Posted on | April 27, 2012 | 38 Comments
Alex Pareene is a writer who has figured out that liberals like reading stories about how evil, stupid and nasty conservatives are. This is obviously the reason why Pareene is willing to sacrifice whatever self-respect he ever had by working for Salon.
Salon is basically the cockroach of Web ‘zines. Begun in the age of dial-up modems, it has survived the dot-com bubble, the rise of blogs and social networking, etc. While it has survived, however, no one can say that Salon has thrived. It spent a dozen years as a Slate wannabe before trying to re-invent itself as a weak imitation of HuffPo or something.
No one knows how much money Salon has lost since 1995, although it was estimated last year that its annual operating loss was $1.5 million. So, cumulative losses by now are probably somewhere between $20 million and a metric buttload.
In 2009, Salon laid off six staffers out of a total editorial staff of about 30. Its marquee bylines nowadays are the execrable Joan Walsh and the keening hysteric Glenn Greenwald. At about the time Arianna was palming off HuffPo to AOL for $315 million and Tina Brown was buying Newsweek for $1, there was some talk of selling Salon to Michael Wolff’s Newser, but negotiations reportedly broke down because nobody could figure out what Salon was worth, if anything.
Having formerly covered himself with infamy at Wonkette and Gawker, Pareene is now playing third banana to Joan and Glenn at the arguably worthless Salon, where today he piled 2,200 words of derision on top of Tucker Carlson’s head. This we might easily ignore, except for two sentences that intrigued me:
“Carlson’s Daily Caller was supposed to be a home for edgy, independent voices and serious, well-reported journalism from a conservative perspective. No one actually wants that — if they did, it would exist, right? — because the online right-wing audience simply wants to be told reassuring and outrageous lies.”
Is this true?
Forget for a moment that this is Alex “Ping Pong Balls” Pareene writing at Salon, mocking conservatives for the sake of mocking conservatives. Leave aside Pareene’s derogatory focus on Carlson, and put out of your mind entirely the question of whether the Daily Caller has lived up to Carlson’s original stated goal of making it the “HuffPo of the Right.” (Having never had a high estimate of HuffPo itself, the idea of reverse-engineering it didn’t seem to me a very lofty ambition.)
What I found intriguing in Pareene’s formulation was the suggestion of a market mismatch problem for conservative journalism. Of course, Pareene utterly ignores the “serious, well-reported journalism” that is produced by a great many outlets, old and new.
Citing a partial list would be somewhat unfair to those omitted, but can anyone deny that, for example, the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal constitutes “serious, well-reported journalism”? To pull another name out of a large hat, the Free Beacon seems to be off to a promising start.
Nevertheless, there remain deficiencies and persistent problems in conservative media that deserve attention:
- What I call “the Fox Trap” continues to plague conservative thinking about New Media. The regnant idea that conservative journalism’s success begins and ends with a story getting mentioned by Bill O’Reilly or Brett Baier is a dangerous delusion. As I recently explained: “In January of this year, the nightly audience for the three major broadcast networks’ evening news programs averaged a combined 24.2 million viewers (9.3 million for NBC, 8.2 million for ABC, 6.7 million for CBS). By comparison, the highest-rated program for Fox News, ‘The O’Reilly Factor,’ averages less than 3 million viewers nightly.” Simple math demonstrates that an obsessive focus on Fox ignores 7/8ths of the total news market.
- The tendency in conservative journalism to value punditry over basic reporting is well-documented. As my young friend J.P. Freire has remarked, we need fewer Bill Buckleys and more Robert Novaks.
- The emerging online news environment tends to encourage sensationalism — the “gotcha” story that will merit a Drudge headline — at the expense of basic, solid beat reporting. This problem is by no means limited to conservative New Media, but given the structural disadvantages imposed by liberal bias in the major media, the relentless pursuit of “gotcha” headlines may be a greater temptation on the Right than the Left. Reporters with this attitude resemble a baseball player who is always “swinging for the fences,” trying to hit a home run, and too often striking out rather than trying to be a good contact hitter, collecting singles and doubles. Good thorough beat coverage will yield its share of front-page “home runs,” but it also generates lots of less attention-getting reporting that is nonetheless important to creating a well-rounded news product.
- Complacency is conservative journalism’s worst enemy. For some reason, the Right’s celebration of free-market entrepreneurialism persistently falls short in media. It is easier to complain about media bias than to do something about it, and the pioneers of conservative New Media have always found themselves swimming upstream against indifference or outright opposition. Nobody saw the potential of conservative talk radio until Rush Limbaugh showed how it could be done. It took years for Roger Ailes (who first put Limbaugh on TV) to put together Fox News. Matt Drudge started out with a simple e-mail list and no influential sponsors. And the late Andrew Breitbart, whenever someone called him a New Media “mogul,” would roll his eyes and remark that he was almost certainly the world’s poorest “mogul.”
If you ask me how much conservative journalism we need, my answer is one simple word: “More.”
Yet for some reason, the people would write the checks always seem to think we’ve already got enough conservative journalism. Why is it, one wonders, that conservative donors always seem more eager to lavish millions on GOP political campaigns — including doomstruck losers — than on building a stronger online New Media apparatus?
My friend Jimmie Bise Jr. once pointed out that permatanned Florida RINO Charlie Crist raised $4.3 million in a single three-month span of 2009 for what anyone with an IQ above room temperature could see was a doomed senatorial campaign.
Do these dimwit Republican donors have any idea — anything even in the remote proximity of a f–king clue — how much reporting $4.3 million would buy? In case you weren’t paying attention earlier, Salon has persisted for more than 15 years with an estimated annual net loss of $1.5 million, and at one point had about 30 staffers.
So the $4.3 million Republican donors pissed away on Charlie Crist’s worthless Senate campaign might have been enough to run a decent online news/opinion magazine for three years.
The basic math isn’t complicated, people. Look at the expenditures for four Republican presidential campaigns:
Tim Pawlenty ………….. $5.0 million — Quit: Aug. 14, 2011
Herman Cain ………….. $16.2 million — Quit: Dec. 3, 2011
Michele Bachmann …… $9.0 million — Quit: Jan. 4, 2012
Rick Perry ……………… $19.3 million — Quit: Jan. 19, 2012
Four candidates, two of whom quit before the first votes were cast, and two others who quit before the South Carolina primary, who between them raised and spent a total of $49.5 million.
Ask yourself, “How much journalism would $49.5 million buy?”
I’ll give you a rough estimate: Suppose that the average cost of employing one news staffer (including benefits and expenses) was $80,000. For $49.5 million, you could hire a staff of 60 people and employ them for 10 years even if you never collected a dime of revenue from advertising — and have $1.5 million left over, maybe to throw a really rockin’ Christmas party every year.
At a more modest level, a million bucks a year would hire a staff of 12 and leave a cushion of $40,000 for additional expenses (promotions, marketing, fees to freelancers, etc.). And for what was spent on those four GOP primary campaigns, you could fund four such operations for 10 years and still leave $9.5 million laying around.
You, dear reader, probably don’t have access to that kind of money, but obviously somebody does. And there is nothing stopping you from making some contribution to online journalism.
If you found this brief article informative, useful or merely amusing, please hit my tip jar — $10, $25, $50, whatever you think it’s worth. You can also post a link to this article on your Facebook page, or send it via Twitter or e-mail to your friends.
And if you know somebody with $49.5 million to spare . . .