Free Markets, Free People

Billy Hollis

Hey, Washington Post. I got yer questions, right here.

I notice via Instapundit that a dying, incurious, partisan, biased newspaper is whining that they should be able to “ask questions” without worrying about being exposed to authoritarian thuggery. Well, sure, but why the whining? They’ve been able to ask any questions they liked since Obama came to prominence, but they’ve asked damn few of them. As Insty puts it:

Want to preserve your ability to ask questions? Try asking questions.

In case the problem isn’t obvious, let me list some questions they should have asked over the last five years:

1. Does Obama share views on what America is really like with his “God damn America!” preacher of twenty years, Jeremiah Wright? Did he really spend twenty years at the church and consider Wright a mentor, yet never hear enough to understand his pastor/mentor’s views?

2. What influence did admitted terrorist Bill Ayers have on Obama? And by the way, exactly why is a terrorist who feels zero remorse qualified to participate in political society? Are you not at least mildly curious about that? Have you tried to get Ayers to explain, or at least quoted his own words in interviews he granted before his association with Obama came to light?

3. Who authorized Fast and Furious? How was Brian Terry’s death handled internally at the Department of Justice?

4. Who authorized the raids on Gibson Guitar? Were they politically motivated? Why wasn’t their main competitor, Martin, investigated? Did Martin commit exactly the same acts, yet get off scot free?

5. Is an admitted tax cheat qualified to be Secretary of the Treasury?

6. How did an avowed Marxist, Van Jones, get control over tens of millions of federal money as a high official in the Obama administration? Who vetted him? Who selected him? Was Obama involved with that decision? Does Obama think it’s acceptable for a Marxist to be a high federal official?

7. What does Obama think about his wife spending more on a single vacation than a typical middle class family makes, gross, in their entire lives? Is she entitled to that kind of treatment? By what virtue? What if Laura Bush had taken multiple such vacations? Would the Post have been any more curious about that?

8. Why is a part-term Senator with no executive experience qualified to be president? Is that risky? Is it more risky than having the governor of a small state as a vice-president?

9. Obama stated “We won”, and apparently reached a deal with Boehner which he then recanted, subsequently demanding further concessions. Does that mean he is responsible for the impasse with Republicans over the debt ceiling, sequester, etc.? Should the Republicans negotiate in good faith with someone who has behaved as Obama has behaved? Would that be wise on their part?

10. Does Obama believe there are any natural limits on the power of government? If so, what are they? What does he think government should never be allowed to do?

11. What happened in Benghazi? What decisions were made, and who made them? Was it a back-room deal gone bad? Did the administration mistakenly give anti-aircraft missiles to al Qaeda and then try to get them back? Why were requests for security turned down? Did the administration cover up significant details simply to delay disclosure until after the election? Does the Post think that is acceptable behavior for a president? What would they say if Bush had done something similar in fall 2004?

12. Where did the stimulus money go? Who got it? What are their ties to Obama? Did the stimulus achieve any portion of its promised economic effect? Why is our economy still mired in low growth and high unemployment, even after giving Obama the stimulus he claimed would fix those problems?

13. Speaking of high unemployment, are the official numbers cooked to make the administration look good? Why had the pool of people no longer seeking employment grown so fast? Is it really just baby boomers retiring? If not, who are the others? Should we develop alternative unemployment rates that take into account people who have dropped out of employment seeking simply because of despair over ever finding a job?

14. Was it appropriate for Obama to comment at all on the Trayvon Martin case? Now that all kinds of exculpatory evidence is surfacing in the case for Zimmerman, has Obama changed his opinion of the case? Is there any reasonable evidence that Zimmerman was motivated by racism?

15. Are White House reporters afraid of asking tough questions directly of Obama? If not, why were so few such questions asked during Obama’s first term?

16. Is is appropriate that Obama does so few press conferences? Does he owe more expansive explanations of his policies to the American people?*

17. What is the complete list of people involved in the IRS targeting of Tea Party organizations? How long did it last? Was there a cover-up to keep the information hidden until after the election? Why? Do bureaucrats in the IRS consider it their job to judge the political implications of their work (which would be the case if they hid the information before the election)? If so, is that consistent with the supposed principles of supposedly non-partisan federal service? Do we need to consider alternative taxation systems just to rid the federal government of this sort of abuse?

18. Are individual tax audits random? What are the inputs to the random process? Are the actual statistics on audits consistent with the presumably random process? If not, who did the interventions that caused the people audited to no longer be random? Was it for partisan purposes?

19. Did the targeting and de facto suppression of Tea Party groups have an impact on the 2012 elections? If so, how big?

20. The Tea Party groups were ignored, and even laughed at, when they claimed the IRS was targeting and abusing them. What would the national media have done if, say, an offshoot of the Southern Poverty Law Center, or Planned Parenthood, had made such claims?

21. You now seem upset that a Fox journalist was named as a “co-conspirator”, apparently to facilitate a fishing expedition to find a leaker in the administration. What about the campaign by the White House to discredit and ostracize Fox News back at the beginning of the Obama administration? Was that proper, or an abuse of power? Do other media outlets consider Fox News a legitimate media organization? Is the claim by the Obama administration that Fox News was biased in favor of the other side imply that the media organizations they like are biased in favor of their side?

22. How do you feel about the editors of your cross-town newspaper being requested by the Obama administration to get rid of a troublesome columnist? Did you know that columnist was subjected to an IRS audit with no obvious cause?

23. Why do areas of the country with high gun ownership tend to have lower violent crime rates? Is the Supreme Court decision regarding gun ownership as an individual right being properly considered and observed by political leaders across the nation? If not, why it is OK for them to flout the Constitution?

24. Did the federal government really order 750,000,000 rounds of ammunition? If so, why? Since it’s way more than would ever be needed for their nominal excuse of “training”, what do they expect to use it for? 

25. How much is the cost of healthcare coverage going up because of Obamacare? Is Obama’s promise that “if you like your coverage you can keep it” being kept? Is the law so complex and contrary to its promises and stated intent that it should be repealed wholesale?

26. Why is college so expensive? Why has it increased in price much, much faster than inflation? Are federal loan programs partially at fault, allowing colleges to raise prices in concert with increased loan availability?

27. What’s the outlook for people in their twenties? Why is their unemployment rate so high? Are they held back from pursuing opportunities because of student loans? Were they encouraged by universities to pursue pointless degrees just to take out those loans, even though the universities knew there would no demand for those skills after college?

28. Are college speech codes a violation of the Constitution? Is the recent attempt by the Obama administration to impose a uniform, highly restrictive and ambiguous speech code a violation of free speech? What is the purpose of those speech codes? Do universities foster diversity of thought, as they claim?

29. Why did so many green energy companies take large federal loans and then go bankrupt? What were the political connections of the owners of those companies with anyone in the federal government? Who made the decisions to award those loans, and what criteria were involved in the decisions?

These are just off the top of my head. I could do more with some research. This is enough to show that the Washington Post and the rest of the national media have been failing to ask obvious questions for years.**

No doubt some of these subjects received cursory coverage, but it’s clear that the Post and most of their national media colleagues were not interested in detailed answers to any of these questions. There hasn’t been anywhere near the effort put in that the New York Times, for example, invested in an unfounded smear on John McCain in 2008.*** Only when the Obama administration started clearly abusing the press using the power of the legal system, and they could hypothetically see themselves on the other end of the abuse, do they final develop a shred of curiosity about anything that might reflect badly on Obama or the Democratic left.

Why didn’t they ask all those other questions? Because they were afraid of the answers they would get.

Honest answers to these questions would challenge a host of mistaken assumptions these popinjays in the media carry around with them. They might discover that authoritarianism and leftism go hand in glove. They might start wondering about Obama’s competence. They might find out that their political opponents (and make no mistake, they chose the leftist side in the political battle long ago) are not ignorant racist Southern white males, and have a point about the dangers of big government. They might find out that people like Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama are the main causes of racial tensions rather than those supposedly racist white males.

They might notice that the parts of the country where minorities suffer the worst are all governed by liberal Democrats and have been for decades. They might realize that it’s not accidental that the educational systems in those areas are all miserably bad. They might question whether public sector unions actually have the well-being of the public in mind.

They might discover that leftism isn’t sustainable, that our debt mountain will inevitably collapse, and that the country is headed for a financial meltdown that will likely lead to civil violence.

Finally, they might notice that they had been played for chumps and useful idiots by the Obama administration since the first time he got in front of them.

But they won’t. They will be like the academics that defended the Soviet Union and Marxism right up until 1991, and afterwards never apologized nor admitted that they had it wrong for decades. Some of them are still Marxists, in fact, and will go to their graves convinced that Communism is fine when run by the right people.

Just like the journalists and editors at the Washington Post, New York Times, Boston Globe, et. al. long ago convinced themselves that their mission was to “make a difference” and “change the world” by promoting the tenets of leftist collectivism, and will go to their graves blaming something else, anything else, for the failure of that philosophy.

* For the record, I don’t think a president, of any party, owes the media anything. A president may go to the press when he thinks it helps him govern, and ignore them when they are an impediment. But I doubt that the preening members of the national press agree with me.

** Some of these areas might very well wind up being no big deal. I find it highly unlikely that all of them would turn out so. We certainly can’t find out without some investigative journalism, and the current crop of stenographers in the media seems unwilling or unable to do it.

*** I don’t even like John McCain, and refused to vote for him, but I can recognize a smear when I see one.

It’s easy to be smug when you think you’re smart and virtuous. Exhibit A: Lois Lerner

Over at Cold Fury, Mike is discussing the spectacle of Lois Lerner taking the 5th before Congress. He observedquoted DrewM at Ace of Spades:

What a smug SOB she is. She sat there like she’d done nothing wrong and was above it all.

That is not due to any intended deception on her part. She believes that she did nothing wrong, all the way to her core of her being.

First, as Heinlein said, no one is a villain in their own eyes. They always manage to rationalize why their immoral or unethical actions were actually just peachy if everyone knew the whole story about them.

But it goes beyond that with today’s leftists. They are steeped in post-modern philosophy, so steeped in fact that they can’t even think outside the patterns imposed by that philosophy. There are axioms that they believe cannot be violated, and that reality can never falsify.

One axiom is that leftists are wise, beneficent people who are eminently qualified to boss everyone else around by virtue of their superior intellect and good intentions. The direct corollary to this axiom is that any time they fail in the real world, the fault must be ascribed to someone not on the left.

Reality doesn’t matter here. Any non-left group will do as the scapegoat, even squishy establishment Republicans. Any excuse (non-doctored "doctored" emails, non-hacked "hacked" Twitter accounts) will do.

That leads to another axiom: anyone who opposes the left deserves whatever the left can inflict on them. Anyone opposing the left has shown by that very fact that they are morally deficient, have bad intentions, and are possibly less than human.

So it’s not wrong to discriminate against them, violate the law to deny them access to the political process, throw them in jail for non-existent or flimsy reasons (such as carrying a perfectly legal gun in the trunk of their car), tax them until their ears bleed, seize their property because someone else happened to be parked there with a joint, seize their property because they changed the course of a creek that only runs once every three years, throw them out of college for inoffensive remarks that accidentally offend another hyper-sensitive leftist, take their children away from them for indoctrination by the state, and prohibit them from doing a thousand things that used to be perfectly legal and have no demonstrated harm or ill effects.

In fact, it’s not simply that it’s not wrong to do those things. It’s virtuous to do such things to those who oppose the left. Lois Lerner can sit there and be smug in the face of Republican questions because she’s positive in her heart and soul that she was doing good to impede and harass the Tea Party organizations. It was a virtuous act, as far as she is concerned, and she does not feel the least shame or guilt over it.

It’s an inconvenience that she and the rest of the oppressive leftists who love government got caught, of course.  They have to manufacture narrative, dance around those bumbling Republicans who have to put up a show for the people back home, and, perhaps worst of all, they’ll have to suspend their oppression of their political enemies during a short cosmetic period before they get back to business.

But never, ever expect today’s left to show remorse for any act they undertake, no matter how illegal, immoral, or unethical it might be. For them, whatever behavior benefits the left is, by definition, virtuous. 

*** Update 11:40 CST ***

The very next article I read is an excellent example of one of the points above. Kirsten Powers in USA Today is doing her best to defend the indefensible.

A synopsis of her article is:

“These scandals can’t possibly be blamed on liberalism because liberals are good, virtuous people. Therefore the Republicans who are claiming these scandals indicate flaws in big government are unfairly twisting the truth for political advantage. Big government is clearly wonderful when run by virtuous liberals.”

Notice how this dovetails into the idea that the left is never at fault when things go wrong, and thus a scapegoat must be found. It was big-government advocates who put the tax system in place, appointed people with the willingness to suppress opposing viewpoints with the power of the IRS, and covered up those actions as long as possible. Nevertheless, the real villain in the investigation is small government advocates!

She dismisses those who actually did the political oppression as aberrations and peripheral to the entire debate. But those who indict big government using the very actions of big government are somehow bad actors.

There’s no debating people who will simply deny the facts sitting on the table because their worldview does not permit them to think liberalism/leftism has any flaws.

Look, I know the flaws of free market economics. Some abuses will occur, usually transient and corrected in the long term by the market, but real for a time. I know allowing radical freedom means some people will make bad choices.

I don’t claim limited government is without flaw, nor that everyone on the right is a saint. But history and our internal desire for freedom tell us that limited government is the best system we can get.

At least it has feedback built in to correct flaws. Perhaps the biggest indictment of today’s leftism is demonstrated by Kirsten’s column: she and her ilk are incapable of taking feedback on the flaws of the political system she prefers. All she can do is blame problems on the other side, and keep maintaining against all evidence that her side does not have the flaws that it so evidently does have.

*** Update 15:00 CST ***

Looks like Congressman Issa wasn’t any more impressed with Lerner’s smug “I’m so, so innocent” performance than the rest of us. He’s hauling her back and telling her that her opening statement claiming innocence means she waived 5th Amendment rights. (Via Drudge)

Top ten newspapers and their circulation–a six month update

Six months ago, I did some numbers and commentary on declining newspaper circulation.* By chance, I noticed a couple of web articles that give some more current numbers, so I decided to revisit the older article and see how things are proceeding.**

Here is a table I created with print numbers from 2004, mid 2012, and late 2012-early 2013 for the current (2013) top ten newspapers. The current top ten list is taken from an AP article on Huffington Post, and is ranked by their current circulation.

 

Newspaper

2004

2012

Early 2013

6 mo +/-%

Total +/-% since 2004

WSJ

2101017

1499204

1480725

-1.23

-29.52

USA Today

2192098

1627526

1424406

-12.48

-35.02

NYT

1119027

717513

731395

1.9

-34.64

LA Times

983727

489792

476148

-2.79

-51.60

Wash Post

760034

434693

432454

-0.52

-43.10

Chicago Sun-Times

453757

361523

392889

8.68

-13.41

Chicago Tribune

603315

388848

368145

-5.32

-38.98

NY Daily News

712671

389270

360459

-7.40

-49.42

NY Post

642844

344755

299950

-13.00

-53.34

Denver Post

340169

236223

223871

-5.23

-34.19

 

Back in November, I said

USA Today looks vulnerable to me, because it looks like the easiest national newspaper to replace with a web-based aggregation app. They do very little original reporting except for the sports section. They have not yet ramped up a decent web presence, and it’s pretty late in that game.

In the latest numbers, USA Today’s print circulation is down a staggering 12% in just six months. I’d like to say I was prescient, but that’s so much, I suspect that the data isn’t comparable. I suppose it could be correct, especially if they lost a major hotel chain or two as a distribution channel. It does seem indisputable that they they are on a long term trend of losing circulation fairly rapidly.

It appears that USA Today did ramp up their web presence somewhat. The reported number of “web subscribers” went from about 86,000 to 250,000. I suspect they’ve started counting the numbers differently; that much increase out of the blue, with no special reason for more eyes on their site, looks unlikely. Since they have no paid web subscribers, it almost doesn’t matter anyway because the revenue from web advertising isn’t going to support their current business model. (The uncertainty about web numbers is one of the reasons I think the methodology might have changed enough to make the print comparisons suspect.)

I also noted circulation alarms for the Washington Post last time:

The Washington Post looks vulnerable too. It also has limited web presence, and print circulation is down a staggering 40%+ in eight years.

The six month circulation change isn’t too bad for them, but Ed Driscoll noted yesterday that their financials have taken a big hit in that time period. Their earnings are down 85%. 

There are a couple of reasons I don’t pay much attention to the web numbers. First, it’s hard to compare the numbers or get any idea of trends without details on their methodology for counting “subscribers”. For example, they could take the count of people who have gone through a silly registration process where they ask for an email. Someone might register that way for one article and never come back. Or it might be based on visits, but there are lots of ways to fudge those, depending on how you count and define things.

Second, I’m guessing they are using a methodology that’s favorable to their numbers, and they still lag. For example, the largest reported number of web subscribers by any of the majors is about half of what the Drudge Report gets in unique daily visits. Drudge’s monthly unique visits would make that ratio fifteen to one instead of two to one. I mentioned last time that Huffington Post has passed NYT in daily visits.

The overall story means steadily decreasing revenues for everyone except possibly the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, and I wouldn’t be too sure about the Times. Occasionally a regional paper will have a good run and make up some ground, as the Chicago Sun-Times has done recently (passing the Tribune on circulation in fact), and I called out the San Jose Mercury News for impressive growth in the last post. But those cases are rare, and don’t seem to be long lasting effects.

Way less money to spend is convenient in some respects, though. It’s easy for an editor to rationalize ignoring a complex story such as Benghazi. Unconsciously, he may not want to cover it because of the danger to his precious historic president, but he can tell himself he just doesn’t have the resources.

One of the messages the right needs to communicate and make part of the popular understanding is how declining revenues have constrained the reporting at major newspapers. That would be one way to explain to people, without getting partisan about it, that those newspapers shouldn’t be regarded with the authority most everyone gave them thirty years ago.

 

* The Washington Post link in that blog post, showing 2012 circulation figures, is dead now. It was apparently based on an AP story, and got removed after a while. I found the original AP story on Yahoo, with all the numbers from the original cite. It’s here.

** I should repeat the same caveat as last time: I am looking primarily at print circulation declines, and so I have to do some arithmetic because the newer numbers combine web and print. Those numbers also give the web number, so I subtract to get the presumed print circulation. It’s possible that I’m misunderstanding what the web numbers mean. Some of the “web subscribers” might also receive a print edition. In that case, the print numbers would be higher. But since I think the industry would want those numbers to look as high as possible, I don’t think they’re defining things that way.

For our readers in software development–a new technology called the agilo-modulizer

Today seems like a perfect day to tell you about some new technology I’ve been involved with for software development. Here’s a ninety second video with a high level description, made by the video training company that I did a course with last year:

 

I know some of our regular commenters, particularly looker, will be interested in this technology.

If we had just bought what the establishment GOP was selling, they would have thrown in undercoating for free

I don’t visit The Corner at National Review as often as I used to. Their pop-behind ads annoy me too much. But with good stuff from Jonah Goldberg, Mark Steyn, Andrew McCarthy, and a few others of that ilk, I still go by from time to time, despite the ads.

Almost as annoying as the ads are the Gentry GOP types who are constantly providing cover for establishment Republicans. Ramesh Ponnuru leads that crew. Ponnuru had a post yesterday, with a follow-on today, that both serve as a fine illustrations.

Both are about the intricate strategerizing (as another establishment Republican might put it) around the so-called fiscal cliff. I tried to understand what he was getting at. I really did. But it all just came out as complicated blather to promote some kind of go-along-get-along viewpoint. I never did understand his argument. I’m pretty sure that he wants the Republicans who blocked the last deal to get with the program and support the establishment cohort led by Boehner, but even after reading his posts through twice I still don’t get *why*.

He ends the first piece with this paragraph:

That some Republicans are willing to see higher taxes for the sake of anti-tax purity is topsy-turvy enough. Adding to the vertigo: The Republicans (inside and outside the House) who fret about blurring the party’s definition are the ones who are doing most to blur it. They are the ones who are, in most cases, accusing Republican leaders of seeking to raise taxes when they are actually trying to cut taxes as much as they think possible—cut them, that is, from the levels the law already has in place for 2013. They’re the ones who are accusing most House Republicans of  “caving” to the Democrats, even as some of them prefer that the Democrats get their way entirely. That’s where the convoluted politics of this moment have led us.

This word salad sounds like an old Dilbert cartoon to me. In it, Dilbert is asked to sign a document stating "Employee election to not rescind the opposite action of declining the reverse inclination to not discontinue employment with the company."

The Gentry GOP’s equivalent seems to be "Voting for the bill to raise taxes in order to not raise taxes while electing to stand firm on not doing anything on spending while ensuring the previous action of claiming to reduce spending." Or something like that. I’m not really sure.

On stuff like this, I am a firm believer in the Asimov principle. In an introduction to one of his books, he said (approximately) "When I read something I don’t understand, I don’t assume I’m stupid." There are plenty of reasons for something to be incomprehensible that don’t have anything to do with me:

- The author might not know what he’s talking about

- The author might be a very bad communicator, and so just can’t explain himself very well

- As in the Dilbert example, the author might be trying to obfuscate the issue

For the entire discussion over the fiscal cliff, from Democrats, the media, or establishment Republicans, I’m going with the last explanation. It’s pretty clear at this point that the whole thing simply does not matter that much in the long term. No proposal being taken seriously will do anything to alter our long term trajectory. So the entire episode is just for political maneuvering.

That’s the part Ponnuru doesn’t seem to get, or at least he doesn’t assign any real weight to it. He doesn’t understand why twenty or so Republicans just won’t go along with the gag.

I get it completely. They have the intuition that they are being gamed.

Analyzing the details doesn’t help, because those details are intentionally confusing, and leave entirely too much room for statists to make things come out the way they want later.

If you’ve ever been subjected to the car salesmen who insists that this wonderful deal he’s offering you won’t be good tomorrow, you know the dynamic here. Those in the GOP who won’t go along with the game sense that the ruling class is using the same technique, with the fiscal cliff deadline as the nominal justification.

In general, I’m sick of any argument by an establishment GOP type that it’s necessary to do X to avoid being blamed for Y. Much of this fiscal cliff discussion seems to be in that vein. I’m sick of it because it pre-supposes that there is a path where the GOP won’t be blamed for the bad things that happen. That’s ridiculous.

Where will newspaper circulation and influence be in 2016?

Given the pathetic performance of our media during the Benghazi tragedy/debacle, I’ve been wondering just what will happen to the media before the next election after this one. I decided to look at where they were a couple of cycles ago, to get some historical perspective. I thought QandO readers might be interested in the results and my own speculations.

I had seen this article in the Washington Post a few days ago, giving circulation of the top 25 newspapers. I found another source showing circulation of the top 100 newspapers in 2004. So I fired up Excel and entered the top 15 from 2004 to see where they are now, and also noted the new members of the top 15 that were not there in 2004.

One adjustment was called for. I restricted the comparison to print copies. I’m assuming the 2004 figures were only print copies, or that web “copies” were insignificant. However, the Post reported circulation for 2012 with print and web combined, though they did note the web number. So the spreadsheet subtracted web circulation from total circulation to get print circulation.

Here are the results, with percentage increase or decrease in print circulation calculated. Almost all “decrease”, as you shall see.

 

Newspaper

Gross 2012

Web 2012

Net Print 2012

2004

%+- for 2012

USA Today

1713833

86307

1627526

2192098

-25.7549

WSJ

2293798

794594

1499204

2101017

-28.6439

NYT

1613865

896352

717513

1119027

-35.8806

LA Times

641369

151577

489792

983727

-50.2106

Wash Post

462228

27535

434693

760034

-42.8061

NY Daily News

535875

146605

389270

712671

-45.3787

NY Post

522868

178113

344755

642844

-46.3703

Chicago Tribune

411960

23112

388848

603315

-35.5481

Newsday

392989

114620

278369

553117

-49.6727

Houston Chronicle

325814

91331

234483

549300

-57.3124

Dallas Morning News

410130

64788

345342

528379

-34.6412

SF Chronicle*

229176

0

229176

499008

-54.0737

Arizona Republic

275622

839

274783

466926

-41.1506

Chicago Sun-Times

432455

70932

361523

453757

-20.3267

Boston Globe

230351

49432

180919

446241

-59.4571

     

 

New in top 15:

   

 

Denver Post

412669

176446

236223

340169

-30.5572

Tampa Bay Times

313003

13610

299393

348502

-14.0915

San Jose Mercury News

529999

43318

486681

279539

74.10129

* SF Chronicle dropped out of the top 25, so circulation was obtained from another web source.

This table isn’t really fair to newspapers that are making decent money through their web versions, but from what I can tell, that group has one member among the majors: the Wall Street Journal. NYT is the other major with a decent paid web subscription, but they won’t talk about their web financials anywhere I can find, which tells me the web is probably losing money for them.

WSJ and NYT also share the distinction that, if you include their web numbers, circulation has gone up instead of down. However, I found out that the Times has stalled in their monthly unique visitors. They were passed last year by the Huffington Post. So while the web has helped stem the decline in NYT readership, it won’t continue to do so unless they can get their web numbers increasing again.

I can’t find a reliable source that tells how much the other top newspapers really make through the web, either in circulation fees or in advertising, but I’m guessing it is a small fraction of what they made on the equivalent “circulation” in print in 2004.

So, just looking at print, and assuming revenue from the web is way less than revenue from equivalent print subscriptions, these guys are hurting. There is only one legitimate success story in the bunch: the San Jose Mercury News. Everyone else had gone down, with several losing over half their circulation in just eight years. The Tampa Bay Times managed to break in the top fifteen by merely losing fewer readers than any 2004 top 15 member.

Even among the ones towards the top, the signs of their distress are clear. I see USA Today when I’m on the road because many hotels give it away free. I rather doubt that this is a high-profit distribution for USA Today, and I’ve watched the daily edition get steadily thinner and thinner in the last few years. I don’t have actual numbers, but I think it’s at least one-third smaller than it was eight years ago. If they didn’t have one of the most comprehensive sports sections in the country, I think they would be even worse off.

The legacy press is driving on fumes. Over and above their shattered credibility, or in some respects because of it, their economic model is stressed to the breaking point.

So where will they be in 2016? I think the NYT and WSJ will tread water, the WSJ because they have a reasonably viable economic model and have not totally squandered their credibility, and the NYT because the left simply won’t let them sink.

The others, though, have a more chancy outlook. USA Today looks vulnerable to me, because it looks like the easiest national newspaper to replace with a web-based aggregation app. They do very little original reporting except for the sports section. They have not yet ramped up a decent web presence, and it’s pretty late in that game. I’ve noticed that fewer hotels have it than I used to see. I was in two hotels in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago, and neither of them had it.

The Washington Post looks vulnerable too. It also has limited web presence, and print circulation is down a staggering 40%+ in eight years. With their concentration on politics, the operating model of the Post requires a certain level of spending to maintain. If they drop much further, they simply might not be able to be viable on the newspaper side. I suppose they can cross-subsidize from their other divisions such as Kaplan, but that doesn’t seem like a stable long-term strategy to me.

The problems get worse for any newspaper that isn’t explicitly national. The local papers’ major advertising revenue sources generally include department stores, movies, and automobiles. All of those are threatened by the web. It never enters the mind of a twenty something to buy a newspaper to find movie listings, and Amazon is killing department stores all over the country. Craigslist is wiping out local newspaper classifieds, and Monster.com and it’s relatives are wiping out the Help Wanted sections. 

I think the legacy press will remain a force through the 2016 election. They still have some reserves to draw on, at least economically. But their reserves of credibility are diminished more than their circulation numbers, so the influence will be considerably diminished.  

After that, I don’t know. For all I know, news in 2020 may be delivered primarily via Facebook, with your friends “Like” preferences driving what you are offered. Or Apple might so something to leverage the iPad 7. No doubt Google will try something, and their strength with advertisers might be their hole card. None of those answer the question, though, of where the content will come from.

Getting away from traditional papers for content might require some kind of crowd-sourced solution. AP or Reuters would be obvious candidates to try that, but I don’t think either one has the web savvy or the cultural savvy to succeed.

I think the Cheezburger network has as much chance of success at crowd-sourced news as AP or Reuters. As awful as that sounds, though, I’m not sure it’s worse than depending on the New York Times.

Excuses for not covering Benghazi–a helpful list for members of the Jurassic Media

There are rising calls for more reporting on the consular attack in Benghazi. Our poor press is beleaguered, and certainly too busy covering Sandy and the election to respond.

In fact, they’re so busy they apparently can’t think up good excuses for not covering Benghazi. At least, I haven’t seen any reasons disclosed publicly. They just don’t seem to see, hear, or say anything about it.

To help them out, I thought I would come up with a nice, prefab list of excuses. If any members of the media are reading, please feel free to use these. I’m sure QandO readers will add even more in the comments:

  • There’s really no need to go on site, because there’s video of the whole thing, shot from a drone. I’m sure we’ll see it very soon, probably about November 8. No, I’m not the least bit curious about why the Obama administration hasn’t released it yet. Why do you ask?
  • I just can’t see publicizing the whole seven hour standoff thing. We have enough superhero movies already.
  • Can’t get over there. SwissAir has no business class seats left.
  • Can’t face increasing my carbon footprint with a trip that long.
  • No Starbucks in Benghazi, and I hear the one in Tripoli is always out of pumpkin spice for lattes.
  • All these ghost-shaped Halloween cookies I baked would go to waste if I couldn’t give them to trick-or-treaters.
  • Sorry, I missed your question because I just came from a meeting with Obama. Let me wipe my mouth and then hear it again.
  • Putting something that violent in front of the public is not to be done lightly. Hey, we’re consistent about that. We didn’t show the pictures of George Zimmerman’s beating either.
  • Dead ambassador? Oh, yeah, I heard something about that. Something about a video that caused a riot. What a shame. But gosh, that was six weeks ago. Old news.
  • I’m afraid of politicizing that story this close to an election. Yeah, I did report Romney’s premature comments on it, and asked him a dozen times if he regrets his remarks. So?
  • Too busy writing my story about how Hurricane Sandy depressed Democratic voting in Philadelphia, so Obama losing Pennsylvania was an act of God. Certainly not a repudiation of Obama. Nope. No way.

Seriously, I thought the media could not be any more disgraceful in their slavish covering for Obama. More fool I.

Probably untrue news – 9 Sept 2012 edition

Mitt Romney stopped and bought Girl Scout cookies during a campaign stop this morning. He bought two boxes of Do-si-dos and a box of Trefoil butter cookies.

Debbie Wasserman-Shultz derided the incident as yet more evidence that Romney is out of touch with average Americans. "He didn’t get a single box of Samoas or Thin Mints? That’s unpardonable. Those are the Girl Scout Cookie varieties Americans love. Mitt Romney has proven again that he’s not fit to lead America during this tough economy."

Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called Romney a racist over the flap. "He didn’t buy anything that has any chocolate in it. Not only did he turn down the totally brown Thin Mints, he wouldn’t even take the partially brown Samoas. The only reason I can think of for such blatant insensitivity is outright racism."

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid said a friend in the Girl Scouts told him Romney had never purchased Samoas or Thin Mints. "The facts are clear. Unless Romney releases his purchase records of Girl Scout cookies for the last twenty years, we’ll all know exactly what to think."

A Romney campaign spokesman pointed out that the group of Girl Scouts selling cookies outside a supermarket was out of Samoas and Thin Mints. "We were all disappointed that there were no Samoas, but that’s not Mitt Romney’s fault. The Obama economy with its high unemployment has made it impossible for the Girl Scouts to predict how many cookies of each variety to order. I really wanted some Samoas with vanilla ice cream on top, but, hey, that’s just how it goes."

Politifact looked at the Romney campaign’s claim that they didn’t buy Samoas or Thin Mints because they were not available that day. Since there were some Samoas and Thin Mints available from other scouts elsewhere in the country, they rated the claim "mostly false".

The philosophy of Obama’s speechwriters: "Thank goodness for cut and paste"

This is definitely worth two minutes:

Of course, politicians routinely repeat their stump speeches, so you could generate a video with repeated mantras for almost anyone in office. But this many, four years apart?

Remember, this guy is supposed to be a world class orator with world class intelligence. Can’t he come up with some different ways to explain himself? Hasn’t he learned from four years of being president, and gained a deeper understanding of the problems?

Four years ago, those soundbites sounded fresh, and people hearing them could believe that he meant them and would take action on them.

Recycling soundbites after four years in office doesn’t sound fresh. It sounds desperate, unoriginal, and generally sad.

Back in December, 2008, I said:

If Obama supporters don’t feel the quasi-religious fervor they felt in 2008, which I think is probably the case, then they might not give nearly as much money, or work nearly as hard for him. He’ll have to find other ways of connecting with voters to make up for that.

It’s pretty clear now that he has no other ways. He used everything he had in 2008, aided by a compliant, sycophantic media. He must confront the reality of four years in office, yet he has nothing left to offer but the same empty rhetoric and the same empty promises.

Every week, in more ways, this man sounds like a loser. With four years in office rebutting everything that was said about him in 2008, I doubt that his tingle-thighed acolytes in the media can do much about that.

(Video found via Instapundit.)