More Thoughts on Teixeira’s Move to AEI

From the Politico piece on Run Teixeira’s exit from the Center for American Progress (CAP) and move to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) that was mentioned several times on the site yesterday:

Whether it’s Teixeira’s fault for being oversensitive to “this endless talk about equity, anti-racism, and so on” or CAP’s fault for so frustrating a quirky lefty that he flew the coop, it’s undoubtedly a sad thing for liberalism than a prominent institution no longer feels like home for the guy.

While I fully understand the desire to make this into a “the wokes did it” story about ideological struggles in American politics, I am struck by an alternative hypothesis.

It goes like this: Teixeira has worked at CAP for roughly two decades and like anyone who has worked at the same place for a long time he acquired enough frustration that he wants some new surroundings (and some new things to be annoyed about, as opposed to the older things that are annoying him–which is ultimately all that happens when you switch jobs: you swap out existing annoyances for new ones and you buy some time wherein you are ignorant of what those new annoyances will be).

One suspects, too, that there are conditions as they pertain to both money and workload that are relevant here (but are less sexy than blaming the wokes). As such, while it is clear that Teixeira (based on quotes in these pieces) is frustrated with the focus of his colleagues at CAP on topics less likely to be on the table at AEI, perhaps we ought not make this into something more than a guy changing jobs.

It is worth noting that Teixeira has worked on Brookings-AEI projects in the past and one suspects the world of elite think tanks is a relatively small one, so the notion that frustration led to conversation that led to a job offer is not hard to conjure.

Further, as the Politico piece notes: this is really about AEI trying to find its place in the post-Trump conservative universe. And it fits the existing media narrative about how the progressives are beaking the Democratic Party the same way MAGA is breaking the GOP, because, you know, both side and all…

Bottom line is that Teixeira made a decision that moving to AEI will allow him to do the work he wants to do, and AEI is trying to rebrand itself into a more heterodox think thank.


Note: my point here is less taking a side in the wokes v. social democrats part of this debate as much as it is pointing out how existing narratives make these stories into far more than they actually are. And, of course, Teixeira has a point of view about his former employer, don’t most people who have left a job have their own story about why they left, and aren’t they normally the hero of said tale?

The post More Thoughts on Teixeira’s Move to AEI first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

Democracy Dies in Dumbness

Poynter has published an essay from Tara McGowan, founder of Good Information Inc., with the subhed, “Paywalls bolster news organizations’ bottom lines, but leave Americans in the dark. As a public service, let everyone read election stories for free.”

Much has already been said, tweeted and complained about The Washington Post’s tagline, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” that was unveiled at the start of the Trump administration. It’s harsh, foreboding and alarming. But it’s also true. When people don’t know the facts, a government of the people is impossible.

So then why do the Post and many other legacy news publishers leave so many Americans in the dark?

See, if you want to read a Post article, including this one about how they came up with the tagline back in 2017, you might be blocked by a paywall. Big Tech giants like Facebook and Google are gorging on the advertising revenue that once sustained news organizations, so the publications have tightened access to their products to get people to pay for it through subscriptions. While that strategy has helped bolster news organizations’ bottom lines at a time when a healthy free press is sorely needed, it has also had the dangerous side effect of leaving the vast majority of Americans in the dark.

The answer to the Why is rather obvious: it’s really expensive to run a news operation. The Washington Post is a prestige outlet, so young journalists are willing to work there at something of a discount. But it’s really expensive to live in DC, New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago—the cities where our best newspapers are published—so there’s only so little they can accept. More senior reporters, editors, publishers, and the like command more money. And that’s to say nothing of the expenses of actually gathering the news. Or printing a newspaper, running websites, and keeping the lights on. The Washington Post is a major undertaking. There’s only so much even a Jeff Bezos is going to be willing to lose operating it.

I often refer to people who don’t pay for news as “passive” news consumers. That doesn’t suggest a moral failing on their part. It just means they’re simply consuming the news that comes to them through their daily scrolling of social media feeds, email inboxes and conversations with people they trust.

American news consumers fall into three groups today: a small lobbying class that can afford thousands of dollars in news-analysis subscriptions like Politico Pro; a larger but still very limited group that will pay to get behind paywalls; and by far the largest group of Americans — those who will not or cannot pay for their news.

So, I’m in the middle group. I pay for monthly access to the NYT, WSJ,* the Atlantic, and various niche sites. I’d pay for WaPo as well but I’m eligible for a free subscription thanks to a .mil email address. (It used to be free with a .edu, which I also have, but that was discontinued long ago.) I’d pay for LAT if it were cheap enough but it doesn’t provide enough unique content to justify it otherwise.

But here’s the thing: outside of a few short years beginning in the late aughts, I’ve always paid for daily news reporting. I had a NYT paper subscription as an undergrad. As an Army officer, I paid for daily copies of Stars and Stripes, usually by putting a quarter into a newsbox. As a grad student, I paid for both the NYT and the Tuscaloosa News. As I moved around, I paid for the Chattanooga Free Press, the Bainbridge (Georgia) Post-Searchlight, and WaPo. At some point during my blogging career, I stopped taking the print edition of WaPo and just relying on free access to the various newspaper websites. (And there was never I time, going back to my high school days, when I wasn’t subscribing to at least a couple of magazines.)

Was I a bit miffed when paywalls started going up? Sure. I had gotten accustomed to getting all the content I wanted for free. And early attempts to put up paywalls at NYT and elsewhere failed because some other outlet would simply “re-report” any stories they broke. Eventually, though, the sheer necessity of figuring out a way to make the businesses profitable forced just everybody worth reading behind a paywall.

Does it suck for those unable or unwilling to pay? Sure. But, again, until 20 years ago, the notion that you could get the local newspaper—much less NYT, WaPo, and WSJ—for free would have been absurd. And 25 years ago, it was damned near impossible to get the great national papers on the same day they came out at any price. (NYT tended to have arrangements to deliver copies to locked containers at various universities, maybe just in the eastern part of the country.)

Further, the amount of still-free news that exists today would have been unimaginable back then. Google News, YahooNews, CNN, and NPR alone provide enough to keep most people reasonably informed. And that’s to say nothing of CNN and NPR’s broadcast outlets.

Passive consumers may have faith that good, accurate news about the world and their own communities will somehow find them. But with few exceptions, they’re wrong about that. Increasingly, the fact-based news that’s necessary for a pro-democracy citizenry is behind a paywall. On social media, passive consumers are more likely to see propaganda that capitalizes on the ways information is distributed there. Biased algorithms reward salacious and emotionally charged content — often favoring right-leaning messaging that is outright false. Platforms could turn off these algorithms with a click, but we know that they won’t — because disinformation is their business model.

So, if you’re getting your news primarily from your Facebook feed, you’re simply not interested in being a contributing member of society. And it wouldn’t matter if Steve Inskeep personally knocked on your door offering to give you a briefing; you’re just not going to listen.

McGowan disagrees.

We don’t have to accept this. News organizations can take their own actions right now to channel their pro-democracy mission statements into action, get good information to the people who need it most, and slow the spread of disinformation. Here are some ways:

Make 2022 election coverage free.

Most news outlets with paywalls have a policy to offer certain news stories for free when the story is of overriding public importance. They did just that in the early days of the pandemic. The future of our democracy is a critical enough issue to fall under that policy, isn’t it? And publishers should realize that dropping the paywall for election news is not economic suicide. In fact, most local news outlets saw an increase in subscriptions at the start of the pandemic even though they made their coronavirus stories free. Why? Because their coverage reminded consumers that they were a valuable product for the long term.

So, while the pandemic was far and away the most pressing story of 2020—people were literally dying—it wasn’t the only story. People were still willing to pay to get access to other news. If the papers give away politics coverage—the bread and butter of national outlets—there’s essentially nothing left. What are people going to pay for? Wordles? Recipes?

Create a pro-democracy underwriting program.

If news outlets are worried that they’ll lose money by making their most click-worthy political content free, they should find corporate sponsors for that content. This would be the kind of image marketing that works for many companies today. Many corporations are being called out for funding pro-insurrection candidates. Surely there are corporations out there that would want to be on a list of businesses that support democracy by bolstering a free press.

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

News outlets have spent the last two decades plus trying to replace the advertising model. If there were good samaritan corporations out there interested in funding news coverage, don’t you think they’d have been found by now?

Now, I’m sure there are companies out there who would be willing to sponsor certain categories of content so long as they had editorial control over it. But, rather obviously, that’s counter to McGowan’s goal.

Team up to spread free, reliable information.

An encouraging trend in U.S. journalism is collaboration among news organizations. Often a for-profit outlet teams up with a nonprofit newsroom, or multiple nonprofit news outlets get together on a project to lift up under-covered stories and voices, or reach new audiences. In either case, the stories they collaborate on are often available for free online. This growing trend toward mission-first and nonprofit news must be supercharged by people who have the money to make a difference.

Good luck with that. Bezos bought the Post, which I believe remains a top-notch newspaper. But many are understandably leery that coverage of Amazon’s many businesses is more timid than it would otherwise be.

And, again, if there were a lot of billionaires out there itching to provide great journalism for free, don’t you think they’d have announced themselves? They tend not to be a timid lot.

Stop writing for the elite.

Even with historic turnout records in 2018 and 2020, more than half of eligible voters didn’t cast ballots. One reason: The vast majority of political news coverage is written for elites. Most Americans don’t care about electoral horse races or legislative sausage-making. That style of reporting actually exacerbates Americans’ distaste for and mistrust of our government and the media. Effective reporting informs people about decisions that impact their families, who makes those decisions, and what motivates those decisions. And because humans are the way that they are, the most effective method to inform people is through storytelling. Put everyday people — not senators — at the center of stories. (Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan has great advice on this.)

So, first off, 66.9% of the voting-eligible population voted in the 2020 election—the highest total on record. The lowest turnouts in recent times were in 1996 and 1988—before paywalls, or even the World Wide Web—were a thing.

Second, while the critique of horserace politics is as valid as it is longstanding, there’s a reason why it continues to dominate: the kind of people who read about politics in the 45 months of the 48-month presidential cycle that 85% of the country tunes out are very interested in it. You and I, reader of a politics blog in July of an off-year cycle, are among them. We happen to be the kind of people who fit into McGowan’s second category: non-passive news consumers willing to pay to keep the lights on at newspapers.

I also consume sports (mostly Crimson Tide and Dallas Cowboys football) coverage year-round, even during the very long offseasons when there’s very little news. I always laugh when people who not only pay to subscribe to sites like The Athletic but participate in its message boards bitch that the sportswriters are offering speculation about the upcoming season in June when, after all, the games will play out in the fall. I mean, what the hell else are they supposed to write about from February through August?

Politics, obviously, offers more real news than football because there’s no offseason. But coverage of, say, Build Back Better is very inside-baseball and of very little news to any but the wonkiest policy wonk. So, it becomes a soap opera about the latest drama involving Joe Manchin because that provides characters and a plotline.

Go where non-subscribing Americans are.

When it comes to news media, the old adage “if you build it they will come” is not only irrelevant, but dangerously out of touch. To reach specific groups of people, you need to show up where they spend their time. Concise and direct presentation is vital. We founded Courier Newsroom in 2019 to provide passive consumers with fact-based journalism from a progressive perspective. We proactively find and target these audiences because social algorithms will simply not do that for us, and all of our original reporting is available to them for free where they get their information online.

One strategy that news outlets can deploy immediately is to boost their content directly to specific new audiences through targeted ad spends on platforms like Facebook and Google, using third-party data or their own targeting capabilities — the same way their marketing teams are targeting likely paying subscribers to grow their audiences and bottom lines.

I lack the technical know-how to evaluate this suggestion. I push out OTB content to Twitter and used to do the same to Facebook before they blocked auto-posting.

But the obvious question arises: Courier Newsroom has been doing this since 2019. Why is there still a problem to be solved? Clearly, all the progressive news that’s fit to print has now been absorbed by the great unwashed masses. Right?

Another approach is to build new capacity in newsrooms to identify the digital spaces where under-reached audiences spend their time and to share content through existing trusted messengers to these communities. The key is to go where they are, and make the information as accessible as possible. Think Instagram carousels and TikTok videos, not 2,000-word stories or clickbaity headlines. The Post’s investment in TikTok and relatively new approach to sharing headline graphics on Instagram is worth emulating.

So . . . and I’m just spitballin’ here . . . what if this solution actually just reinforces the problem?

Look,, there’s simply no shortage of news out there. I can get all of the politics I want from NPR, BBC, Reuters, and numerous other high-quality, low-bias websites. There’s a near-infinite supply of high-quality podcasts out there. All for free, sometimes without even having to fast forward past the ads.

If you’re not willing to read 2000-word stories or listen to a 45-minute podcast and are getting your news from fucking TikTok and Instagram, you’re a goddamn simpleton who should not be allowed to leave your home, much less help decide who our next President is. We really, really, really, should not encourage more people to join their ranks.

I’ve long advocated some sort of universal subscription service, much like we have for music and video content, that allows people to pay for access to a wide range of content rather than having to pay for individual access to multiple papers. Few people, indeed, can justify paying for both WaPo and NYT, let alone a half dozen papers; there’s just too much overlap. But most of us would like to have unfettered access to them all and be willing to pay some sort of tiered rate.

________________

*WSJ is a great paper but I’d never been willing to pay its premium subscription rate. A few months back, they were offering it for something like $3 or $4 a month for the first year. I’ll likely cancel after that unless I can get a similar discount.

The post Democracy Dies in Dumbness first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

Texas and Arizona Bussing Migrants to DC and NYC

Yesterday afternoon, I saw a headline like this one from POLITICO: “Pentagon denies DC request for National Guard migrant help” and didn’t think much about it. The National Capitol Region has lot of migrants from Latin America and elsewhere and it’s not really something the Pentagon is supposed to deal with.

This morning, though, I got the backstory from NPR and it’s shockingly insidious: “GOP governors sent buses of migrants to D.C. — with no plan for what came next.”

For months now, the governors of Texas and Arizona have been sending charter buses full of migrants and refugees to Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, just a few blocks from the Capitol building.

When they disembark, they find neither the local nor federal government there to meet them.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says he started sending the buses to D.C. because the Biden administration attempted to lift the pandemic-era emergency Title 42 order that allowed the U.S. to deny migrants entry.

According to Abbott’s office, more than 6,100 migrants have been bused to D.C. from Texas alone. They arrive six days a week, as early as 6 a.m. and as late as 11 p.m. — sometimes multiple buses each day.

In response, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says this is a federal issue that demands a federal answer. She and other local government officials secured a FEMA grant in June for an international nonprofit to offer emergency services to migrants.

So far, only local volunteers and nonprofit staff have greeted these buses at Union Station. Abel Nuñez is head of CARECEN, the Central American Resource Center, which stepped in to help people being bussed to D.C. when this all started.

“It was really crazy because they were just leaving them on the street,” said Nuñez, who first showed up at the station on April 16 after getting a tip from the D.C. Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs that a bus was on its way.

“We knew it was on its way so we were there since 5 a.m. just waiting for them along with mutual aid organizations,” he said, adding that the first bus didn’t arrive till 8 a.m. “And it was incredible how shell-shocked these people were coming out of the buses.”

The organization soon learned that the migrants had been let out of immigration detention centers at the border and spent very little time — sometimes less than a day — at a shelter or nonprofit at the border before being put on the bus for a 36-hour journey.

Last week, Mayor Bowser requested that the federal government deploy D.C.’s National Guard to support the nonprofit staff helping migrants.

The federal government would have to call up the D.C. National Guard because the district isn’t a state, but it has not done so. Additionally, some volunteers disagree with what they call a “militarized response” to the humanitarian crisis.

“The governor of Texas has pushed the respite work up to D.C. We’re not a border town so we are not used to doing this type of work,” Nuñez said. His organization has been helping migrants getting off the bus with meals, hygiene kits and a safe place to rest.

“For them, it was just a free ride,” Nuñez said. “They didn’t really have any other options and were offered a bus to the East Coast — Washington, D.C. — which some of them understood was closer to their final destination … so they were happy.”

But he added that with only local volunteers and nonprofit staff greeting the buses, and with no government support to greet them, the migrants were confused at the disorder that they found once they got to D.C.

Illegal immigration along our southern border has been a problem as long as I can remember, which is a pretty long time. We haven’t been able to control access and don’t have the resources to patrol a 2000-mile border with a developing nation that itself is much more prosperous that the states to its south. And, no, it’s not at all reasonable that Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico have to bear the brunt of the burden of dealing with the situation.

But, holy hell, putting people who don’t speak English and have no money on a one-way bus to a city that’s not prepared for them is criminal. (Apparently, Abbott is also sending some migrants to New York City.) This is taking “owing the libs” to a whole new level.

This is even worse than the policy that surfaced a few years back wherein mayors of multiple cities were offering free bus tickets to the homeless to get them to relocate elsewhere. At least there the people had a choice and, indeed, might have wound up in a better situation.

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