Once upon a time, if you wanted to be a journalist there were just a couple ways to go. You could start at a small-town paper as a glorified intern and learn the craft by covering local weddings and town council meetings, then move to a slightly bigger paper, and so on up the food chain until you landed at a major-city paper with millions of readers. Or you could get a journalism degree from a prestigious college, parlay that into an entry-level job at a major paper, and work your way up internally.
Either way, the eventual goal was to cover high-profile stories for a large audience, and, maybe, write books about the most interesting of those stories.
Then came the Internet, and traditional journalism got a lot harder. Newspaper circulation and revenues fell, mid-level reporters got the ax and those who remained had to accept an unprecedented level of career insecurity.
Still, the major-paper reporters of, say, five years ago could console themselves with the fact that they remained at the pinnacle of their profession. They covered — and interpreted — the big stories for the most literate part of the population, which is another way of saying that they got to critique the behavior and morals of the political and business classes, without being critiqued themselves.
Then some other things happened. The subscription/advertising revenue squeeze forced a shift from traditional investigative (read adversarial) journalism to “access” journalism, which relies on relationships with movers and shakers for inside scoops and human interest details and therefore has to keep both sources and subjects happy. Media credibility, as a result, began to evaporate.
With Trump’s 2016 election, access journalism morphed into “resistance” journalism, where reporters – frequently on instructions from their corporate bosses and/or woke co-workers – found themselves on the anti-Trump team and were required to slant their writing accordingly. It was a brutal comedown, but still, working for the New York Times or Washington Post remained a prestigious job with the power to shape opinions and occasionally destroy lives, and very little real oversight as long as they toed the woke-corporate line.
But the Internet wasn’t done messing with reporters. New online platforms like Substack emerged that allowed writers to post their work directly to subscribers, with the platform handling the back office chores. And powerhouse reporters like Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi began flocking to such platforms to escape increasingly toxic newsrooms.
And – here’s where it gets really interesting – these newly-independent reporters are critiquing the mainstream media. The New York Times et al, massively offended by this effrontery, are now demanding that everything that is not them be censored. Here’s a podcast ridiculing the Times:
And here’s an excerpt from Greenwald’s recent take on the spectacle. Read the rest by subscribing here.
This new political battle does not break down along left v. right lines. This is an information war waged by corporate media to silence any competition or dissent.
On Wednesday, I wrote about how corporate journalists, realizing that the public’s increasing contempt for what they do is causing people to turn away in droves, are desperately inventing new tactics to maintain their stranglehold over the dissemination of information and generate captive audiences. That is why its journalists have bizarrely transformed from their traditional role as leading free expression defenders into the the most vocal censorship advocates, using their platforms to demand that tech monopolies ban and silence others.
That same motive of self-preservation is driving them to equate any criticisms of their work with “harassment,” “abuse” and “violence” — so that it is not just culturally stigmatized but a banning offense, perhaps even literally criminal, to critique their journalism on the ground that any criticism of them places them “in danger.” Under this rubric they want to construct, they can malign anyone they want, ruin people’s reputations, and unite to generate hatred against their chosen targets, but nobody can even criticize them.
Any independent platform or venue that empowers other journalists or just ordinary citizens to do reporting or provide commentary outside of their repressive constraints is viewed by them as threats to be censored and destroyed. Every platform that enables any questioning of their pieties or any irreverent critiques of mainstream journalism — social media sites, YouTube, Patreon, Joe Rogan’s Spotify program — has already been systematically targeted by corporate journalists with censorship demands, often successfully.
Back in November, the media critic Stephen Miller warned: “It’s only a matter of time before the media tech hall monitors turn their attention to Substack.” And ever since, in every interview I have given about the success of Substack and every time I have written about journalist-led censorship campaigns, I have echoed that warning that they would soon turn their united guns on this platform. Miller’s prediction was prompted by a Columbia Journalism Review article entitled “The Substackerati” which claimed that Substack was structurally unfair because “most” of “the most successful people on Substack” are “white and male; several are conservative” and “have already been well-served by existing media power structures.”
All of that was false. The most-read and highest-earning writer on Substack is Heather Cox Richardson, a previously obscure Boston College History Professor who built her own massive readership without ever working at a corporate media outlet. And the writers that article identified in support of its claim — Matt Taibbi, Andrew Sullivan, Matt Yglesias and myself — do not remotely owe our large readerships to “existing media power structures.” The opposite is true, as The Washington Post’s Megan McCardle explained:
“[These Substack writers] got so big by starting blogs that they could sell to traditional publications. They are not monetizing an audience they acquired through larger institutions, but reclaiming one they created themselves…. [O]bviously, one major characteristic of the successful one (wo)man show is the ability to swim against a crowd. Given that, it seems almost obvious that Substack would select people who are not in tune with the dominant views of the establishment media. And that the biggest audience numbers will come from folks who are not in tune with the establishment media….”
That is precisely why they are so furious. They cannot stand the fact that journalists can break major stories and find an audience while maintaining an independent voice, critically questioning rather than obediently reciting the orthodoxies that bind them and, most of all, without playing their infantile in-group games and submitting to their hive-mind decrees. In fact, the more big stories you break while maintaining your independence from them, the more intense is the contempt they harbor for you: that explains, among other things, their willingness to watch Julian Assange (who has broken more major stories than all of them combined) be imprisoned for publishing documents.
That they are angry and upset is irrelevant. It only matters because these resentments and fears that they are losing their monopolistic power over public thought are translating into increasingly concerted and effective censorship campaigns.
As it turns out, we did not have to wait long for the initiation of the censorship campaign aimed at Substack. It has arrived. And amazingly, the trigger for it was my criticism of the work of a front-page New York Times reporter which, as I wrote yesterday, is — like all criticisms of journalists in Good Standing and Decent Liberal Society — being recast as “abuse” and “harassment” and “violence” in order to justify the banning and outlawing of that criticism… Read the rest here.