TRONC! Today is a TRONC Day. TRONC Today. TRONC Forever.

It’s somehow completely slipped this blog’s mind to talk about the Tribune Company rebranding itself as TRONC: Tribune Online Content. I don’t think I really wanted to think about it, or believe it, for while the Tribune has frequently lost its damn mind, I still wanted it to be, you know, a newspaper. But we are not! We are TRONC. TRONC. Say it loud and there’s music playing. Say it soft, and it’s almost like a robot staring unblinkingly at you while it dispassionately burns down your house.

How bad is it? Well, if you didn’t think it could get any worse than establishing itself as a “content curation and monetization engine”, then you haven’t been paying attention to the present. As Verge reported the other day, “the leaders of the Tronc empire unveiled phase two of their plan: the gradual transformation of the company into a series of video embeds.”

Does that not sound terrible? Then you haven’t watched the video.

 

Luxuriate in this hideousness. “The future of journalism. The future of content.” These two bloodless technobabblers are the vampiric  avatars of a joyless future. “Harness the power of local journalism. Feed it into a funnel. And then optimize it to reach the broadest global audience.” Sounds great! Except that it means “what’s trending on Reddit now? Trouble in Palestine? Waukesha? Nah, it’s a dog on a tricycle!”

Or, as The Verge puts it (and really, read their piece: it’s perfect).

The basic idea here is that Tronc will syndicate articles and videos across its properties. Which is fine! But there’s not much money in text, and so Tronc is leaning hard into video. Today, 16 percent of the company’s articles include an embedded video; that number will more than double to 50 percent next year. But what if the article I just wrote doesn’t make sense as a video, you might ask? Congratulations! You’ve just been laid off.

Look, it’s a different market. Video is important. We watch video, and it makes a profit. I totally get that. But the trick is not to gear journalism around video; it’s to make the video relevant to journalism. That’s what we’re losing. In a rush to be viral, to make every story “Seth Meyers CRUSHES Trump”, we lose something.

Basically, it’s this. At the end, the nice lady from the grimmest of all possible futures says, boldly, without any embarrassment, “We’re a content company. First. Last. And always.” Content. Content. In my day job, I am a “Senior Content Developer”, B2B and B2C. I work hard and try to write interesting articles, that help our clients but are also readable and engaging, and hopefully in which you can learn something. I try to do my best. But I know what content is. It’s marketing, plain and simple. To reduce everything to “content” is to erase what journalism is. To transform the Tribune papers, which include the excellent LA Times, is to damage our civic knowledge, our democracy, and probably our intelligence.

Luckily, it seems that other papers are trying to embrace the new world differently, letting Facebook be the guardian. It isn’t ideal, but it allows for journalism. TRONC is a way around that, trying to beat the reductors at their own game. Goddamn, I hope it fails.

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Waukesha Gets Its Water

lake_michigan_sunrise

A Great Lakes sunrise for Waukesha. Image from North Country Public Radio

Previous Waukesha posts:

Governors from the eight Great Lakes states agreed Tuesday to allow a Wisconsin city to start pumping millions of gallons a day from Lake Michigan, marking the largest diversion of water from the lakes since Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago River in 1900.

The unanimous decision favoring Waukesha, a Milwaukee suburb of 70,000 about 17 miles west of the lake, is the first test of a 2008 legal compact intended to prevent thirsty communities or countries outside the Great Lakes region from dipping into the world’s largest source of fresh surface water.

Chicago Tribune

There are two ways to look at this: one is that it is a disaster, a slippery slope, a sluice suddenly opened that’ll eventually compromise the Great Lakes. The other way to look at it is that it showed the Compact, essentially works. The Compact does have allowances, and Waukesha has possibly the strongest possible case: straddling the Basin, poisonous waters, a plan to divert 100% of the water back into the Lakes, etc. And yet they still spent years and years and millions of dollars trying to get the exemption, and their plan was shrunk and compromised. If a city with the best-case scenario for application can barely get it, what chance does Arizona have?

And yet, the flip side of this is that you always start with the easy one. Now don’t get me wrong; I don’t think there is some conspiracy here. But I do worry greatly about water, and the desire to privatize it, and anything that makes it easier to do so can be troublesome. Do you really trust Rick Snyder with your water?

For the most part, protecting the Great Lakes has had a surprising amount of bipartisan support for conservation. Being angry at environmentalists usually stops when it is your resources on the line, and the Lakes are one of America’s great treasures. It’s why staunch conservatives like Tommy Thompson were eagerly behind it. I worry about the new breed, though, who see it as a mission to put everything public in private hands. That Minnesota governor Mark Dayton approved, given the conditions, makes me feel better, but Walker, Rauner, Snyder, et all (including Cuomo) is worrisome. Approving the diversion might be right, and might be essentially apolitcial (it is supposed to be), but given the attempt to parcel off water to the highest bidder, caution is required. I do think Republicans of good faith want to protect the Lakes. I don’t trust those who believe the free market can do it on its own.

Given the need for vigilance, it is disheartening to see that neither the Times nor the Post saw fit to cover this. I know we’re just the Midwest, but this is actually a huge story.

Speaking of, I am working on a much longer non-blog piece about the diversion. If you are a publisher, or know any, and would be interested, drop me a line. Thanks!

Anti-Safety-Net Conservatives: Never Not Wrong

 

Lousy troublemaking veterans. Image from Chicago Tribune. 

In the Times morning brief, they always have a neat little “behind the news” section, called the “Back Story” pinned to a headline or an anniversary. I usually enjoy it, today more so than others. It starts with commemorations of WWI centennials (the 100th anniversary of the Somme starts in July), and mentions how the US is erecting a WWI memorial in Washington soon. We’re reminded that Great War vets had to march bloodily on Washington to demand rights, and how, to avoid a repeat of that, Roosevelt pushed the GI Bill, one of the great creators of equality in America, and one that, with the bracing comfort of Time, we assume was always universally loved. 

 

Right?

The G.I. Bill gave veterans low-interest loans to buy a home, farm or business; 52 weeks of unemployment insurance; job placement services; and up to four years of federal aid for learning.

When the legislation was introduced in Congress in January 1944, some lawmakers argued that the unemployment insurance would encourage veterans not to work. Others worried about the introduction of battle-hardened men to universities, at the time bastions of the rich.

Ignoring the predictable toffish bigotry of the latter (I’m sure the men of Harvard weren’t funding research into shellshock to mitigate war’s cruelty), doesn’t the first argument sound pretty familiar? It’s the battle cry of every conservative when faced with a program that might make people’s lives less miserable, that might protect them from the bitterness of the market. The “argument” that having basic protections will make people lazy, and is somehow antithetical to the magical free market, is still in play. It was for welfare, for Medicaid, for Medicare, and for Social Security. The argument carried into the Clintonian 90s, when welfare was slashed, to prevent lazy people from stealing from the rich.

Actually, don’t ignore the 2nd argument, because while I am sure it was also being made by ostensible liberals, or at least Wilsonian liberals, it is inherently conservative. These are “others”, the ones who are stealing from the makers so that they can be lazy, whether they are Jim Crowed blacks or brutish doughboys. One will note that the “guaranteed income makes you lazy” trope isn’t employed when it comes to the estate tax, but that’s because the worldview is that certain people are owed great fortune, and others should make do with a pittance. It’s basically mean, in the truest sense: small and base and vile, reducing any humans who aren’t us to gravel on the road. You see it in Scott Walker’s attempted evisceration of the Wisconsin Idea (in which the role of the university system becomes  “develop(ing) human resources to meet the state’s workforce needs.”).  And you see it in the Trump campaign, built on a snarling anger against everyone else, an anger all the more dangerous because it transcends class, and makes race the defining feature. It is a class-based argument as well, but one that says “you could be rich if it wasn’t for the others.”

That’s the thing about these arguments: they are always wrong. The GI Bill was one of the great achievements of the 20th-century. Social Security helps prevent the immiseration of the elderly. Welfare is a needed shield. The people arguing against them are always wrong, and are never arguing in good faith, but are preaching a twisted faith from a gilded altar in front of a bloody and charred sacristry.