EASTSIDER-Full disclosure: I’ve always been a news junkie. Until lately, when I stopped watching for a week because it was all the same stuff and I couldn’t take it anymore. I had been channel surfing, and trying to figure out why all 200 news media outlets have the same 10 stories every day, like synchronized swimming. It used to be that local stations actually did local news, newspapers did investigative journalism, and it was only the one or two big national news items that got any system-wide attention.
That’s all changed in the last decade. There are no real reporters anymore, because they all got fired to save money. Heck, even the old wire services like the AP, UPI & Reuters are going down fast. For those of you who don’t recognize any of these names, they are havens for journalists to sell their news stories to whomever is willing to buy them. They are great for avoiding the cost of having to pay employees to cover overseas events, with all that payroll overhead. You can read more about them here.
One way to look at wire services is that they were the harbinger of the new cost cutting measures to provide no news at all. If you think about it, those brave wire service men and women were the first wave of our new “gig”, or “sharing” economy, where there are really no employers as such, hence no nasty overhead costs or liability for the big corporations who pipe out the news.
Kinda’ like the Los Angeles Times of Chicago we have now, with under 400,000 subscribers and one centralized source of non-content. Leavened by a few casual help. Or the local television stations and cable networks, where all the money goes to the few talking heads, who have to fix their teeth and regularly visit the plastic surgeon to look just like their employers want, and spend hours just getting through makeup so we can adore them on air.
So what happened to the news? Now we have the same formula across the 200 or so media outlets. Ninety percent of this “news” is the same identical regurgitation of every single shooting, mass protest, car chase or international terrorism event in the universe, plus a couple of the same national political events. This pablum is then bookended by stories about Tech and Social Media.
The only way we can tell the difference between a national and a “local” show, is that the local news has traffic and weather.
So what’s the new source of news?
After a week away from the news, I tried again, and Eureka! I suddenly understood what’s replaced reporting. We now have TWEETS! It finally occurred to me that over time, all the faces we see on television have been paying more and more attention to their iPhones and tablets and laptops. They have shifted to tweets for their news to share with the masses who tune in with bated breath, albeit in fewer numbers.
Tweets are perfect for the new news. They are cheap (free), mindless (at 140 characters or less, they can’t really convey much detail,) and by concentrating on what’s “trending,” you can leverage the burned out attention span of the masses to the folks who have zillions of followers. Yes sir, what’s trending now is the new mantra of the people who don’t want us actually thinking about the decline of our country by the corrupt politicians, their political parties, and the billionaires who own it all.
In short, it’s the absolutely perfect environment for Donald Trump. Think about it. He’s all flamboyancy, tweets instead of talks, he has tons of followers, gets off on controversy and creates all kinds of groovy stuff that the mindless talking heads can riff off of everyday. Wow, in our 24-hour endless news cycle, he is the perfect tool to increase audience share. Heck, sometimes he even tweets a bunch and then we get updated news flash tweets.
What a brilliant news concept. No cost here -- tweets are free. Even better, the personalities who inhabit the 200 news outlets don’t have to do any research, much less think. Just report the tweet, pump up the controversy and wait for the outrage.
Perfect. The twits who give us the news can handle tweets. No danger of substance there. No nasty facts. Revenues up. The owners of the outlets are happy. More advertisers.
Hillary Clinton doesn’t stand a chance. Character defects aside, the shortest sentence she knows is a paragraph. Face it, she’s a policy wonk at heart. She knows that this President stuff is complicated, darn it, and she is determined to share her expertise with us whether we want it or not.
So even as they go say “oh my goodness, see what Donald has done now,” the media love him – he’s the absolute paragon of tweets for twits like them. Hillary is boring. Unless, of course, she gets sick or has the two hundredth “new” report come out about her email server. Then it’s hot news, at least as a soundbite.
After all, the captains of industry who own the news media don’t really want to spend too much time talking about how she’s a member of the billionaire club. Not on air. After all, club members don’t rat each other out when it comes to money.
Now I am not saying that all news media personalities are twits. Some are probably smart – smart enough to swap millions of dollars a year in their personal services contracts in exchange for being a professional twit. And increasingly, they have their own twitter handles, so that people can follow them as they follow ....
Partly as a result of all of this pablum, and the shift away from print media, more people use smartphones than desktop computers these days. Recent studies would indicate that all this is simply increasing the gap between the haves and have nots when it comes to news.
These information shifts create all kinds of problems in terms of learning about what is really going on in the world that affects our lives and our money. People with crummy internet access, or none at all – something that is particularly prevalent in rural and low socioeconomic areas -- aren’t getting much real news at all. And the news that the rest of us get on our smartphones tends to be soundbite news -- most folks aren’t reading long articles on their phone.
So, how do we get informed?
The most important way to get informed is to have a population that has learned to learn and think for itself. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be a big goal of the current educational system, which focuses on career choices and specific occupations, even though most of the jobs that this produces won’t be around in a decade.
On the other hand, most people I know are pretty pragmatic and have at least developed a solid BS meter as they grow up. So let me share with you how I find the news.
Reading CityWatch is a great beginning. You will get more truth here about the machinations of our local political elite and their lords and masters than you will ever find in commercial media outlets. At least until Ken Draper makes a bundle of money and sells the website to MSNBC or Fox News.
More generally, given that we’re all time challenged, I use a news aggregator called Feedly.com, although there are lots of other web based sites that do the same thing. You take all the online information sources that you want to know about and these web apps deliver the summary content of each. That way I can look through the headers to choose which full articles to read. I also subscribe to the electronic editions of the LA Times (sigh) and the Sacramento Bee. Told you I’m a news junkie.
This system allows me to skim the posts for issues I’m interested in to get different points of view. Instantly. It’s a handy way to sort the crud from solid information. Otherwise, the temptation for us is to only get information that simply reinforces our existing beliefs. I believe the growth of this kind of niche media marketing is how we got to the place where people are challenged to have a civil conversation about matters political. Everyone reinforces his or her own belief system.
Honestly, to find out real information has never been easier. Even though we are all stressed with the realities of our everyday life -- making rent/mortgage/bills, trying to get/keep a job or series of gigs, kids and all that entails, figuring out health insurance, and a pension or anything that will allow us to retire – it’s important to take time to figure out the who, what and why of how we got into this mess. So that we don’t get surprised by the next financial meltdown, or at least get some notice to do our best to survive.
We all know that politicians won’t suddenly take the pledge and get honest, and that the icons of the financial services industry and corporate CEOs who control the entire global economy aren’t going to suddenly get religion and start paying the taxes on what they’ve been hiding overseas. We need to get smart and learn how to see who’s doing what to whom for ourselves.
Otherwise, it’s tweets, twits, and mindless mainstream media.
(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)