The news now chased the reader

Saturday, January 23rd, 2021

Traditional newspapers never sold news, Martin Gurri reminds us. They sold an audience to advertisers:

To a considerable degree, this commercial imperative determined the journalistic style, with its impersonal voice and pretense of objectivity. The aim was to herd the audience into a passive consumerist mass. Opinion, which divided readers, was treated like a volatile substance and fenced off from “factual” reporting.

The digital age exploded this business model. Advertisers fled to online platforms, never to return.


Led by the New York Times, a few prominent brand names moved to a model that sought to squeeze revenue from digital subscribers lured behind a paywall. This approach carried its own risks. The amount of information in the world was, for practical purposes, infinite. As supply vastly outstripped demand, the news now chased the reader, rather than the other way around.


During the 2016 presidential campaign, the Times stumbled onto a possible answer. It entailed a wrenching pivot from a journalism of fact to a “post-journalism” of opinion — a term coined, in his book of that title, by media scholar Andrey Mir. Rather than news, the paper began to sell what was, in effect, a creed, an agenda, to a congregation of like-minded souls. Post-journalism “mixes open ideological intentions with a hidden business necessity required for the media to survive,” Mir observes. The new business model required a new style of reporting. Its language aimed to commodify polarization and threat: journalists had to “scare the audience to make it donate.” At stake was survival in the digital storm.


In August 2016, as the presidential race ground grimly onward, the New York Times laid down a marker regarding the manner in which it would be covered. The paper declared the prevalence of media opinion to be an irresistible fact, like the weather. Or, as Jim Rutenberg phrased it in a prominent front-page story: “If you view a Trump presidency as something that is potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that.” Objectivity was discarded in favor of an “oppositional” stance. This was not an anti-Trump opinion piece. It was an obituary for the values of a lost era. Rutenberg, who covered the media beat, had authored a factual report about the death of factual reporting — the sort of paradox often encountered among the murky categories of post-journalism.


  1. Bruce says:

    Newspapers historically were 1) Government propaganda, 2) blackmail schemes, 3) Espionage, 4) Advertising. The French never trusted newspapers enough to buy things advertised there, so they stuck with the first three. The NYT and other Democratic party media have lost enough trust to lose the fourth, and they’ve lost the reporting chops for the third, so they are down to scandal sheet agitprop. Nobody trusts Internet news enough to buy stuff advertised here, but scattered smart randos provide 3) good reporting.

  2. Kirk says:

    The last 16 years of American history can be read as the powers-that-were burning their accumulated “credibility capital” as though it were an infinite resource.

    It is not.

    There will come a day, and one right soon (if it ain’t already here…) where the mere fact that something is reported by the captured mass media is taken as it being automatically false by the majority of the public. It’s already trickling into effect, because everyone I’ve spoken with, Trump adherent and hater alike, is saying “What the hell are they trying to hide…?”.

    You can’t keep a con going once you acknowledge that it is, in fact, a con. The oligarchy has just finished off that particular project, and it’s going to be interesting where things go, from here.

    A country like the US can only be governed effectively through consensus. Lose that consensus, and you’re going to lose power rather rapidly, because attempting to enforce your diktat via the good services of the current enforcement regime is going to end badly. There ain’t enough cops or Federal security types to really enforce anything, and the public has rather good evidence of that in Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco.

    I presume that one of the first steps taken by the Democrat/Republican oligarchy, now that they’ve rid themselves of the outsider (Trump) will be for them to purge the Antifa/BLM types they used as distractions. Thing is, I don’t think those elements are going to go back into the bottle, and what with the demoralization of the police and security forces that went along with all of the last year or so, I rather suspect that they’re not going to be able to regain control. Which has further implications in that the “rest of them”, including those who voted for Trump, are going to take the lesson in, and start behaving accordingly.

    They’ve pissed away both consensus and credibility built up over generations. They’re not getting them back, and I doubt that they can govern effectively without them. We lack the security infrastructure to make true diktat possible, and about all you’re going to be able to achieve is a state where Irish Democracy prevails, and everyone just ignores it.

    The idiot class has reached for ultimate power and control, and just like the Chinese oligarchy, what they will find is that raw chaos and the general intractability of reality is going to stop them dead in their tracks. You cannot stand athwart reality and demand, King Canute-like, that the tides recede.

    Gonna be entertaining to watch, though. The Gods of the Copybook Headings can be heard off in the wings, warming up for their next major appearance.

    The morons should have co-opted Trump, humored him, and then they’d have managed a few more years of success as parasites. Now that they actually have to produce results? LOL… Sweet Jesus, was the Biden/Harris ticket the result of a back-room bet to see how shitty a ticket they could run, and still pull off an electoral victory via fraud? Sure seems like it…

    One thing is for sure: The mask is off, and we now know who really runs the country. Going to be interesting to see how they try to shift the blame for fucking everything up, now.

  3. Lu An Li says:

    Objectivity in reporting was gone way before the election of 2016. Perhaps better to say objectivity as could be measured was gone way before that.

  4. Harry Jones says:

    I don’t think reporting has ever been objective or even remotely unbiased. But they used to pretend, and now they don’t bother faking it anymore.

  5. Paul from Canada says:

    Actually Harry, they only recently started to pretend. Before that, they were openly partisan, right down to their names, (The Republican Plain Dealer and so on).

    What was useful back then was that you knew the bias going in. If you were uncommitted or otherwise free thinking, you could read a paper from both sides, “average” the result, and get something like the actual true situation.

    The other thing that has changed, is that while biased, old school news was often fair, They at least paid lip service to showing the arguments of the other side. Also, they had a sense of right and wrong. If one of theirs was egregiously wrong or bad, he was attacked. There were certain minimum standards. Not so today.

  6. Kirk says:


    I humbly beg to differ. What has changed is that they’ve torn their masks off entirely.

    I’ve been reading newspapers here in the US since about 1975, generally from cover to cover and all of the major dailies in whatever market I lived in at the time. At no point in that period have I ever observed this supposed “objectivity”, nor has there ever really been anything even remotely “conservative”. Even the supposedly “right-wing” outlets were always informed by the progressive/left outlook, and reported accordingly. I honestly cannot remember ever reading anything at all that was “fair and balanced”, and the fact that the assclowns at Fox chose that as their tagline is merely really dark humor.

    The root problem with it all is that all of the outlets tell you their interpretations and weight the facts over just reporting them. Take, for example, the reporting of that supposed “OPM Breach” we had a few years ago, wherein an Obama appointee basically sold out every single clearance-holding American citizen to the Chinese.

    Bare facts were reported, innocuously describing it all as a “hack”, and totally downplaying the significance of it all. No outlet, whether supposedly “right-wing” or leftish, actually explained the significance of it all, or the likely effects it would have. Only if you had some slight knowledge of the clearance process or what OPM did would you have any inkling of the gravity of the situation, and even now, nobody is pointing out that this breach is why the Chinese have been able to identify and trail every single intelligence asset we’ve tried putting into China or anywhere else in their sphere of interest. Even in Africa, American intel assets are being blatantly tailed by the Chinese, making it blatantly obvious that their covers were compromised before they even left the US.

    Nobody is talking about that in the news, are they? Nobody is highlighting the fact that our human intelligence is basically blown worldwide by the Chinese, and nobody is talking about who was responsible for that happening. Care to guess why? It ain’t because the assholes in our media are right-wing, or that they’re even remotely objective.

    Fact is, the US media has been captured by the left since at least the 1930s. Everyone going into that field either is or becomes a left-wing “activist” through choice or indoctrination. Nobody with even the slightest real “right-wing” viewpoints or outlook can even get hired in even the most menial capacity at any outlet. I have watched highly qualified, excellent writers and reporters go for years being unable to find work in any capacity, while third-rate hacks straight out of journalism school wind up being hired immediately, just because they can mouth the proper lines when interviewed. Never mind that they know literally less than nothing about the subjects they were hired to write about, and what they do think they know is mostly wrong.

    The media is thoroughly corrupt, and always has been. It pretty much started about the time they started up the “schools of journalism”, and made them gatekeepers for getting a job. Back when, “reporter” used to be a mostly blue-collar job, looked down upon by decent, “educated” people. Today, it’s a field strictly confined to the academic-industrial bubble, and only ever tells the truth by sheerest accident.

    Funniest damn thing I have ever heard is idiot describing Fox News as “right wing”. Yeah, my ass–Ever look at the fact that they only ever cover the same stories as the rest of the media, providing only a veneer of slightly right-of-center commentary? The reality is, they’re entirely informed by the left, and only ever report their same lines of BS at the same times they do. Not once have I seen Fox actually “scoop” anyone with out-of-lockstep reporting or story choices, which is where you really can see the bias. It’s not what they are telling you, it’s what they chose to cover, and what gets ignored.

    Back to the OPM breach; anyone even vaguely familiar with the facts of what happened could have predicted what is going on right now with our overseas intel assets. At the time, I was frothing at the mouth, if only because I was one of the ones betrayed by the bastards responsible. Today’s news about compromised CIA assets is only one of the things that should have been predicted in the news about the breach back in 2015, and highlighted with particular attention paid to who, precisely, was responsible. Instead, it all got sloughed off and slid under the carpet by all concerned, allowing many of those same traitors to continue in government service. Hell, more than a few are coming back in the Biden administration as we speak… With precisely zero interest by any of the media clowns in highlighting or showing any of their past traitorous performances.

    Sadly for the West, we’re being run into the ground deliberately by traitorous vipers raised up in our midst. Inevitable eventual outcome? LOL… Enjoy the decline, baby, ‘cos it’s a comin’.

  7. Harry Jones says:

    Paul, I hope you’re right. It would mean we have nothing to worry about, except… ignorance.

    See, here’s the problem: I want to know what’s going on. I don’t believe the media, and I can’t triangulate between competing biases if none of them are reporting on important events at all. It seems we’ve been set back to the rumor mill. That works better for local matters than for national or international. And the lockdowns and fear are stifling the rumor mill.

    I have a feeling big things are brewing, and I’m out of the loop. How can I prepare for whatever’s coming if I don’t have information? Trying to extrapolate from history is guesswork. There’s never been a 21st century before.

  8. Lucklucky says:

    * The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country

    * The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country

    * The Times is read by the people who actually do run the country

    * The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country

    * Financial Times is read by people who own the country

    * The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country

    * The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.

    The Sun readers do not care who runs the country as long…

  9. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Harry Jones: “How can I prepare for whatever’s coming if I don’t have information? Trying to extrapolate from history is guesswork. There’s never been a 21st century before.”

    There has never been a 21st Century before, but there have been many societies in which the rulers debased their own currency — Zimbabwe and Germany are historically recent examples. We know exactly how money printing ends every time — and it is not good.

    The situations which are causing the US rulers to debase the currency are (1) the unsustainably huge & rising Federal Budget Deficit, and (2) the unsustainably large Trade Deficit. It is interesting that in all the noise around the recent Federal elections, those two existential issues were hardly ever mentioned — not by candidates, and not by the media. Yet those are the issues which will bring down the branch on which the Political Class currently sits so comfortably. Unfortunately, that branch will fall on our heads.

  10. Kirk says:


    The striking thing about our era is just how blind the people running things are to what the actual realities of their various situations are, and how blithely they piss away the real basis of their powers in our society.

    The news media has to have credibility and belief as their capital; lose that, and they’ve got nothing of value to offer anyone. Bang, there goes their financial basis, ‘cos who is going to buy a newspaper or watch a TV show that they don’t believe in the first place…?

    Academia? What happens when they debase the value of their diplomas to the point where nobody accepts them as being worth the paper they’re printed on? Ocasio-Cortez has a flippin’ economics degree from a prestigious institution, and every time she opens her mouth to opine on anything to do with the economy or numbers, there are probably a dozen more people taking careful note not to hire anyone else with a certificate from that school…

    If you think of the elite as sitting on a bank account of trust and credibility, what you’ll note is that they seem hell-bent on blowing every dime of that asset on BS, like drunken sailors out on a spree. What happens when they go to draw on that account, and there’s nothing left? What happens when they give orders, and nobody obeys or pays any attention to them?

    I’ve always wondered about that quote from Solzhenitsyn–The one that goes: “And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family?”

    What, do you suppose, happens when the elites discover that nobody, to include their hatchet men, believe or trust them at all? What happens when they just ignore the orders?

    I think we saw an example in Romania, when the regime fell. Didn’t end very well for the regime leaders, did it?

    I also suspect that model is a lot more likely than many realize. Particularly within the “elite”.

  11. Paul from Canada says:

    “Paul, I hope you’re right. It would mean we have nothing to worry about, except… ignorance.”

    Sorry to say Harry, that even IF I’m right,(Kirk disagrees and has convincing arguments), we are still screwed because the ignorance we have to fear is widespread and spreading…..

    A quote from the most recent post at The Smallest Minority blog;

    “A recently reprinted memoir by Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) has footnotes explaining what words like ‘arraigned,’ ‘curried’ and ‘exculpate’ meant, and explaining who Job was. In other words, this man who was born a slave and never went to school educated himself to the point where his words now have to be explained to today’s expensively under-educated generation.”

    I recently had to explain to someone what a “Luddite” is…..

    Add to that, the extreme polarization of today’s culture and politics means that even IF such a thing as (relatively) unbiased media existed, it would be rejected by the majority on both sides, who much prefer the echo chamber.

  12. Paul from Canada says:

    “What, do you suppose, happens when the elites discover that nobody, to include their hatchet men, believe or trust them at all? What happens when they just ignore the orders?

    I think we saw an example in Romania, when the regime fell. Didn’t end very well for the regime leaders, did it?

    I also suspect that model is a lot more likely than many realize. Particularly within the ‘elite’.”


    That is my fondest hope. The problem is that in order for that to happen, there has to be that preference cascade. And for that to actually happen, the politics has to affect the individual directly in a way they can’t miss. It has to be THEIR job lost, the particular freedom THEY hold dear lost, THEIR friend or relative “Disappeared”. Most people who don’t own guns, don’t care much about the politics of gun control for example, or follow the anti-herd, because a gun ban won’t directly affect them.

    I read somewhere that the total number of Gestapo in Berlin was only a few thousand, and that without informants and massive propaganda, they could not possibly have kept control. Same applies for every other regime. The technically best were probably the East Germans. The wall still fell, but it took decades.

    Romania and East Germany fell, much as you described, because two things happened. One was that the Army/Police stopped being willing to shoot their own people, and the dissident preference cascade happened. For the second part to happen, the silent majority need to a) care, and more importantly b) realize that they ARE in fact the majority.

    The secret to control in the authoritarian regime, is not to squash dissent directly and completely. That is impossible. Rather, you sow enough distrust so that the dissident is never sure how many other dissidents there are. He goes to the mandatory pep rallies and party meetings and mouths the slogans he doesn’t really believe, but he can never be sure how many others around him are doing the same vs. how many actually believe.

    He can’t take the risk of talking to his friend at work about this, because his friend may turn out to be a true believer, or an informant, willing or unwilling doesn’t matter.

    What killed the Romanian regime was enough workers dragged from their after work drinking to a “mandatory rally” were drunk enough to boo, the security police couldn’t get to them fast enough, and suddenly the dissidents realized, as the booing spread, that they WERE in fact the majority.

    The regime still held on for decades. North Korea is STILL holding on despite famine and disaster. Sure, it can happen suddenly, or the regime can hover on the brink for years.

    I don’t see people in the west actually caring enough. The frog is boiling too slowly. The economy is not bad enough yet, the repression and incompetence not severe enough, and the population too apathetic, bread and circussed, ignorant, and soft to actually rebel any time soon.

    I hope I am wrong…..

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