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I really can't agree with your thesis, Frances, for the fact that it contains one false assumption: newspapers are pure provision of news. In the history of newsprint journalism, this has almost never been true.

Editorial choices on what is covered and who covers it are a key part of how a newspaper shapes its message. Outright editorializing or opinion-pieces in the main body of the paper, not just the editorial page has a long history. In the past this was often stronger than it is today, not less. In the early 1900's with multiple competitive newspapers in most markets most papers adopted party lines. It was both a response to their readers and a way to identify and capture a market.

The Toronto Star has followed the Atkinson Principles since the 1930's, it has always been a progressive paper. The Telegram/Sun on the other hand were and are conservative and populist.

Even the parents of the Globe & Mail were party organs. The Globe in the early 1900's was clearly a Liberal paper and had been since George Brown, while the Mail & Empire was a Tory party paper.

Strong editorial voice and a consistent opinion have always been a part of the news business. Yellow Journalism isn't new. Fox News business model isn't new either. It's business model is actually very old.

There is no way that your dog prefers tofu to chicken. I think you are refuting your own revealed preferences point, here, since obviously the poor pooch is being subjected to healthfood propaganda.

In fact, researchers have consistently found that preferences are variant over very short lengths of time. Paul Slovic has written extensively about this. Mainstream economists' assumptions about preferences are, in fact, deductive and theoretical, and derive from no psychological experiment whatsoever. As Slovic and others have shown, for instance, people will list their preferences in one round of questioning x,y, z, and in another round, z, y, z, and they do this all the time. Haved you never dined out with three other people? You will find that one person't preferences can so easily be changed by the expression of another person's preferences that - well, to the astonishment of economists, ads that contain not a single piece of rational information about a product, but that contain an endorsement of the product by a basketball player, can sell the product.

Revealed preference is not a theory about people, but people in institutions that guide their preferences. In the wild, dogs eat chicken, and chew grass, and people think red is their favorite color and now blue, and action reveals only the components of the situation in which the preference is articulated.

Determinant, "I really can't agree with your thesis, Frances, for the fact that it contains one false assumption: newspapers are pure provision of news."

I wrote: "For people who are seeking information or entertainment." Lots of people buy a newspaper just for the crossword puzzle or the Suduko. I never said or assumed otherwise.

Newspapers provide a bundle of different things - news, entertainment, information, raw materials for papier mache projects, etc. When one part of that bundle is available elsewhere at low cost, other parts of the bundle become relatively more important. That's the point.

But I'm glad to hear that you have detected a thesis in the post.

roger - "There is no way that your dog prefers tofu to chicken." It is indeed a surprising result, but has been replicated a number of times under varying conditions. He also leaps up from his rug and runs to the kitchen if I open a package of tofu. He's also bananas about bananas.

In response to your more general comment, people do all sorts of crazy things. The point of revealed preference theory is only that actions speak louder than words. If you'd asked me, I would never have said that I would cancel a free newspaper subscription.

"I wrote: "For people who are seeking information or entertainment." Lots of people buy a newspaper just for the crossword puzzle or the Suduko. I never said or assumed otherwise."

Hm, I think I missed the mark. Reload.

This quote:

"Which brings us to the rise of Fox News. If mere information provision is no longer profitable, who will volunteer to subsidize a news operation?"

is what I disagree with. Newspapers were never mere information providers.

I wasn't referring to crosswords or soduku. I mean the articles themselves, the actual purported news content, is itself entertainment. It is shaped by the agenda and preferences of the reader and publisher, who through the feedback of profits and circulation adjusts the content to match the readers. It has always been strongly part of newspaper culture.

I don't know if I would agree with the "low cost" bit either. Any time there has been competition between different newspapers or across different media forms, the papers themselves have sought to differentiate themselves through content, opinion and voice differences. Fox is no different from an 1890's Yellow Sheet paper in trying to seek and exploit a market.

With all due respect, I wouldn't call this blog or most citizen journalism "pure" volunteering. It is after all a very good complement to your academic career and (hopefully) helps you raise your profile within the profession. It shouldn't be fundamentally different from publishing in arcane journals or paid contribution in other media. It is also a very good showcase for your (excellent) work. Blogging also helped many secure book deals, speaking engagements, etc. that they might not have secured otherwise. I'm not saying that you will recover your investment (I'm sure many have told you this), but it's not all lost either. For example, your blog being quoted at length on Paul Krugman's blog must be worth quite a few academic references, no? Perhaps your department head doesn't think the same way, but he definitely should.

As for newspapers, I see a few trends that could come into play. First is the end of total geographical monopolies or oligopolies. There used to be one or two newspapers per city, now there might three or four for an entire country. Canwest and the Sun papers are a good example: they might keep local names but the content is almost the same for all the franchises. I don't really get why the Canwest/Shaw papers repost the same story under a different name on the same portal though. In Quebec the Gesca group has folded all the regional content under the same Cyberpresse banner. Eventually you might see a strong convergence in all English media markets, with a few big global players that model only part of their content for local audiences. The Financial Times is a good example of this. You could have a few different newspapers divided along ideological or marketing lines rather than geographical location. I'm sure quite a few Canadians read the NY Times or the Guardian before reading the G&M or the National Post in the morning. Then if you gather a critical mass, you can get enough advertising money to cover your expenses. In short, big media could be a very high volume, low margin industry. Felix Salmon has written extensively about this and I believe he's mostly right. (...)

(...)
The second thing I see coming is that press agencies are disintermediating: Bloomberg and Reuters want to be real players and deliver content directly to the end user. They might yet become full-blown media empires (Bloomberg is definitely going for that). And these two players have an advantage over others: they sell pricey terminals to time-sensitive (read: financial) users and delay the wire by 15-20 minutes for the rest of us.

You also have unbundling: quite a few niche services that are producing content for dedicated audiences, like tech geeks or indie music fans. These users won't go back to reading a general newspaper to get that kind of information: the coverage is too bland and usually old news to the initiated. That might not solve the problem of actually getting paid for your content, but perhaps if you target your audience better and know what they really want you can charge a premium for advertising. It's a bit like what you say, except a strong identity is even more important for the media than the individuals reading them.

Guillaume: "You could have a few different newspapers divided along ideological or marketing lines rather than geographical location." Yes, in a sense this is what Fox News is. The British paper the Daily Mail is another successful site, check out this how to knit your own royal wedding souvenirs article.

"I wouldn't call this blog or most citizen journalism "pure" volunteering" Absolutely not. Forget NPOV - this blog is from my point of view. And, yup, I get a great deal out of doing it.

Your points about disintermediating and unbundling are very interesting.

I wrote: "For people who are seeking information or entertainment." Lots of people buy a newspaper just for the crossword puzzle or the Suduko. I never said or assumed otherwise."

Years ago, my mother, an otherwise very prim church elder, loved the crosswords in the crime -and-scancal weekly "AllÔ Police". My duty, when visiting, was to buy it to spare her the embarssment. One saturday morning, the front page was a photo of a childhood friend arrested for murdering his wife. We need the papers for the wide variety of weirdness they bring and specialized media don't.

I believe Fox News is fairly profitable and doesn't have to rely on volunteers.

"As an economist, I believe that ... if you asked for volunteers to maintain the flower beds at the local park, nobody would want to do the weeding."

And yet volunteer gardens never seem to be overrun by weeds in my experience. But carry on - you might as well, the rest of the profession does (with the odd exception like Elinor Ostrom of course).

As for the rest of the post, I think the rise of Fox news has more to do with a breakdown in moral standards than with changing dynamics in newspaper profitability (although these could be interrelated). The same preference for influencing the government via the media has always existed, regardless of the underlying profitability (or lack thereof) in the industry. But standards of decency and balance kept it in check for a few decades. I'd guess the trajectory is similar to explicit song lyrics, television shows about 2 year old beauty pageant contestants or anything else from the long list of moral decay over the last half century.

Declan - I find it odd that on the one hand you're arguing that people are perfectly willing to volunteer for weeding duties and on the other explaining the rise in Fox News in terms of a breakdown in moral standards.

I'd have thought weeding and morality would be highly correlated.

Terry McGarty over at Squirrel's Nest has a long reaction to this post: here. I can't figure out how to respond on his blog, so I'm replying here.

Terry, first, thank you so much for taking the time to respond. It sound like you and I share fond memories of newspapers, and of paper-filled childhood homes.

The post, though, sets up a bit of a straw man when you write: "Poor Fox, somehow it is likened to some evil empire. She writes: Like it or loathe it, Fox News provides its viewers with a strong sense of identity: Fox Viewers are Stupid, Less Informed and the list goes on"

Please be fair - the "Fox News Viewers..." are just the prompts that google gives. (I think there's people who specialize in manipulating these search prompts - type "I'm terrified of..." into google and see what comes up). Looking at these search terms, sure, some people do liken Fox to an evil empire.

But that wasn't my point.

My point was that Fox News gives people a sense of identity.

Which I guess is evidenced by your reaction to the post?

Frances

As usual it was long but the points were two fold:

1. Whether newspapers or television, or even any new media, there is self-segmentation by some almost visceral self selection process which is complex, namely by agreeing with the presentation content or method or just being curious

2. Fox news viewers are not per se stupid, backward etc. I see that view all too often in fellow faculty who lives too close to Cambridge or in the upper west side in NYC. Now I really do not understand Glenn Beck, but there are always different forms of entertainment, I do not understand Jersey Shore either.

But the key point is the old statement by Peter Drucker on what he heard McLuhan say:

"Did I hear you right," asked one of the professors in the audience, "that you think that printing influenced the courses that the university taught and the role of university all together." "No sir," said McLuhan, "it did not influence; printing determined both, indeed printing determined what henceforth was going to be considered knowledge."

The very fact that as a medium of information exchange changes then what we consider knowledge or truth changes with it. The challenge here is to see how that change occurs. In today's environment with blogs etc we are seeing a return to phamphleteers
which may not bee too bad, for the centralized purveyors of truth truly do not exist. The problem is that there will always be a Marat somewhere whipping up the furies of the populace, but there is not much we can do about that.

Hope this clears up my point.

Regards

Terry

Terry, thanks for that clarification. We agree more than I'd realized.

On your first point:

"Whether newspapers or television, or even any new media, there is self-segmentation by some almost visceral self selection process which is complex, namely by agreeing with the presentation content or method or just being curious"

Guillaume made a very interesting point further up the comments about how geographic segmentation is being replaced with ideological segmentation. Growing up in Vancouver in the 60s and 70s there were two newspapers, the Province and the Sun. Yes, they had different markets, but I think the segmentation was socio-economic as much as ideological. After all, how much ideological segmentation is possible between two newspapers in a town of less than a million people? So perhaps my view of the past reflects my own, perhaps slightly unusual, experience. I agree about how we're seeing a return to pamphleteers, a point also made by Determinant earlier.

"Fox news viewers are not per se stupid, backward etc. I see that view all too often in fellow faculty who lives too close to Cambridge or in the upper west side in NYC." Yup, that view is pretty widespread judging by what people type in google. But post-modernism isn't for elite intellectuals only - there are people who watch Fox News because they enjoy it, at all the same time knowing 'there is no truth only truths.'

I hope Canada doesn't end up getting as divided into ideological camps as the US seems to be right now.

Frances

I am back in from my crops, we have sun finally and the snow is gone so my dotage is spent in the hybridizing of plants, probably more my dutch heritage. Yet at the end of Keynes' classic he states:

"the two most delightful occupations open to those who do not have to earn their living [are] authorship and experimental farming."

perhaps that makes me more akin to him than i think

yes, that polarization is the major problem down here, it is to the extent that conversations in new york are now related to the weather and the market, and very infrequently to politics and the economy, unless one knows the political bent of the other party. the problem thus is that extremes are created, thus my allusion to marat and his printing press. the npr radio issue is an example, it is one of those outlets that served a wonderful mission to rural areas but alas found it self dominated by washington types. thus in northern new hampshire where i spend a great deal of time one listens to canadian stations, much more pleasing and less strident.

the problem from my perspective is that we often do not ask why people have taken such a position, thus the libertarian versus the progressive, why do they think that way, and they make fundamentally different economic decisions.

guillaume made the point but i would say that there has always been an ideological separation, first in newsprint and then in cable. now in the internet world it adds an interesting dimension, it becomes two way. thus one may often learned more in reading anonymous comments than in reading the posting. that is good and bad. for we may never know who the anonymous is.

just a thought. but there are a great many implications of this issue.

thanks, good set of points.

cheers

terry

Guillaume made a very interesting point further up the comments about how geographic segmentation is being replaced with ideological segmentation. Growing up in Vancouver in the 60s and 70s there were two newspapers, the Province and the Sun. Yes, they had different markets, but I think the segmentation was socio-economic as much as ideological. After all, how much ideological segmentation is possible between two newspapers in a town of less than a million people? So perhaps my view of the past reflects my own, perhaps slightly unusual, experience. I agree about how we're seeing a return to pamphleteers, a point also made by Determinant earlier.

I would say that the self-selection of readers given competing media outlets and the differentiation of those media outlets through editorial stance is not a new result. It has long been known and debate in media studies. It's not surprising what Fox News has done and it's business model wouldn't shock a media studies prof in the least. There is nothing new here.

When you say the separation between the Province and the Sun was socio-economic rather than political, I would reply that socio-economic differences run together with political differences so frequently it amounts to the same thing.

Thirdly, in Toronto you have had the Toronto Star and the Toronto Telegram/Sun competing with each other for a century. The Toronto Star has a liberal and progressive stance, the Telegram/Sun was/is conservative. To give a great example, in 1924 the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Methodist Church of Canada and the Congregational Union of Canada were discussing merging into one church, the United Church of Canada. The Methodists and the Congregationalists had accepted the proposal without reservation, but the Presbyterians due to policy sent the question down to congregations for a vote, a process call a Remit. The Union question passed 70% in favour but there was significant opposition. Parliament passed a bill allowing each Presbyterian congregation to opt out of the merger through a congregational vote, a form of negative billing if you will.

Given that Canada was all abuzz with religious debate, the newspapers were reporting and editorializing on the story like crazy. The Toronto Star was pro-Union, the Telegram against Union. Both papers ran league tables covering the final vote and choice of every Presbyterian congregation.

It was 1924/25 and newspapers were the only form of mass media. Radio didn't really operate in Canada at this point. There weren't neutral in the slightest. The Star and the Tely took opposite stances on the Union question and marketed themselves accordingly. Is this really any different than Fox News? Not really.

Lastly, when you say My point was that Fox News gives people a sense of identity.

My reaction is "yeah, so?" To give yet another Canadian example, The Observer is denominational magazine of the United Church of Canada. It is also the oldest magazine in North America and the second-oldest magazine in the English language, published continuously since 1829. It's primary purpose since its foundation has been to reinforce its readers sense of their identity, first as part of the Methodist Church, then the United Church.

Nothing new about revealed identity preferences through publication choices.


My father, who attended churches of any kind for weddings and funerals only, referred to the United Church of Canada as " .. the NDP at prayer."

A friend of mine was chatting with a former Moderator who said you couldn't be a good United Churcher if you didn't support the NDP. My friend was a bit offended as she was a Tory. ;)

Fox News gets its news stories from the exact same sources as every other news deliverers: the news syndicates of AP, Reuters, Bloomberg, etc.

Fox News packages it in a way many people like. First, they serve the underserved niche of conservative viewers who are dissatisfied with the constant barrage of biased left-wing reporting on every other network. Fox's advantage is that they have a 100% market share in the right-leaning reporting while the others must divide up the left-wing share.

But Fox News also attracts moderate, liberal, and apolitical viewers because they offer a format which is not stuffy and stolid. Quite frankly, it's more exciting to watch.

While they clearly offer a right-wing viewpoint that is overpowering, at least they attempt to bring in alternative viewpoints. Many people conflate the actual NEWS segment of Fox with the conservative-activist entertainment segments of Hannity, Beck, O'Reilly, and Van Susteren. This is like associating CBS news with the content of one of its prime time programs.

With respect to newspapers, they're completely useless. I can get all the news I want for free on the internet, television, or from advertising rags. Since the original sources are identical, I'm not missing out on anything.

I have a blog that few people read. I don't make a dime on it. When someone reads and responds, I'm happy. If no one reads or responds, I still learn something every time I research a post.

No one pays you to write a diary.


POWinCA - "No one pays you to write a diary." Yes, a blog is a diary. I've thought that myself, but never heard anyone articulate it.

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