Steve Coon Blog

Journalism, paywalls and the time of Coronavirus.

caricature-of-steve3 2The premise posed by Howard Salz in his essay for Poynter is that the press provides a public service but also is a business that publishes valuable content. Thus, consumers should pay for it. Instead, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many news organizations have decided to let readers have that information for free.

The fallacy of this argument is the assumption that potential consumers believe the media have anything worth reading. I believe news organizations do. But as a former journalist my opinion is not surprising.

Many other Americans disagree as evidenced by the annual low ratings the press receives in Gallup’s poll of trust in U.S. institutions.

The other erroneous assumption is that press is an essential business. It is not.

People need food, medicine and shelter to survive. News is not necessary for existence. Humans can live well (albeit ignorantly) without any exposure to media content.

A better revenue model for news media would be that of cable televisions. Consumers pay a monthly subscription to the provider and in exchange receive hundreds of channel of entertainment.

Likewise, video streamers such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, AcornTV and Britbox have scores of movies and television shows for a monthly fee.

Many consumers, I believe, would be willing to pay a reasonable subscription price to a single provider from whom they could read unlimited content from any newspaper they chose.

People seem more willing to pay for value if they think it is relatively free. Much like hotel claims of a free breakfast for your evening reservation. We know of course there is no such thing as a free lunch or breakfast.  But because it comes with a package, it seems easier to swallow.

So, I believe, it would be equally true if I were offered a news package from let’s say for about $10 per month and in return could read several major publications.

The media, of course, would have to pay AboveTheFold to be listed. But then a portion of my  subscription fee to AboveTheFold would be returned to the media.

The individual paywall could remain up for persons wanting only that one newspaper.  But I have full access to the publication and many others for their public service information and content that I value via my subscription to AboveTheFold.

This is a better revenue model in this digital age.

What more is there to say about the Coronavirus?

caricature-of-steve3 2It seems to this observer that there now is nothing novel about this novel virus at least in terms of what we know and our attempts to combat it.

First, it is well established that the Coronavirus originated in China and—if the government-controlled news media of that nation is to be believed—was first discovered to have been transmitted from animals to people.

We also know that it has quickly spread throughout the world and the number of deaths from the respiratory infection rises steadily.

Likewise, our knowledge of how it is spread and the most effective means for avoiding it are well documented.

It is also true that the ability of government officials across the world to recognize both the severity of the pandemic and to enact a quick, universal, effective response has hampered efforts to slow the spread of the disease.

The absence of consensus on what measures to apply to reduce the risk of infection has resulted in a patchwork tapestry of applications ranging from social distancing, voluntary sheltering in place, mandated quarantines, closures of “non-essential” businesses, and the alarming absence of essential medical equipment and supplies.

Perhaps the most disappointing development is the cultural and ideological divide that already plagues America and predates the arrival of COVID-19 to our shores is the inevitable finger pointing that has turned our discussion of next best steps into political posturing.

As with previous pandemics the number of who will survive will exceed the number of deaths no matter that that final figure is. The elderly and those with existing health problems are the most vulnerable. Their deaths will rise before the pandemic runs its course. But the number of Americans who will survive is certain to exceed by far the ultimate death toll.

This we all know.  But for now all we can do is to try to be careful, optimistic, remain in touch with friends and family if only from a distance.

What more is there to say?

We have returned to the past

caricature-of-steve3 2Freedom of speech and the press was considered so important by the founders of our republic that it was enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution.

It’s worth remembering that this was during an era when the press was particularly partisan. Newspapers were owned by prominent politicians who used their publications as vehicles to disseminate their views and criticize their foes. The press often exercised the latter with little regard to truth.

With the decline of many American newspapers and the rise of alternative news platforms in this digital age,

I believe we have returned to those “wild west days” when opinion often replaced veracity.

Still our predecessors at the time of the American Revolution believed an unfettered press—even with its faults—was worth protecting.   That remains true today.  But news consumers are wise to attend much news and information with healthy skepticism.

Let’s keep the Iowa Caucus as originally intended

caricature-of-steve3 2 The history of the Iowa caucus is a long, colorful, scandal-filled trek similar to much of early America.

The Hawkeye State joined the union in 1846 when Americans attended caucuses and conventions to determine elected officials.

A series of legislative reforms transformed the state’s electoral procedures until 1963 when the Iowa General Assembly decided to elect delegates at the caucuses to county conventions. These conventions, in turn, would choose delegates to the district and finally state conventions—a cumbersome four-step process that has continued through 2020. Many would argue it’s an unnecessary, antiquated mechanism for today’s technologically-oriented and 24-hour-media-deadline culture.

The results of last Monday’s disaster at Iowa’s Democratic Caucuses are testament to the dangers of excessive media attention, candidate expectations and faith in untested technology. It’s no wonder many observers inside and outside of Iowa are calling for an end to the state’s first-in-the-nation status for winnowing the pool of presidential hopefuls.

But the original intent of the caucuses was not to determine whom Iowans considered the most desirable candidates for president. It was simply the first step in the ultimate selection of state delegates to the summer national conventions of both major parties.

If critics prevail and the 2020 Iowa caucus—as currently structured—ends as a much-hyped, influential voice in gauging the popularity of potential presidential wannabes, that is perfectly all right.

But this quaint historical electoral relic should continue as a nice local event for encouraging popular participation where friends and neighbors gather to discuss politics and choose delegates for the county conventions.  Let’s keep this tradition for ourselves.

The presidential candidates and national media can stay away. As the old Iowan saying goes, “Don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out.”



The truth behind the impeachment campaign

caricature-of-steve3 2I’m watching the House debate on C-SPAN.  It is both interesting and irritating.  But certainly historic.

Interesting because of the too-often repeated arguments from both Democrats and Republicans.  Both parties are making certain their comments–all of which we have heard–are stated so they will become part of the Congressional Record for posterity and campaign purposes.  I get that.

Irritating for the same reasons:  We have heard them all before from members of the House Intelligence and House Judiciary Committees.  The only new assertions are from previously unheard voices.  But they, too, are familiar refrains from the same song book.  And this agonizingly slow posturing only delays the inevitable.

Although one certainly can make a case for impeaching the president, it is bogus to hang it on the Ukraine allegations.  Especially since Mr. Trump’s alleged quid pro quo is remarkably similar to the threat former Vice President Joe Biden boasted about in forcing the ouster of a Ukraine prosecutor in exchange for $1-billion in U.S. aide.

Thus we are impeaching a sitting president for an act that is virtually identical to an act by a former vice president who is a leading Democratic presidential candidate.

Many House democrats were pushing for impeachment from day one of their election and subsequent control of the lower chamber in January of this year.

This campaign including the notorious “We’re going to impeach the m….. f…..” promise by newly-elected Michigan Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib

The impeachment effort began months before the March 2019 Robert Mueller report on into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election or the whistleblower Ukraine memo was written on August 12.

Thus we have an instance of a campaign searching for a cause.

The justification for impeachment would have been stronger had the effort begun following the Robert Mueller report that concluded that although the president was not found to have committed crimes, the report said it could not exonerate him either.

The Mueller document was the result of a methodical investigation including numerous interviews, an examination of dozens of documents and lasting more than two years.  It’s curious then why the House chose to embrace the whistleblower memo—-a much weaker claim that is largely secondhand hearsay from someone who concedes he/she wasn’t privy to the Ukraine telephone call.

Both the timeline of these proceedings and the evidence selected certainly give opponents reason to question the legitimacy of the process.

Likewise since the actions of both chambers are a foregone conclusion it seems a waste time.

Historic yes.  But America will be better served by letting Americans decide the president’s fate next November.

Archie Bunker and President Trump: a tale of unintended consequences

caricature-of-steve3 2I enjoy the CBS drama “Madame Secretary.”

But I doubt that the program’s producers recognized the unintended consequences of  portraying the female president as the victim of an unfair, politically motivated, strictly partisan effort by the fictional House to impeach her. I suspect the producers (Hollywood liberals most likely) wanted to make a point about today’s actual impeachment drama in the real House and Senate.  One opposing President Donald Trump.

However, the producers should have reviewed their history of the 1970s comedy “All in the Family” in which the principal character, Archie Bunker, is presented as a bigoted, unthinking, uninformed blue color worker.  Producer Norman Lear wanted to show the falsity of Bunker’s thinking.

However, a 1974 study by researchers Neil Vidmar and Milton Rokeach, suggested that “All in the Family” may, in fact, have reinforced “rather than reduce racial and ethnic prejudice.”

“Madame Secretary” is not as popular as was “All in the Family.” But it’s easy to see how some viewers can come away from this contemporary drama with more sympathy for our current president Donald Trump.

That, as I wrote above, is not what the program’s producer intended.

Too late to the party

caricature-of-steve3 2Many whites believe that most African Americans will vote for a black Democratic Party presidential candidate. That assumption of a black monolithic voting bloc is false. Blacks are like all other Americans when choosing someone to support.

The fact that an aging, white Democrat Joe Biden enjoys strong support among blacks while younger African American candidates Corey Booker and Kamala Harris do not, speaks to that truth. The late entry of former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick—another African American candidate—will not change that equation.

Most Americans—regardless of identity—are focused on traditional bread and butter issues: quality education, good jobs, affordable housing, safe neighborhoods and accessible health care.

The candidate—regardless of race, sex, gender, ethnicity, religion or even age—who talks persuasively and realistically about those issues, most likely will prevail.

Many of us have aspirational dreams, which is why socialist progressives Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have strong appeal among some segments of our society. It explains why Donald Trump defeated a field of well-known, better-qualified Republicans in 2016. He and now Warren and Sanders speak to our emotions instead of our intellects.

But we can hope that this time around most Americans are smarter and more realistic than some of the candidates believe. If true, next year voters will reject the simplistic, pie-in-the-sky promises of the snake oil vendors and instead choose a president who can actually accomplish something.

The possible candidacy former Democratic New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg—also is unlikely to change the current campaign landscape.

Although Deval Patrick and Michael Bloomberg bring adequate credentials to their campaigns, the question of their timing may be more decisive to their fate than their proposals or appeal to a targeted constituency.

Better late than never may be true in some endeavors.  But it seldom works in a run for the presidency.