Letters to the editor

Responses and reverberations

The April Atlantic featured several stories on the new media landscape, including “Learning to Love the (Shallow, Divisive, Unreliable) New Media,” by James Fallows, and Newton N. Minow’s “A Vaster Wasteland.” Both stories had readers weighing pros and cons—of print journalism, online news delivery, modern television, and the Internet itself.

Fallows emphasizes … that in a competitive metric-rich landscape your incentives tend to point away from highbrow “important” stuff toward lowbrow mush … Sad. And to a large extent true. But the thing that I think journalists sometimes forget is that the point of writing on worthy topics is presumably to get people to read stories on worthy topics … Part of what it means is that people in the “writing about important things” business need to roll up our sleeves and try harder to make our output compelling to people. If an article about the school board falls in the middle of the wilderness and nobody reads it, it doesn’t actually make an impact.

Matthew Yglesias
Excerpt from ThinkProgress.org blog post

I think Matt Yglesias is too optimistic [in his response to Fallows] … Stories about payment fraud in Medicare will never dominate “most popular” lists. But so long as they’re in a publication that regulators and hospitals fear, they can have an impact—even if the vast majority of the paper’s readers never notice them. The fact that those readers could notice them is enough to prod the relevant parties into acting. That’s one of the benevolent inefficiencies in the traditional newspaper model: the popular stories subsidize the unpopular ones.

Ezra Klein
Excerpt from WashingtonPost.com blog post

James Fallows dramatically lives up to the “shallow” description he pins on the new media by conjecturally pointing out “how many of Fox’s female on-air broadcasters are babes in very short skirts.” The answer is none. Mr. Fallows should do as I have just done: check the bios of every female on-air Fox personality. He would find more than 30 résumés brimming with journalism degrees from the most prestigious universities in the land, as well as Juris Doctor degrees, awards, and on-site experience of newsworthy events that is unparalleled by the decimated staffs of ABC, NBC, and CBS.

John Covell
Pharr, Texas

What really struck me about the [Fallows] piece was that the default mode we need to adopt in the face of these massive changes is cheery optimism. Anything else shuts you down and makes you look stupid in the long run. Better to ride the tiger with a soppy great grin on your face than sit on the sidelines frowning at the kids and their silly ways. You’re going to be wrong most of the time anyway. Why not be wrong and enjoy it?

Lloyd Shepherd
Excerpt from LloydShepherd.com blog post

Television wasn’t an open system in 1961. The Internet is. It needs to be defended from throttling, unfair prioritizing, data capping, metering, and media merging. And it needs to be given a chance to compete on an even playing field with broadcast TV and cable.

In short, the Net needs to be protected from being turned back into what television was when Newton Minow made his “vast wasteland” speech.

Matthew Lasar
Excerpt from ArsTechnica.com blog post

James Fallows replies:

When I wrote that many members of Fox’s on-air team, despite their background and training, are presented as “babes in very short skirts,” I meant exactly that. John Covell and anyone else who doubts the fairness or accuracy of that description should visit http://bit.ly/hTO6EV—one of a large number of YouTube collections of Fox News short-skirt moments for which there is no imaginable counterpart at other news operations.

The Median Divide

In April’s “The 12 States of America,” Dante Chinni and James Gimpel mapped income inequality in the United States. One letter writer blamed Republicans for the growing gap between rich and poor, while another blamed Democrats. Jim Clark took a bipartisan approach, heaping scorn on all of Washington, D.C.

Chinni and Gimpel’s conclusion that “income inequality has fractured the nation” by creating “entire communities of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’” is the ultimate in misplaced pessimism. The highest-income areas, termed the “Monied Burbs,” have less than twice as much median family income as the lowest-income “Minority Central” areas, which are largely populated by descendants of slaves or vanquished Native Americans. Such “inequalities” might largely be explained by differing investments in training and education. But if you take into account the cost of living, these differences largely disappear or even reverse!

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