01
  1. Yes, but the effect is limited: it cuts the amount he has to raise in half, which may reduce the number of donors he needs to recruit by a factor of 3. Anyway, I don’t believe that funding is as important as the media makes it out to be. Still, McCain knows he has to inspire conservatives, that’s why he’s sounding conservative themes.
  2. The left has no special attachment to the chickenhawk trope. They don’t care, they’ll grab any argument that comes to hand. ‘Old, tired’ will do. None of htese attacks ever make any rational sense, they succeed by repetition and shouting.
  3. Yes.
Harry Eagar Wednesday, 11 June 2008 at 15:29

I don’t think it means anything this year, because the economy is going to elect Obama even if he spends zilch.

But I’d like to know why you think — contra not only “the media” but George Washington Plunkett — that funding isn’t so important.

Annoying Old Guy Wednesday, 11 June 2008 at 15:43

I tend to agree with PJ on the funding. I don’t think it’s irrelevant, but I do think it’s only a weak correlation with electoral success. If you are correct about Obama, that would be one big data point. I would cite several reasons for this

  1. You can’t fool people forever. Like cocaine, it takes ever greater doses to convince people to buy crap, and eventually you don’t have enough money to do it.
  2. Non-remunerated publicity is as big, if not bigger, than anything you can buy. So Old Media counts for more than any realistic amount of funding a candidate can get.
  3. You can’t buy an energized on the ground organization. You do need some money to run one even with enthusiastic volunteers, but there’s a lot of play in the amount, weakening the direct correlation.
Harry Eagar Wednesday, 11 June 2008 at 18:34

Well, Mr. Arianna Huffington and Al Cechhi (or whatever his name was) prove that if you are a loser and a jerk, money won’t always buy you an election, but that’s not the same thing as saying that with two reasonably evenly balanced candidates, if one spends a lot more, he won’t be a lot more likely to win.

If the vote were held today, it wouldn’t be a landslide. The split would be closer (probably a lot closer) than 55-45. The closer to 50-50, the better chance that money willmake the mare go.

Not much doubt in my mind that extra money spent in Florida could have changed the outcome in 2004.

And you don’t have to fool people forever, only until late October.

Annoying Old Guy Thursday, 12 June 2008 at 10:29

Clearly. That’s why we’re not saying it doesn’t matter, but it’s only a weak correlation. Other things being equal, more money will win. But it’s rare that other things are equal.

pj Thursday, 12 June 2008 at 11:38

Harry - Look at the last 10 presidential elections, since 1968. As a rule, the Democrat usually has a big lead in June, due in part to media favoritism. Republican generally makes up a lot of ground through the election, a period when there is rough spending parity. The fact is that in Presidential elections anyway, people want to hear both sides’ case and they’ll go to some effort to ferret out the proposition of both major party candidates.

I would agree that money gets progressively more important as you go to races that people care less about. But even there, what money buys is public knowledge of one’s name and general positions. Money won’t help a candidate whose character and views the public doesn’t like. Indeed, more visibility through money will drive down such a candidate’s popularity. A Huffington or an Alan Keyes probably get fewer votes with more exposure.

pj Thursday, 12 June 2008 at 11:41

Harry - PS - The Plunkitt case isn’t quite on point. Plunkitt used money to bribe the voters. Today, incumbents use the taxpayers’ money to bribe voters. The lesson from Plunkitt is that today incumbency matters, not campaign contributions.

Harry Eagar Friday, 13 June 2008 at 14:21

Well, let’s do look at the last 10 presidential elections.

Press favored the Democrats in ‘72? I don’t think so.

In ‘76. Again, no.

In ‘80. Hardly

In ‘84? Just the opposite

In ‘88. Yeah, they were all in the tank for Dukakis in the tank hat

In ‘92. Don’t make me laugh

In ‘96. What, Whitewater? Never heard about it.

In ‘00. A tossup

In ‘04. Maybe at the start but it turned on Kerry pretty quickly

Where do you guys get your news?

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 13 June 2008 at 14:59

I used to get my news from the newspapers and network news, but not any more because of them being in the tank for the Democratic Party. I was around for all of those elections and I have the completely opposite view that you do. Just for one example, the press didn’t turn on Kerry, it was finally forced to stop protecting him. I would also note that a number of your examples seem to take the point of view that if Old Media reports anything negative about a Democratic Party candidate, then it’s not biased in that candidates favor. I hardly think that’s a valid contention. For every “Dukakis in a hat” there’s “Clumsy Ford” or “senile Reagan”.

And it seems that I am, for once, not the odd one out.

P.S. And of course, Evan Thomas strongly disagrees with you as well.

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 13 June 2008 at 15:10

Here’s a classic example of the day to day bias of Old Media for the Democratic Party. This isn’t exceptional, this is exactly the kind of relentless rewriting of history and facts to favor a particular party that has gone on for decades. Single incidents when the reality dysfunction became too large for even Old Media to sustain are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Bret Friday, 13 June 2008 at 16:57

Here’s a post I wrote about an objective study of media bias:

The results are that every media outlet studied, except for Fox News, was more liberal than the median of the House of Representatives. Since the median Representative should roughly reflect the views of the median citizen, this implies that most of the major media is more liberal than the median citizen.

There’s no doubt the the media is more liberal and therefore more supportive of democrats than the average voter.

Harry Eagar Sunday, 15 June 2008 at 12:59

What the Times actually said: ‘A recent item posted on the site defends Michelle Obama against an accusation bandied about by several bloggers as well as conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh that Ms. Obama used the word “whitey” while speaking at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Using video and other documents, the campaign is seeking to prove that “Michelle Obama has not spoken from the pulpit at Trinity and has not used that word.”’

After being passed through several filters, this becomes an indictment of the Times for blaming conservative bloggers. It did not do that.

Maybe you should go back to reading the paper newspapers, Guy.

Harry Eagar Sunday, 15 June 2008 at 23:19

Tee hee.

This is getting rich.

Thanks to Charles Johnson, I learn that the whitey hoax still has legs — at Fox.

How do you like your crow?

Annoying Old Guy Monday, 16 June 2008 at 08:49

Yes, the Times was careful to insert Rush Limbaugh, but avoided any mention of the actual source and primary promoter of the rumor, using instead the generic term “bloggers” and letting guilt by proximity carry the subtext. I.e., the normal person reading that article would come away with the impression that it’s Limbaugh and his blogger allies promoting the rumor, a clearly false impression. Are you telling me that naming peripheral players and ignoring primary sources is standard journalistic technique? Or that most people won’t read it that way?

P.S. I am not sure why the rumor persisting on Fox in any way negates my point. How does that change the fact that the Times is covering for Larry Johnson, like it covered for Richard Armitage?

Annoying Old Guy Monday, 16 June 2008 at 09:19

If that was too subtle, here’s another round up.

I will point out, however, that this is all anecdotal. Certainly Old Media will, at times, report stories detrimental to the Democratic Party / MAL, not only because not doing so is simply too blatant, but because their nihilistic excitement over comes their ideological bias. Or they are so divorced from the American Street they don’t realize how such a story will play there.

Harry Eagar Monday, 16 June 2008 at 11:21

I dunno. Whitewater was a hoax, originated by a rightwing newspaper publisher, but I don’t recall that the NY Times or any other allegedly pro-Democratic paper let up even after the hoax was exposed.

Remember, you’re debating a newspaperman. You’ve got Patterson znd McCormick hanging around your neck like two millstones.

Annoying Old Guy Monday, 16 June 2008 at 12:28

Whitewater was a hoax? How did fifteen people get federal convictions for it then? Why did Susan McDougal go to jail rather than testify? Was it all done by the judicial agents of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy?

P.S. I know I am debating a newspaperman, but being a free marketeer I am just the kind of person who will take advantage of a handicap like that.

You’ll have to refresh me on Patterson and McCormick. I netsearched a bit but didn’t find anything that seemed relevant. But it least it seems that I don’t have Fox News hanging about my neck anymore.

Harry Eagar Monday, 16 June 2008 at 18:10

Capt. Patterson and Col. McCormick, who brought us McCarthyism through the pages of the Daily News and the Tribune.

It was a hoax as far as the Clintons were concerned. Or are you among those who believe they bumped off Vince Foster? Or that Bill was running coke into Mena?

The ones who went to jail were mostly Clinton enemies, not Clinton allies. Sheesh.

Anyhow, it is amusing to see you guys attacking the product of the most market-oriented, least regulated business sector in America.

Annoying Old Guy Monday, 16 June 2008 at 19:08

Ah. You know, for a newspaper man, you don’t seem to use much that is new as a basis for your positions. And since you’re using historical figures to argue about present day behavior, does that mean I can use the historical association of the Democratic Party and the KKK to claim modern day racism? Or do only groups with certain ideologies retain historical stains?

Whitewater was about financial corruption, so I don’t see how Whitewater was a hoax as far as the Clintons were concerned. It’d be like saying that Rezko’s corruption was a hoax as far as Rod Blagojevich is concerned, even if Blagojevich never gets convicted. Or that Blagojevich couldn’t be involved in financial corruption with Cook County Republicans — after all, they’re political enemies, right? And then there’s enemies like Susan McDougal…

Newspapers are hardly one of the least regulater, market oriented business sectors in America. It’s far more regulated than the sector I work in, computer software. I would put it about in the middle, where it may be easy to start a newspaper but complex media ownership regulations are not small matter. As for market oriented, haha. Just look at the resistance to Zell bringing modern American business practices to journalism. I think that many, particularly large, newspapers will fail precisely because they value ideology over markets, the Times being the archetype.

Harry Eagar Tuesday, 17 June 2008 at 11:06

No, they’re failing because their product is being stolen and because morons with money are destroying their abiity to deliver product. Zell is one of the morons. He has no idea what he’s doing, a pure idiot.

I’d call it a classic market failure, except that there’s an even more classic one going on right in front of our eyes elsewhere.

Besides, newspapers are mostly very profitable. It’s an odd market that views this as bad, but there you have it.

“Complex media ownership regulations” may affect people who own TV stations, but they do not have anything to do with newspapers. You can own as many newspapers as you like, no questions asked.

Brad S Tuesday, 17 June 2008 at 13:33

Harry, what AOG meant was that you can only own TV stations and newspapers in the same market if you buy an entire media company AND if the DOJ allows you to do it. For example, Sam Zell’s Tribune can own both the LA Times and KTLA (along with another TV station just down the freeway in San Diego) since KTLA has never been considered that “influential” a TV station.

OTOH, there is no way that the DOJ would ever allow Gannett to buy the Denver Post while owning KUSA at the same time, even though Gannett already owns the Ft. Collins Coloradan in the same media market.

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 17 June 2008 at 15:14

Mr. Eagar;

My friend the Intrepid Girl Reporter, who has first hand knowledge of the situation at the LA Times, doesn’t fully agree with Zell but she identified the same problems he did. But I would rather dwell on other issues.

First, Zell is a successful businessman, who presumably knows something about running a standard, market oriented business. If that makes him an idiot who doesn’t know what he’s doing running a newspaper, that would seem to support the contention that modern newspapers are not run like other businesses.

Also, you state that newspapers are “failing” and “mostly very profitable”. It’s hard to see those both as being true. Is this another “throw everything and see what sticks” argument?

Finally, Brad is correct my point about regulation of newspapers. When you buy one, contrary to your claim, the feds do ask questions, primarily about any ownership you have of other media outlets.

P.S. I completely disagree with the “stealing content” claim. Do you mean like how Craig’s List stole all that content? Or the ongoing flap about the Associated Press striking back at those thiefs only to discover that such activity was, in fact, a net benefit to them and are backing off their original stance? Or did you mean how I just “stole” content from the NY Times with that link?

joe shropshire Tuesday, 17 June 2008 at 16:23

I’ve long counted as one of the quirkier glories of the free market system, the fact that Harry makes his living as business reporter. Never let it be said that capitalism has no sense of humor. And I’m as puzzled as AOG as to which things of value you think are being stolen from the Maui News, and by whom. Can’t be the condo ads: Craig’s List competes with you for those fair and square. Can’t be national or international news, since those mostly come straight from AP or Reuters or the Times anyway. Can’t be your opinions on things, since those are on offer for free on your blog. The comics, maybe?

Harry Eagar Tuesday, 17 June 2008 at 18:24

My news stories. You can buy them for 50 cents. Or you can read them for free at www.mauinews.com, but in exchange you have to be exposed to banner ads.

When my work product is lifted, dozens of times each day, and posted on the Internet, without permission and without compensation, what is that except theft?

Newspapers are a funny business, and they don’t work like other businesses. Not many people know the history of newspapers as businesses (no reason for most people to care, even), but I know and Zell doesn’t. He could save himself a lot of grief and money if he’d ask me why newspapers go out of business.

I won’t tell him for free, though.

Newpapers are failing because they are being killed by stupid hedge fund operators, and they are profitable because they are, well, profitable.

I have an exercise I suggest to people who say the MSM is bad or worthless or unneeded. Spend four bits (2 bits for the Daily News) and buy a paper. Mark every story in the paper that you can find on the Internet, except those that were put on the Internet by the paper or stolen from it.

You won’t need much ink.

The newspaper is not only the best but the only technology ever devised for keeping a local community informed about what’s going on. There is no other “model” being put forward to replace it.

There is a line in “A Man for All Seasons” that my professor of English constitutional history liked to quote, the one about “what will you do, the laws all being knocked down?” (Not sure of the exact words, it’s been a while).

Gronker Tuesday, 17 June 2008 at 21:07

Print is dead. And for good reason. Most papers pushed political agendas above true reporting. They got away with it for the simple reason that print was the only place you could get more than the quick synopsis of the news given by network TV news. But since the editors of the papers and the news rooms of the TV were all cut from the same cloth, it was a reinforcement of same biased views.

Now, people have a choice. They can read biased rags like the NYT, LA Times and their ilk or choose to get their information from multiple sources on the net. They can judge the accuracy of their news sources for themselves and vote with their feet. And rather than taking this decline as an indicator of the flaws in their product they stand around shaking their fist at the everything else.

Network News is in decline and the circulations of the major rags are in freefall because there is finally competition to their slanted reporting. A life time of reporting that made me cringe had already made me a once-in-a-month newspaper reader. Now, I can get links to 15 different papers and news sources, read their versions of the events and compare. It becomes VERY obvious in that environment to see what goes on with the subtle changes to the news stories to color the story to a particular bias.

What really upset me were the wires. I already knew how far out of whack the major papers were; it was obvious. But the wire services I had always (naively) believed were above that sort of thing. I always hoped that the AP and that gang just reported the news in the field. But that has proven to not be the case either.

Print is dead.

joe shropshire Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 23:05

When my work product is lifted, dozens of times each day

Mmmm, I’m going to go ahead and say that it probably hasn’t been. Your webmaster may tell you different, but I’ve looked at a couple of dozen of your news articles and it appears that you’ve got the normal spider linkage but not more than that. Linking to you isn’t quite stealing from you, if you produce words for your living.

Annoying Old Guy Thursday, 19 June 2008 at 21:53

Yes, I checked a few too and Google couldn’t find any copies.

But it’s interesting that Mr. Eagar started out with how newspapers were so very similar to other businesses and now they’re not. I still want to know what hedge fund operators destroyed the New York Times and the Boston Globe.

Harry Eagar Saturday, 21 June 2008 at 13:26

Google doesn’t search everything. Far from it. Sign up for Google Alert, type in your own name and watch what doesn’t happen.

Usually, the thieves strip off all identifiers when they steal my stuff, so you won’t find it in a Google or even a Metacrawler search.

I spot it frequently when doing topic searches. I recognize my own writing.

Annoying Old Guy Saturday, 21 June 2008 at 14:10

Why would I expect anything to happen if I typed my name in to Google Alert? No one writes anything about me, either in print or on the Internet. I have no idea what you think I should watch for the absence of.

On the contrary, I have used Google to locate comments I have written on other weblogs, it seems to do a very thorough job in tracking those. And it finds every publication I have from when I was in graduate school. As far as I can tell, Google has a nearly complete record of all of my Internet activity.

I also tried your newspaper marking suggestion our own local newspaper but failed to discern what the point was. It was about 1/3 locally produced and the rest from the AP. Of course, all the AP stories are on the Internet, put there by the AP. The local ones were only on the paper’s website or the local TV station’s website. And so … ? Is your presumption that if the particular version of a story written by the local newspaper isn’t on the Internet, no story or information about that event is? Or that its uniqueness makes it interesting / relevant? I honestly fail to grasp what illumination you expected me to gain from the effort.

But that ties back to an earlier point, which is that I needed no help from Old Media to figure it out, and frankly I probably would understand it less had I read Old Media reporting about it rather than investigating it myself. What, then, is the value add of Old Media?

Had Old Media, in general, stuck to factual, non-ideologically based reporting, I think far more people would consider it far more valuable. But as it is, the bias and shoddiness are so pervasive that it ranks little better than rumour. Old Media, IMHO, threw away its essential value, credibility, to persue “change” and “social justice”. Now they’re reaping the results and those few journalists with some integrity and clue will end up going down with them.

P.S. When I searched for your stuff, I used phrases from the text, because I assumed any attribution would have been stripped. But having done some other research (on the Internet, horrors!) it seems that there are lot of automatic aggregators that scoop up content illegally. I never visit those and so had no idea they were so many of them.

Harry Eagar Saturday, 21 June 2008 at 18:53

Well, now you know. Is it OK with you if I object to having my stuff stolen?

You seem to miss the point about newspapers. They’re full of news.

Do you know what’s up with, say, long term strategies for supplying your community with water? (A non-trivial issue where I live and many other places.) If you do, how? If you don’t, was the information in the newspaper you don’t read?

Annoying Old Guy Saturday, 21 June 2008 at 19:22

Well, no, I don’t know. Your claim is sufficiently plausible and you are sufficiently trustworthy that I am willing to take your word for it until I see clear counter evidence. You have not, for instance, supplied a single link demonstrating something that happens “dozens of times each day”. As a libertarian, I certainly support property rights, including intellectual property. I never denied that, or even implied that such theft was acceptable, just that I don’t find it a plausible explanation for the economic troubles of very profitable newspapers.

You seem to miss the point about newspapers. They’re full of news.

And the oceans are full of water, but I don’t drink from them.

I have tiny amount of knowledge about long term water issues here. I know because I have attended talks by a local start up that does modeling for that kind of thing. If I wanted to know more, I’d talk to them. I don’t think I have ever seen anything about that in the paper, but then I don’t look much.

The point you’re missing is that once I have seen one too many stories that were massively incorrect because of ideological bias and shoddy research in the newspaper, how can I trust anything there? Even if there were stories about water planning, for what reason would I assume that the text had any relationship with reality? If have I to spend time sifting and analyzing for the purposes of verification, why bother reading the story in the first place?

It’s fascinating to me that you are so quick to condemn other industries when they put out low quality product, even if it’s just company in an entire sector (Enron?), but Old Media, as a business, is immune.

Harry Eagar Sunday, 22 June 2008 at 14:50

I never said newspapers don’t out out a poor quality product. Nobody is more severe on their performance than I am. (I take shots at them all the time at Restating the Obvious.)

What I said was no one has come up with an alternative, not even a bad one, to what newspapers do.

Over time, newspapers have gotten better, not worse, although the impact of the evalutairs who can’t see past the next quarter to quarter on the big chains has been disastrous.

The financial situation of newspapers is precarious (although most are making money, and many are making big money) because of technological and social changes. The big one is the decline in the average household size.

The charge (made mostprominently by Glenn Reynolds) that newspapers are failing to adapt to the digital revolution rings hollow. Every time a newspaper tries, the digital innovators steal its stuff.

Since it’s out there for free, nobody will pay for it.

You don’t have to be a market guru to figure out that if a manufacturer has his product stolen and receives no revenue, eventually he will stop manufacturing.

Annoying Old Guy Sunday, 22 June 2008 at 17:08

You implied it strongly, by attributing the general decline of newspapers to external force only, not poor quality product. Surely the latter is a far more compelling explanation than “hedge fund operators”.

But wait — now newspapers are not being killed by stupid hedge fund operators, but by technological and social changes. No, wait, it’s having the product stolen. Do you ever look back and ask “why does my basic thesis change every time I post a comment?”? It does make arguing with you a rather challenging proposition.

But, if there really is no alternative to newspapers, why worry about it? That which is necessary will continue. And if, as you say, newspapers are so lightly regulated, no number of “stupid hedge fund operators” or “technological and social changes”, or “having their product stolen”, or whatever cause shows up in your next comment, can destroy the industry. If one newspaper is destroyed, that just clears a space for another to start.

Harry Eagar Tuesday, 24 June 2008 at 03:02

Well, no, the cost of entry is very high, which is why hardly any new papers have established themselves in old markets for the past 80 years or so.

Some entrants in small markets have grown big along with their markets (San Jose Mercury News, Newsday). But look at the counterexamples: PM, Washington Times, New York Sun. No advertisers.

Why cannot all the things I have cited be working at the same time? It cannot be helpful to the product if very profitable papers lay off 10-15% of their staffs, cut back pages by 10%, all because hedge fund morons demand even bigger quarterly profits.

If you think ‘that which is necessary will continue,’ I invite you to consider the history of municipal mass transportation, which was killed off by a set of circumstances very like what is working against newspapers now.

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 24 June 2008 at 09:33

A high cost of entry doesn’t explain the consolidation in various markets over the last 30 years or so. Declining profitability and markets seems more compatible with the historical record.

All of the things you mention could be working at the same time. But it’s disingenuous to base which ones you bring up on what point you are trying to make at the time.

It cannot be helpful to the product if very profitable papers lay off 10-15% of their staffs, cut back pages by 10%, all because hedge fund morons demand even bigger quarterly profits.

Product quality decline long predates those sort of layoffs. I will also start to take your “hedge fund morons” theory as better than laughable once you tell me which hedge fund morons did this to the NY Times. Or even the Chicago Tribune. After all, the whole point of taking a company private (as Zell did) is to avoid precisely that focus on quarterly results. Yet you don’t like that, either.

As it turns out, I had lunch with some staffers from the local newspaper yesterday and their view of industry problems as it affects their jobs is radically different from yours. They blamed it mostly on lack of business expertise by the owners / managers, precisely the sort of thing Zell is addressing. Maybe they’re wrong, but I think it does argue for the plausibility of an alternate view.

OK, I will consider the history of municipal mass transportation … yes, it mostly went away and no disaster struck. In fact, things seem to have gone well. Which would indicate a lack of necessity. Around here, there has been a big political battle about mass transit, with the MT trying to expand and places without trying all sorts of desperate measures to avoid (to the extent of trying to incorporate as new township to reject the expansion). That means a strong consensus that not only is mass transit not necessary, but it’s not even a positive.

Harry Eagar Wednesday, 25 June 2008 at 17:58

Certainly not a positive for suburbanites. So? You just think ‘no disaster struck’ because you don’t use it. A lot of people — millions, maybe even tens of millions — got frozen out of the job market when cheap mass transportation was eliminated.

I don’t object to taking newspapers private. I prefer it. It’s just that Zell doesn’t understand the business he is trying to reform. But that’s capitalism; you don’t get to choose your owner.

Newspapers are/have been in big trouble for lots of reasons, and I cited the main one: smaller households.

I don’t think that’s the sort of thing you ‘manage.’

There was a curious story yesterday. The Palm Beach Post is laying off half its editorial staff and 130 employees overall out of 1,350, which is what it took to support a moderate-size paper (circ. 175,000).

If you think somebody is about to step up and replace that amount of boots on the ground, I’d like to know who it is.

The curious thing about the Post is that, 40 years ago, it barely existed. A perfect example of a paper starting small by passing over a low threshold and growing.

Annoying Old Guy Wednesday, 25 June 2008 at 20:57

I think no disaster struck because all the various social indicators didn’t collapse, as they would in a disaster. Moreover, you’re shifting the goal posts — the point in question was whether it was necessary. I cited evidence indicating it wasn’t.

I don’t see why smaller households would be bad for newspapers — I would think the opposite, since newspapers are sold to households more than to people.

1350 staff for a circulation of 175K? That means it took a full time staffer for every 130 papers. That seems like a lot of staff to me. That’s almost 8 people per thousand subscribers just to deliver one newspaper. Maybe back in the days of hand layout for offset printing, that might have been needed, but today? I did better than that when I ran a student newspaper 20 years ago.

If you think somebody is about to step up and replace that amount of boots on the ground, I’d like to know who it is.

Why would anyone need to? No one replaced all those boots in the crop fields yet we still eat just fine. Or all those boots on the assembly line, but we produce even more goods.

Ali Choudhury Thursday, 26 June 2008 at 05:24

There was an interesting study by the Univ. of Chicago on newspaper bias:

A comparison of circulation data (per capita) to the ratio of Republican to Democratic campaign contributions by ZIP code showed that circulation was strongly related to whether the newspaper matched the readers’ own ideology.

Their measure indicates that The Los Angeles Times, for example, is a liberal paper. Its circulation suffers in Southern California ZIP codes where donations to Republicans are especially high.

The authors calculated the ideal partisan slant for each paper, if all it cared about was getting readers, and they found that it looked almost precisely like the one for the actual newspaper. As Dr. Shapiro put it in an interview, “The data suggest that newspapers are targeting their political slant to their customers’ demand and choosing the amount of slant that will maximize their sales.”

So if circulation is falling, it can’t be because of the political content. Must be because people have other ways of finding all the different bits and pieces newspapers provide.

Harry Eagar Thursday, 26 June 2008 at 23:17

But there are no other ways.

Maybe, probably, they don’t care that they don’t know, but it is absurd to claim that they found out via some other method.

And, yes, it takes a lot of labor and money to gather and disseminate the information you get from a newspaper.

As for the study by the U. of Chicago, I have two words: Chicago Tribune.

joe shropshire Thursday, 26 June 2008 at 23:44

But there are no other ways

Of course there are. If I want to buy a used car, or a condo, then there’s Craig’s List. If I want to do a crossword puzzle, they sell books of those. Movie listings? On the Internet. Sports? ESPN. Comics? The Cartoon Channel. Hard news? The Daily Show. I could go on, but you get the idea.

One of your economic hobby horses, if I remember right, is ‘disaggregate the aggregates’. A big chunk of of what used to be your readership has done just that to you, and you are not taking it very well. We can sympathize, to an extent — pride dies hard — but this really is a Harry Eagar problem, not anyone else’s.

joe shropshire Friday, 27 June 2008 at 01:58

As to ‘it takes a lot of labor and money’, I find myself wondering how much was needed to produce this item from our local Fox affiliate. A bit of background: Colorado since 1992 has what’s called a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR. TABOR more-or-less constrains local and state government to grow no faster than the population does. Douglas Bruce is a state legislator, and the guy who wrote TABOR. He is reviled by all right-thinking people, peace be upon him. Anyway, government types here, of both parties, will try pretty much anything to get around it. Here’s the latest thing:

Bruce gathers petitions to put fee issue on ballot

By Laura Forbes

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2008 at 9:39 p.m.

Representative Douglas Bruce has turned in more than enough signatures to put the issue of the city’s Stormwater Enterprise Fee, along with other enterprises, on the November ballot. Bruce calls it an “illegal tax.” Others say it is not only legal, it is necessary.

“That’s a nice fairy tale,” said city council member Jerry Heimlicher. He says if people were angry, they would have voted differently for city council. “We had a referendum on this in April of last year,” he said.

He says the project is necessary for clean drinking water and public safety. “What we’re trying to do is make sure we don’t have any more children die in our ditches.”

“The ends don’t justify the means,” said Bruce. He doesn’t deny the problem, but says it should be paid by eliminating wasteful spending. He said, “The highest paid city employee makes $550,000 a year.”

“What do you want, a hundred thousand dollar a year jerk running the hospital? So that when you and I get sick we have to deal with some incompetent person just because he has a low salary?,” said Heimlicher.

You’d have to think the station could have saved itself some time and money, and the councilman some embarrassment, had it simply printed up one of his press releases. Come to think of it, there’s your alternative model right there. Let us simply have a press release aggregator for every town, city and state. Craig Newmark’s outfit could probably roll one out nationwide in a few months. The amount of real information available to the public would probably not decrease, the degree of tendentiousness could hardly go up from where it is now, and it would be cheaper.

Harry Eagar Tuesday, 01 July 2008 at 00:31

Over at Instapundit, a commentor suggested that a cheap replacement for newspaper reports is public access cable TV.

First, it ain’t cheap.

Second, yes you COULD watch a 16-hour hearing on (to pick a real-life example) whether to extend the runway at the local airport.

Yeah, right.

This afternoon, while waiting for my ride home, I tried to figure out what it does cost to produce one substantial news story, and I came up with a minimum $1K at my paper. It could be much higher in a big city with higher costs. International news, off the charts.

That’s not to transfer it to paper or deliver, just to acquire the information, write it, have it edited and have a page designer convert it into digits.

That’s for an ordinary story of no particular difficulty.

I got a call today asking for a copy of a story I did about 10 years ago. Looking back, I figure I spent about $10K of the boss’s money just doing the reporting on that one.

Was it a good investment? Well, it saved a $2 billion/yr local business.

I can guarantee that there was never any chance that anybody but me and my newspaper was going to ventilate that one.

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 01 July 2008 at 09:56

But that seems to mean that you agree with Instapundit’s primary claim, that “hard-news reporting is the killer app for Big Media, but they just don’t want to do it”, which is one of my primary claims as well. Is that a correct reading?

But one might look at, say, Michael Totten, and ask “is that the future?”.

Harry Eagar Tuesday, 01 July 2008 at 13:15

No, I don’t agree, because there is already plenty of hard news reporting, and because Reynolds also is opposed to property rights for intellectual producers.

How he justifies that and considers himself a libertarian conservative, I don’t know, but there you have it.

It’s possible that newspaper technology cannot be adapted to the kind of economy we have now. Believe me, the worker bees worry about this. A guy I used to work with (you’d recognize his name) used to say, about once a week, “What kind of billion-dollar business depends on 12-year-olds to deliver its product?”

That was then. In the years since, adults have mostly taken over delivery, which means more cost in fuel per paper delivered than in the old days. This looks unsustainable to me right now.

I was talking to my delivery lady about that last week. She might decide to get out of the business if things don’t change.

These problems have nothing to do with content. Despite claims by people like Reynolds, newspapers are less ideological, reporters are better educated and ethical standards are higher now than they have ever been. There really aren’t any Walter Trohans nowadays.

Michael Totten is not the future. I’ve read some of his stuff. It varies in quality, some is pretty good. As a business model, his probably has about as much future as listener funding of public radio and TV; that is, not much.

To the extent he gets paid up front at all, it’s because he’s chosen a topic to write about that has a sizable constituency. That’s not novel. Reporters have written about the Middle East for upfront subscriptions for a long time (they’re called oil analysts, and they collect a lot more than Totten does).

One of the more important topics in that area, which I’ve touched on at Restating the Obvious, is parasitology. You can probably imagine the response if I were to go online and ask for donations so that I could write daily reports from the frontlines of guinea worm eradication.

joe shropshire Tuesday, 01 July 2008 at 17:35

Again, Michael Totten’s business model is Michael Totten’s problem. (I would add Michael Yon to that list, as well.) Yours is yours. You seem to have got the idea in your head that your customers should care whether you make a living or not. We don’t, any more than you or Michael Totten care about whoever writes your software for you. Software companies go out of business all the time, and new ones start up in their place, and you will probably always be able to buy software from someone, because people will always volunteer to write it. So also with news. That’s what’s so funny about this: you are a business reporter, you talk to people every day who have to scrounge for funds before they can even think about producing a product. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be one of them. Ask AOG sometime about trying to raise money to do the thing he likes to do.

Harry Eagar Tuesday, 01 July 2008 at 18:32

I don’t know of any newspaper that is asking for a handout or protection, other than the same right software companies have not to have their stuff copied and given away free or sold as come-ons for time share.

I have a friend who writes programs, copyrights them and then puts them in the public domain. Lucky for him, he has another source of income, ‘cause as a business model that doesn’t get you very far.

What I don’t see for software writers is gangs of lawyers running sophisticated campaigns to strip them of their property rights in the name of — well, I’ve never figured out what their rationale is, other than Willie Sutton’s. Publishers, whether of new or music, have enemies, and they are your enemies, too, only you don’t get it.

As a practical matter, when newspapers go out of business, new entrants don’t come in to replace them. Try to find an evening paper.

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 01 July 2008 at 21:29

You mean you’ve never heard of the Free Software Foundation?

As for handouts, what was Campaign Finance Reform but a massive handout to Old Media? Everyone was limited in what they could say politically, except “journalists”. Or Shield Laws, for that matter.

We’ll just have to disagree, as I don’t believe that intellectual property theft is even a minor contributor to current economic problems in Old Media. Virtually none of the people reading the stolen data would have ever paid for it. If the theft were stopped, they’d just stop reading.

Bret Tuesday, 01 July 2008 at 22:50

harry eagar wrote: “You can probably imagine the response if I were to go online and ask for donations so that I could write daily reports from the frontlines of guinea worm eradication.

And having journalists like Totten who only write about topics of general interest is bad why?

Harry Eagar Tuesday, 01 July 2008 at 23:02

Lemme rewrite that: ‘And having only journalists like Totten . . .’

joe.shropshire Wednesday, 02 July 2008 at 00:20

only journalists like Michael Totten

Yes, say all here assembled. Journalists are a commodity, raw material, as are programmers; Totten is something more than a hack, as you and I are not. When I said, ‘pride dies hard’, I did not mean just your own.

Ali Choudhury Wednesday, 02 July 2008 at 11:49

More on why newspapers can’t compete:


Read the whole thing.

Harry Eagar Monday, 07 July 2008 at 15:26

Read it. Who the hell wants a libertarian slant on the news?

Well, libertarians. But that vitiates Fred’s point that newspapers are slanted. In fact, they aren’t. Not compared to anything that purports to replace/compete with them.

Newspapers have been in trouble for years. But they make enormous profits.

Zell thinks 20% operating margin is too little, so he destroys the product.

Something similar happened to the US shoe manufacturing business.

You can still buy a decent pair of shoes, it’s true, but they will cost you close to $3,000.

Somebody explain to me why this is an admirable system.

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 08 July 2008 at 13:56

The system is admirable because it lets the people, not you, decide what is a “decent pair of shoes”.

Or you could ask Spengler,.

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