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Is CT's Attorney General trying to force the press to "chill out" over Dodd?

You can tell when a liberal politician is in deep sushi by two things:

a) The MSM starts buying into the criticism that conservatives and libertarians made for months prior to their discovery

b) The wounded target's political allies "circle the wagons" and start returning fire against the officeholder's critics

We are witnessing this scenario today unfolding in Connecticut

Led by intrepid columnist Kevin Rennie, the Hartford Courant has raised the decible level of dissatisfaction with Dodd, culminating with calling his AIG bonus blunder a "flip-flop" in a front page headline and having a liberal writer urge Dodd not to see re-election.

Since the Courant's reversal of fortune on a CT political icon whom they have supported for decades, the CT Democratic establishment did what it does best. Circle the wagons around their wounded leader.  They've been doing a "dog and pony" show around the state where all the leading Democrats stand behind the embattled Dodd.

Including Attorney General Dick Blumenthal

Remember him. Once he was very upset with Countrywide Lending's predatory practices.

But when it came to Chris Dodd's deal with Countrywide, he gave the Senator a clean bill of health.

"We subpoena documents. We don't voluntarily necessarily accept representations made to us by companies like Countrywide," Blumenthal responded. "Chris Dodd has disclosed those documents, he has disclosed those facts and I believe the people of Connecticut will accept his explanation and elect him in 2010." 

Hmm, Dick, I know I went to some jock colleges unlike you and your  Harvard+ Yale pedigree. But, hmmm. a) you never subpoenaed Dodd's documents.  and b) Dodd didn;t really disclose them--unless one hour of letting handpicked reporters view documents constitutes "disclosure" (Hmm...I'll try that next time I have a discovery dispute with the AG's office).

Here's what the Wall Street Journal had to say about Blumenthal's defense of Dodd.  

Inappropriate doesn't begin to describe Mr. Blumenthal's appearance this week on Hartford's WFSB-TV. The AG compared Mr. Dodd, who was due to receive an estimated savings of $75,000 over the life of his two VIP mortgage loans, to borrowers allegedly duped by unscrupulous lenders. Mr. Blumenthal claimed that "there's no evidence of wrongdoing on [Mr. Dodd's] part any more than victims who were misled or deceived by Countrywide."

But I merely set the table here. What just happened really shows to what lengths the Democrats will use their levers of power to protect their own.

As we all well know, the Tribune Company is in bankruptcy.  The Tribune owns the Courant and the Fox TV affiliate in Hartford, Channel 61. To survive the recession, the Tribune proposes to combine the news staff of the Courant and Fox 61.  

And who's against this. Chris Dodd's loyal lackey Dick Blumenthal

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal wrote the owner of Tribune Wednesday saying that the merger of the Hartford Courant, WTIC-TV, and WTXX-TV may violate the Federal Communications Commissions ban on a company owning a television station and newspaper in the same market.

“I am concerned that allowing these entities to fully merge into one news and information operation goes well beyond what the FCC intended when it granted Tribune a two-year limited waiver,” Blumenthal wrote in this letter to Tribune Co. CEO Sam Zell.

Hmm, Dick, in case you haven;t noticed the newspaper business is not. hmm, in the best of health these days. Maybe saving the Courant might be...a good thing.

So what to make of AG Blumenthal's sudden concern over media consolidation?   

Could this be an effort to suggest that fewer problems for Senator Dodd might mean fewer problems for the Courant's business plan?

We've never seen Democratic politicians manipulate the regulatory process to benefit their interests, now have we?

Perhaps Ivy League lawyer Blumenthal ought to reacquaint himself with this concept I learned at my non-elite law school

Think there's been a "chilling effect'" placed on the Courant's future coverage of Senator Dodd ?

I do.  We'll see how interested the Left is in the First Amendment once liberals decide to chill conservatives. My guess. Not a peep. 

 ====UPDATE====

A good night's sleep caused me to remember this prior incident when a media person got a little too hostile at Senator Dodd, and his corporate masters decided to "self-sanction" themselves --no doubt so as not to draw attention to folks who might bring in the FCC to scour their affairs.I wrote about it at the time.   Here's some FoxNews coverage at the time

The Coming Mega-Blogs

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is publishing its last paper edition today, joining the Rocky Mountain News and several other smaller papers in giving up a one hundred and forty-six year traditional business model. Instead, SeattlePI.com will become a web-only product hard to distinguish from the Huffington Post.

The Seattle PI has seen its circulation decline from 200,000 to 117,000 and in fact the decline might be even more precipitous is one accounts for the changes in accounting rules for circulation. On the other hand, its on-line operations log 50 million page views a year, so its clear that some value exists in the brand.

The real question is, how much value?

The on-line version of this institution is going to be a much, much smaller, a literal inversion of circulation measured in hundreds of thousands, and revenues measured in millions. A successful version of the SeattlePI will be roughly equivalent to a nice plumbing business.

Even that is a very optimistic scenario. With all of its advertising slots fully subscribed at a CPM rate of eight bucks per thousand, one is only looking at revenues around 1.2 - 2.0 million dollars a year with the current traffic. Profits will be a fraction of that. To paraphrase a Morgan Spurlock comment, that's telephone bill money, not rent money.

The bottom line is that the newspaper industry still doesn't have an on-line business plan and that has big implications for how Americans get their news.

Paradoxically, in the news business, the low cost of content delivery is accompanied by the high cost of content creation--reportage. The other important factor is how the internet destroys the concept of 'local'. Why do you really need a Seattle PI when Seattle isn't a meaningful concept on the internet?

When you understand these factors, the future of on-line news becomes rather obvious.

Big. Really Big.

SeattlePI.com is a model for the future, but by model I mean like airplane model--a toy-sized replica of a functioning mechanism. What newspapers still have not grasped is that not only has the internet destroyed their content delivery model, its destroyed the notion of local.

If you look through your newspaper, there is comparatively little that you could legitimately call local news. Sports and local politics is almost the only truly local content a newspaper has. Everything else is subject to economies of scale.

The on-line news entity of the future will be a multi-media site with a single IT office for the entire nation, or perhaps even many nations. There is really no reason why you couldn't handle news for every English-speaking country in the world from one facility staffed by a passel of webmasters and IT people.

The impact on reportage will be even more dramatic. A future of independent contractors--bloggers by any other name. I think its entirely conceivable that two or three people could make a nice living reporting sports in Salt Lake City. They conduct interviews, report games, take video and do everything we've come to associate with sports reporting, and sell that product as content for anyone who will pay for it. Certainly there will still be "in-house" reporters, but they will become increasingly rare, perhaps confined to Washington D.C. and other major power centers. The vast majority will essentially be blogger content with a distinction between professional and amateur, original reporting and commentary/special interest--but still blogging.

Like the IT department, advertising sales benefits immensely from the kind of radical centralization I'm talking about, closely resembling Google's sales operation.

The new balance of radically reduced overheads and unheard of page views (Google magnitude) makes for a viable business model, but for whom? The internet and software giants are well-placed with technical resources and existing sales organizations to do very well, but Newscorp, NBC and Time-Warner already have the expertise and infrastructure of cable television, which depends heavily on their affilates for content. I actually put my money on these boys and girls--Fox, CNN and NBC could be the only news media left standing at the end of the day.

I think it rolls out this way: Newspapers continue to go out of business entirely, or try their hand at on-line only. The attrition is devastating, but the survivors are acquired by Newscorp, etal who absorb their sales and web departments into their own, leaving a few reporters working out of their homes or small offices to continue delivering content. The new media giants customize their content for each locality (like the Examiner is already doing).

This of course flies in the face of the Democrat's disingenuous call for "localism" in media, but they can't fight the economics--it will happen, but should they worry? Should Republicans worry? No more so than they do now. The current Pravda model of editing is stupid in the extreme, since it essentially cedes market share to rivals who are only too willing to report what the other guy won't. This is intensified by the realities of the Internet model, which--once again--has no concept of local.

Oddly enough, for what looks like an effective news monopoly, I think you'll actually see a greater diversity of views. Without the traditional local news media monopolies, it becomes nearly impossible to foist objectionable views by sandboxing a market. I took a walk with the lovely bunny this past Sunday because of the beautiful weather we're having and I couldn't help but notice all the newspapers still on the walk at six o'clock in the evening in spite of the fact that they are delivered before 7:00 in the morning. Its an odd reality that in very conservative Utah, the main newspapers are irredeemably liberal, yet that doesn't mean that you can actually get people to read them. I asked my neighbors what the deal was with the newspaper still on the walk in the early evening, and without exception I heard the same thing, "we don't actually read it, we just get it for the sales flyers..." It was an "ah ha" moment for me, because that's precisely why we still get a Sunday paper...

Reportage sourced from independent contractors makes this scenario increasingly impossible to sustain. Not only are they subservient to market tastes, but they can no longer hide behind the skirts of the institution. If no one is reading their stuff, they won't have a job.

There is always the prospect of political interference in how this all develops, but frankly I like the way the future of journalism looks.

 

The Future of Journalism

The era of the printing press is ending.  The era of Wordpress is beginning.  We are all publishers now.  How can journalism survive?

Clay Shirky concludes that newspapers will die, but journalism will survive through experimentation with various business models.  He's basically correct.  I think the fundamental problem is that the return to scale is disappearing.  When you no longer need a large, granite building on Main Street, a printing press and a massive support structure to do journalism, the organizations who insist on keeping them will have to evolve or die.

So, what comes next?  Clay Shirky and Yochai Benkler both suggest various business models that may emerge (some already are).  I think we'll see the re-emergence of the ideological and partisan press - they're generally better at story-telling, because they have a story to tell - with fewer neutral/objective press organizations which can provide independent mediation for the competing claims of the partisan media organizations.  Utlimately, I think that's positive.  After all, organizations with an ax to grind are the most likely to have the fury needed to turn the wheel

Here are a few approaches I think we'll see...

  • Niche Journalism: If the return to scale stops increasing at a much smaller level, then we should see those returns going to expertise, instead.  The specialization may be topical, geographic or ideological/partisan, but 1000 specialists working independently should be able to provide more value than 10 organizations each employing 100 generalists. 
  • Dynamic Journalism: Why are news stories a static product?  We're already seeing Real Time Journalism (as-it-happens reporting that creates a story arc, rather than after-the-fact reporting) from outlets like The Politico and Talking Points Memo.  That will almost certainly expand.   But the blogosphere exists, in part, because people are unsatisfied with the news, so there is room for more dynamic reporting - that is, an organization which covers a story in an almost Wikipedia-like model - updating and correcting a story as it emerges - with a team of editors and reporters collaborating (with input/feedback from the public) to create what amounts to a single "same facts" overview of a broad story.
  • Non-profit Journalism: Non-profits may not earn a monetary profit, but monetary profit isn't the only ROI.  Ideological magazines (e.g., National Review, The Nation, Weekly Standard, Reason, Washington Monthly, The American Spectator, The American Prospect, Human Events, Mother Jones, The New Republic) may not earn a profit very often (or at all), but much of their value comes from the exposure and publicity they provide for ideas and information.  That has a great deal of value to many people and organizations, even if that value cannot be monetized.  I expect to see a great deal more funding of journalism by the people and organizations who want that kind of ROI. 

One final note that should concern those of us on the Right: while the Right has used the internet to expand the media criticism it had been doing for many years, the Left has been busy using the internet to build their own media infrastructure.  At this stage in the Wordpress era, the entrepreneurs have come from the Left.  The Right needs new infrastructure and new guards.  That is going to require an investment in these new business models.

Major newspapers have gone to Zell

Hugh Hewitt posted this within the past hour. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Tribune Company, parent firm of the Chicago Tribune, the L.A. Times, the Hartford Courant and Long Island's Newsday  ( found out it had recently been sold, sorry) is about to file for bankruptcy.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122868944355686385.html?mod=testMod

Awhile back the primary ownership interest in this firm was bought by a Chicago real estate billionaire. Sam Zell. Zell was renowned in the '90-92 recession for picking up distressed office properties (including plenty  in Stamford) and reaping huge gains when the economy rebounded. I suppose he did not find enough surplus realty owned by Tribune to make this deal work, or the real estate bubble burst at the same time as the media bubble.

Tribune has been trying to cut staff at the print operations fast enough to remain solvent, but with big advertisers like banks and car dealers sucking wind this is race they are not winning.  The firm also owns the baseball Cubs and some TV stations--that's probably the net value of the firm.

Odd a stock priced at 18 is filing; but maybe Zell is trying to recover something now before the recession sucks all the value out of this conglomerate.

The Broadsheet Bailout

First Citigroup, next GM, and now CT politicians are trying to get the state government to bailout two failing local newspapers: the Bristol Press and the New Britain Herald

http://blogs.courant.com/capitol_watch/2008/12/ten-legislators-try-to-save-br.html

Hey, it's more fun than trying to fix the upcoming $6 billion state deficit, let's just make it a little larger, why don't we ? http://www.courant.com/news/politics/hc-ap-ct-connecticutbudgetnov12,0,6387368.story?track=rss

Now it's a shame that two communties of about 70,000 residents apiece won;t have a local newspaper next year. But the Journal Register company has done such a great job of gutting the coverage of these papers to squeeze out revenue there's really no local paper now. The circulation of each paper is now under 10,000---evidently it's easy enough to get the weather report and the sports scores on cable TV or AM news radio.  Perhaps a local "shopper" can start printing obits--it;s like the only local news content left for these rags

The argument of course is we need to "save" 100 jobs. But of course, not all jobs are created equal. A rather large moving company in New Britain failed last month. No state legislator lifted a finger http://www.courant.com/community/news/nb/hc-nebmover-1010,0,4549724.story?track=rss

The regular working stiffs are only going to get the bill  for "saving" the jobs of folks in more politically correct industries.

News Consumption is Changing

The daily circulation of the top Newspapers in the country in 2008...


 

The daily circulation (visits) for Daily Kos...

 

 

 

The numbers are not perfectly equivalent, but they are striking, nonetheless.  This means something.

  • Top newspaper: 2.28 million
  • Top political blog: 2.68 million

 

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