Reviews | How the economics of the information industry has changed information itself
This is what Andrey Mir argues in “How the Media Polarized Us” in the City Journal of the Manhattan Institute. The title of Mir’s essay treats ‘media’ and ‘newspapers’, its main subject, as synonyms. But social media and cable TV have pulled newspapers in their direction.
Mir, the author of “Postjournalism and the Death of Newspapers,” says the Internet is the culprit because it has destroyed the monopoly newspapers had on assembling for advertisers a large audience of the type of readers that advertisers appreciate – rich and mature. The “reliance of newspapers on advertising”, Mir believes, “determined their attitude towards their readers”. It was a respectful attitude towards readers who want to make their own judgments and who are opposed to the political agendas put forward in the reports.
The collapse of the newspaper advertising business model began with the migration of classified ads to the Internet. In 2000, they gave newspapers $19.6 billion, about a third of newspaper revenue. In 2013, Google’s $51 billion in ad revenue eclipsed total US newspaper ad revenue by $23 billion. In 2018, classifieds revenue was just $2.2 billion. Advertisers increasingly concluded, Mir says, that newspaper advertising was “a costly and ineffective method of bombarding their target audiences.” And ad revenue started to lag far behind reader revenue.
“Even the most powerful American newspapers,” Mir says, “couldn’t retain advertisers: The New York Times began earning more revenue from readers than ads in 2012.” So, “journalism was now looking for new partners”: digital subscriptions, the multiplication of which could be driven by anger and fear, fertilizing polarization. The publishers “agitated digitalized, urban, educated and progressive youth to political outrage”.
The newspaper’s advertising-based business model, appealing to the temperate milieu of society, “helped control the natural liberal predisposition of journalists.” The digital subscription business model “elevated the role of progressive discourse makers” – academics and other social justice warriors – and “enhanced activism as a mindset”. The new model is defined by “the intensity of self-expression in pursuit of response”. By the early 2010s, “the advertising-driven need to appeal to the median American,” Mir says, had been replaced by the pursuit of digital subscriptions from ideologically-driven readers.
The “awareness threshold” – 60% of a cohort using social media – was reached for urban college graduates aged 18-49 in 2011. A more conservative demographic crossed this threshold in 2016, the year of a political earthquake that provided the mainstream media with a product they could sell to digital subscribers – Donald Trump as “existential danger”.
Suddenly, says Mir, subscriptions could be solicited as “donations to a cause” – “the resistance”, and all that. “Fear has come to replace news as a commodity.” This new economic model “has made the media the agents of polarization”. The right-wing media quickly learned the new game of selling the thrill of fear instead of news – the fear of being demographically “replaced”, K-12 political and sexual indoctrination, etc.
Mir believes that all of this has produced “post-journalism,” whereby the mainstream media provides not news but “news validation,” validating inconvenient news “within certain value systems.” This business model – media as “agents of polarization” – results in the stratification of newspapers because, according to Mir, it produces large rewards for only a few newspapers of national importance:
“People want to have worrying news validated by an authoritative notary with greater follow-up. Audiences want to pay only for flagship media, such as the New York Times Where the washington post. …Most of the subscription funds go to a few behemoths. The new subscription model has led not only to media polarization, but also to media concentration. »
Mir says that while journalism wanted its image of the world to match the world, “post-journalism wants the world to match its image.” This, he says, “is a definition of propaganda. Post-journalism has turned the media into crowd-funded ministries of truth. Although he paints with a broad brush and few pastels, there is an adjective that matches his description of today’s media world: newsworthy.