I don’t have much to say about the demise of Rupert Murdoch’s iPad-only newspaper, The Daily, except that it doesn’t surprise me. I took advantage of the free subscription offer back when it launched, but I checked out after two days. It was narrow in scope, and you couldn’t link to stories, or send them to friends. There wasn’t a lot on it of interest, and it was more trouble than it was worth. This I decided after two days, and never went back.
But I do want to highlight an important point about the whole Daily project that Freddie de Boer makes in his autopsy:
Why would people think that you could have a viable media business model while catering only to people who own iPads? Because our media world is made up of people from a particular social and cultural class. Broadly speaking, they’re a myopic and provincial bunch, and so when they look around at their peers and social cohort, they see that everybody owns an iPad and assume that’s true of the world at large. You’re sure to see tons of analysis of this story in the usual places in the coming hours– The Atlantic, Slate– and it’ll be written by people from the same narrow group that worked at The Daily in the first place. As such, they’ll be lacking an important perspective, which is what the world looks like outside of the narrow slice of educated digitally-connected strivers who write the Internet. It’s the most consistent and determinative aspect of our media: it’s a homogenous group that fancies itself diverse and thus cannot see how incredibly out of touch it is with how most people live. I invite reporters to come here to Lafayette Indiana and ask around at the Village Pantry about the demise of The Daily.
Freddie writes from the left (in case you don’t know his work), but he is absolutely, utterly right about the narrowness and homogeneity of our media class. Over the course of my career in media, I have often observed that there is very little diversity in our mainstream media, though from within the bubble, diversity is fetishized. “Diversity” in this sense usually boils down to the worldview of a certain kind of college-educated urban bourgeois person. This, I suppose, is to be expected, given the professionalization of journalism. It has been my experience, though, that few of us writers or editors at the newspapers where I’ve worked have much genuine curiosity at all about the lives and opinions of the secretaries, maintenance crew, and other non-college types alongside whom we worked, except insofar as they confirmed our pet theories about the Way The World Works.
I concede that I bear guilt on that front too. It’s damned difficult for anyone to keep an open mind, and keep questioning one’s own prejudices; it’s especially hard to do so when so many people around you not only agree with your views, but also share the belief that being a professional journalist makes one more inclined to question conventional wisdom. In this way, it was probably good for me to be such a cultural and ideological outlier in the newsrooms in which I’ve worked, but of course that did not make me necessarily as curious or as questioning as I ought to have been. No one person can know everything. No one person can ever know everything that he doesn’t know. This is the theory, I think, behind why we need “diversity” in the newsroom, but it doesn’t work out that way in reality. Looking like America is not the same thing as thinking like America.
In the past, American journalism might have been more reflective of working-class points of view — I’m just guessing this, based on the fact that journalism wasn’t always a profession you needed a college degree to enter — but it certainly did not tell the stories of black folks, or other minorities. Whatever the faults of the news media today, it’s better than it used to be on this front. I wonder, though, whether there is any general aspiration within media culture to tell stories outside the narrow niche of producers, writers, editors, and people like themselves, or people who care about the things they care about.
On the other hand, I wonder too if there is any aspiration among consumers of media culture to see, hear, and read stories about people unlike themselves.
Is it hard to succeed with a general-interest publication (or broadcast) today because the culture is more fragmented? Or because the media have fragmented? Or both? Is it the case that media in the pre-cable, pre-Internet days were based on an artificial construct: the idea that there was a common culture and an account of the facts that we could all agree on? Does the media we have today better reflect reality, or are we, in our fragmentation and self-silo-ization, less able to perceive reality?
This is not exactly what Freddie is talking about, but it’s not too far from it.