The concepts of “voting”, “payment”, and “work” are more or less arbitrary labels pasted on divisions of an überdenk that might be labeled “choosing among alternatives”. Economists know this, but because they tend to lump them all in “payment” the general public is often confused. Sitting through a teevee ad, for instance, is work, in the sense of an activity performed in the hope of a payoff in the form of an enjoyable diversion later; it’s also payment, in the sense that it’s a resource, the time you could have used to do something else with a different payoff, that you’ve expended and will never get back; and it’s voting, in the sense of choosing that particular program and its accompanying ads instead of hitting the clicker to get another.
Kathleen Parker has lost her job as an
MSNBC CNN presenter, and that, along with the cases of Keith Olbermann, Rick Sanchez, David Shuster, Alan Colmes, Campbell Brown, John Roberts, Larry King, Harry Smith, and others, gives me the sense that some people who should have been paying attention have begun to do so. It’s long been a mystery to me why the stockholders and investors who finance the news business, and the advertisers who pay for it, haven’t noticed what’s going on and taken steps to change things.
[Thanks to Monster, in the comments, for pointing out I’d got Ms. Parker’s affiliation wrong –ed]
It’s no secret, and hasn’t been for a long time, that “news” as seen in the papers and on teevee has a strong element of entertainment, and often becomes entirely thus. News presenters, regardless of the channel in use, must compete with alternative uses the consumers of their product have for their time. Nor is it particularly obscure that entertainers — actors, singers, “celebrities”, teevee “personalities”, writers, et. al. — are overwhelmingly “liberal”, i.e., leftoid, and have been for a long time, or that news presenters, drawn as they are primarily from the ranks of entertainers, share that outlook on life and politics.
The general decline of the news business, as business, is not unacknowledged, either. Quite the contrary: the loss of viewership in teevee news and readership in newspapers and news magazines is a common theme. What is obscure, though, is that the losses aren’t perfectly even. It’s clear, if lamented, that the traditional outlets, the Big Three networks and the classic newspapers like the New York Times, are the biggest losers, and that first the cable networks, then (more recently) the Internet and blogosphere, have gained at their expense. What perhaps isn’t clear in the fluid situation is that even the “new media”, however defined, have definite winners and losers among them, and that there is a common denominator that can predict success or failure.
Put simply: go moonbat, lose your general audience. The principle is perhaps less apparent because the big successes in the blogosphere have been the leftoid-oriented ones, with Daily Kos and Huffington Post as exemplars. What is perhaps missed there is that blog consumers aren’t a “general audience”. The overwhelming majority of people either don’t pay attention to the Internet at all, or use it for eBay, Freecycle, Craigslist, and the like, or participate in “social media” like Facebook or Tumblr, where Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga are much more significant than Hosni Mubarak or even the President, the Congress, or local political affairs. Blogs attract the committed, the concerned, and the indignant, and such people are a minority, whether right or left; general audiences get their information from the traditional or “mainstream” media — teevee and the newspapers, with “teevee” including the cable channels as over-the-air television becomes less and less relevant.
Among those alternatives, the pattern is clear and has been for quite a while. Go left, lose “share”; go right, gain audience. Fox, which is not so much “right” as it is trying to dance on the double yellow, outdoes most of the other cable channels combined; MSNBC and CNN, committed to the leftoid “narrative”, hemorrhage viewers. The New York Times and its wannabee imitator in Los Angeles see declining circulation; the Wall Street Journal gains at their expense. Even among the old “big three” over-the-air teevee networks the pattern is visible. ABC sticks firmly to light entertainment; NBC goes for drama and mostly leaves the politics to its cable subsidiary; CBS, most committed to the leftoid “narrative”, is somewhat less successful.
Why haven’t the stockholders and investors seen this pattern long ago and taken steps? They get their money and share value from advertisers, who purchase their product in the hope of attracting “eyeballs” whose owners might be influenced to buy the product. For at least the past decade the general audience has been changing the channel, voting against leftoid views and for right-tending ones by refusing to expend the effort to wade through the ads when the accompanying program doesn’t fit their inclinations; they will neither work to consume the ads, nor pay their time and attention for something they don’t value, so they vote with their remotes. Not a few advertisers have begun to take notice and shift their ad buys to things that attract more consumers, which cuts into revenue and makes investment in the losers less attractive. Tax laws and the regulatory environment have obfuscated the relationship between corporations and their owners, the stockholders; nowadays, an investor who thinks corporate policy is destructive of current or future profit sells the stock instead of lobbying the Board of Directors. Still, though, one would think that people whose income depends on the success of the company would be agitating for its management to take appropriate measures to prevent or mitigate the losses.
That’s why the example of Ms. Parker is encouraging. Clearly MSNBC hired her in an attempt to attract more of the general (i.e., rightish) audience, but selected her on the basis of conformance to the general bent of opinion in their presentation. Unfortunately, the only person more contemptible than a traitor is a quisling; right-oriented viewers didn’t follow her to her new venue because she was seen as abandoning support of her previous positions, and left-oriented viewers weren’t attracted by her conversion to what they see as perfectly ordinary views. Result: the program had dismal ratings and didn’t last long. The case of Arianna Huffington is equally or more instructive. Ms. Huffington originally abandoned somewhat-rightist views to found what became a vibrant left-oriented community; the Huffington Post has, of late, become increasingly strident and doctrinaire, and Arianna, an opportunist of the first water, has packed her valuables and left the ship ahead of the general rush to the lifeboats. Neither Ms. Parker nor Ms. Huffington is likely to miss many meals in the near future, but they are no longer occupying the soapbox.
Add to that the general failure of MoveOn’s demonstrations this weekend and the increasingly shrill, violent, and desperate tactics of public Unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere, and one gets the heartening sense that the people financing it all are beginning to see and read the writing on the wall. Even the New York Times has recently published at least one article that backs away from full-throated support of leftoid causes, and it’s interesting and amusing that that article’s byline is of A. Sulzberger, son of the righteous (or lefteous) “Pinch”, whose inheritance is at risk. The implacable irony of the Left and Progressivism is that its main support has come, for at least the past half-century, from the wealthy and the elite who saw opportunities for profit, both in money and in social acceptance. If the investors and stockholders have begun to see loss instead, it may be that a sea-change has indeed begun.