Army Ants versus the Elephants. But first:
July 28, 2013
Today´s column is a two-fer. Yes, two for the price of one. You are making out like a bandit. First, you get to know San Franciso´s most astonishing young singer, Emily Anne Reed, and her equally astonishing band, The Emily Anne Band. Don´t think because of her name that she is my daughter. (She is. Just don´t think it. I´m trying to seem impartial.)
So here she is. Click to listen, or I will put an ancient Malayan curse on you and your spleen will leap from your chest. This can be embarrassing, and stains clothes. However, I do want to mention the grave physical handicaps she overcame to become a singer. When I met her, she weighed seven poiunds and couldn´t talk. You can imagine her struggles. If you like her, write her. If you have iTunes, you can find more under The Emily Anne Band. Buy it. Don´t forget that curse.
This is what happens if you feed them.
She can´t help it. Daddy was a hippy. Mommy too.
All right. We´ve done that. And now,
People sometimes ask me why the media are so obtuse, why they seem to have so little grasp of the country they live in, and why the internet is eating them alive.
I ask them to think of Tom Clancy. He wrote a book that with its children would be worth many, many millions of dollars, and shopped it around the publishing houses of New York. They all bounced it. No interest. It probably got no further than a first reader, a recent co-ed at Barnard who thought a submarine was a sandwich. Clancy? Some crackpot who thinks he can write.
He sent it to the Naval Institute Press, which published it. It took off hugely. Only then did New York get involved.
You might ask: Why did the sophisticated (one would think) professionals of publishing, highly intelligent, very educated, with long years in the book racket—why did they not grab at The Hunt for Red October? Certainly it wasn´t a conspiracy. Nobody conspires not to make money.
The answer: They live in a bubble. They eat together, drink together, talk to each other. They think in unison. They largely went to the same schools, Ivies. They could all join Mensa if they wanted, but they don´t, because in New York you don´t have to hunt for smart company. They all know who Zola was. They can tell Goya from El Greco at a glance.
But they have never worked night shift in a gas station on a lonely road in Tennessee, shopped at Walmart, been in the same room with a firearm much less hunted deer, or been more than twenty feet from a flush toilet. The Hunt for...what? Some book about—some sort of submarine thing, wasn´t it? Who would read that?
So with the media. They are concentrated in Washington and New York. They don´t get out much. Editors naturally tend to hire people who agree with them, so everyone does. (I knew a couple of closet conservatives in the newsroom of the Washington Post, but they kept their heads down.) Papers say they want diversity in the newsroom, but by this they mean people of different colors who think the same things.
And of course diversity in the newsroom means homogeneity in the news: If you are, say, a white man sitting in a room with blacks, lesbians, real women, homosexuals and Chicanas, you can´t say anything that might offend any of them, because you have to sit next to them again the next day.
Reporters don´t have much curiosity. Go to NBC Washington and ask the editor whether she has been to Idaho to get to know the militias, (”Jesus, those crazies?”) or spent enough time in a police car to learn what actually goes on (“Oh god, oh god, I can´t put that on the air.”), or been in the military (“No, I was at Swarthmore.”), or spent a week in a cheap hotel in Bluefield, West Virginia to see what people think.
If she did go, she would overdress, seem a virtual space alien to the locals, and know so little of the culture that she couldn´t really talk to people. She would have her laptop, though, so she could read Salon.
The dinosaur media lose out to the internet because they not only don´t want to but can´t deal with things that most stir the populace: race, wars, guns, abortion, separation of church and state, evolution, immigration. The velvet noose of political correctness ensures that only Appropriate Thought can be published. Those who deviate will be fired.
If you deal in opinion, you have to avoid upsetting the editor, the advertisers, your colleagues, the victim groups, and above all be politically correct. In columnists, papers want slot-fillers—the female liberal, female conservative, black liberal, and so on—who can be relied on not to say anything unexpected or controversial. Editors want adventure without danger. Thus the rule for an aspiring columnist for print publications is to choose a spot on the political spectrum and never deviate from it, even though he knows that much of it is nonsense. This keeps columnists boring.
It also creates huge openings for writers on the web. No paper on the planet would publish Fred on Everything, which means that it has no organized competition. Yet I have far more circulation than I did in what I once thought of as serious journalism. And this is why you can find better, more expert, and more thoughtful commentary on line than in the (as we say) Major Media.
While these numbers may not inspire fear of imminent insignificance in Google and Yahoo, they show that curmudgeons and other evil spirits can attain higher circulaion online than off.
And of course micropublications can afford to be as specialized as they choose in point of view, subject matter, and level of intelligence. A micropub doesn´t have to sacrifice quality of content to maximization of circulation to keep advertisers happy.
And so the bright drift to the web, leaving newspapers to clippers of grocery coupons and television to the semiliterate and below. It isn´t universal, but it is the trend line. The majors have a product with all the flavor of wallpaper paste and, now, a busted monopoly. Any mutt in Mexico with a computer and time on his hands can play Clark Kent, and it really is the Daily Planet since that´s where people can read his outflow. My oh my.