A different way the news is dividing America

FILE - This November 1, 2017 file photo shows printouts of some Facebook and Instagram ads related to Russian efforts to disrupt the US political process and fuel tension over divisive social issues raised by members of the American House Intelligence Committee were published. Photographed in Washington. (AP Photo / Jon Elswick, File)
Pink slime, also known as "lean, fine-textured beef," refers to a type of processed meat used as a filler for hamburgers. As strange as it sounds, pink slime has also become a term for trashy journalism that countless millions of Americans are now consuming. And like its namesake for ground beef, pink slime journalism is cheaper than the real thing and definitely not as good for you.
The term Pink Slime Journalism was apparently coined in 2011 by Chicago freelance journalist Ryan Smith while working at a news organization called Journatic, where he noticed that the site was showing stories of material copied from LinkedIn using outsourced reporters from overseas and sometimes Fake byline was also produced. It's all reported by Poynter here in this story.
"People didn't think much about the beef they ate until someone exposed the practice of putting so-called 'pink slime' in ground beef," [Smith] said in an email [to Poynter]. The food industry moved quickly to change that. I feel like companies like Journatic are offering "pink slime" public journalism. "
But the mud that Smith experienced nearly a decade ago was just the beginning. Pink Slime Journalism is just exploding. The Columbia Journalism Review recently reported that this "shady network" grew from 450 locations to around 1,200 just this year. (Here are the reported urls.)
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that RT (renamed from Russia Today), a TV and digital platform controlled and funded by the Russian government, used a website called Mixi.Media to also access Facebook (FB) conservative websites. and Twitter (TWTR) have tried to limit the reach and influence of RT.
And of course, the latter major effort, i.e. Facebook and Twitter softening the pink slime on their platforms, has proven clearly unsuccessful and sisyphic, as evidenced by their almost daily, hollow and / or incompetent explanations and apologies. Claire Wardle, co-founder of First Draft, an organization fighting misinformation online, says, "It feels good when we say we found misinformation, but it's just a patch."
That, Claire, is an understatement.
Pink Slime Journalism is at its core about two things; Getting clicks for a quick buck or pushing a political agenda - often right-wing extremist or foreign state actors like the Russians. In many cases, these factors merge into a lazy, gushing cauldron of propaganda, violence, and lies.
However, the most important thing about pink slime for our purposes is that everything is free. There are no paywalls, subscription fees, or freemium models to navigate, which proves one of the oldest maxims in trading: you get what you pay for. This is also an example of a new internet rule: If something is free online, you are the product. In other words, consumers of pink slime can be assured that their personal profiles will be sucked up, packaged, and sold.
Several front pages and section fronts of the Orange County Register can be seen in the news room in Santa Ana, California on Thursday, December 27, 2012. After years of demoralizing layoffs, one newspaper is trying something new: recruiting more reporters. The new owner of the Orange County Register believes that the way to turn the paper is in better reporting to attract new and past readers to a revitalized product. (AP Photo / Jae C. Hong)
Life without real news
To take a step back, it just feels like we're living in an age of division: the US versus China, rich versus poor, healthy versus sick. None of these cracks are particularly new, and are only exacerbated by an evolving socio-economic order brought about by technological change and autocrats.
And when it comes to getting the news, pink slime addresses a different divide: the informed and the ill-informed. That said, there is now a clear line between consumers looking for and paying for messages, backed by real austerity and increasingly reporting behind paywalls, and those who passively get the pink creeps mostly through social media.
Think of the people who work for the New York Times (NYT) (6.5 million digital subscribers), the Wall Street Journal (2.2 million), the Washington Post (2 million), the FT (750,000), etc. pay - and to the people who, well, not. "Redlining news and information basically means that households with lower socioeconomic incomes have no access because they are unwilling or unable to pay for information and are therefore being referred to a bad news diet," says Victor Pickard , Professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communication and author of “Democracy Without Journalism? Confrontation with the misinformation society "It is very dangerous for a democratic society."
Yes it is Victor.
At the local level, the problems are even more acute. "Pink slime sites on local news load quickly, no ads are shown. Part of the reason why sites started with pink slime," says Wardle. "There's definitely a link between local news deserts and the rise of Misinformation. There is literally nothing there or something and you have to pay to access it. “Why not advertise on pink slime websites? Ask yourself who is funding them and why.
For the most part, to follow Wardle's point of view, local newspapers were unable to convert even 2% of their potential audience. Here are some grim recent calculations from What's New in Publishing: “For example, Seattle has a population of 3.5 million in the metropolitan area, but the main newspaper The Seattle Times has a newsroom with 150 journalists. 10% of the population - or 350,000 - would have to pay $ 60 a year to break even just on subscription income. But here's the thing: The Seattle Times doesn't have 350,000 digital subscribers. It has 42,000 residents which means it only converts 1.2% of the population it serves. "
I used to think it was all about bad business models and prices until I ran through the numbers. Sure, you can pay a ridiculous amount of money for messages these days. Subscribe to the Washington Post's print and digital editions for a potentially $ 764.40 annual payment. The New York Times costs $ 1,040 a year. However, if you're only digital, you'll pay $ 98 a year for the LA Times, $ 100 a year for the Washington Post, or $ 180 a year for the Times - and less for the first year. The Wall Street Journal is more expensive; $ 234 for the first year and $ 468 thereafter. (The Seattle Times is $ 207 a year.)
The New York Times building can be seen in New York City on June 30, 2020. - The New York Times is the most famous media organization to leave Apple News. The service of the technology giant did not help to achieve the subscription and business goals of the newspaper. The daily newspaper exit comes as news organizations around the world grapple with a decline in print readership and an online environment where advertising revenue is dominated by Google and Facebook. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE / AFP via Getty Images)
Here's what's crazy. In 1990, an annual subscription to the New York Times (which sought a high-end audience) was $ 260. The Washington Post was only $ 119.60 a year. (I remember Warren Buffett telling me that the post owner, Don Graham, was aware that his newspaper had up to 60% penetration in the capital of the country at the time and was afraid of excessively high prices.) Even Wall Street Journal was only $ 129 a year.
Now if you adjust the 1990 inflation rates to match inflation, you will find that the Times was $ 517.05, the WSJ was $ 256.54, and the Post was $ 237.84 in today's dollars. Adjusted for inflation, the Times costs $ 330 less today than 30 years ago and the Post costs $ 137 less. Only the journal has higher prices today, and it is safe to argue that it was significantly undervalued by the business audience of this newspaper back then.
(Undoubtedly, it is important for these publishers to increase prices in the years to come, so enjoy today's prices while you can.)
While I compare yesterday's print editions to today's digital-only subscriptions, I also remember what you get now: videos, podcasts, mobile apps, notifications, etc. and on any device. All in all, it seems like a pretty good deal to me.
Yet only a fraction of the general population subscribes to these major national newspapers. Add the NYTs, WaPo, WSJ and FT and you get less than 12 million and there is certainly a lot of overlap. Compare that to the parallel universe of streaming services. Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Disney + and Peacock etc. (which, by the way, cost roughly the same) Netflix alone (NetflixX) has over 73 million subs. Sure, people like "Orange is the new black" (with over 105 million streams in total) are more than Heard on the Street. But there is more to it than that.
It is that people have learned to live with no real news.
"It happened long before the Internet," the former owner of a major American newspaper told me. “And after television has been around for decades. It was a generation thing. People had less time and less interest. “The numbers match his story. The newspaper circulation peaked in 1984 at 63.3 million. The television news broadcast hit around 42 million around 1980 and then declined sharply - cable news growth hasn't nearly closed the void - although the numbers rose back to around 10 million during COVID-19.
Look, I don't want to sound like one of those old people who yearn for Cronkite and Johnny Apple - those days are over forever. People are still self-educating, they just get news and information in new ways. (Phones!)
And of course the business has left the news business. "The promise of digital ad revenue has failed for journalism," said Jennifer Preston, VP / Journalism at the Knight Foundation and former social media editor for the New York Times. "Digital ad revenue goes to two California ZIP codes." (That would be 94043 in Mountain View for Google and 94025 in Menlo Park for Facebook.) These two companies have a market share of over 50% of all digital advertising. Plus Craigslist took all classifieds. "Don't forget the nationalization of retail and the decline of local businesses and these repercussions," says the former newspaper owner.
Inside Facebook: The content police
Yahoo Finance presents, Inside Facebook: The Content Police. Andy Serwer, Editor-in-Chief of Yahoo Finance sat down with three top executives at Facebook, including Monika Bickert, Head of Global Policy Management, John Devine, Vice President Global Operations, and Guy Rosen, Vice President Integrity, for an exclusive interview on the Content moderation of the company. The in-depth interview looks at how Facebook deals with misinformation, hate speech, hacking and much more.
But none of this explains why people like pink slime. To be honest, I think the point is that people don't think it's important and that the media is losing focus.
In some cases, Preston suggests that news organizations pay no attention to their audience: "Think of traditional mainstream news organizations in terms of their relationship with people of color in their communities," she says. “Did you serve, did you build trust? I would say that many people in the community and many news leaders would agree that they did not. This moment of national reckoning for racial justice is an opportunity for local news organizations and national news organizations. "
Preston also says that ProPublica philanthropic models are important.
And she calls on Silicon Valley to step up: “I think big technology companies should pay a premium for creating original reports and promoting them on their platforms. I'm talking about really paying for it and promoting it. This requires a change in the algorithm. "
Ah, big tech and their algorithms. I'll get into her and her role as the main slimy news distributor in a moment. But first a PPE. I would love it if I didn't point out that my company, Yahoo, wants to create very high quality content (up to you if you include that particular line) and also only want to aggregate high quality content with no paywall.
Back to the tech companies in the news business, i.e. Facebook, Google (toget, togetL), Twitter - and to a certain extent Apple (AAPL). If I had $ 1,000 for every time these companies announced programs, policies, and partnerships with news organizations and then changed them, I would be as rich as Jeff Bezos. (Not quite.)
The point is, these companies have done countless overtures and despite what they claim, the bottom line is that they don't really care about the news, the news business, or what it means to America. What if these companies really made it a priority instead of constantly cleaning up after their own mess and / or making half-hearted attempts? Google, Facebook, and Twitter can't or shouldn't be considered cool tech companies anymore, right? They are much bigger than that and must behave like that.
"Something that would be of interest to a Biden government could be a tax on big tech companies that could create a pool of money that could be paid for journalism," says Michael Luo, editor and author of The New Yorker.
Can't you just hear Mark Zuckerberg? "No, Mr. President, that would not be a good idea. Facebook needs the money for innovations."
That scares us, Zuck.
"It's like we're swimming in a flow of information and a lot of it is currently polluted," says Luo. "But there are some mountain springs that provide clear, clean drinking water, but much of it is behind a paywall." And if I may complete the thought, much of the pollution has a pink slimy consistency and comes from bad actors and is spread on social media.
Time to clean up the flow.
This article was featured in a Saturday morning letter on October 10, 2020. Have the morning letter sent directly to your inbox every Monday through Friday at 6:30 a.m. CET. Subscribe to
Andy Serwer is the Editor-in-Chief of Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @serwer.
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