The Bitter Scribes

Michael Hirschbrunnen

Michael Hirschbrunnen

Michael Hirschbrunnen is a former mainstream journalist who now works in finance.

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42 Responses

  1. Avatar LTL FTC says:

    Two thoughts:

    1. I’m glad I quit journalism at 25.

    2. The increasing precarity of journalists has really killed ideological risk-taking. On the left, the “Slate pitch” is dead because it’s safer to recite the catechism than risk the Twitter mob calling for your head. On the right, anything anti-Trump has been wiped from a lot of media (I’m looking at you, Redstate) for the same reason.

    I feel like something has been lost as a result. That is, in addition to other important things like local government coverage.Report

    • Avatar Lark says:

      {Redacted by editors}Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      The commetariat here are becoming a lot of cranky middle-aged men complaining about kids these days. A good number of us are under 50 and this is sad.

      I don’t think the Slate pitch ended because people are afraid of twitter mobs. I think the Slate pitch ended because newer generations are coming into their adulthood and they grew up in different circumstances and environments. The Slate pitch was always a bit of a knee-jerk contrarian dick move. It was like the kid who always wants to argue for the most asshole position in debate club because that is about as rebellious as they can get while still being a “good kid on the debate club.”Report

      • Avatar LTL FTC says:

        Under 50 as well here. Hell, under 40. Cast all the aspersions you want on Slatepitchers, but at least they made (some) people defend their assumptions. Of course, a lot of the pushback was the “you just want to be a clever debate nerd” content-free stuff like what you wrote. Those “arguments,” sadly, won the day. Still, I don’t think we really benefit from the paralell rapidly narrowing overton windows that came from this focus on being a team player.

        I don’t think that most “kids these days” are all that different, but they do respond to negative and positive incentives.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          I’m under 40 too and can be cranky but what I think is happening is that younger people on the left are no longer adopting the “please don’t kick me” approach that was common during the late 80s and well into the aughts. I think this is correct. The electorate is changing and there is no more need to do Bill Clinton’s “safe, legal, and rare” approach to abortion. Plus liberals are right that the best way to reduce unwanted pregnancy is increasing access to contraception but the right-wing doesn’t want that for….reasons….

          I’m just a bit pissed off these days.Report

          • Avatar LTL FTC says:

            I don’t see how the turn away from centrism necessitates the stultifying sameness (well, parallel samenesses) of the media today.

            Even as the public turns left on a lot of issues, the media isn’t doing a good job tracking. Going back a couple of weeks, African-American Virginians didn’t think Northam should resign, but you’d have to do a lot of searching to find someone in a mainstream center-to-left publication to agree with them. Same thing goes for the Redskins name controversy (Native Americans outside of activism and academia don’t care, but posturing whites can’t bring themselves to say the team’s name) and a host of other culture war issues. Journalists aren’t following the people, they’re following the people who will drag them.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        I can’t believe I’m defending Slate, but In theory, the appeal of a “Slate Pitch” is that it’s a new and interesting idea. If you think of that as a “knee-jerk contrarian dick move,” you should probably stop throwing around the term “anti-intellectual.”

        Actually, you should probably stop doing that either way.Report

        • Avatar Maribou says:

          Actual new and interesting ideas are both good and rare. Slate pitches – or at least the ones that became articles in the “Slate pitch” genre – were usually neither new nor interesting, and almost never both.Report

  2. Avatar Stillwater says:

    I expect we will see more reporters with personal stakes in wealth redistribution, defending the social safety net, and a general contempt for the wealthy and successful.

    If so I think that would be an improvement over our current media environment since majorities of Ds, Rs and Is already hold those views.Report

  3. Avatar PD Shaw says:

    I’ve taken to thinking of my newspaper subscription as a donation for a social good (local news), because its not worth it in terms of personal value. ($630 per year) I’ve also resent the hidden charges and fees that disrespect the customer, adding to the sense that a local newspaper is a luxury good that is anticipating its own demise.

    The paper was once owned by a wealthy family, who sold it about 20 years ago to one of those conglomerates that took on a lot of debt to buy up a lot of newspapers, so I recognize that a lot of the money went to finance.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      I subscribe to my local paper, with “local” I suspect being considerably smaller for me than for you. I’m not sure what we pay for it, since my wife pays the bills. (That’s why I married her.) But I am sure that it is considerably less than $630 per year. I take the paper because it is the only hope for having a clue what is going on with the council commission and the school board. It is a daily, but there really is only enough news for two issues a week. So most days the big front page story is of the “doings down at the senior center’ variety. This makes it easy for me, as I can tell at a glance if there is anything I need to read. I live in a red county in a blue state. The paper’s editorial stance is firmly Main Street Republican, and has little patience for the crazies. It is, therefore, accused of being Liberal heh.Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Journalism is so left-wing that there are journalists who call for the Klan to be ridden again.

    The accusations of political bias in journalism are psychologically interesting because I seem to run into people who think the New York Times is a barely hidden version of Pravda/a newssheet published by the IWW and there are plenty of people on the left who think the New York Times is not that liberal. They see the NY Times as being at best a kind of place for champagne liberalism and at worse actively Republican sympathizing. They hate Maureen Dowd, Ross D, the Sunday Styles, the Real Estate Section.

    But a lot of people still quote the Times because they are one of the few newspapers that has a budget to do real indepth reporting. Most local newspapers are pretty bad. The Chronicle is horrible and there webpage looks like a third-rate HuffPost of click bait. The best thing about the Chronicle was Bauer’s restaurant reviews but I think he retired.

    What is interesting is that a lot of honchos at media outlets internalized and are still sensitive to charges of left-leaning bias but they deal with this problem in a way that just antagonizes liberals and never placates conservatives. The most recent example was CNN announcing that they were hiring a Trumpist hack with no journalistic experience as a political director for the 2020 election.Report

  5. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Also the idea that readers are fleeing because of left-leaning journalists is an assertion offered without any evidence. Making a “feel fact” in the lingo of SNL’s parody of Fox News. We are dealing with a nation where Democrats won a 40 seat (possibly 41-seat) majority in the House in 2018. What it sounds like is that you were at odds with the politics of many of your colleagues and have decided to blame what is going wrong with journalism on this fact just because.Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      Allow me to comment on MY anecdotal evidence. I stopped reading my big city paper after the crash of 08 when it shrunk to almost nothing. Ad revenue ended and the sunday paper shrank to a size a usa today. Why should I pay for the same left leaning opinions I can read on Slate? When I got the comics and real estate and food and wine sections, I could make an argument….something to read at the table sunday am.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    How many dying industries has this country weathered?

    I imagine that the number is pretty dang large.

    If I wanted to do a breakdown of the industries dying and trying them to a left/right thing, how many of the dead-and-gone industries were “right” vs. “left”?

    How many of the dead-and-gone industries required education vs. requiring training?

    Off the top of my head, and I don’t have numbers for this or anything, I’d say that the overwhelming majority of jobs lost in various industries have been working class jobs that required training rather than education. In the long past, that means that they’d be “left” jobs because of their affiliations with unions, but with the weakening of unions, they’re not reliably left anymore.

    Is journalism the first dying industry that has hit *EDUCATED* people hardest?Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Except … journalism isn’t dying. Print journalism is dying. I’d bet that over the last fifteen jobs in journalism have gone through the roof. The cuts and restructuring we’re seeing now are the correction to a boom.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Mutatis mutandis.

        If we’re including “journalism” to include “my essay about that time that I did that thing” , then sure. But that means that *I* am doing journalism too.

        And I do this shit for the endorphins and nothing else.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      So what does the future look like? How do people get reliable information about current events?Report

      • Avatar George Turner says:

        Years ago I used to rely on reading The Economist, but modern technology has made things much more convenient.

        So now I get all the important news from here

        You’re welcome. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I don’t know.

        I do know that “reliable information” isn’t anywhere *NEAR* necessary for human flourishing. We only had it for… what? A couple of decades there?

        We’ll probably have social media of sorts. Reddit doing its thing, twitter doing its thing, facebook doing its thing.

        The only problem will be when we pick a new group to decide to ostracize and they go off to start their own version of whatever it is. “TERFbook”, “Gab”, “Trumpster”.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Well what has been going on since the internet first arose has been parasitism. Paid journalism did the reliable information gathering stuff through things like papers, news organizations and above all Reuters. All the internet: the blog o sphere, social media and most especially facebook and google have just been free riding or near free riding on those old institutions.

        But once those old institutions up and die, as they seem to be doing just like an old bison riddled with blood sucking bugs, then the news information source will vanish. There won’t be anything to suck. At that point presumably there’ll be a paradigm shift and it’s gonna sting like crazy for people like me and you who’ve internalized the idea of getting pretty decent reliable news for free. I can see only a couple of possible outcomes:

        -We collectively decide that impartial information providing isn’t worth paying for in which case no new non-partisan news sources will arise (and we’ll get our news from partisan sources alone*) or a series of them will arise, get parasitized and die in sequence or
        -A form of impartial news provider will arise that won’t let the existing structure free ride off it and we’ll end up paying for some amount of impartial information gathering- though I suspect that the realms of editorial opinion will be forever lost to the internet.

        *In which case it seems likely that the partisan group that can best balance group coherence with news that has a grounding in reality will do best.Report

  7. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I’m seconding all of Saul’s points here. Many younger people want a journalism that is more forthright in its’ liberalism rather than one that goes for a please don’t hit me or contrarian Slate take approach. They are looking for outright confrontation with conservatism. Maybe that isn’t the best thing but more than a few journalists act more like courtiers than reporters. They don’t do anything really significant to challenge politicians that appear on their shows because they want access. If Trump is more open to confrontation, its because the journalists know they are never going to get him in front of a mike without a porn star delivering fallatio while they interview him.Report

  8. Avatar George Turner says:

    “Absence of Malice” (1981) with Paul Newman and Sally Field gives a nice look at what news rooms looked like before computers took hold. In the mid-80’s I was hanging out with lots of journalism majors (who probably haven’t worked in journalism for quite a long while now). They were still using older manual methods of putting the student newspaper together, but were doing some of the work on an Apple Macintosh.

    The journalism majors I knew were somewhat to the left of Marx and worshiped Bob Dylan as the “voice of our times”. They were intellectually incurious, since they thought they already knew everything, and unjustifiably imagined themselves as sage observers who were above and apart from the other students. Their main focus was impressing other journalism majors with their 1960’s era intellectual sophistication and jaded worldliness. I knew that being that far out of touch with American society couldn’t end well for them.

    However, the particular subset of journalism majors I knew were from the sticks (and the sticks by Kentucky standards), likely never fit in with their high-school peers, and probably clung so desperately to their veneer of ink-stained sophistication due to deep insecurities that stemmed from sharing classes with a very different subset of journalism majors, the bubble-headed big-city bleach blondes with rich daddies, along with the narcissistic senior-class presidents who sail through life without a deep thought in their heads.

    In period Mary Tyler Moore terms, I was hanging out with the aspiring Mr. Grants, not the Ted Baxters. In that light, their rigid social bubble, sharply defined by holding all the right cultural and intellectual views on Haight-Ashbury, Woodstock, Janis Joplin, Andy Worhol, le Corbusier, and French post-modernism, let them sharply distinguish themselves from the gregarious and popular social butterflies who dress well and can get by on their looks.

    It was a personal shield that protected their fragile egos from what objectively was a complete lack of status even in their own major, and from insecurities over growing up in rural Kentucky but fantasizing about writing for The Village Voice or New York Times. They seemed obsessed with what “real” journalists thought, as if their professors had opened up their freshman heads and poured in a catechism from Berkeley, and they seemed afraid to hold any idea that might get them cast out as unworthy. It was very tribal, and in retrospect seems to presage the desperate virtue signalling, preening sanctimoniousness, and outrage mob mentality that have since taken over so many college campuses.

    There’s a good word for what I thought they completely lacked:

    Occhiolism: n. the awareness of the smallness of your perspective, by which you couldn’t possibly draw any meaningful conclusions at all, about the world or the past or the complexities of culture, because although your life is an epic and unrepeatable anecdote, it still only has a sample size of one, and may end up being the control for a much wilder experiment happening in the next room.

    My sample size was admittedly very small, and my assumption was that I was only seeing a narrow, self-segregating subset of journalism students, but looking at the wider output of journalists as a whole since then, the narrow perspective and inherent biases at the top-end seem consistent with the majors I knew.Report

  9. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    This sounds about identical to the experience of junior academics in the humanities. I remember someone saying that academia had developed the workforce that corporations would love to have: highly educated, sustained by their spouses, and desperate for short term just-in-time work.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      Doesn’t that depend on the corporation? I can think of lots of corporations that don’t want workers anything like that.

      More importantly, shouldn’t this kind of information tell us something useful that can be relayed to the next cohort in the pipeline? If universities are producing more humanities MAs and PhDs than the academic job market can take, what’s the mechanism that keeps pushing people into these programs? And why doesn’t that mechanism allow for any feedback?Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        I think it’s a bit like a pyramid scheme at this point. Some people will still make tenure. It’s not impossible- you just have to do all the right things very well. So, for the majority that wind up as adjuncts or leave altogether, maybe they didn’t do enough. Especially for the adjuncts, things might change in the future and they’ll be on the tenure track. Besides, if a bookish undergraduate loves nothing more than discussing literature or classical texts or ancient history, what’s the alternative?Report

        • Avatar j r says:

          But isn’t it obvious upfront that the job market doesn’t match? Is it that the romance of academia just weighs too heavily in some people’s minds. I know some adjuncts. Some seem happy and some seem a bit miserable. The key difference is that the happy ones see their jobs as a way to earn supplemental household income while teaching something that they enjoy. These are either professionals who teach a few classes after work or married people who want a job with some flexibility. It looks like the way not to be disappointed is to approach this with a modicum of practicality. Is that too high a bar?

          Besides, if a bookish undergraduate loves nothing more than discussing literature or classical texts or ancient history, what’s the alternative?

          There are a lot of alternatives. I was a bookish undergrad who majored in Philosophy and English Lit and briefly thought I was headed for an academic career. When that changed, I went and got a job in marketing. And then went to grad school to transition into my present career. I admit that I was kind of feeling my way along the whole time, but there were lots of signs and glyphs providing me with guidance along the way.Report

          • Avatar Aaron David says:

            Downward pressure. The best, for certain values of best, will end up with the tenure track University jobs, and after a few years of trying, many of the others will trickle down to the Community College level, displacing the Masters level instructors there.

            Others will find that the field, in general, is not suited for them, and go into something else. My ex with a stem doctorate is the research director for a small lab company, another ex with a doctorate went the corporate world after a brief stint teaching.Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. says:

            All of this is right, of course, but it sounds a bit like “Why do young people pursue their passions? Can’t they read the market signals?” Undergraduates aren’t always practical. Not to mention we’re talking about entering grad school now and guessing what the market will be like at least 7 or 8 years down the road. Sure, the writing’s kinda on the wall, but I think people still hold out hope that trends could shift.Report

  10. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I gotta say too that the newspapers really could do the paywalls better on their websites. I would gladly pay for a paper to read a story and, online, I’d pay a bit less than that to read a story. But, instead, they usually make you subscribe. It would be like going to the news stand to buy the daily paper and being told “you really have to buy the next six weeks of papers to get today’s.”Report

    • One thing I don’t like about online subscriptions is that, as far as I can tell, most of the online papers or magazines don’t have a one-and-done subscription purchase option. You usually have to subscribe for whatever term (a month, a year) and it will automatically renew. I’d like to initiate the renewal myself because I don’t necessarily know if a year from now, I’ll be able to afford the subscription. It’s usually not hard to cancel the renewal, but I don’t like recurring payments on my credit card that I can’t control easily. (Not all papers do this, but most that I’m interested in seem to.)Report

  11. Avatar j r says:

    Good post. I appreciate the perspective.

    My question is: how much has changed and how much hasn’t? I thought that a good number of journalists had always ended up eventually moving on to PR/corporate communications/research/etc. Is this a new thing?Report

  12. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    Another white collar profession, dying without leaving behind an heir.Report