More on my fiction writing

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August 24, 2016


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Rogue and Joel Kotkin (at don’t agree on much of anything, but on this issue you do. He writes:

This is largely not the case today. As numerous scholars including Robert Gordon have pointed out, the new social-media based technologies have had little positive impact on economic productivity, now growing at far lower rates than during past industrial booms, including the 1990s internet revolution…..

One reason may be the nature of “social media,” which is largely a replacement for technology that already exists, or in many cases, is simply a diversion, even a source oftime-wasting addiction for many. Having millions of millennials spend endless hours on Facebook is no more valuable than binging on television shows, except that TV actually employs people…..

At their best, the social media firms have supplanted the old advertising model, essentially undermining the old agencies and archaic forms like newspapers, books, and magazines. But overall information employment has barely increased. It’s up 70,000 jobs since 2010, but this is after losing 700,000 jobs in the first decade of the 21st century…..

(note: I was unable to click through to the 700,000 link, but it’s the Harvard Business Review so I guess the number as legit…even if I don’t know exactly what entails “information employment”)

44 percent of Americans get thier news on Facebook.

Part of the "you're buggy whip makers" ignores the fact that there was often real comradeship on those "workroom floors." That's what those photos say to me.

In a weird bit of association, I see a connection with the long-gone human-scale downtown of Phoenix's past. It's in the face-to-face, eye-to-eye, close-quarters physicality that engenders real human contact and visceral emotions.

Humans are social animals. In our digitized age, I think we've lost a great deal of our life-force, and have traded it for something more...soulless.

Something virtual has been gained at the cost of something actual and real.

Computers and chips speed up our lives, and I think they make many believe everything should be fast-forward.

I think much of that is a huge stressor on our lives. Too many people think they can have it all yesterday. How many people even know what the KISS principle is? Or the accompanying, "the more you have, the more you have to worry about?

The substantive book and newspaper, and the attention needed to devote to it, has been replaced with an "device" that allows one's attention to be diverted millions of ways. Jack of all trades--Master of none.

A fragmentized life often is the result.

There is more information available more quickly and easily today than anytime in the past. It's not even close. It's STUNNING. It's progress. It's beautiful.

This here Internet actually works pretty dang good.

Some of that information is factual and some isn't. That's a good thing- people can digest and make up their own minds, rather than have a single (or fewer )source (say, an editorial from the Charlotte newspaper) in order to form their views.

More choices are almost always good for consumers. Drudge, Daily KOS, the newspaper websites, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, hundreds more.

And there are certainly lots of folks who can't filter all of that information- they believe whatever Fox or KOS tells them. But I hardly think the answer to that problem is a monolithic (or fewer) source of news and information.

IMHO, there's nothing to lament about the old papers and the infrastructure they required. I'm old enough to remember typing pools (and the related infrastructure) before word processing changed that game. In accounting, "x" people do the work of 4 "x" people from 20 years ago. Progress progresses.

Dylan said it pretty well:

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

BTW, I don't think I'm laughing at anyone's funeral here. But I think that clearly, the net good outweighs the net bad.

One other thing- the movies Network and Broadcast News kind of predicted(or showed us) at least what the TV media was. Profit motives, competition, ratings, and never think for a minute that the anchor is the smartest guy in the room. Integrity? Honesty? Fairness? Depth?

Forget it.

I believe a lot of the "ethics" of journalism has been lost--and the ability to see "the other side" is a casualty.

True, some of the change is good, but the truth of "balance in everything," including quantities, is obvious.

Gluttony in anything is a deadly sin.

Much more available information, much weaker reasoning and analytical skills. Everyone is an Internet topic expert without any subject matter experience. Even though Joe has never left the farm he deeply believes Syria, Iraq, Libya or the latest warmonger target must be droned. A wall is all that is needed to solve the immigration challenges and save Topeka.

Who needs experience or formal education when the internet does the thinking for you? It is almost as good as God speaking directly to you.


Right; and now Jim (a progressive big city internet user who has never been on a farm) is going to tell Joe how to save that family farm and Topeka, cause,well, Jim read something on Daily Kos about the wonders of a higher minimum wage, the horrors of farm subsidies, and how all Topeka needs is light rail.

Everyone has to filter. But I still think the more choices, the better.

Brad writes:

Humans are social animals. In our digitized age, I think we've lost a great deal of our life-force, and have traded it for something more...soulless.

Something virtual has been gained at the cost of something actual and real.

Computers and chips speed up our lives, and I think they make many believe everything should be fast-forward.

Well, yeah. That's pretty clearly the choices that most people have made.

I'm sure before radio and TV, that people socialized more. But those two started a reduction in socialization that exploded with the media availability of the internet.

That;s the free choice people have made. You can still go out and socialize with three or four people, or you can stay at home on your computer and socialize with thousands.

Ever see young people at a school event? A restaurant? A football game?

Isn't EVERYONE looking at their phone?

Yeah, but just because everyone is doing it doesn't make it right for everyone.

That's just being a sheep. Or a lemming over the cliff.

Quantity often dilutes quality.

I also think that when one is stretched everywhere and every which direction trying to "keep up" with all the digital goings-on, one likely never becomes an expert at anything.

This can lead to feelings of "lacking" and "falling behind."

I prefer to concentrate on one or two things because I don't have to search for my worth. My worth is where I am very knowledgeable--in those one or two activities I pursue to the point of expertise.

When things get tough, I have those hobbies and pastimes to fall back on--and believe me, it works!


There's something terribly familiar about all of this.

Rogue makes some excellent points, as do several of the commenters, including INPHX.

Internet news sources are largely derivative. Shrinking the journalistic base from which that derivative value is derived, and making it more shallow by reducing expensive, time consuming investigative journalism (which may not pay off and which may alienate the powerful and influential), in favor of flashy news-lite which generates a lot more browser clicks and advertising revenue via pop-ups, doesn't add to the richness of original journalism from which the news aggregators and blogs cut and paste.

Yes, the Internet is a kind of virtual library and virtual forum, that allows access to thousands of sources and voices. The ability to search by keyword turns it into a kind of technological expansion of memory, giving people cyborg-like, cybernetic abilities to retrieve information from a virtual cloud, anywhere, anytime, thus acting as an artificial expansion of memory.

But the more information is available, the more refined your research skills, powers of critical thinking, and dogged patience need to be to locate, among thousands of search engine hits, information that is timely, accurate, and insightful, and to sort out the good from the bad, the true from the false, and the unproven from the merely asserted. The search for a needle in that haystack may become exponentially more complicated unless you have developed a skill set to exploit it efficiently.

Too often, the new digital news media provides a way of bypassing information you don't like, and finding sources who share (or are willing to exploit) your biases and preconceptions. By bypassing (instead of augmenting) conventional journalism, it becomes a way to fragment society into non-overlapping bubble universes, instead of a way of uniting society through a common narrative and worldview. By common I don't mean monolithic, merely integrated around a set of facts acknowledged by all parties, even if they disagree about their interpretation and significance.

But perhaps this overstates the history of journalism. When competition was strong, start up costs low, and standards determined by individual merits rather than professional training and ethos, the same thing was true of newspapers. The era in which major metropolitan areas are served by a few, largely overlapping (but differing in emphasis) newspapers, radio and television stations, manned by professional journalists with a university degree and careful training, was a fairly narrow window of time.

I'm quite appalled by what has happened to television news, in particular the three news networks of CNN, FOX, and MSNBC.

They all cover an extremely narrow selection of the same few topics, hour after hour, day after day, obsessively, if from different viewpoints, until the next topic de jour, when the news cycle begins anew. Information content is extremely low. Most of what is broadcast isn't actually news, but instead panel discussions featuring half a dozen faces ("the usual suspects"), whose job seems to be to deconstruct a few bare bones facts that could be reported in a paragraph or two of text, and to tell the viewing audience what they should think about it. Instead of reporting news on the wide variety of topics that potentially affect the nation and the world, they engage in an extended, obsessive group op-ed about one or two topics.

It's gotten so bad that the local television news actually does a better job of reporting on a variety of national and international news. It may be crammed into sound-bite segments, but at least there is a sense of a world of varied places, topics, and actors on the current events stage.

But all of this is in the spirit of the as-ifness of things. That's perfectly understandable, because that's what we're immersed in. But recall what I said in the opening sentence to this comment.

What if everything you see, or nearly everything, is a fraudulent, superficial appearance? What if the dynamics you believe are at the heart of everything, and of change itself, are illusions?

It's all very well to hone one's skills of analysis and communication thinking about and communicating (or at least expressing one's thoughts), but what kind of future can be built by arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Don't be fooled by love songs and lollipops, you're living in a twilight world. Twilight Zone is more like it. It's a dimension of sight and sound, but can you trust the signposts?

Whoops, sorry, "du jour". Gotta watch my p's and q's when posting here. And high standards are all to the good.

Yep it's me:

I have found more benefit from how I feel inside. I ask myself, "How do you feel?"
I don't question rhetorically, I want to know specifics, my head, jaw, neck chest. I want to know how I REALLY feel.

Being in touch with inner workings costs nothing, and relies on nobody but myself. There are no illusions there.

If I am feeling well, all the stuff going on around me is less of a strain and stressor.

I'm certainly not perfect, but I try to keep a symmetry about keeping it simple.

Yep it's me:

Great post; so often the networks you mention have a story and then a bevy of "experts" who comment on a comment and then someone else comments on that comment and it just goes on forever.

One other thing- as those large old school media sources prospered, the barriers to entry got higher and higher. The internet destroyed most of those barriers.

Confirmation bias just might be the largest impediment to people filtering information.

Let me throw this in-

MY wife got me a subscription to the New Yorker (it isn't cheap) and if you're familiar with the magazine, there is typically a long, deep non fiction article in the middle of the magazine; they are usually fantastic (there is also typically a pretty solid fiction writing).

Here's one of my all time favorites; I don't know why it's free online. Perhaps this is the type of "deep" journalism many here are looking for.

Thanks Yep its me. U said xactly what I couldn't get out except for the word Clarity.

Inphx, I don't think the New Yorker is expensive. Back in the early sixties I started getting it and Playboy. I quit playboy after 12 months but today I'm still a New Yorker Fan. And Gohan Wilson is still doing great cartoons.

Yep, it's me:

I think the first order of truth is what's inside yourself. If one can get the inside in order and monitor oneself to keep it in order, I think reliance on the outside world's opinions assumes a lesser significance.

I really don't judge myself by what others think of me, but how I think of myself.

My motto is: Control yourself, not others.

That's Gahan Wilson

The pics sure brought back memories of "flying" the press at the Scottsdale Progress, inserting(by hand) the sections and advertising, mailing out copies, pouring hot metal and being taught by a pressman how to make one of those paper hats !

My first “real job” was with the Washington News. I delivered the paper. I was about 13. I delivered them from my bike; and there was no throwing papers. They had to be put on the front porch or stoop – preferably between the storm door and the front door. I didn’t mind delivering the papers, but I hated collecting every Friday night.

Here in Bham and Atlanta papers are delivered by adults from cars and they are thrown.

One of my favorite things to ask when I meet a man of a certain age (say above 50) is “when can you remember NOT working?”

There’ll be some gazing at the ceiling, and then something like “does delivering the newspaper count”?
I’ll reply “Were you being paid to deliver those papers?”

“Well yes”

“Then you were working.”

There are two different issues; related but very different. There is the economics of news and there is the delivery of news. The economics changed as the "Gannett phenomena gained traction in the 1970's (the consolidation and presumptive reduction of costs by the sharing of the news as developed. The drive to lower costs caused the reduction of the number of reporters and the ability of the newspaper to dig, review, focus on local issues and replaced those with number form of national news that produced column inches.
The second issue is the change in the way that "news" is disseminated. Social media can spread opinions and even eye witness accounts quickly there is no editor involved, there is no professionalism involved; only rapid sending. Sadly far too many use this as a form of "news gathering" without recognizing that journalism requires far more than just rapid distribution.
The cable news networks (perhaps an oxymoron) are forced to fill time and fill talking heads who haven't done the digging, the thinking and the application of cognition to decide what the news is and what it means.
The loss of newspapers has so severely impacted the understanding of local issues that the citizens are left without the ability to determine what really is happening. Certainly the absence of the newspaper has hurt every town and state government; no one is reporting on what is really going on.
The old expression "you get what you pay for" is so true because the readers won't pay for the newspapers so they fail and that cuts off all good reporting.
Only when they are gone will we realize how much we so desperately needed them.

Having a tactile object in one's hands such as a newspaper, book, or magazine is a connection to the actual world: it's substantive and carries a gravity all its own.

The digital world, while informative, just seems to have a gravity that demands, ironically, attention by way of one's attention being frequently diverted by something else.

As I said before, jack of all trades, master of none.

There is also the slow down movement, which I believe is due in part to the hyper-warp speed of the digital age.

To INPHX and your quote about everyone looking at their phones, how many of them are good at looking someone else in the eye?

Not on the front pages of newspapers.
Millennials trampling the poor.

Is Phoenix dealing with this dislodging of the poor?

Answer to what about the Poor? Out of sight out of mind
Tents and tepees will be set up downstream, from the city of Phoenix Water Treatment plant at 91st avenue on the Salt River Tres Rios Wetlands. From here the flow meanders its way down to the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant where the prevailing wind from the SW pushes whatever towards Downtown Phoenix.

Critical note, scroll down to discharge.


Richard Rea:

So many people say that with digital news, there is so much information available that people can make up their own minds.

I think when there were newspapers people depended on, and only a few broadcast news outlets, those who disseminated the news realized they had to have some journalistic ethics. There was also a sense of hearing the "other side," and their reporting reflected those dissenting views without any mocking or condescending narrative.

There was an old computer saying about data and results: "Bad input, bad output."

That could apply to a lot of what goes for "reporting" today.

Not that all digital information is bad, but there's a place for more measured reporting and the journalistic "filtering" that goes on before hard-copy publication.

We are so addicted to the popular and trendy that many of us don't step back to consider what we've lost in this "all hail the newest" mentality.

It's almost as if, in not appreciating what's lost, we fail to pay attention to the implications implicit in our instant ability for comment.

I think part of this is the increasingly fast-forward speed of the world. Another is our infatuation with the technology. Both of these contribute HOW quickly many people feel MUST do something to KEEP UP.

This makes us less aware of the self-control necessary in both reporting and commenting.

trump's behavior on social media is a most obvious example of this. It really appears he is not exercising much circumspection before he posts his "comments."

The correct grammar above was:

Both of these contribute to HOW quickly many people feel they MUST do something to KEEP UP.

Again, a sheep mentality or lemmings over a cliff.

We live in a time of "sound bites" and the return of the Big Lie.

Repeat a lie often enough and, voila, it becomes the truth. To some people, at least.

And since many of us no longer trust "experts" to sort things out, where does that leave us?

Admittedly, after "the experts" and their "expertise" misled us about a long list of things including The Warren Commission Report, Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, the fall of the Soviet Union, the 9-11 Commission Report, the Iraq War, and WMD's, perhaps it is only natural that some of us have lost faith in "experts" of any kind.

But in their absence, who or what do we trust? Our "gut" feelings? Our "faith"? Who we think we'd like to "have a beer with"?

Or whatever we read or heard most recently?

There used to be more to journalism than rumor, gossip, and innuendo. It was a profession based on the pursuit of facts, from multiple sources, and cross checked until there was no doubt. And not published until they were confirmed. So some stories took a lot of time and money to get to print.

Did certain papers slant certain ways? Of course, but even with that, a discerning reader could sift through and get to something approaching a true reading. And in most large cities there were at least two competing papers to keep each other honest.

They didn't just make stuff up. The old, out of fashion word, is "ethics".

I'm not sure what the ethics of the blogosphere are--if there are any.

And saying that you're "fair and balanced" doesn't make you fair and balanced.

Talk, after all, is cheap.

Good post B.

INPHX, absolutely right about the derivative layers of news consultants on the cable news networks. Often it starts with a sound bite from some noteworthy current events figure, and the question what did so-and-so mean when (s)he said that. The idea of interviewing so and so never seems to occur. Seldom does primary source research and documentation provide a concrete context for so-and-so's comments and behavior. Institutional memory seems to be nearly absent. Moment to moment speculation about fast changing and incompletely reported events (e.g. MH370) is the order of the day.

Off-topic: I'm currently reading The Looting of America by Les Leopold. It's the best layman's treatment of the financial crisis I've seen to date.

Reading it raised a question, not taken up by the author. I was trying to explain to myself why nearly two trillion in "excess reserves" that the Fed injected into the commercial banking system never resulted in inflation or a new bubble.

The book mentioned that in order to evade capital requirements and increase financial leverage beyond what is allowed, many commercial banks created "special purpose vehicles", offshore accounts in the Caymans or similarly low regulation environments, where they kept off the books exotic financial assets.

When the exotics turned to worthless toxic sludge, the banks' capital requirements increased: even the increased leverage wasn't limitless.

Now, Leopold doesn't suggest this, but what if the "excess" reserves are only excess relative to on-book assets, but off-book liabilities require the holding of those "excess" reserves just to stay solvent? Maybe that explains why they seem to sit around doing nothing? Just my inexpert speculation, but I wonder if anything like this hypothesis has made it into print?

The short answer is that we will never know...until the shit hits the fan (again). That's the way they designed it to work.

But by all means, let's deregulate the financial markets (again)and let the mighty engines of capitalism and the free market be completely unhampered by pesky government.

What's the worst that could happen?

B. Franklin,

Unfettered ambition often morphs into greed and avarice.

Such was the root cause of the great recession.

Do you think there might be a need for some regulation?


Technology has changed the way we obtain news. As an airline pilot I stay at many hotels; I can't even be bothered to grab a newspaper on the way out. My last remaining subscription is the the Economist, a publication I have read for over twenty years.

My new source of news is intelligent bloggers. I am able to save articles and read them at my leisure, often while at work. This blog is one of my favorites. Thanks for the great blog!

I appreciate the kind words, Joe. But if no one will pay for professional journalism from experienced, professional journalists, we'll have more of what we are seeing now. Loads of opinion. Shallow coverage. Much that is never covered. A babel of conspiracy theories, urban legends and folk tales to fit every confirmation bias.

There is no substitute for a real newspaper, whatever the platform (dead trees, digital).

I certainly wouldn't want to fly with a free "crowdsourced" pilot I found on the Internet.

Rogue Columnist:

There is no substitute for the reasoned, measured, and vetted writing in newspapers, magazines, and ethically-released books.

That being said, most of the digitally-enamored likely have difficulty allocating much of their already squeezed time and attention spans paper forums.

For many, it's, jack of all (digital) trades, master of none (actual, hands-on, paper-based media).

See, I'm the proof!

It's supposed to read, "allocating much of their already-squeezed time and attention spans TO paper forums"

And I'm hardly computer-centric.

I've worked at 7 newspapers -- not quite as many as the proprietor, but a goodly number. Three of them no longer exist. None are still housed in the buildings I first worked in.

Soon U will be able to get a chip implant and it will give you what your mind asks for. No more paper and ink. No more keyboards or monitors.
Just Think!

The biggest fallacy with this piece is Jon Talton considering himself a journalist. He isn't. He wasn't. He never will be.

Hacks like him killed the newspaper.

Grant Hayes:

Just curious, but, in your unfiltered opinion, what kind of journalist ISN'T a hack?

Golly, I'm curious who you think is a journalist?

And what qualities do you require in a journalist and journalism?

Unquestioning obeisance? Cheerleading? Comforting the comfortable? If so, get yourself a subscription to The Arizona Republic. With a couple of exceptions, that's all they do.

What is killing the newspaper is the immediacy, abundance, and relatively low cost of the internet. That and the shortening attention span of our younger generations.

If you want to know what we will lose if and when we lose newspapers, just watch the film Spotlight. Imagine any internet source that isn't related to a newspaper spending the time and money to do that kind of local, long form investigative journalism.

I haven't watched "Spotlight," but I after you mentioned it. But I think the immediacy has spawned both a one-way conversation and a "taking the gloves off" approach that is an underlying factor in the polarized electorate.

I think this encapsulates it...

For What It's Worth
Buffalo Springfield, Stephen Stills

There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It's s time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away
We better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, now, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
For non-commercial use only.

The conventions of respectful discourse are the real casualty both because extreme views are the norm AND centrism is viewed by the conservatives as akin to communism.

A journalist, by profession and professionalism, is able to listen to all sides of the argument(s).

That is a quality sorely missing today.

Oh, the above, and being able to refrain from personal attacks.

In my book, professionalism is the OPPOSITE of personalism.

Carl Bernstein gave the finest definition of journalism. It is the best obtainable version of the truth.

I googled Grant Hayes thinking he might be a "journalist" . But all I could find was a Grant Hayes convicted of murdering his wife.
Can incarcerated convicted murderers email to blogs?

Truth, I believe, means taking your personal prejudices out of the equation.


Maybe the person you're talking about took their personal prejudice out of the equation and arrived at the truth.


After all, this particular column is titled, "A Death Observed."

All apologies to you, Rogue Columnist.

Well Brad, I think we may difer on the word "Truth" U know the truth when U see it?
I am not sure i know the truth about anything. But then I dont believe in absolutes.

From apiece by Charles Bowden in Harper Magazine.
"Nor do the disciplines convince me. Science cannot be kept safe from poetry, the cyclotron must deal with St. Francis and his Little Flowers, and the wolf cannot escape the force of the lupines blue with spring. I also believe in the wisdom of microorganisms. Scholars of dung heaps command my attention.

Years ago, I concluded that all concentrated forms of energy in human hands become dangerous. The state mutates into the tsar, the lane becomes the sterile corridor of the freeway, the fire morphs into a nuclear pile, the songs go corrupt and become propaganda. Freedom becomes slavery and valor descends to shock and awe. God becomes the Church".

For more wisdom here is the download.


On truth...

But I do believe in trying, to the best of my ability, by controlling myself and my own prejudices, to see things as they are--and not how I (in my 60's idealism) would like them to appear.

That is the closest to an absolute I can come up with--controlling myself.
It ain't easy.

Could you e-mail me the full text of the pdf file?

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