A great 98th podcast episode featuring Insta-guest Glenn Reynolds (whose delightful and informative blog I love every bit as much as our Ricochet hosts do) ends with some particularly insightful comments by Rob Long. Starting around 59 and a half minutes:
I think what hurt these magazines [(Time and Newsweek)] is Reagan. Because when Reagan was elected and did well, all of these journalists went nuts. Now Hugh Sidey used to write a very pro-Reagan column for Time. … And the idea that you would have a thoughtful, kind of middle-of-the-road wise man journalist writing a column for any one of these magazines that was not knee-jerk partisanship is … literally inconceivable. They all decided with Reagan that they needed, now … their job was to try to reform the electorate. And you could see it. You could see it in the collapse of the big media titles when they tried to reform the electorate, to try to teach you a lesson: You voted wrong. That … the electorate just kind of turned them off and people stopped reading. They stopped reading those magazines. They stopped reading the newspaper when the newspaper became homework … for your soul … instead of: telling me what happened in my neighborhood today.
On journalism then vs. now:
These were Ivy League weeklies … Newsweek and Time are staffed entirely by Harvard and Yale students. But they didn’t have the sense of trying to tell you … why you were wrong, and why you were stupid … the advocacy journalism which came up … really, began in the 70s, but I think really hit its stride in the 80s under Reagan. This idea that you need to be corrected. And the people reading this thought, “Well, I don’t really need to be corrected.” And then you saw the magazines as they desperately tried to come up with something else — was it more show business, more lifestyle stuff, more trend pieces. They tried to do everything they could, because they couldn’t report the news, because it was too obvious what they were trying to do. You look at a paper like the L.A. Times — the L.A. Times is … the dead twin of the New York Times. The New York Times succeeds because it has fantastic feature sections, right? The New York Times succeeds because on Thursdays about style, Wednesdays about food … and Fridays about escapes. It has these great sections that people want to read, despite the front section. And they’ve done that very successfully. But everyone else … they forget the Hugh Sidey model, which is just … everything doesn’t have to be corrective of Conservatives.
The mainstream just wants to know what’s going on in the world, and doesn’t need to be told, over and over again, that Conservatives are bad, and that Liberals are good. They just … they don’t believe it, so it seems like a comic book to them.
As Glenn would rightly advise: Listen to the whole thing!
I’m reminded of an older man I once met, whose eyes beamed with pride on relating to me that his son had gone into journalism “to change the world”. I smiled and said nothing, not wanting to rob this nice fellow I barely knew of a notion that was clearly a source of great happiness to him, but in my head I had to wonder: Did his son choose the right career for that? And: what are the implications of conflating the business of reporting facts with the pursuit of advocacy journalism?