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How to save newspapers/Magazines Update

Posted December 23rd, 2010 in International, pop culture, Technology, united states by MarkOttawa

Ditch the paper is the conclusion of this lengthy article in the London Review of Books. That would sadden me greatly; I can only read at length in hard copy, and find it much faster to, er, load and scan–an age thing I guess:

Let Us Pay
John Lanchester on the future of the newspaper industry

A large part of the decline in these figures is to do with classified advertising. This was for years the secret weapon of the newspaper business…

…in the US, the newspaper business is a local one, with a strong tendency towards de facto monopoly. Most of America’s cities have (or had) a dominant newspaper, and that paper had a monopoly of classified advertising. During the long years of the 20th century’s newspaper boom, that monopoly was the proverbial licence to print money. It was this gushing faucet of classified revenue which allowed the elaborate superstructure of American newspapers to develop. The well-staffed offices, the air of self-conscious seriousness shading into pomposity, the tendency to file what from a British point of view always seemed several hundred words too much – all these features of American papers were underpinned by the easy money of monopoly-based classified advertising. It is one reason lessons from the US are not instantly generalisable to the UK, where the newspaper market is national, and as competitive as any equivalent business anywhere in the world. It is also the reason US newspapers are for the most part more fundamentally serious than British ones. In Britain, the papers have never been able to forget for long their close proximity to the entertainment industry [emphasis added, how very true]…

Would it matter if it [the daily press] died?… In Britain, it is tempting to say that the papers’ many defects stack up to such an extent that they wouldn’t be missed. A complete submission to the idea that news is entertainment and entertainment is news; a pack mentality and the idea that only things which are being already covered in the media are worth covering; a general retreat from the principles of serious journalism, investigative journalism, and a horror of complicated ideas; amnesia; a default setting to knee-jerk populism: none of these things is a virtue. But the UK newspaper industry is an energetic and cacophonous thing, one which sees a big part of its role as being to make the government’s life as difficult as possible. Because of the way our constitution is skewed towards the incumbent government, for a lot of the time the press is a de facto form of opposition…

So, now what? Is that it, Game Over for print media? I don’t think so, not quite yet. Just as one of the industry’s biggest strengths, classified advertising, turned out to be a hidden weakness when that business simply upped and left, now there is a similar paradox, but the other way around: one of its greatest weaknesses may turn out to be a potential saviour. That weakness is simple: it is the cost of physically producing a newspaper. The production and distribution of newspapers is fantastically, outlandishly expensive…

…If newspapers switched over to being all online, the cost base would be instantly and permanently transformed…

…what the print media need, more than anything else, is a new payment mechanism for online reading, which lets you read anything you like, wherever it is published, and then charges you on an aggregated basis, either monthly or yearly or whatever. For many people, this would be integrated into an RSS feed, to create what amounts to an individualised newspaper. I would be entirely happy to pay to subscribe to Anthony Lane on movies in the New Yorker, and Patricia Wells on restaurants in the Herald Tribune, and Larry Elliott on economics in the Guardian, and David Pogue on technology in the New York Times, and I also want to feel free to read anything else which catches my eye, whenever I feel like it – I just don’t want to have to think about paying every time I click on the article to read it. I want a monthly or yearly charge, taken off my credit card without my having to think about it…

Canadian papers seem to be doing comparatively well so far.  Indeed I’ve noticed that the Saturday Ottawa Citizen and Canada’s National Whatever are now as hefty as the Sunday NY Times.  By chance I heard the Citizen’s editor of the radio today saying that they are planning (in effect following the Globe’s lead) to concentrate hard news in the online version with print focusing on in-depth analysis and feature pieces.  Hurl.  Not what I want in the morning.  For those I read magazines–like the LRB and several others.

Update: As for magazines, David Brooks of the NY Times discusses his favourite articles of the year and concludes:


Everybody’s worried about the future of print journalism, but this has been an outstanding year for magazines. On Tuesday, I’ll offer more suggestions for holiday reading.

Mark
Ottawa

How to get the Cheka, OGPU, NKVD, KGB…

Posted December 13th, 2010 in International by MarkOttawa

…and other manifestations of Soviet security and intelligence a better reputation.  From an article worth the read in the London Review of Books:

…One of my fantasies – along with importing a branch of Marks and Spencer and a Penguin bookshop to Moscow – was that one day the Soviets would…give Western scholars access to the most taboo of Soviet archives, the NKVD’s, so that the scholars would stop slandering this fine institution and see things from its perspective: the Central Committee cadres department reassigning any Gulag officers who showed signs of competence and sending the Gulag administration nothing but duds, the difficulties in setting up native-language kindergartens for Chechen deportees to Kazakhstan, and so on…

On the other hand:

Katyn and coming clean about a mass murderer

Good writing does not excuse moral vacuity.  It is revealing to realize that no-one would (at least one hopes) ever be so jocular about the tough lives of those who ran the Nazi extermination camps.  There still is a serious double standard in dealing with the monstrous crimes Hitler and Stalin (not to mention Lenin and Mao) are responsible for.  Bloodlands is an effort to right the balance–see also this exchange of letters in the LRB.

The Polish movie “Katyn” is itself well worth the watch (saw it via Fred).  As far as I know not one Soviet killer in this, and their countless other killings, ever faced any justice.  Think about it.

Mark
Ottawa

Evil language

Posted November 22nd, 2010 in International, pop culture by MarkOttawa

A response to a letter (scroll up at preceding link for letter) in the London Review of Books–ya wha’?

Glen Newey writes: Of course one can say that the enormity of acts like those of the Khmers or Saddam overwhelms any attempt to make sense of them. In line with that claim, talk about the mindset of evildoers, as I suggested, seems to require double vision about whether or not they belong to the moral community. If so, it is forlorn to try to pin down a specific psychology of evil, such as the nihilistic one that Terry Eagleton highlights in On Evil [Mr Newey's review of the book, first listing at this link, is the basis of this, er, discussion]. Some, like sadists, want to seize value rather than annihilate it. Appropriators and annihilators share the psychic basis of envy, the sense that the self is threatened because value lies outside it, and must therefore be introjected or destroyed. But if attitudes to evil are double-minded, and so literally incoherent, talk about its ‘psychology’ can only be taken metaphorically. My suggestion that it be seen as intolerance of kitsch was meant not as a joke but as a metaphorical account of it. Kitsch objects shut out viewers from value, reducing them to voyeurs. That provokes the urge to reassert the self by reappropriating or destroying value. Sadists, again, try to solve the problem of envy by depriving the other of value, and reclaim value for themselves in so doing. However, if evil-doing is nobody’s state of mind, such descriptions cannot be literally true. Doubtless that is frustrating for moralists, but the philosophical problem goes as far back as Plato.

Huh?

Mark
Ottawa

More on “Socialism” with Dragon characteristics–Party style

Posted November 3rd, 2010 in Canada, International by MarkOttawa

Further to the “other matters” by Richard McGregor at this post, Slavoj Žižek (a fun fellow who still believes in some sort of marvelous Marxism) deals with the Party line in the London Review of Books (a lot of bookery reviewery tonight):

Can you give my son a job?

The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers by Richard McGregor

…What we have in China isn’t simply a combination of a private capitalist economy and Communist political power. In one way or another, state and Party own the majority of China’s companies, especially the large ones: it is the Party itself which demands that they perform well in the market. To resolve this apparent contradiction, Deng concocted a unique dual system. ‘As an organisation, the Party sits outside, and above the law,’ He Weifang, a law professor from Beijing, tells McGregor: ‘It should have a legal identity, in other words, a person to sue, but it is not even registered as an organisation…

The government and other state organs, ‘which ostensibly behave much as they do in many countries’, are centre stage: the Ministry of Finance proposes the budget, courts deliver verdicts, universities teach and award degrees, priests lead rituals. So, on the one hand, we have the legal system, the government, the elected national assembly, the judiciary, the rule of law etc. But on the other – as the official term ‘Party and state leadership’ indicates: ‘Party’ always comes first – we have the Party, which is omnipresent but always in the background…

Nominations to key posts – in Party and state organs, but also in large companies – are made first by a Party body, the Central Organisation Department, whose headquarters in Beijing have no listed phone number and no sign outside. Their decisions, once made, are passed to legal organs – state assemblies, managerial boards – which then go through the ritual of confirming them by vote. The same double procedure – first the Party, then the state – obtains at every level…

The irony is that the Party itself, its complex workings hidden from public scrutiny, is the ultimate source of corruption. The inner circle, comprising top Party and state functionaries as well as chiefs of industry, communicate via an exclusive phone network, the ‘Red Machine’ – possessing one of its unlisted numbers is a clear sign of one’s status. A vice-minister tells McGregor that ‘more than half of the calls he received on his “red machine” were requests for favours from senior Party officials, along the lines of: “Can you give my son, daughter, niece, nephew, cousin or good friend and so on, a job?”’..

Earlier: Not that the government is much better these days:

Mickey I.: Clueless (or gutless) over Afstan, upsucking to the Dragon

Mark
Ottawa