Cancellation is becoming a who’s who of the rich and popular as consumers abandon corporate news sources in favor of independent ones.
Looking out across the media landscape, almost nothing lies unchanged in the devastation wake of the Information Age.
Journalist Matt Taibbi recently told podcast host Joe Rogan that journalists knew twenty they were documenting the last days of an empire.
Writers and researchers, investigators and amateur detectives with a penchant for nosiness and an unhealthy level of curiosity: They began, with the advent of the internet, to prepare for the inevitable end. They understood themselves to be seeing the fall of Rome.
They were mostly peddling in those day what Taibbi called, “eat your vegetables journalism,” and the market for such was evaporating before their very eyes.
Legacy media outlets panicked. Some hid behind paywalls, others changed their focus from quality to quantity.
Costly, well-researched, meticulously sourced think-pieces that took months to bring to market were replaced by a near-infinite number of listicles, crowd-sourced opinion pieces and click-bait headlines.
Some media outlets trying to stay relevant did so by copying more easily monetized business models.
Being in the news business didn’t pay anymore, see; not in the Information Age. Certainly not once social media platforms came along and took over the Earth.
What good is putting breaking news behind a paywall when any search engine or social media platform could produce the information in moments? The supply- information about current events, breaking news and other topics available instantly for free- far exceeded the demand.
Some media figures were still making money, however, but they weren’t selling news, they were selling opinion. People like Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck were making a mint and it was only a matter of time before left-leaning pundits got in on all that sweet ad revenue.
Legacy media outlets and editors did something Taibbi called “audience optimization.” Instead of delivering the facts- and woe betide any journalist who fails to fact-check and gets caught by a lie- media managers would instead strive to understand their audience, give them what they want, and push their political hot buttons enough to keep them coming back for more.
Rinse and repeat, all the way to the bank. Instead of one Rush Limbaugh, now there are thousands dotted across the media landscape, each working themselves into a greater froth than the last. If you aren’t making people furious, sucking them in with hyperbolic headlines and leaving them sure Democracy and the American Way of Life are at the brink of extinction, you aren’t paying attention.
Read the room.
That the legacy media outlets almost entirely skew left now, some more openly than others, has led to a homogeneous group think antithetical to journalism as its practitioners knew it 20 years ago.
Either mainstream journalists are 1.) writing what everyone is writing, or 2.) disagreeing with the prevailing wisdom and banished.
Shocking, appalling, sickening, gruesome, gut-wrenching; two minute articles, complex policy issues reduced to a 160-character Tweet, sound-bytes.
It’s worked wonders. Dark and terrible wonders whereupon the nation is more divided than ever, with the two major political parties in a state of open and perpetual warfare.
This has created an even more vicious cycle, where media sensationalism feeds into campaign rhetoric and campaign rhetoric feeds into media sensationalism.
Given this polarized environment, mainstream media outlets, having optimized their audiences and knowing what that audience expects to hear, have an even greater incentive to ratchet up the tension.
Legacy media outlets, be they conservative or liberal, have an even greater incentive than ever to present a narrative of the news rather than the news itself. As Matt Taibbi explained: “In the past, we gave people the facts and let them decide what to do with it. Today, journalists are trying to inspire action; their purpose is to move readers in a certain direction.”
Increasingly, and almost no one bothers to deny it anymore, this direction is ever leftward.
The fly in the ointment of this brilliant plan, the reason this new sensationalist journalism is suddenly floundering where once it seemed to be flourishing, is the meteoric rise of independent journalism.
It is the only reason Matt Taibbi, veteran journalist formerly with Rolling Stone, and podcast star Joe Rogan, a mixed-martial arts fighter and comic, were even discussing the shifting media landscape in the first place.
Only a few short years ago during the Obama Administration, “explanatory journalism,” as some left-leaning outlets have openly called it, seemed to be working fine. President Obama was a model President, beloved in the press, reelected and popular.
Only that wasn’t entirely true. Obama, in spite of everyone’s high expectations, failed to deliver on many fronts, the least of which was becoming known as the “War President.”
Then there was the economy. In spite of the shell game played by the Obama Administration, fudging around with unemployment numbers to make them look better on paper, in the real world, working-class Americans, who voted twice for Obama, were financially hurting.
Whether they had, “dropped out of the workforce,” and therefore weren’t technically “unemployed” didn’t matter to them; no job is no job either way. No paycheck, either. And if you tried to find a job during those days, you already know how hard it was to find work.
Democrats got a nasty surprise at the ballot box in 2016; if it weren’t for the overly-fawning, “explanatory” press, the Democratic Party would have seen Trump coming from a mile away. Perhaps they could have done something about it; like address the concerns of the working class.
Republicans might have acted sooner, too, but they were just as clueless. Democrats thought the country wanted to elect another Clinton, because the Clinton Administration was just such a boon to the working class as American jobs were transferred overseas so corporations could make more profit exploiting low-wage workers.
Too many pesky labor laws and expensive environmental regulations about industrial waste disposal in the U.S.
Republicans thought the country was ready to elect another Bush. Jeb! Bush to be exact, as if the Bush years were just such halcyon days of peace, prosperity and a renaissance in the American manufacturing industry.
Americans feel lied to by an overly credulous press who never asked enough questions about weapons of mass destruction, the war in Afghanistan, the War on Terror and a million other things.
As a result, trust in mainstream media sources has reached historic lows. Audiences for networks like CNN have diminished from 5 million tuning in to fewer than 750,000 on any given night.
All those viewers, readers, watchers who left legacy media outlets because they didn’t want to be manipulated by a blatant narrative, don’t need things “explained” to them in a certain way so they can “reach the correct conclusion,” or “take appropriate action,” or support the right politician, have gone elsewhere for their news.
They have turned to people like Matt Taibbi, Joe Rogan, Glenn Greenwald, Bari Weiss and a handful of others in independent media.
“When I get one of your articles, I always know it’s legit.” Rogan told Taibbi during an interview that went the gamut between demolition jobs, American disinformation campaigns and the Voinych Manuscript. “I share it with my friends without worry.”
It is a sentiment echoed frequently in the comments section on Substack, by other alternative media entertainers like Russell Brand, and by ordinary people on social media who want someone they can trust.
Whether or not Joe Rogan agrees with every person he interviews on his popular podcast, whether or not his guests are correct in their worldview; however you feel about Rogan, he does present a wide variety of viewpoints.
Some are even contrary. Arbitrating the current Rogan controversy- whereupon aging rocker Neil Young demanded Spotify choose between hosting his music on the platform or Rogan’s podcast due to what Young insists is misinformation being pushed on the program- Joe Rogan would have Joe Rogan on to interview one day, Neil Young to offer his alternative viewpoint on the next.
Legacy media outlets, rather than competing with independent media using their considerable advantages, have instead decried outlets like Substack, and all who publish there. This isn’t the first time activists have tried to get Rogan kicked off of Spotify. The same cohort is constantly leaning on Substack to censor its platform in a similar way.
If media companies think this is likely to rebuild the public’s lost trust, they must think again. Perhaps send some investigative journalists to get to the bottom of the problem.
The answer isn’t more censorship, more narrative, and a narrowing of available information; the answer is less.
Until average people- who aren’t extreme to either degree in their politics and don’t want to be radicalized into the Great Reset, or the next War on _______, or Globalism or whatever other boondoggle elites have cooked up this time- can trust that what they are being presented is factual, balanced, nuanced, and not designed to manipulate them into getting angry enough to “do something!”, they will continue to eschew mainstream media outlets.
The list of subscribers willing to pay $5 a month to hear from Matt Taibbi, or Bari Weiss, or to hear Joe Rogan interview everyone under the sun for the price of listening to a few of his ads for health supplements, will continue to grow.
The list of subscribers willing to pay for the New York Times- where things are going so well they just had to raise their rates to a whopping $29 per month- for a digital subscription only, not even including the recipes- will continue to dwindle until reporting improves.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)