Saturday, 8 November 2008

What the U.S Elections Told Us About MSM

First-off, print is alive and well. The NYT had increased print runs (35% more copies election Wednesday than usual, an increase of about 150,000. It then added another 75,000) and ran a full-page advert on Thursday offering readers an election result day copy of the paper for a staggering $14.95. Despite the fact that if you check EBay the going rate is $200!

What a bloody shambles, what a chronic sign of miscalculation on their print runs. Only a 35% extra print run? You're kidding me right? They had people queing round the block on Wednesday to buy their paper!!!
Kiosks ran dry, they didn't even believe themselves how many copies they could sell. Absolutely staggering and a sign that not even the NYT's own circulation department believes any longer in the power of print.

The anti-newspaper blogosphere was laughing its head off.

Wednesday, Nov 05
Obama Sells Out Dead Tree Editions of Local Newspapers

We've noticed a number of people twittering and facebooking today that they couldn't find a copy of various papers this morning. Turns out they weren't imagining it! The Daily News sold out of even the extra printed copies of their regular morning edition and planned on printing and distributing an updated second edition. The New York Times reported that the New York Post had also sold-out (in our non-scientifically based experience it is always the first to go) along with the Times.

The [Times] printed 35 percent more papers in the 'single copy' print run, which supplies newsstands. Still, by morning, company officials found that papers were "selling out all across the metropolitan area" and decided to print 50,000 more copies for sale in the New York area.This isn't a New York-based phenomenon, either.

Apparently the Washington Post also sold-out of newsstand copies and the Chicago Tribune was experiencing very long lines. Now if Barack Obama could just do something historic and momentous every single day for the next four years he could feasibly save the entire print journalism industry!

Secondly, Palin: She got a free ride. Not only that but I didn't see a MSM outlet explore this possibility, which happens to be my own personal opinion:

Did the Republican Party of George W. Bush want to win this election? I wonder.

With many of its moderate senators and congressmen unseated, that party still exists and it's not evident it belongs to Senator John McCain.

But either way, this was a hospital pass election if ever there was one. Perhaps either McCain, or the GOP grandees, came to the conclusion that this wasn't a ball they wanted to receive, that only a Democrat administration could wipe clean the slate for the GOP or at least begin to. Were I a Republican party grandee, I'd be quite happy to let the Democrats pick up the check for the last 8 years and try and pay it off, because the chances are they'll end up having to wash dishes in the kitchen to sort this mess out.

McCain began his primary campaign well before the financial meltdown, before the war in Afghanistan was lost, before Mexico began the final journey to becoming a narco state (a government plane crashed on the day of the election, an accident we are told, at least for now, but a fine time for a cartel to murder the U.S.A.'s southern neigbbour's Interior Minister); before Bhutto's assasination and a nuclear Pakistan possibly falling to the Taliban, before the escalation of Iran's nuclear capabalities; beforethe Congo, before India degenerating into ethnic chaos, before global recession/depresssion, before Obama won the democractic primary. Surely he must have realised that the presidency was a poisoned chalice.

Chosing Palin, someone so clearly incompetent and in the very midst of an ethics investigation, a person who who stood a 1 in 8 chance of becoming President, given all the variables, was the equivalent of scuttling his campaign.

McCain may have started out wanting to become President of the U.S.A but by the time it looked like he might actually have a chance, he bailed.Palin moved the undecided and previous moderate republicans firmly to Obama. Race relations in the U.S.A are so appalling that only such a fine W. mess could possibly have allowed a black man to be elected, even a half white one who has spent his entire adult life less than 12 miles from an elite American university campus.

Berlusconi's tasteless remarks about Obama being young, handsome and even tanned pretty much summed up what type of black man is 'in'. Gays on the other hand are still very much 'out' as judged by the large number of anti-gay marriage ballot successes.

Nevertheless there was a photo from the campaign trail of a confederate flag with the slogan "Even Rednecks Have Had Enough". Perhaps so had McCain.

I'll leave someone more eloquent than I to explain this Palin Oversight by papers such as the NYT but MSM failing to nail Palin, as they could and should have done, is cited below as a reason why MSM is imploding:

Andrew Sullivan: The Daily Dish 06 Nov 2008 11:51 am
The Civic Responsibility Of Carl Cameron
Look: I understand that information given strictly off the record cannot be used. I am a stickler for that myself and there's stuff I know that I cannot tell Dish readers because of those rules. But at the same time, my commitment to you is never to bullshit my opinion that reflects that information. And the reporting of Palin fell into that category at times. I became convinced very early - just from public information - that she was obviously a disastrous choice, made on a whim, and obviously not ready for prime time. On August 30, I posted the
following quotes from serious leaders in Alaska who knew Palin:
"She's not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president?" said Green, a Republican from Palin's hometown of Wasilla. "Look at what she's done to this state. What would she do to the nation?"
And this:
Anchorage Democratic state Sen. Hollis French said it's a huge mistake by McCain and "reflects very, very badly on his judgment." French said Palin's experience running the state for less than two years hasn't prepared her for this.
But actual reporters were soon finding this out for themselves - and not even conveying the gist of that to their viewers and readers. Why not?
They kept taking Palin seriously as a veep candidate when she didn't come close to even minimal standards for passing a citizenship test. I'm sorry but I think this is a terrible failing, and it is a reason the mainstream media are imploding.
They let the rules of the game over-rule their duty to tell the American people the truth as they began to discover it. The truth is that Sarah Palin had no business whatever being on a national ticket. It was an insanely reckless choice. She could never adequately perform the job of president at a moment's notice, and the McCain campaign and their media enablers were putting this country and the world at serious risk by perpetuating this farce.
It was a farce. And it was a potential threat to national security if anything happened to McCain in office. But they couldn't admit a mistake because it would have killed their campaign, destroying our impression of McCain's judgment and management skills. So they kept this farce alive for two months, putting the country at potentially great risk to massage their own careers. Now they are doing all they can to dump on her. But the dumpage goes both ways. The McCain camp picked Palin and stuck with her far longer than any people who put country first would have. Every reason why she should not have been picked is a reason why McCain should never have been president.

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"Books about cosmopolitan urbanites discovering the joys of country life are two a penny, but this one is worth a second glance. Walthew's vivid description of the moral stress induced by his job as a high-flying executive with the International Herald Tribune newspaper is worth the cover price alone…. Highly recommended."
The Oxford Times

For more reviews visit

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Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The Black Week for Print - October 27th to November 2nd, 2008

Many people are writing that last week was the worst week for Print Media since the Great Depression, as judged by layoffs, results and sea change shifts in reading habits. In many respects they're not wrong.

The front page of the IHT was dominated today by an article speaking about a similar paradigm shift in U.S elections, one that was turned upside down and 'truly became bottom up instead of top down'.

Speaking of the election, and the same can be said of media in the 21st century, the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections 'leveraged the Internet in ways never imagined. This year we went to warp speed.'


I've spoken of tipping points for the NYT Company and it is at one right now, because of this warp speed year.

A part of the Black Week for Print narrative was Gawker announcing rumoured sales of (on Sunday 2nd November) by the NYT Company to reduce its debt and help it go private.
(BTW, all those people who took exception to my recent analysis of really ought to go and read the derogatory comments about posted on Gawker and elsewhere.)

I finally realised what the difference is between a blog and a non MSM news site like Gawker.

A good blog - hopefully this one - speculates on the future, using a platform of what I call 'conditional information' - things that might be true, things that might happen. Sites like HuffPo, Gawker etc rely often on reporting rumours without sources or verifiable fact checking. Nothing wrong with that, provided the reader knows what he or she is getting.

What you're getting at this blog is nothing more than informed speculation. It's what MSM calls opinion, and that the NYT hasn't an official editorial definition of what a blog is or should do tells you all you need to know about just what trouble they are in.

I had blogged several times on the dismantling of the NYT Company and the possibility of it being taken private well before actual rumours hit sites like Gawker.

I'll come back to this so-called Black Week to see if it's as black as everyone says it is.

For now, my personal point of view is that print has DEMAND side problems, not from READERS, but from ADVERTISERS who are losing faith in print as a viable option. I remain convinced that there is a demand for print from the reader, but what papers like the NYT and the IHT are SUPPLYING is not what (enough valueable) readers want.

The NYT Company Annual report of 2007 complained of audience fragementation.

OK. So what's the big effing problem?

Of course there is audience fragmentation, so having a single monolithic entity, be it on print, or online, as the NYT has, is clearly not a very smart idea as the middle ground CONSENSUS about what the intelligent mass market reader WANTS is over. Get it?

When I speak of dismantling the NYT Company, yes, I am talking about selling some assets to reduce debt, and going private wouldn't be a bad idea either.

However, what really needs to be dismantled and built from the ground up is the NYT newspaper and brands within the NYTMG stable, including the IHT.

Now naturally, with a million circulation and over two thirds of the company's revenues coming from the NYTMG, I wouldn't be doing that in a hasty or ill-considered manner.

However, I would be thinking about how the NTY Company can sit atop a framgmented audience and stop pursuing a strategy that seems to think that the NYT newspaper can somehow hold together that fragmentation.

It can't, for reasons of the audience's various, framgmented, age, income, interests, political affiliations and other things too many to get into right now.

The NYT Company needs to strip out its core brand values and apply them to other brands, new ones or existing ones, that cater to various audience splinters, some of which will be highly profitable in print as well as online.

It conspicuously failed to do this with which serious Net Heads haven't looked at since they closed their AOL account about 9 years ago.

On this historic day, I'll leave you with this article from The Economist to think about.

Oct 30th 2008
Skewed news reporting is taken as a sign of a dysfunctional media. In fact, it may be a sign of healthy competition

BARACK OBAMA recently told a writer for the NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE that he was convinced he might be two or three percentage points better off in the polls for the American presidential election if Fox News, aright-leaning television station, did not exist. Sarah Palin, the Republican nominee for vice-president, has made hay railing against the bias of the "liberal media". Allegations of partial news reporting are common in American politics. But few stop to ask what leads to differences in the way the news is reported. Bias can be thought of as a supply-side phenomenon that arises from ideology. Owners' or employees' political views will determine how a newspaper or channel slants its coverage of a piece of news. But this does not square with the assumption that readers and viewers value accuracy. If so, then competition should hurt media outlets that systematically distort the news (in any direction). The brouhaha about bias in America, as free a media market as any, suggests something else is going on. The key to understanding why bias flourishes in a competitive market may lie in thinking more clearly about what readers actually want.

Sendhil Mullainathan and Andrei Shleifer, two Harvard economists,argued in an influential paper*[1] that it may be naive to think that people care about accuracy alone. Instead, they modelled the consequences of assuming that newspaper readers also like to have their beliefs confirmed by what they read. As long as readers have different beliefs, the Mullainathan-Shleifer model suggests that competition, far from driving biased reporting out of the market, would encourage newspapers to cater to the biases of different segments of the reading public.

A more recent paper**[2] by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro,two economists at the University of Chicago's business school, set out to test this proposition. To do so, they first needed a way to measure the political slant of American news coverage. Their solution was rather imaginative. The researchers ran computer programs that analysed debates in Congress and identified phrases that were disproportionately used by Republicans or Democrats. The list of frequent Democratic phrases, for example,included "estate tax". While talking about the same issue, Republicans tended to use the phrase "death tax". (This is not just coincidence. MrGentzkow and Mr Shapiro quote an anonymous Republican staffer as saying that the party machine trained members to say "death tax", because"'estate tax' sounds like it hits only the wealthy but 'death tax' sounds like it hits everyone".) Having identified partisan phrases, the academics then analysed the news coverage of more than 400 American newspapers to see how often they cropped up in reporting. This gave them a precise measure of "slant", showing the extent to which the news coverage in these papers tended to use politically charged phrases.
Mr Gentzkow and Mr Shapiro then needed to assess the political beliefs of different newspapers' readerships, which they did using data on the share of votes in each newspaper's market that went to President Bush in the 2004 presidential elections, and information on how likely people in different parts of that market were to contribute to entities allied to either Democrats or Republicans. The researchers were now able to look at the relationships between circulation, slant, and people's political views.First, they measured whether a newspaper's circulation responded to the match between its slant and its readers' views. Not surprisingly, they found that more "Republican" newspapers had relatively higher circulations in more "Republican" zip codes. But their calculations of the degree to which circulation responded to political beliefs also allowed them to do something more interesting: to calculate what degree of slant would be most profitable for each newspaper in their sample to adopt, given the political make-up of the market it covered. They compared this profit-maximising slant to their measure of the actual slant of each newspaper's coverage. They found a striking congruence between the two. Newspapers tended,on average, to locate themselves neither to the right nor to the left of the level of slant that Mr Gentzkow and Mr Shapiro reckon would maximise their profits. And for good commercial reasons: their model showed that even a minor deviation from this "ideal" level of slant would hurt profits through a sizeable loss of circulation.

Showing that newspapers have a political slant that is economically rational does not necessarily answer the question of whether ownership or demand determines bias. Here, the academics are helped by the fact that large media companies may own several newspapers, often in markets that are politically very different. This allowed them to test whether the slants of newspapers with the same owner were more strongly correlated than those of two newspapers picked at random. They found that this was not so: owners exerted a negligible influence on slant.

Readers' political views explained about a fifth of measured slant,while ownership explained virtually none.None of this is particularly helpful to seekers of the unvarnished truth. These conscientious sorts still have to find the time to readlots of newspapers to get an unbiased picture of the world. But by serving demand from a variety of political niches, competition does allow for different points of view to be represented. After all, just as Mrs Palin does not spend her time condemning Fox News, Mr Obama is unlikely to have too many complaints about the NEW YORK TIMES.
* "The Market for News", American Economic Review (September 2005).
**"What Drives Media Slant? Evidence from U.S. Daily Newspapers" (May2007)[3]-----[1]

See this article with graphics and related items at


"Books about cosmopolitan urbanites discovering the joys of country life are two a penny, but this one is worth a second glance. Walthew's vivid description of the moral stress induced by his job as a high-flying executive with the International Herald Tribune newspaper is worth the cover price alone…. Highly recommended."
The Oxford Times

For more reviews visit

Business trip to the IHT in Paris or friends and family coming to visit you? Fed up with hotels? Bring the family (sleeps 6) to superb Montmartre apartment - weekend nights free of charge if minimum of 3 work nights booked;. Cable TV; wifi, free phone calls in France (landlines); large DVD and book library; kids toys, books, travel cot and beds; two double bedrooms; all mod cons; half an hour to Neuilly and 12 mins walk from Eurostar. T&E valid invoices.

10% Discount for NYT employees; 15% Discount for IHT Employees