News, entertainment and fake news, it’s all part of the media mix and fighting for readers
Morning Brief: The word ‘entertainment’ makes some journalists uncomfortable, but successful publishers know that presenting a total media package attracts loyal readers
The world of publishing can be a wonderful place for those of us news junkies, but the reality is that it has always been a place where entertainment was at its core. The word ‘entertainment’ has some uncomfortable. I know my editor at a construction magazine found it strange that I used the word. I told him our mission was to make the magazine ‘entertaining’ but then went on to define ‘entertainment’ in a way that he found consistent with his own views – news, information, and commentary. These things are ‘entertaining’ if relevant to the reader. Even the driest story is entertaining to someone if well written and authoritative.
Newspaper Classifieds by Georgie Pauwels, used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
The problem is, of course, that lots of other kinds of content can be found to be entertaining, too. Like stories that reinforce our political biases, that make the other guy look bad, that are outrageous. My British friends hate to admit it, but their press sucks – and worse, is popular. My friends dismiss the criticism as simply by placing the British tabloids into their own category, separate from the ‘quality press’ whatever that is.
Today, many are looking at social media properties like Facebook and see it as at the center of the fake news phenomenon. It’s hard to argue that Facebook and Google are hardly good judges of what is valuable news. The lead story in Google News when searching for news on magazines is a column written when its author discovered that women’s magazines have ads in them, lots of them – and that is, apparently, a bad thing.
But the newspapers I worked for always had only a sliver of ‘real news’ in them, jammed into the A section. The rest was sports, entertainment, classifieds, and inserts – and our research always showed that this was actually what the readers really were paying for, what made getting the paper every day worth it. One study conducted by an LA weekly found that few readers pointed to the editorial at all when saying why they read the paper – they wanted the ads which told them where a movie was playing, where their favorite band was appearing, and what used car they might buy (those back of the book sex ads were also popular, of course). It killed the editor to admit that they were fighting for readership more with their own advertising than with an outside competitor.
All this is to say that fighting the fake news phenomenon will be a lot harder than just fact-checking stories, it will involve creative editors and publishers producing products that both inform and entertain their readers, without beating them over the head with stories about how stupid they are for believing climate change is a hoax or that the president was born in Kenya. Brow beating may involve telling the truth, but it is hardly ‘entertaining’ – it is the role of good writers to present the news both accurately and ‘entertaining’ – something that is too often interpreted to mean dumbed down and superficially. BS, depth of reporting is, itself, entertaining.
(If you just can’t stand the word “entertainment” substitute a different word, but don’t forget that the goal remains the same, reaching and retaining readers.)
Delete Everything! Torch Your Facebook Account and Walk Away
It’s a world-eating tech company that arguably threatens a free press and a democratic society in the U.S. and wants to fly laser drones over developing countries. Run by a founder who is at turns both ruthless and clueless in a way that would be funny if it weren’t also terrifying. Gave shit-poster supporter Palmer Luckey $2 billion. Many, very bad media companies wouldn’t exist without it. Jokes about it being the place where all your racist classmates from high school hang out are well-trodden territory, but, you know, also true? Changing the color of your profile pic to support [FILL IN THE BLANK]. “Maybe” attending events. Trending topics. Untagging yourself…
…Facebook has become so omnipresent — over 1.8 billion people worldwide are on the service per the company’s last quarterly report — that leaving can feel a bit like you’ll be missing out. But you’ll still know when the people you truly care about get engaged or have a baby or any of the other things we use Facebook to announce nowadays. You just won’t know when that person you played church-league basketball with has a new kid. And that’s information you can probably live without.
How bad is it? Pretty bad.
For a free press as a check on power this is the darkest time in American history since World War I, when there was massive censorship and suppression of dissent. I say this because so many things are happening at once to disarm and disable serious journalism, or to push it out of the frame. Most of these are well known, but it helps to put them all together. Here is my list…
…13. Amusing ourselves to death, as Neil Postman’s 1985 book put it, in which the logic of entertainment overtakes adjacent but nominally distinct spheres that are supposed to be governed by their own logic, as when newsworthiness and the requirements of political debate are subordinated to entertainment values by media companies obeying commercial imperatives, while claiming a public service mantle. For journalists, this is the import of Jeff Zucker’s reign at CNN, and one of the lessons of Trump’s career as a “reality TV” star.
It is hard to explain why journalists argue with their social media tormenters, but many do. Yes, it is a fact that journalist are very needy people, which explains why some of our trade press come up with asinine new award events (“Top Left Handers in Media” – “Top Media People Under 30” – “Top Media People Under 20” – “Top Media People Not Yet Born”). But why does an otherwise intelligent reporter argue with a Twitter user who uses an egg for their profile image and has exactly 20 followers?
But it cannot be denied that harassment of journalists via social media is on the rise and an ugly thing. It is now an accepted part of the job that a reporter will use social media to communicate with readers and promote their stories. Unfortunately, they are also having to deal with trolls, bots and more. It would be one thing if a readers simply disputed what the reporter was saying, but the standard attack line is simply that the media is biased and in the tank for the other guy.
But every the reality is that when you “block” the bots you discover that there are those out there who still appreciate your work, and help you carry on.
In 2016, An Anti-Troll Hero Came To My Rescue
As a “cuckkike” member of the “lugenpresse,” one frequently up to the “Jewish tricks” of trying to “spread fake news” about the new right internet, I spent much of this year absorbing horrific online abuse: anonymous death threats, ad hominem screeds, gas chamber memes about dead relatives, phone calls to my bewildered parents, and so on. In particular, a series of stories I reported about a sketch comedy show with a rabid alt-right following, Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace, led to months of ferociously personal harassment, including hate mail sent to my apartment. I like to think of myself as a “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” sort of guy. But man, this stuff takes a toll.
Yet, way far down, in the furthest vantablack depths of my Twitter mentions, amid the eggs and the Pepes and the iron crosses and the “Heinrich Hammlers,” I glimpsed this fall a glimmer of hope, and a potential way forward for all of us.
I bet there are executives at Apple that right now think we are all crazy for worrying about the company’s commitment to the Mac. After all, why would we be concerned that the company that got rid of floppy drives, the optical drive, the VGA port, and now the freakin’ headphone jack, would reconsider their commitment to the Mac?
But when the next earnings report is released in late January one can be sure that Mac sales will be disappointing. The new line-up of MacBook Pros has not exactly set the world on fire. And now Consumer Reports is bad mouthing the new models due to strange battery life tests that show performance to be all over the place. Consumers want better battery life – in their laptops as well as their smartphones – Apple wants thinner devices… for reasons that no one can understand. Somethings got to give, and battery life is what that something is.
Consumer Reports responds to MacBook Pro battery test controversy, stands by its findings
I observed that the high-end numbers seemed hard to believe, hitting almost double the battery-life claimed by Apple, and I wondered whether some flaw in the test regimen had led to erroneous results. I emailed the organization suggesting that it might like to repeat the tests, but Consumer Reports’ director of electronics testing Maria Rerecich has replied saying that she sees no need to do so …
In this case, we don’t believe re-running the tests are warranted for several reasons. First, as we point out in our original article, experiencing very high battery life on MacBooks is not unusual for us – in fact we had a model in our comparative tests that got 19 hours. Second, we confirmed our brightness with three different meters, so we feel confident in our findings using this equipment. Finally, we monitor our tests very closely. There is an entry logged every minute, so we know from these entries that the app worked correctly.