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I think the main thing I take from this, is that Matt must be thinking about using some of his substack dollars to buy a PS5

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I am not a gamer! I only read the reviews for the political commentary.

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Also possible that he left Vox due to it’s heavy bias toward Xbox.

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founding

AFAICT the first PS5 game that's going to be a must-play is Horizon Forbidden West, which isn't out until next year. Which is good, means we can all wait for after-xmas sales.

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I'm not a journalist so I can't really comment on what going on in that space. But the PS5 review reminds me a lot of what I've witnessed in other non-political spaces during the Trump administration. You have a fairly left-ish, but not politically aware, person with a platform. Trump's nonsense causes them to conclude that they "need to say something" within that space. Being politically inexperienced, it's clumsily worded, and the entire community around that platform divides and explodes.

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Yes, exactly. It's great that people feel inspired to get more involved in politics. But I think for most people the way to do that is to actually get more involved in politics. Find a candidate to volunteer for. Find a local party meeting to attend. Trying to inject political commentary into your console review is very odd.

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Do you think people being more involved in politics is good in itself, or good because we need a lot of change that requires more participation? My hunch is that more political involvement is actually a sign things are going poorly.

Like a well-functioning government would not occupy a lot of our collective brainspace, sorta like well-functioning plumbing. It would just work fine in the background and we could all use our Hello Tushy (TM) (do I get points for plugging sponsors here?) products in blissful ignorance.

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Exactly, it's a bad sign when politics has become so all-consuming for so many people that you can't even watch a sports event without getting ensnared in political controversy. In a well-functioning representative democracy most people should be able to just live their lives without doing anything more than showing up to vote on election day

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That creates a cycle of government becomes competent -> people stop paying attention ->Because People stop paying attention, we get more corruption and less competence -> people start paying attention and work really hard to fix things, and if they succeed(they might not) we start all over again. In order for a democracy to function properly, people need to pay attention and participate in enough numbers that it's not just the tail end of the dist whose voices get heard.

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I wonder if for some of these folks it’s more about performative signaling, perhaps even unconsciously, for their colleagues and peers. There’s a lot of social cachet in being vocally "woke" among young elites right now, so perhaps they feel incentivized to use the platform available to them to that end?

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I also suspect that a great deal of expression, especially on social media, is performative (and it's not just a lefty thing). In fact, it's become in vogue to claim that not speaking out in every venue about the latest social justice issues is tacit approval ("silence is violence"). One of the results is that, for example, you get a lot of open letters with people either forced into signing or tarred by association (or both!). :)

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Indeed! There's just as much performative signaling on the right, to be sure.

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I always find it interesting that Bernie specifically asked his followers to get involved in day to day politics instead of glued to distraction devices. His failure to get that accomplished is something worth writing on...

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As a somewhat left-of-center person, I find this injection of radical progressive politics by young progressive cultural elites into every possible space of American life rather exhausting, particularly for the credulous way in which they seem to assume that absolutely everyone must agree with what’s actually a relatively fringe position. I get that these folks think that they’re promoting a noble cause, but it really feels like it’s going to end up putting off more people than it convinces. If I want political opinions, I know who to go to, and as Matt observed I’ll get a much more informed and reliable analysis in doing so.

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John, you described my thoughts exactly. I also consider myself "somewhat left-of-center" but just get exhausted being presented with culturally progressive takes on issues that as you say, are actually quite fringe. But it's not just the frequency of the takes that I know are fringe, it's that they are presented in ways that make it seem like not only are they self-evident, but only a bad person would disagree! The recent AOC tweet suggesting that the only motivation for disagreeing with socialism and defunding police is "racial resentment attacks" is a great example, albeit a specifically political one.

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I think it was going on before the Trump Administration, although it may have accelerated. I remember listening to a Pop Culture movie review podcast from one of the main online content media providers, and listening to a review of Birdman ( So this would have been like 2014) that basically amounted to "I dunno, I just can't bring myself to care about another movie about the inner turmoil of a middle age white man". There wasn't really any discussion of the actual quality of the movie. How was the plot? How as the acting? How was the pacing? Nope.

And the hot take didn't bother me so much. My snowflake switch wasn't triggered. But as a parent of young children who very rarely gets a chance to watch movies I was specifically listening to a movie review podcast because I'm trying to screen for a high quality movies for the rare occasions I get to watch one.

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I also say that there are some supremely talented writers who are exceptional at blending in politics into "non-political spaces" in their writing in a way that is both bold but not ham fisted. Wesley Morris would be an immediate example that comes to mind. Unfortunately, not everyone can be Wesley Morris.

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Nov 19, 2020Liked by Matthew Yglesias

Vox has an article up right now attacking "Brunch Democrats" who have "centrist indifference" and the two most fun parts of the absurdity of it are ...

1. claims Brunch is "uniquely American" and then links to a wiki of the founder of the concept without mentioning he's English. The main wiki entry also clearly states Brunch started in England (and they still do it! and it is still "alcohol-soaked")

2. the waitress source of this alleged spike in indifferent centrist brunch-goers is from ... Cambridge, Massachusetts! Where 70% voted Warren or Sanders in the primary but maybe is now full of centrists because the true progressives moved to Somerville?

https://www.vox.com/the-goods/21572182/brunch-biden-political-indifference

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Truly wild that "a few thousand words trying to intuit policy out of the newest leftist meme on Twitter" has become a real think-piece genre. Brunching fools are running amok, but fear not: the journos are On It.

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I think this is another effect of bubble thinking—whatever becomes a meme or shibboleth on Twitter, like “brunch” or “Karen,” can never just be some meaningless happenstance, it needs articles to explain how significant and well-thought-out it is. Everything’s inside jokes now.

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I read that whole article and I find it extremely confusing. I had no idea brunch was a political thing? What? This strikes me as one of those extremely insider arguments. My parents have brunch sometimes and if i told them it was somehow political they would be very confused.

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I watched AOC's stories when they came out and she seemed to be joking. It's like talking to a sports team and saying just because we got a touchdown doesn't mean we get to head back to the locker room and leave. It's just about the fact that we've still got work to do. People still get to sit down and take a break. They can't win if they don't take time to recover. That's what subs are for.

I think the 16-year-old is a very sad example of the all-or-nothing thinking that seems to have gripped so many young people and my millennial peers. Does she not want money? Because a record number of brunch reservations means more money than ever for her. Pro tip: don't complain about people paying for the services that you're selling. I would try to educate this girl first (she's only 16), but if she would rather tweet insults at my customers, I would fire her. It's also the judgement and assumptions for me. All of that is lack of perspective-taking, empathy, and imagination. Again, extreme, black-and-white thinking She has no clue who those people are. They may have volunteered for Biden for months and this is finally a moment of joy. They may have just found a new job after a year of being out of work. Maybe they've had an incredibly difficult mental health crisis and this is a chance to feel good. I've been hospitalized twice in the last two months and I'll be damned if somebody is going to say I'm a bad person for having a few hours of relief on a Sunday morning. People can be and do many things at once. Or maybe the paying customers just wanted to get out of the house and have a nice meal. It doesn't matter. It's money in her pocket. Also the biggest problem here is Covid and people who aren't quarantining together eating together, not that people are paying expensive prices for eggs.

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Luckily it is a really small group that thinks like that (although a really loud group). The replies to AOC's anti-DCCC tweet two hours after it was announced Trump lost are amazing, these are not squishy moderates asking her to just enjoy it for a minute:

https://twitter.com/AOC/status/1325148614461513729

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It is a very weird article because when I think of brunch, the first place that comes to mind is home to a certain popular left-wing congresswoman.

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I would like to say that I embrace centrist indifference... but I have never been to Brunch in my life. Well unless feeding five kids pancakes and eggs on weekends (which takes several hours) counts. I don't drink Mimosa's, but it doesn't make me want a beer at noon.

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Nov 19, 2020Liked by Matthew Yglesias

I suspect that a lot of the interest is from people who want to fill the need for gossip and want there to either be a story about either PC culture run amuck at Vox forcing independently minded Matt to avoid saying things that violate liberal orthodoxy or Matt holding some idiosyncratically social conservative opinion and are waiting for the unconstrained Matt to pull off the mask and say something cancelable garnering entry to the halls of the intellectual dark web.

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Nov 19, 2020Liked by Matthew Yglesias

Because this post has PS5s on the mind for me, I originally read your sentence about a PC culture at Vox as it being a workplace that was particularly hostile to console gaming

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lmao

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To expand on Matt's point about it being reactionary to think mainstream Dems are getting a raw deal, I think part of the reason political journalism problems haven't been fixed is the young "woke" and/or socialist media workers are just as wedded to the idea of "balance" as the older editors. They just find a different level of morality at which to put both parties. As liberals have grown more and more aghast at the Republicans' anti-democratic and authoritarian actions, the narrative that both major parties are ex officio reasonable and normal is becoming untenable. But it's just super lame to say "the Democratic Party is good for opposing the Republican Party, it does a lot of good, its ideas would mostly help people if implemented". Especially among English majors working in the media or the arts, that kind of kneejerk partisanship is deeply discordant with people's ideas of themselves as independent thinkers and romantic rebels.

So instead of "both institutional Democrats and institutional Republicans are reasonable and normal" you end up with "both institutional Democrats and institutional Republicans are craven, corrupt jerks". Leftists who don't want to admit they think the Democratic Party is better and more moral than the Republican Party end up insisting that they're just as mad at the Democrats, for failing to fight the Republicans effectively. Which is how you end up with a million "DEMS IN DISARRAY" storylines.

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I agree with most of this. Minor quibble is that rather than seeing themselves as “romantic rebels,” the humanities set will prefer to think of themselves as seeing both parties from an elevated point of view where their moral inequality is dimensionally flattened.

It’s not the source of the “Dems in disarray” storyline, it’s where you get the “corporatist, incrementalist liberals are holding back the progressive agenda” storyline.

Though most of my MFA friends vote straight ticket democrat, so I’m not sure how much electoral punch this psychologizing has.

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This is an excellent point. Horseshoe theory but for bad political journalism

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One thing that Obama pointed out in his Atlantic interview was the death of the local paper. I think this has been a contributor both to increased polarization, and the nationalization of the electorate, and both are problems for progressives. Without accessible, relevant information about the physical world around them, people's attention is driven more and more to the social media platforms, which optimize revenue through polarization. Politicians lose the ability to cater to the needs of the local environment; Steve Bullock can't get elected in Montana because Montana democrats are worried about AOC. It's not clear why they should be worried about AOC, but that's what the platforms give them, so they're worried. Members of the national party respond by telling Brooklynites (who are already proportionally underrepresented in the Senate and Electoral College) that they need tone down their views to help Steve Bullock -> it's not a path that's going to lead to anywhere.

Is there a plan anywhere to re-invigorate small town papers? Online advertising networks are so much more effective than other forms of advertising, I don't see how such papers could compete on advertising, even if they were online. It would have to be a combination of subscription and sponsorship based revenue model. In Nashville, they're trying to restart "The Banner" next year with some known media personalities, and I plan on supporting with a subscription. However, I'm looking to build something like this in smaller communities. I think this would be a more effective project for online activists than donating to the next Amy McGrath (although I could say that about almost anything).

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Nov 19, 2020Liked by Matthew Yglesias

So we recently had a few people start on online-only local news website. These people, I would imagine, are left leaning (because they're journalists) but approached it like a local paper reporting on the school board, city counsel meetings, ect.

But it didn't take too long for local conservatives to sniff out "liberal media bias" and boycott it. Every local Republican political candidate refused to participate in any of their town hall events in 2020, and it's generally treated like a little New York Times.

In other words, our partisan division bleeds into everything. I don't think it's an issue of local papers going away.

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I've worked for three years at small local papers in deeply red parts of America. I haven't seen this as being as much of a problem. It seems like people don't include their local sources when they they refer to "the media." Local issues don't fall as neatly into the blue/red divide, plus many of the folks who read my work either know me or the owner of the paper. But the biggest way local papers can win over people who don't care for "the media" is by doing a killer job covering feel-good stories and sports. These stories give people a sense of place, local pride and the chance see their neighbor kid's picture on the website or front page. It makes people feel good about their paper. Then, when you do cover something more controversial, there's more trust and good feelings there. Too often the conversation about local news revolves around investigative and accountability stuff. That's obviously the most important thing we do, but the fluffy and fun stories actually serve a bigger purpose.

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I live in a newly blue county in a deep red state. One of the "wealthy suburbs" that swung towards the Democrats after 2016. Our local issues include mask mandates, COVID restrictions, non-discrimination ordinances, green energy initiatives. i.e. red partisan meat.

And I have to admit, having lived my entire life in this red state, it's pretty fun to watch my older, conservative neighbors and work colleagues freak out as the district drifts blue.

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Do you feel like your local leaders are trying to convince the more conservative of the merits of those policies? Or are they cramming them through because they can? Part of the way to make places less divided and to keep it blue is to take a slower approach: do outreach, pass some conservative stuff too and try to show people that having liberals in charge isn't so scary. The most dangerous and energized voters are those that feel like they're way of life is vanishing. If you live in a place that just tipped blue but conservatives feel like they have a place in the future, then it's more likely to stay blue.

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They do. The Democratic Party here is pretty moderate and welcoming to moderates in general. But it’s reached the point where any Republican willing to work with you draws a opponent to the right, or sees the writing on the wall and switches parties.

And I’m not concerned about it drifting back without some sort of realignment of the parties overall. The population isn’t static and the generation of young professionals that move here are a pretty solid D demographic at this point.

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founding

From where I sit, things are even worse than you're saying here, because we actually have ideologically motivated people replicated Fox News or Murdoch's right-wing tabloids at local scale. Out in Stockton, the "209 Times" has perpetuated outright slander against Democratic candidates.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-11-06/stockton-mayor-election-michael-tubbs-risks-defeat

Their biggest scalp is Michael Tubbs, who is legitimately pretty lefty, in a way that probably offended working-class conservatives. But all the same, if you look at what's going on here, it's a replication of the national news problem, where Tucker Carlson claims he wants to found a conservative alternative to the NYTimes, but actually founds the Daily Caller.

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founding

I'll add, I also am a moderator for a locally-focused Facebook group for my own town, and have repeatedly seen Trump supporters join our group, then _willfully antagonize people_, and then go whine on public posts or in an alternative locally-focused FB group or on NextDoor about how our group "censors" and "bullies" people "just for thinking for themselves". No, jackass, you're not being censored; you were first told "I think you're mistaken, here is why I think that," and asked "Do you have any evidence on the other side?" and then when instead of conversing in good faith you became abusive, you were shown the door. Somebody needs to staple the XKCD Free Speech comic to their foreheads.

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You're describing pretty much every Facebook group. Just a garbage dump.

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Do you know if there was any attempt at outreach to local high-profile conservatives? To get them bought in? I'm not being subtly critical - it's an honest question to see if there's anything that can be done to bridge the chasm.

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I have no idea. But I doubt that would work. Local conservatives want you to stop reporting stories about COVID deaths and BLM protests. They want stories about non-existent voter fraud and how much of a threat Antifa is to the suburbs. How do you bridge that gap?

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Good question - when some of them aren't even reality based, does it do more harm to let them in? But taking the Cotton piece for example, I don't think it was wrong to publish it, but it would have probably benefited from a counterpoint published along side of it.

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But isn't that just another effect of the fading demand for local papers? Were politicians 50 years ago really high-minded champions of civic virtue, or did they cooperate with local journalists because they had no choice, because there weren't many other good ways to get in front of their constituents?

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What a nightmare.

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Rebuilding a society that's been torn down is going to be hard. It's difficult to know where to begin.

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I think it's important to keep a bit of perspective and avoid apocalyptic rhetoric such as this. Suggesting that our current society has been "torn down" or is crumbling just feeds into the existentialist rhetoric driving partisans on both sides. We've got our problems, like every generation before us, and some of ours are worse than theirs, but many of theirs were worse than ours. For all of the media angst, American institutions are still robust; a corrupt President who would steal the election if he could cannot and is on his way out. Polarization is particularly acute at the moment, but there hasn't ever really been a period of perfectly enlightened bipartisan comity in the US. Even in the most polarized election probably in living memory, only something like 65% of eligible voters even cast a ballot. There are a huge number of working-age Americans who don't even really care about politics and are just going about their lives. It's helpful to remember that and try to lower the temperature a bit instead of raising it further.

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I'm very concerned about the nationalization of American politics, but I think the bemoaning of the fate of local papers is somewhat overblown. As an avid student of the 1920s-1940s in American history, and one who often enjoys reading about papers from the period, many small papers were essentially advertising rags stuffed full of wire articles from the AP and little else. Many were also highly partisan, deep in the pockets of political machines, or at the whims of deeply political publishers such as Hearst. The ideal of the objective, apolitical American paper of yore is largely a myth.

As I see it, independent of the paper problem, the real issue is that if I'm a MAGAhead living in the panhandle I can log in to Twitter or Facebook and see a video of a kid in a MAGA hat being beating by sword-and-board-wielding Antifa goons 2000 miles away in Oregon, and if I'm a #Resistance progressive in Portland I can log into Twitter or Facebook and see a video of a black person being viciously heckled by MAGA-hat-wearing goons 2000 miles away in rural Alabama. Politics are increasingly national because social media has completely collapsed the impact of distance on the propagation of and awareness of news. There's simply no way to put that back in the bottle, I don't think; the best we can hope for is future generations increasingly choosing to plug out of toxic social networks like Twitter and Facebook in favor of other platforms which focus more on user-generated content than outrage farming.

Losing local papers is a really big hit from the perspective of good local governance and exposing local corruption, but I don't think restoring a world where everyone doomscrolling on FB or Twitter also subscribes to a local paper would do anything to turn down the temperature of nationalized politics.

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I don't see that a pluralistic, multi-cultural society and the current, relatively maximalist view of the first amendment are compatible with internet technologies and business models. At least one of those things is going to give in the next 10-20 years.

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I'm not sure local papers haven't been replaced by the ability of people to HOA Facebook pages, Neighborhood message boards and online media. I feel like its pretty easy to find out about stuff going on in the neighborhoood regarding development. I would say that overall access to local information has increased, not decreased.

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The only way forward I can see for strong local papers is as a non-profit. One of the issues though is that people donate to the Amy McGraths of the world for immediately satisfying ideological reasons; helping local papers cover news straight doesn't necessarily inspire the same dip into the wallet.

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I think non-profit status combined with decentralization rules (which is especially important for television). I subscribe to a variety of local pubs in my area (Maryland Matters and Bethesda Magazine) and I should talk to some of their reporters and editors about what they thing about nonprofit or other subsidy models, but we obviously need something.

There's also the larger question of how this fits into the social media news environment and such, and I'm definitely open for hearing ideas there.

But I think local news, local ownership, deliberate protection of both in federal law is vital. I've supported a local journalist on substack, but it's just not relevant to this problem and I think the model mostly is going to work for superstars.

Most of these local venues will be like the old boring and bland local news sources, but that's ultimately okay. I was sorry to hear about the failure of the publication up thread, and some of the new publications would fail and wouldn't find ways to cross-polarization boundaries. But I think that the destruction of the ad revenue model and not polarization was the main driver of the death of local journalism and breaking up television station networks like Sinclair and hedgefund owned papers would help editors and journalists find their local equilibirum.

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I feel like the media landscape in Nashville was just dreadful. Even the Scene became as boring to read and as thin as The Tennessean. When I moved to Vermont I found the number of local newspapers a real improvement. My knowledge of the local issues of my community improved. I was particularly impressed by VTDigger and the other state local political news outlets that did deep dives into local issues on a daily basis. Nashville has nothing really comparable.

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Yes, this is a big problem, because it means local issues aren't covered, or are covered from a single point of view. There's a lot of room for mischief in zoning boards and city councils, and also a lot of room for real progress (see Matt on YIMBY, Sean Griffith on getting photovoltaics on his rooftop).

I don't know how to address this. All my models tend toward non-profit journalistic foundationy stuff (e.g., Pro-publica).

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The complete lack of coverage of state/local issues is a huge huge favor to lazy/corrupt local officials, which escalates the problem Matt pointed out about how lousy a lot of blue state governance is.

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I expect lousy governance comes in many colors.

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It does. But in red areas the philosophy is supposed to be that government is bad. In blue areas we supposedly want good government.

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Seems like you need some donors with deep pockets to prop up local papers,websites,podcasts and radio stations

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It will definitely require deep pockets, especially to start. Eventually, they'll need to drive subscription or broader donor-based revenue. For the websites you could probably have a single donor setup a system to serve a network and it would scale pretty well. The main ongoing funding requirement would be the journalist team for each market. That team would need to produce their own podcasts, but I think they could do that at low cost. Not sure how you could address radio.

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Completely agree. I grew up in a very conservative rural area in a time when people got most of their news from the local paper. We had one longtime left of center editorial columnist who because the kinda of the defacto "token liberal" of our community. But he we very important and influencial person! He had been around a very long time. He had earned people's trust even if they didn't agree with him. He could speak like the locals and use all the local colloquialisms. He could frame local issues and concerns in a left of center way (farm subsidies). And I really wonder if just the hard turn away from any sort of center left prospective in rural communities is we now no longer have that regionalized center left voice in our lives. All left of center framing is now "Top 15 Reasons why American Sniper is Problematic" and "Why Ivy League Law School Debt Should Be Forgiven" written by a 25 year old Ivy League educated Brooklynite, which is like conservative rural red state kryptonite.

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Also it’s ok there are plans to restart The Banner. I hope they could model themselves after VTDigger.

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I think this is a great point and if anyone wants to explore it in more depth, you don't have to look any further than your neighborhood facebook page. I follow a Chicago ward page and it's crazy how much the political infighting is on a national level and how little people are aware of happenings at the local level (despite two major city-wide newspapers and a couple more independent localized ones). The national mood is projected onto aldermen despite what is actually happening at the city council meetings.

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There's a lot of interesting points in here - I think this R.Douthat piece from 2016 holds up pretty well in its analysis of some of the themes Matt touches upon : https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/21/opinion/campaign-stops/clintons-samantha-bee-problem.html

Namely that liberal cultural hegemony within large cultural/entertainment/news organisations misleads liberals as to how right-wing large parts of America are, and further alienates/angers conservatives who see much of media as utterly alien to, and disrespectful of, their beliefs and values.

Are there any solutions to this? Hiring token conservatives at large publications doesn't seem to appease conservatives, and largely enrages liberals ( Ross Douthat excepted!) and isolating individual writers from the young/urban/educated bubble by going alone on Substack is only possible for a few high-name-recognition columnists who came to prominence largely through traditional media channels.

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There's not a "solution" exactly, I just think people who are interested in politics need to seek out objective measures of demographics and public opinion.

The way pop culture works is that not only do the creators skew left, but people are particularly interested in the young/urban/educated audience because it's more valuable to advertisers. The way electoral politics works is that people under 18 don't count at all, rural voters are overweighted in the system, and twenty-somethings turn out at much lower rates than sixty-somethings. So a casual, impressionistic view of the conventional wisdom as encapsulated in the media will give you a mistaken view of the electorate where most of the voters are over fifty, haven't graduated college, and probably have very conservative views on cultural questions.

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There is a problem somewhere in there worth resolving: specifically the paradox that the US consumes almost only US-made media, the US entertainment business is massive and dominated by partisan liberals willing to make their politics explicit, but all this seems to actually disadvantage the more liberal party electorally!

I think television shows have been a hugely underrated driver when it comes to pushing public opinion leftwards on social issues, but I can’t think of much modern mass-media that does a good job of making people more aware of economic injustices.

I don’t think it’s a facile point either ! In the UK, for instance, the Kitchen Sink dramas of the 70s are credited with affecting real and direct changes to the way the public thought about issues such as homelessness - views which in turn were translated into policy outcomes.

Veered off from the subject of the blog, though, so apologies!

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You're not mistaken about the impact of show business on cultural values:

"Several years ago, a trio of researchers working for the Inter-American Development Bank set out to help solve a sociological mystery. Brazil had, over the course of four decades, experienced one of the largest drops in average family size in the world, from 6.3 children per woman in 1960 to 2.3 children in 2000. What made the drop so curious is that, unlike the Draconian one-child policy in China, the Brazilian government had in place no policy to limit family size. (It was actually illegal at some point to advertise contraceptives in the overwhelmingly Catholic country.) What could explain such a steep drop? The researchers zeroed in on one factor: television.

Television spread through Brazil in the mid-sixties. But it didn’t arrive everywhere at once in the sprawling country. Brazil’s main station, Globo, expanded slowly and unevenly. The researchers found that areas that gained access to Globo saw larger drops in fertility than those that didn’t (controlling, of course, for other factors that could affect fertility). It was not any kind of news or educational programming that caused this fertility drop but exposure to the massively popular soap operas, or novelas, that most Brazilians watch every night. The paper also found that areas with exposure to television were dramatically more likely to give their children names shared by novela characters.

Novelas almost always center around four or five families, each of which is usually small, so as to limit the number of characters the audience must track. Nearly three quarters of the main female characters of childbearing age in the prime-time novelas had no children, and a fifth had one child. Exposure to this glamorized and unusual (especially by Brazilian standards) family arrangement “led to significantly lower fertility”—an effect equal in impact to adding two years of schooling."

https://nymag.com/news/features/chait-liberal-movies-tv-2012-8/

Entire article is worth your time.

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What I don't understand about that argument is how it squares with the related trend of people leaving small towns to go to college and then ending up in the liberal bubbles that surround the (almost entirely urban) knowledge economy. I am a part of that trend, which is why I never lose sight of how right-wing rural America is and am constantly flabbergasted by how left-wing mainstream liberalism has become. Do people never go back to their hometowns for Thanksgiving? Or is it that the young, name-brand college-goers Matt writes about all grew up in wealthy, liberal suburbs and the aforementioned trend is not actually a trend?

In my experience, the central problem is that rural America lives in a right-wing media bubble, from AM radio to conservative websites to Fox News, thus, the collapse of local journalism created a nascent left-wing audience that pushed the NY Times and its ilk left. Douthat only survives at the Times because he makes a living explaining conservative views to the kind of liberals who wouldn't let their kids date a Republican.

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I left a small right wing town in PA, went to a very liberal college in MA. Then moved from there to a job in Los Angeles in tech which was if anything, more liberal then the people I was exposed to in MA. I go back to my parents for Xmas and such but I'm only really exposed to my family when I go back. When I have had to interact with my old neighbors, politics *do not* come up because both sides know where the other stands. I see the Trump signs and sadly shake my head and wonder how they could support him, while never actually engaging anyone on the subject. So they remain caricatures, no different then what you see on the news already.

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Not to discount your experience, but there's a definite asymmetry in the way that conservative and liberal media cover things at work here.

Conservatives are super-interested in perceived misgovernance or 'whackiness' in California and other liberal states; and they like to talk about it a lot - Fox run tonnes of stories on homelessness in California, on drag queens story hour in SF, on illegal immigrants murdering US citizens etc. Conservatives are mislead about a lot of these things, but they know that in parts of America there are high concentrations of people who vehemently disagree with them.

Meanwhile liberals are far less focussed on red states because, 1 they don't live there and 2. not much that happens there interests them. Plus liberal media isn't similarly invested in using, say, the problem of opiate addiction in Ohio as a slam on conservatives.

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Maybe not Ohio -- but I've seen plenty of stories about the budget nightmares of Kansas and the issues with schooling in the south, there's a lot of focus on how poorly red states have been handling covid, etc

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To be fair there is plenty of coverage of sports in "red states" - especially college football.

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For sure. I think that is also a consequence of the collapse of local journalism. When everything is nationalized, no one is going to cover the county fair, they're going to stick someone with a camera and a microphone in front of a shanty town in LA.

Funny thing, I am actually from California and conservative media is no different there. People in the Central Valley think they'll get mugged by a transgender vagrant if they set foot in San Francisco. My grandmother wouldn't even drive through downtown San Jose because she was so convinced that she would be car-jacked at the first red light. And conservative talk shows don't even encourage activism or policies, even though they are in the belly of the beast. They just like to complain about how things aren't the way they used to be. When they take calls from listeners, it is like group therapy. (On the other hand, liberal East Coast journalists are utterly clueless about California and just how culturally and politically diverse it actually is.)

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It is kind of nuts to start in the epicenter of West Coast liberalism, drive a couple hours southeast, and then find yourself in what feels like an exclave of rural Texas.

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You're probably right. I can think of far more people who either stayed behind or tried living in The City for a bit and didn't like it than those who left and stuck the landing.

Your story about the mills sounds like Oregon, where 4/5 of the state, geographically, is in in precipitous decline, crushing poverty and is rife with overdoses, but the state itself is reliably blue and run by Democrats because more people live in the Portland metro area than the rest of the state combined. They basically used the Endangered Species Act to end logging in the state and unemployment went through the roof. They made some attempts at job retraining, but there weren't jobs to train for because they were all in the timber industry. The Democratic Party just shrugged and moved on while the state Republican Party became increasingly radical and powerless at the same time.

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I think this is half right. The Oregon portion of Metro Portland is about half of Oregon's population (Metro Seattle is also about half of Washington's population, although part of the other half is part of Metro Portland). So it's not like the bit city and its suburbs can rule the rest of the state. And Oregon has places outside of Portland like Eugene, Ashland, and Bend that have functional economies and elect Democrats. The Republican Party in any given state becomes more radical the more former Moderate Republicans in the suburbs become Democrats. Washington's Senate Republicans were overall more moderate when they had a narrow majority precisely because they had moderate suburban members. The Democrats took the majority by defeating those suburban moderates.

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I have a similar background. The thing the left really does seem hesitant to confront that is huge back home: China. Using slave labor, running actual concentration camps and when rural people complain the left's answer comes across as "welp, that's the way of the world, better learn to code." Then they see innumerable articles railing against offenses that seem trivial in comparison.

I also think that the point above about Democrats giving up is also key.

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I'm glad you brought this up.

A lot of journalists correctly called "learn to code" harrasment when it was directed at journalists facing negative, structural economic change.

But the truth is journalists situation isn't any different than workers who faced the China Shock. And the liberal answer to that was retraining, education & means tested poverty programs. Basically Learn to Code.

Now the benefits of trade outweighed the costs so I do it over again.

But it isn't strange that the Party made up of members who symbolize this change struggle with those who pay the cost.

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Did the Endangered Species Act really cause the decline of logging? I thought it had much more to do with automation & foreign competition?

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Mechanization is a bigger deal than most people acknowledge. It's convenient to go 90s retro and blame the Spotted Owl, but the reality is it just takes fewer people to operate a sawmill that processes X board feet of lumber than it did a few decades ago. And yes we have stopped logging in some places where we used to log, but a lot of that is an erosion problem (see, e.g., the Oso landslide), and there's still plenty of logging going on in Western Washington and Western Oregon.

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The Spotted Owl was definitely blamed for much more of the decline in logging than it was actually responsible for. Logging was in decline because they had more-or-less picked all of the low-hanging fruit and so they wanted to move into the old-growth forests, but the Spotted Owl ended that, which had disparate regional impacts.

Where I lived, it was a very contentious issue because unemployment really did skyrocket. It was impossible not to see it all around you. I did seasonal work at a local call center during the holiday rush and the intake center was full of casualties of the timber industry from loggers to truckers to mill workers trying to raise extra cash. Others just flat refused to do any work indoors --- a few of my neighbors ended up working several hours away building prisons and other large projects where could live onsite a few months out of the year and work outdoors all day. Others refused to take work that they considered beneath them, especially if it meant working alongside migrant workers. Many strung together odd jobs and did speciality logging, like removing beetle-ridden trees from private property where you can't use heavy machinery.

There was also a lot of anger at the companies that were doing quite well in areas like helicopter logging and other mechanized logging. Plus the usual complaints about cheap lumber from Canada, offshore floating Chinese mills, etc.

I think what happened is that the Spotted Owl became a political wedge because it played into stereotypes about environmentalists and blue-collar workers. Plus, it was really easy to get people in Portland, Salem or Eugene to vote against logging rights, which just further divided the blue and red parts of the state.

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Just to bring some facts in, it does look like oregon forest production has fallen since the 08s, but it's been stable for decades.

https://oregonforests.org/sites/default/files/2019-01/OFRI_2019-20_ForestFacts_WEB.pdf

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One thing I don't think can be overlooked is that the rare Conservatives that young/middle-age graduate professionals interact with are likely to be give them a misleading picture, either by being far right loons, or quietly keeping their more conservative opinions to themselves before going home to vote against a Liberal Orthodoxy they've quietly appeased at work.

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I really don't think Douthat's opinion holds up well now or was even that good at the time. He fails to account for the extreme rightward shift of the Republican Party ever since the Tea Party movement in 2010. It is shocking that John McCain and Mitt Romney became two of the biggest antagonists of Donald Trump, and speaks to the extreme disruption within the conservative political sphere. Meanwhile, for all the talk of Dems becoming extreme, Joe Biden is the new Democratic President-elect. We should also remember that the Democratic nominee has won the popular vote in 7 of the last 8 Presidential elections.

In terms of culture, there has long been a huge array of very conservative right-wing news radio and television - see Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, etc.

Comedians have a long history of political and social criticism - Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, the entire history of Saturday Night Live, etc.

There is a long history of civil rights activism in sports, particularly with Black athletes. A partial list of names: Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Kareem Adul-Jabbar, Curt Flood, Bill Walton, Althea Gibson, Billie Jean King, Craig Hodges, Arthur Ashe, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Carlos Delgado.

Douthat also seems to think that the excesses of left-wing politics led to the Reagan era, which discounts the extreme economic crisis of the 1970s of stagflation. At the time, the ending of the Bretton-Woods system under the Nixon administration seemed like an earth-shattering event, and supply-side economics was popularized in response.

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I wonder if the Substack model is sustainable. I paid $50 to Taibbi first, then $60 or whatever to Sullivan and now $80 to Yglesias. This is not really sustainable for me in addition to the money I pay for Apple News and NYT and WaPo. Has there been any consideration of combining the Substack people into a lower rate or group discounts or something? Yglesias provides content everyday at least and his Substack seems worth the money but I’ve dropped Taibbi already because of the lack of content and am frustrated with Sullivan’s weekly dish for only providing weekly articles at that rate. It’s hard to quit him though.

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I don't think it's a coincidence that The Dispatch and Bulwark+ are two of the top things on Substack — there's a strong economic logic to bundling and I assume more things that are either little magazines or else some other kind of bundle will emerge.

I'm really excited to be here doing this, but I don't particularly think that what we have going on right now at Slow Boring is the be-all and end-all of business models. The Substack platform will, I hope, evolve and our business will evolve with it.

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I'd be interested in your reaction to Kevin Drum's take on Substack (https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2020/11/is-the-substack-revolution-here-to-stay/ ) In particular, his concern about siloing. With more and more things going behind paywalls, there will be more shuttering of opinions and less free flowing of debate and conversation among some of our best thinkers and writers.

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I think this is right. I can’t see how anyone other than the super rich would ever be able to subsidize more than one or two writers.

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I agree. I've subscribed to people on patreon but after their initial excitement, once the content becomes a once a week or every other week thing; it became not worth the money. I appreciate the heavy content Matt is putting out. Easily worth $8 so far.

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I forgot I also donate $5 a month to the local state politics outlet VTDigger.

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They are definitely worth $5!

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WTF... I paid the extra fee. His T-Shirts better be worth it.

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Matt is probably just showing the NY Times what he's capable of without having to conform to Ezra's wants and desires. It's an audition for the big show. :-)

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Well, I’m not sure if this part is a joke, but Ezra isn’t an editor at Vox or in management as far as I know. Everyone just thinks he and Matt are editors because they founded the site. Lauren (the real EIC) just doesn’t tweet enough takes to get hate.

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I commented yesterday that I didn't like the comment system, but I will say, that I do like that you find out who liked your jokes.

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In some ways, as a single writer with an existing following you're almost incentivized to have a higher pricepoint, though, since you can make a very comfortable living off of a hard core of avid readers who will pay for your content, very similarly to Patreon. If you're a broader publication like The Dispatch with a number of employees, you need to operate at scale, which means you need to be aggressive in your pricing. To compare to one of the other top newsletters, Sinocism, that one's run by one guy, Bill Bishop, and goes for $15/month.

I agree that the for-pay model of Substack will likely restrict its ability to supplant existing media ecosystems, but that seems fine! Not everything needs to dramatically remake the entire industry. If this place simply has a Patreon-like effect in enabling a few popular writers to more effectively monetize what's essentially the blogosphere, that's perfectly healthy.

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"Not everything needs to dramatically remake the entire industry."

Holy hell yes, let's just spend 5 minutes enjoying this new content and unchecked platform before we start future-casting Substack as a David against media Goliaths.

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This makes the NYT sound kind of like Google, which heads off disruption by acquihiring anyone who might one day threaten them.

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I don't quite follow --> "But the more that would-be disruptors are in a precarious position, the more tightly people working in the industry cling to ideological fads and groupthink because their employers can’t offer stable career paths or distinct identities." Can you say more?

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There's two arms to it:

One is that if somebody would pay you a good, stable salary to write rigorous, accurate articles that challenge your audience and your colleagues and your peers then you might want to do that. But if you're going to be working for shit pay with no stability regardless of what you do, then why make people mad at you on top of that?

The other, as Tim Lee said here in another reply, is that the bleak economic conditions facing young journalists color their attitude to everything about the American economy and society.

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I think the other side of this is that no-one is going into (or staying in) journalism today for the sake of a stable middle class salary doing unremarkable reporting on the local council. I think at this point you've got to have some strain of a crusader in you, or you're going to go find a job in PR.

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I think it's one step beyond this; people in gaming media get death threats over bad reviews for games that aren't even out yet and very little credit for solid work. Doing sloppy politics gets them more kudos and props than doing their regular job ever did!

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Huh that’s interesting. I honestly do not know much about the gaming world.

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You remember the Gaming world's Gate, tho right?

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I think this actually applies on both sides of the spectrum -- dog-whistling to the reactionary misogyny of gamer-gators is very profitable for certain YouTube and Twitch streamers.

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This feels like you might be talking more specifically about Vox? Does this really apply to the Atlantic or other similar sources?

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He worked at Slate too and they also had a hard time keeping good people John Dickerson moved to CBS

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I think Slate has been impacted by these trends in a very notable way

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I see. Thx!

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The more precarious your situation economically, the more risk-averse you become, disincentivizing articles and takes that might upset a portion of your reader-base. Because the readership of these highly left-leaning digital publications tends to be young and progressive, they will cater to whatever is hot with these folks as opposed to offering a more diverse array of perspectives or carving out a niche that will only be popular with a select portion of the readers.

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I was recently caught up in the US immigration system under Trump, but not as a refugee or asylum seeker. I wrote to several journalists asking why they focus so much on the part of the immigration system that enrages conservatives (but not in those words) and never on situations like mine --- I am American with a foreign-born spouse and children engaging in what some would characterize as chain-migration.

I thought it was an interesting take that might change some minds about how broken the immigration system is and who it affects, since I am definitely not alone. Eventually Mike Pesca wrote to me and said pretty much exactly what you did: the readership of the publications I was writing to wants to hear sob stories about non-white people less fortunate than them that reinforce their hatred of Trump voters, not over-educated American citizens having their lives thrown into turmoil as collateral damage from the incompetent leadership and vindictive policies of USCIS.

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That’s horrible. I’m so sorry you have to deal with such bullshit!

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Gah, when it's put so clearly like that it all just feels so fucking hopeless.

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This exactly. But also I think many reporters are in precarious financial positions with uncertain job prospects. And at the margin this makes them more sympathetic to left-wing arguments that the entire economic system is fundamentally unfair.

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especially since young journalists did everything right based on they were told growing up:

1.) get into a good college

2.) get good grades

3.) volunteer/internships to build up skill-sets

when they find their wages are precarious and that there is a real risk of downward mobility it seems like entire system is awful rather than that they're in an industry facing structural pressures that negatively impact compensation

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reporters are liberal coal miners

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I think it comes up in Silicon Valley a lot too (Thiel talks about it in Zero to One), where smaller start-ups can't compete with the comfort and pay of FANGs, so they have to recruit and retain talent though 'ideas' or intrinsic rewards (like join a team that is focusing on real things like ending aging).

If that's all you have and you never get more revenue/funding, any attempt to broaden or diversify a small group of highly devoted people will end in reducing cohesion.

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The quiet part here is that start-ups *could* compete with the comfort and pay of FANGs if VCs like Thiel let them.

The VC business model can't let start-ups pay well to attract the highest-talent labor like FANGs. A VC firm wins by making as many "okay" investments as possible in broad trends and hoping for big payoffs, rather than picking a few really good investments and working as hard as you can to make them successful. Paying start-up employees a market wage would limit the number of bets a VC can make. Hence the worthless equity lottery tickets and "intrinsic rewards," hype machine in VC-land, etc.

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The bulk of the dollar value in comp from FAANG companies comes from RSUs (company stock). In terms of base pay, once a startup gets past a Series A round they're not dramatically far off from FAANG base pay, at least on the engineering side.

And even if VCs would pay more for the same percentage of a startup, it's not at all clear to me that founders would not simply choose to sell less of the company and get the same amount of cash as they are now.

The big advantage of working at a startup is you have more impact and control over how things are done. At a big company, you're a small cog in a very big machine. At a startup, you personally may be responsible for something that a team of hundreds handles at a Google.

(If you can't tell, I like working at startups).

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As you mention, the base pay comparison is irrelevant, because RSUs can (almost) immediately be exchanged for cash.

The value of options at start-ups is denominated in wishes and magical fairy dust, redeemable for dollars at some indeterminate point in the future after you have probably left, assuming you have the upfront cash to exercise them, pay the tax burden, and that they haven't been diluted by the owners to be nearly worthless. The NPV of equity for the median employee at a start-up in 2020 is approximately $0, and even if you get a 95%-ile payoff of $1M after 10 years, you will likely not have recovered the cash value of RSUs you would have made at a FAANG.

I also love start-ups, but there are three clear winners at start-ups: VCs, founders and very early (first 10) employees, and very late stage employees just before an IPO. Everyone in the middle gets shafted compensation-wise. The best plan for someone talented in tech to have a good time at a start-up is to start at FAANGs, gain yourself a lot of expertise and a big pile of FU money, and strike out on your own as a founder in your late 30s or early 40s, with tons of expertise and connections.

The old "cog in the machine" salt has some truth, but neglects the fact that there are good and bad groups at large companies, and huge quality variations in management at start-ups. It is equally likely that you'll (a) end up at a start-up which has bad, if not illegal, management quality and (b) end up in a bad group at a BigCo as a cog in a machine. At least at the BigCo, they pay market while you look for a new gig.

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Well, it's irrelavent from the point of view of the employee, but not so much from the founder/vc/employee system. In order to provide parity in compensation, all of the comp would have to come in cash and I'm arguing there is no plausible mechanism for that to happen.

Keep in mind too, that FAANGs are substantial outliers in terms of comp because of the value of their stock. Your median software developer is in IT writing glue code to get two horrible off the shelf systems to talk to each other and for them, working at a startup is a substantial step up.

The variance of management at startups is a real thing. The best run place I've ever worked was a startup with a couple founders in their 50s but I'm about to start a new job due almost entirely to an abusive management style from the CEO at my soon to be former employer. My big company time was between those poles, but much closer to the latter than the former.

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Ah thank you, you make excellent points!

You're right, FAANG employees certainly represent the top-k% of the industry in terms of compensation and most start-ups are a step-up from an internal IT shop at your average Fortune 1000.

Your point about the asymmetry of FAANGs having publicly-traded shares to offer vs start-ups only having options is spot-on. I agree this is key to the dilemma start-ups face in competing with FAANG comp. You might even view it as FAANG employees enjoying their share of monopoly rents which command high share prices? That would be an interesting shift from previous monopolies, which mostly inured monopoly rents to the owners (though often the jobs were pretty good too).

Agreed about the management variance -- I would characterize both as having the same mean, but start-ups having higher variance (often the same, but also cases of much better and much worse at the tails). I have enjoyed almost-criminally bad management at a a start-up, stellar management at one FAANG group, which got reorg-ed into bad management, and then merely mediocre cog-in-the-machine management when I transferred. I've also had many friends at start-ups with stellar management, which inevitably regressed to the mean once those companies were acquired by a BigCo.

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Notably, because BigCos have functioning HR and legal departments, the likelihood that you'll suffer straight-up illegal management at start-ups is much higher.

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This was a great read overall, but the section that particularly resonated with me was the one about the problem largely being reporters on other beats writing about politics. As Matt said, these reporters are "untempered by the need to actually cover politics" but they're also untempered by the need to actually understand politics. Case in point, the tweet that made the rounds a couple days ago claiming that all the assistance people got during the pandemic was a $1,200 check was written by a literary critic. I hesitate to post this because it feels somewhat meanspirited, but is it so absurd to want someone to have a somewhat sophisticated understanding of a topic before writing about it for a significant audience?

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That bothers me too. That tweet, and the hundreds more like it I see all the time because I’m friends with a lot of lefty-type people, really bothered me. The reality is bad enough—that UI benefits expired months ago, with no more relief in sight—that we don’t need to pretend it’s worse than it is. But so much of left discourse is predicated on pretending that a bad thing is even worse than it is and, even worse, seeing telling the actual truth about something as a reactionary, pro-Trump act. And the argument always goes like this:

Lefty: “Can you believe the government only gave us $1200 and nothing else?”

Me: “Well, they also gave every unemployed person $2400/month for a few months. That’s actually a lot of money - the median household income actually rose during the first months of the pandemic.”

Lefty: “Well, some people couldn’t access that money because of antiquated state UI systems.”

Me: “Sure, and that’s a problem. It’s also a problem that those UI payments expired months ago with no relief in sight. But it’s just objectively not true that all the government did was give people $1200, which is what you said.”

Lefty: “Why are you defending Trump so much?!?”

Me: 😔

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For another example of not letting facts get in the way of a narrative, check out the interview Matt just did with Walter Isaacson on Amanpour's show.

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I feel like I should clarify for posterity's sake - Matt gave an example of a story he wanted to write but there was some resistance from others because it didn't fit a particular narrative.

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I don't know what tweet you are talking about but I agree with your general point. I think an effective political journalist had a deep understanding of most social sciences (political science, history, sociology, and geography in particular). And the fact of the matter is that this sort of understanding requires an IMMENSE amount of reading. As in you need to be reading at least 1-2 books a week and a couple journal articles. The popular tweeters who spit out "takes" all day that get tens of thousands of likes...well I just simply doubt they all spend their days reading academic books and journals.

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Especially in Sports.

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I don't want to be that "stick to sports" guy but sometimes I just want to read about Juan Soto rather than a sports writer playing epidemiologist or something. I like when the players are outspoken about social issues though.

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I like this onlyfans but I wish there were more pictures.

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I think that the increasing amount of "weirdo" views when you shift the mean to the left is further amplified by the fact that we do a pretty bad job of estimating what other people think. It reminds me of college drinking--college students robustly over-estimate the amount that OTHER people drink on college, because they set their baseline by hearing all of their friends bragging about drinking. In the ideological space, people who have extreme, intemperate, or strident views on particular topics are much more likely to express those views and cause a stir, meaning that most people hear opinions about topics that are extreme, intemperate or strident. So they think, then, that the average view of people is extreme, intemperate and strident.

This is amplified by the fact that American people are so impotent when it comes to actual political action--there's very little that a person can do about Big National Issues, and because of the decline of local news and the unrootedness of coastal elites, most engaged people ignore boring local politics where their attentions and efforts can make a difference. In this context, the actual political work of compromise and programmatic solution-finding is useless--far better and interesting to mark out extreme takes.

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Forgot to post the white paper about college students overestimating their peers' drinking: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3174028/

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The anti-electoralist discourse in games journo is wild these days. I’ve always thought of myself as fairly liberal but in some games journo spaces I feel like I’m completely unprepared to talk about liberal politics because the conversation quite literally revolves around marxist thought. Im not compulsively anti-marxist and Im happy to have a conversation. In fact I find marxism quite interesting. I just find it quite shocking how when I hit my mid 30’s the politics of these spaces has completely turned around me.

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I think this post partly explains why I feel like I'm aging logarithmically. I am on the young end of GenX, which means the age-gap between myself and the people producing a lot of the journalism I consume has inverted. When I was in my 20's, I was reading people 10-20 years my senior, but in my 40's I'm reading people 10-20 years my junior.

I find myself both gravitating towards podcasts hosted by GenXers and being utterly shocked at how young some of the people on, say, The Weeds actually are. It's not that they can't have informed opinions, it's that they talk about the 80's and 90's as things that happened to other people, that they learned about in school, rather than absorbing the wisdom of having lived through them.

There used to be a cutoff age, below which no one cared about your thoughts and opinions. You had to go through some form of apprenticeship and learn the ropes from your elders before being taken seriously. Weirdly, the same thing is happening in my field (science). I am always blown away when I read an article that quotes an "expert" that turn out to be a postdoc (and wrong). But I guess that makes sense if the person writing the article is a 26 year-old.

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This feels the sort of classic psychic injury age inflicts on us rather than anything new or particularly pernicious. A postdoc would historically be cited as an expert within their field of study.

I would gladly rely on Jane Coaston’s take on the battle of Stalingrad despite the fact she wasn’t alive at the time. This does not seem a relevant factor. Likewise, I will trust my (age 36) informed analysis of the Goldwater phenomenon over my father-in-law’s (age 72), whose foundational political experience was knocking on doors for that rear-guard action against modernity.

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To be clear, a PhD candidate or a postdoc is definitely an expert in their niche. What blows me away is when they are cited as broad, knowledgeable experts in an entire field. Epidemiology comes to mind, as of late. I bet the average age of the scientists who debased themselves with their "as a scientist" endorsements of street protests during a pandemic was 30. Older, wiser scientists are more concerned about the long-term damage to science, as an institution and, I think, are less likely to speak as an expert when there aren't data or a scientific consensus. They (as I was) would be more likely to express their opinion as an individual, a civilian, as it were.

When I was a postdoc (in a high-profile lab at a name-brand university), it was incredibly rare for someone to get the kind of exposure in the mainstream media that seems much more commonplace now. Someone once had like 15 seconds on Science Friday and the whole lab was excited. Now social media engagement is taken into consideration in tenure decisions. It's a different world with much younger voices in it.

I wasn't suggesting that any random old person is more credible or interesting than a smart, knowledgeable person like Coaston. What I mean is that, a professional journalist in their 50's has decades more lived experience to draw on when commenting on current events; book knowledge is no substitute for wisdom. And I'm also not saying that it is a bad thing. I like hearing the opinions of young people who are often less complacent and defeatist, but I don't want older voices to be pushed out, which is exactly what seems to be happening. It's not good when older, wiser, more established people flee newsrooms for Substack because entitled young people get upset when their every whim isn't catered to. And I think that is a real thing. They seem to have internalized the idea that the Internet has obviated gatekeepers and that this is an unvarnished good with no downsides.

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Hey, thoughtful reply, and I appreciate it. I don’t have a lot of time to respond, but a few notes:

1) re: the cultivation of wisdom and experience in journalism, I think a lot of younger people cite that perspective as rightly describing institutional capture, which gives rise to a bunch of the both-sides narratives we’re all so frustrated by. Don’t you agree? I don’t think that’sa nail in the coffin of your view, but it’s a fair point.

2) I’m not super up on the epidemiology, but hasn’t it been shown, at least preliminarily, that large outdoor protests haven’t substantially added to COVID spikes?

3) Counter to all of this is Mr. Yglesias’ point that the NYTimes’ long-tooths still carry a lot of sway.

4) social media engagement does seem, on some level as worthwhile a consideration for a communications-based approach (like what Dawkins and Sagan once held, I believe) as publication records and conference attendance, right? Obviously if what you’re doing is, like, AdS/CFT deep in the depths of your labs, you’re not gonna have a ton of RTs on your current QV hot takes, but, like, Twitter is a version of the public square, and if you can gin up a following, that could be perceived by the university as a value-add.

Thanks.

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1. Certainly it is a form of institutional capture, but I don't see that argument being made in venues (like social media) that are overwhelmingly populated by young people. When I was young, it really chapped my hide that I had to "wait my turn" because the old people said so. Now that I'm aging into the grumpier, older crowd, it makes sense to me to have older, more experienced people as gatekeepers.

2. What I specifically object to was a group of scientists who, at the onset of the protests, ran around saying that social justice was more important than physical distancing --- which I completely agree with --- but wrote in their capacity as scientists. At the time, there were no reliable data one way or the other and, in invoking "as scientists" they contributed to the further politicization of science and, because there were no data to back up their assertions, played right into the paranoia of the right. I don't think the public at-large fully understands how precarious funding for scientific research really is. There are right-wing politicians itching to axe the NSF and NIH and perennial bills trying to insert politicians into the grant review process. I have no evidence to back this up, but my feeling is that young scientists are more likely to make careless statements and use their credibility as scientists because they haven't yet been dragged through the funding system or seen a colleague's career impaled up close.

3. I hope that is true because finding stable sources of insightful opinions and interesting news is becoming a game of whack-a-mole (RIP Vox).

4. Well, here I am particularly grumpy because the push to social media engagement is couched as "outreach and societal benefit" and I am a physical scientist who does basic research (read: too esoteric for public consumption). There is a self-reinforcing trend where politicians insert themselves into funding and then start demanding "accountability for taxpayer money", which diverts funding towards applied science and further turns academic research into a publicly-funded arm of Industry, which politicians then hold up as success and use to demand further involvement. Research that garners retweets perpetuates the notion that the goal of science is to produce technology, when technology is just a natural consequence of scientific discovery, which is far more stochastic than it appears when looking backwards at breakthroughs. Trying to direct us towards industrially-relevant problems or improvements to existing technology just creates inefficiency and hinders progress, as everyone rushes into crowded fields that get a lot of likes on social media. Now everything has to be open-access and we are pushed to get on social media (including quotas for posts, likes, etc.), which then feeds the whole Dunning-Kruger effect feedback loop and, before you know it, a bunch of climate deniers pour over internal emails and say "ah-hah, you're manipulating data!" because two scientists are debating over the most effective way to visualize their data. Young people, however, are far, far, far less skeptical than I am and---again I have no evidence to back this up---are prone to value subscriptions on their YouTube channel more than citations.

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The objection I'd make to point 4. is that while I don't disagree with the basic unpredictability of what research will end up having applications, it's hard to distinguish this from "just give us the money and don't ask questions, which isn't a reasonable approach to the public purse.

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Agree to disagree : )

"Just give us money and don't ask questions" was the funding model for decades. It was part of the "infinite horizon" approach to science during the Cold War where the government basically trusted scientists to figure out how to disperse funds (via peer-review and whatnot) and leaned into certain areas that looked promising for defense (e.g., via DARPA white papers). That system produced the white male hegemony that is physical science, so it wasn't perfect, but it was also commensurate with the explosion in technology in the second half of the 20th century.

Scientists have historically been very good at self-regulating in terms of downstream technological benefit. I think that is a function of the scientific method, but I am an idealist in that respect. What I see now is inefficiency and waste in redundant, me-too research because funding is now tied to ever-shifting metrics that drive everyone into crowded fields at the expense of curiosity-driven research. Social media is just another (stupid) metric that creates all kinds of perverse incentives and unintended consequences (just like citations metrics and impact factors).

Consider universities that want to offer high-quality education in analytical chemistry, which produces the most employable type of chemist. It has become so difficult to build an academic career in analytical chemistry that departments have to hire full-time teaching faculty to serve what should be the core mission of any STEM department --- training highly employable graduates. While teaching faculty are great, they will never be able to train students in cutting-edge research because they don't have labs that do it. Instead, funding is flowing towards fields deemed important vis-a-vis the "public purse", which effectively means whatever the most influential industries want. (Right now that is biotech and silicon valley.)

Funding priories and who influences them is, of course, way too complicated and mixed up in labor, immigration, geopolitics, etc. to give proper treatment in a Substack comment, but I really do believe that "give us money and don't ask questions" is the right model for the US because it (still) has the best university system in the world that is (still) a magnet for excellent scientists from all over.

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What sort of research do you do, if you don’t mind my asking?

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Charge-transport through organic molecules, e.g., for photovoltaics, neuromorphic computing, etc. but it’s more fundamental than it sounds.

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*communications-based post

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> Epidemiology comes to mind, as of late. I bet the average age of the scientists who debased themselves with their "as a scientist" endorsements of street protests during a pandemic was 30.

Although I’m not an epidemiologist I did try to get my information from the best sources available (ie Asia and @zeynep) and it seemed like street protests both appeared to be fine and have since turned out to actually be fine. Basically, outdoor activities done in daylight are safe with simple precautions.

Experts in the US have been consistently embarrassing themselves with recommendations for sure, but as Matt has said, the worst ones are telling people to go out and shop while keeping schools closed. And telling people not to wear face masks because doctors believe “no evidence to do something” means “well, better yell at anyone who tries to do it then”.

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Just driveby replying to say I already miss Jane. The midwest over-representation on The Weeds (Jane and Dara) was greatly appreciated.

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Same

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I probably wouldn't gladly rely on Jane Coaston's take on the battle of Stalingrad since she's not a historian of WWII (unless I'm missing something about her coverage)! But you're quite right about age itself not being a particularly salient issue.

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She did her undergrad thesis on the topic, but no, I probably wouldn’t charge ahead into a debate w an historian on the topic equipped only w her say-so, but I think for the purpose of attaining a competent gloss you could probably rely on her.

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Interesting! The more you know.

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A problem that I've noticed is that the nature of these disputes about PC / wokeness pushes people who are critical of the biases of the young/urban/educated bubble to become professional critics of wokeness who don't write about much else.

There *is* a paying audience for anti-woke writing, and mainstream journalists (on Twitter especially) will hound them for it so much that if they persist in writing pieces that get them in trouble they become unemployable at mainstream institutions. From the outside this seems to be what happened to Jesse Signal. You admirably write about many other subjects besides the bubble but obviously you're feeling the same kind of pressure.

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This has long been an issue for conservative writers and policy folks as well-- there's an outlet for it if you want to do it, but then it's much harder for you to do anything else. Even in college, there's this robust network that wants you and isn't incredibly selective, but then it's on your resume and you can get pigeonholed.

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That's very true, but what I have in mind are writers known above all for denouncing political correctness or the "bubble."

They run a large gamut from the Trump-y right (no examples needed) to the never-Trump right (Andrew Sullivan, Bret Stephens) to the strongly-anti-Trump center-left (Bari Weiss et al., Jon Chait) to the regular left (Yglesias is here) to the far left (Greenwald, Tabbi, Jacobin).

Lots of these people write about things besides political correctness but media / social media dynamics make it so that if you poke this issue you can maybe make money (sometimes a lot!) as a professional critic of wokeness, but it is hard to have a normal career. Twitter helps you see regular reporters getting pushed to stay in line. As a small example, I remember Dave Weigel getting badgered into an apology for tweeting that Trump's rhetoric on LGBTQ issues was from Bush's. This drove me nuts: I'm a gay man who remembers the 2000s. Things are very different today and you can't memory-hole that you want to understand LGBTQ politics!

(I'm probably a bad influence consumer as I'm a liberal academic who pays disproportionate attention to these gossipy media squabbles, but they get my attention because the same dynamic plays out in my own world.)

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