Morning Ed: Media {2018.08.09.Th}

[Me1] Amanda Ripley explains why the media shouldn’t avoid complexity for the sake of a cleaner and ostensibly more easily understood narrative.

[Me2] This was a dumb op-ed but memory-holing it was even dumber. and even dumber than that is pretending that it had something to do with areas of expertise that these outlets only drag out when there’s wrongthink involved.

[Me3] Brad Slager wonders if our terrible media isn’t actually making us better consumers.

[Me4] I’ve commented before that local news is an opening for conservatives to exploit. Also, sort of, Russians. (They’re mimicking local news rather than taking it over, but they can only do it because of its value.

[Me5] The thing is, The Nation has always had a benign view of Russia and its predecessor state. It’s only recently that the broader left thought that was an especially bad thing.

[Me6] This explains why a lot of journalists’ Twitter accounts look as they do.

[Me7] Trump gets accused of defying the spirit (if not the letter) of the First Amendment under some pretty flimsy contexts, but false positives don’t detract from true positives.

[Me8] Sometimes we only find out that there is more to the story after the mob has formed. My unpopular view: Even if the initial read had been correct, people get swept up in excitement sometimes and of all the ways for that to happen this is worthy of cutting some slack.

[Me9] The New York Daily News is gutting its editorial staff… but their executives are still doing alright even when accused of sexual harassment.


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Will Truman is a former para-IT professional who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He is also on Twitter. ...more →

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36 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Media {2018.08.09.Th}

  1. [Me2] Ah, Forbes. At what other publication would the editorial board read something like that and go “what an interesting and not head-shakingly stupid idea, we should totally run that”?

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    • You know, he says that his bill for the local library is $495, and that just doesn’t seem right to me. $495 over what period? How do you even get that figure? My property taxes just say “taxes for this year are $X”.

      That aside, the idea that Amazon would want to build bricks and mortar stores to sell books is laughable. Amazon killed Waldenbooks and B. Dalton, why would they want to be them? That’s a low-margin complex business. What they do is both simpler and more profitable.

      Good good, what a ridiculous proposal.

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      • My property taxes just say “taxes for this year are $X”.

        My property tax statement lists 14 components for my property tax. Dedicated library fund is $129.72, although the library system also gets money from the county general fund. In our case, “local” library is somewhat misleading; it’s also a portal that gets us access to the content of >25 research university libraries.

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        • I think I may have seen that tax breakdown in other places.

          If I were asked to pay $125/year to use a library, I probably wouldn’t. At the same time, I used the library a lot as a kid, and I’d like others to have that opportunity. Also, I suspect good libraries enhance property values, kind of like good schools do.

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        • I suspect bogosity. I just pulled up my county’s budget, and that of my county library, and what I paid in property taxes last year. Doing the math, it comes out to a bit over $100 to the library. But…. Only if we assume the library’s allocation from the county comes entirely out of property taxes. Property taxes only account for about 36% of the county revenue. If we treat the revenue as all going into the same pot (which is certainly not strictly true in principle, but probably pretty close in practice) then we are under forty bucks for what comes out of my property tax payment.

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          • You got me curious, so I pulled up my county library’s 2018 budget. I was wrong — they no longer get anything from the county’s general fund. Total revenue is $38.3M, $37.3M of that from their now dedicated property tax. Call it $167 per household. My $130 (our house is somewhat above the median value), plus something from the property tax on commercial property.

            One of the (predictable) consequences of Colorado’s TABOR amendment is that more and more programs are funded out of dedicated streams (eg, the separate county library tax). If possible, the streams are classified as fees rather than taxes, and the state supreme court has been somewhat generous in defining things as fees. Since tax rate increases have to be approved by the voters, it’s much easier to campaign for a 4.0 mill increase dedicated to the library or a particular school bond than if it’s just general tax revenues.

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            • People are often more willing to approve taxes for specific things that vague things. Money is fungible, and a vague tax increase translates in a lot of minds as, “slush fund for pet projects, payoffs, pay hikes, and other political favors”.

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        • I guess that $4.27 is “the typical household’s property tax contribution” to the library – I guess the expenditure is probably somewhat more, since there’s also tax revenue from commercial properties that goes into general revenue and thence out to the library system.

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        • Arg did I ever misread that. It’s $4.27 per month per household, $51 per year. Maybe if his house is valued at $1.5 million as notes, his $495 is about right.

          And if his house is valued at $1.5 million, I’m not going to feel bad about his contributing 1/3000 of that to the public library each year…

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      • Well, apparently he DOES have a house worth $1.5 million, so…..

        I couldn’t tell you what the local library gets of my property taxes but as my entire property tax bill is about $600 I am guessing “not enough” is probably the answer.

        I’m surprised no wag has written a ‘companion piece’ suggesting Domino’s Pizza take over street maintenance (riffing on the ads they’re currently running)

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        • So, what happened was:
          1. He bought a house for 1.5 million dollars. The annual taxes on it were a matter of public record. They were probably required to be disclosed to him by his state’s laws, actually.
          2. He complains about how high and unfair the taxes are.

          There was a very simple way for him to avoid paying all those taxes. He needs to take some responsibility for his own life decisions! Cost of ownership is a thing.

          I’m not being ironic, actually. I pay a lot of taxes. That is the result of being lucky enough to be successful financially, and making some decisions that would incur taxes. Unhappiness over taxes would drive me into lots of poor financial decisions if I let it.

          I’ve had people pitch me a very poor deal on the basis of “Well, the IRS won’t get its hands on your money”. That’s in quotes because that’s what the guy said to me.

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          • Also different towns differ in their tax rates and if you’re rich enough to drop $1.5 mil on a house surely you can afford a car and maybe you plan to have a slightly longer commute, if paying high property taxes is such a thorn in your side?

            I don’t know. My house is worth less than 10% of what his is (even given the optimistic valuation my insurer sets), so I feel like he….doesn’t really have grounds for complaint here. I mean, he knew going in.

            Anyway. Libraries to me feel like one of the “purer” uses of tax dollars, given the public good I’ve seen them provide (ESL classes, instruction on how to use a computer, summer programs for children to reduce “brain drain”….some libraries even loan power tools now!)

            Then again: my childhood experience with libraries was so positive I may be prejudiced. I wonder what his early experience was…

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            • Yeah, I think that $1.5 million figure is speculative, because towns do have different tax rates, and from what I can tell the $1.5 million came from looking at overall county spending (which may not include all spending and almost certainly won’t pick-up variance at the town level)

              Here is an article about a study from ten years ago about Nassau County:

              library property tax rates imposed on homeowners in 2005-06 vary from an average in Long Beach of $166.73 to Lakeview, where residents pay an average of more than $600. West Hempstead falls somewhere in the middle with residents paying an average of more than $275. Levinson also pointed out that his study revealed that homeowners in the Lakeview and Roosevelt public library districts pay more to take out a book than they do for police protection.

              (Differences include whether your locale has substantial commercial property to tax, the size of the community and the type of government in charge of the library)

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      • That figure should be easy to know if the library is a special district, with its own taxing authority, as opposed to a department of the city/county. I thought my public library was a special district, but looking at the tax bill, I see 11 taxing districts (including my city and county), but not a library. Working the numbers backwards, it looks like the entire city tax is about $500 per $100k assessed value.

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        • Our library used to be solely a part of county. During the Great Recession, the county commissioners cut the amount allocated to the library below the level they had sworn up and down they would maintain. The library quit buying new material, laid off staff, and cut back on the hours (surprisingly, as these things go, the hours they cut were those when the library was used the least, minimizing disruptions). The next year, a ballot initiative to handle the library funding separately from the county’s general fund passed with overwhelming support.

          In addition to the usual library things, the county library system provides space for our vote centers, and heavily used public meeting rooms of various sizes. (We’re a vote-by-mail state but with in-person voting at the vote centers for people who prefer, or who need to register.) The most valuable thing the library provides for me is, as mentioned above somewhere, access to a lot of research university materials. The alternative to that would be to buy a public membership at the library at the closest state research university, which would be almost as expensive and not nearly as convenient.

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    • It was really stupid. It was also on a blog they don’t normally give editorial oversight to, IIRC.

      The thing I found disturbing was how many librarians a) gave it a million extra clicks by hate-linking it and b) (mostly the same librarians) were like “YAY THEY MEMORYHOLED IT.”

      Um.

      Aren’t we the folks normally cherishing the wayback machine??? Isn’t there a process for issuing factual corrections to stupid articles? Don’t librarians understand that hate-linking something is how to help it become viral? Etc?

      Sometimes I grieve for my profession.

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    • It was a really stupid op-ed but it isn’t the first time I have heard the idea. I remember when Anarcho-capitalists, libertarians, and far right-wingers were arguing about abolishing libraries because almost everyone lived near a Borders and/or Barnes and Noble. This was in the 1990s and early aughts.

      I’m afraid that this particular kind of lunacy is always going to be around because of the unholy alliance between anrcho-capitalist Rand fanboys who hate taxation and anything supported by taxation and authoritarian right-wing (usually Christian fundamentalists) who hate the idea that people have access to free books that counter their worldview.

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  2. [Me1] Reading this was depressing. Not that it’s wrong, it’s correct. It’s that the simplicity that creates conflict also drives readership. Outrage motivates voters and donors. People keep things simple because they benefit from outrage. The writer didn’t seem to understand that.

    Journalism with nuance is journalism nobody clicks on. There’s a reason the National Enquirer is still going strong. Like I said, I’m feeling depressed.

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  3. [Me2] I think I disagree about the memory holing. It seems there are a lot of cons to leaving crap arguments hanging around on your website, not the lest of which is having to deal with a never-ending trickle of outrage with sporadic births of more outrage if it should become a viral hate-read yet again.

    And taking things down is meaningful too. Back in the days when newspapers and magazines were printed and out the door, you could correct something, apologize, or renounce it as a formality, but you couldn’t stop publishing it because you’d, well, already stopped publishing it.

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    • While I don’t buy it, you can make a case for the Business Insider one about Scarlet J because that one was offensive. This one was just dumb. There is no pale it should have been considered beyond, which if there is a standard that should be it. (I don’t consider the Scarlet J one beyond the pale either, and it’s mildly bothersome that it should be considered so in media circles, but that was at least the argument people were making. If library policy is a subject on which we want to declare views beyond the pale, we’re in worse shape than I thought.)

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      • I think there’s a very basic case to be made that you shouldn’t publish arguments that are dumb and you know are dumb.

        There may be exceptions to the rule, but usually I’d think the reaction most editors would have to someone saying, “Hey, this is my article and it’s really egregiously stupid. Do you want to run it?” would be, “Hell no.”

        But now in our modern era, publishing isn’t a one time thing. It’s a continuous process where the publisher puts it out there forever, or at least until they go out of business and the computing resources are reallocated to serving porn and mining Bitcoin.

        I can see reasons for why the bar for taking a piece down should be higher, but I don’t see why the fundamental logic of avoiding publishing arrant nonsense has changed.

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        • That last part hits on it. I think the bar for taking a piece down should be way, way higher than the bar for not running it to begin with. Merely being dumb should be nowhere near close enough and opens the door for everything published to be an ongoing debate and open to campaigning. Which is why, I think, both Forbes and BI made up phony other reasons for taking the respective articles down.

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      • I might consider putting a disclaimer at the top reminding readers that columnists operate somewhat independently and editorial does not individually approve of every piece they run.

        That would work for Forbes, anyway. For Business Insider maybe something about how columnists are given wide latitude and the editorial staff does not agree with every opinion piece they run.

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      • Yeah, but then the publisher has to own up to the fact that they made a stupid choice. Given some of the memory-holing I’ve seen in bureaucracies….it seems a lot of people are really uncomfortable with their screw ups continuing to exist.

        (Then again: Wayback Machine is a thing. Haven’t checked to see if the article lives on there but I suspect it does)

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    • Hm. Unlike the OP, I’m neutral on memoryholing generally (if it’s other people doing it at least, that’s not my business…) when I’m not wearing my professional hat. It just grates on me that LIBRARIANS of all PEOPLE should be elated and crowing about said memoryholing, especially after they’re the ones who made the thing relevant in the first place by viralizing it.

      These are the same folks who in other contexts bemoan holes in the historical record and how frustrating it is when a researcher can only find evidence *around* something and not the thing itself.

      *sighs*

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  4. [Me3] This did not impress me. It seemed like a thousand words or so of “I’m rubber you’re glue, bounces off me sticks to you!” level insight.

    Yeah, there’s a bunch of liberal media I ignore, and some people in my stream love to post stories from them. One look at the url, and I usually don’t click. They are there to fuel my outrage (see [Me1]), not to bring me any new facts or insight.

    So, yeah, I am more discriminating. He’s right. But the post to me mostly reads like “here’s the most recent things liberal media has done that makes me mad”. It doesn’t seem to me to support the thesis at all.

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    • Now [Me8] is a case in point, and the sort of thing that makes me a better consumer. Some random person appears to display outrageous behavior. These days I wonder, is there some other explanation, some facts that I’m missing that would change my feelings?

      What troubles me is that all this crying of wolf might well diminish our ability to spot actual wolves. What little I understand about “information warfare” says that this is actually a goal of information warfare. Which we are gleefully abetting.

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  5. Me9: I get the guys frustration, but I’m not sure there is an easy or legal fix for that kind of executive behavior. Corporations have to be able to take on debt, and cut costs in order to pay down debt.

    About the only fix I’d see is some kind of rule that a company can not take on debt in order to pay out a contract it is not obligated to pay out on. Which seems awful specific and probably easily worked around.

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