No Going Back Now

Times change – and everyone seems to think the days of print are over. Newspapers are dying fast – shrinking in size, with less there to actually read than ever before, because they’ve shed reporters and whole bureaus, as there are fewer and fewer subscribers and advertisers have found other ways to target anyone who has any money left to spend these days. There’s not enough money to hunt down and report the news. And the want-ads went first. Anyone looking for a job is on monster.com or CareerBuilder or whatnot, and anyone selling anything uses craigslist.com or eBay and the like. And if you want to buy a car you go to the dealer’s website and click through their current inventory, and then fill in the little form and tell them when you’ll be dropping by. Car dealers now use newspaper display ads, if they do, to drive potential customers to their websites. And as for those full-page supermarket ads with the coupons, all those coupons are available online – you can print them at home. Advertisers just don’t need newspapers anymore – what you see there is just trailing transitional stuff, targeting the few who aren’t yet comfortable in the current world. It’s just a bit of mopping up.

So newspapers have decided to be web publications too, with all the content on line, and lots of additional as-it-happens minute-to-minute coverage of this and that. But the click-through ad revenues are meager, so most of these extended newspapers have decided to charge for online access to articles – the first ten or twenty each month are free, but then you find yourself locked out unless you pay up. Except that doesn’t work – it’s a snap to get past most paywall systems, save for the very clever Wall Street Journal. But this also means newspapers are ceasing to be newspapers at all, with a morning dump of what happened the day before, and have become a sort of hybrid, part newspaper and part blog, and not quite either. And there’s still not enough money to hunt down and report the news. Yes, as all this evolves we’ll know less and less. The irony is that they call this the information age.

And the weekly news magazines are in the same pickle. Life and Look disappeared ages ago, and Time and Newsweek struggle. They too have lively online items, and fewer and fewer readers picking up the magazine from the rack, and even fewer subscribers – and thus fewer folks willing to pay for glossy full-page ads. There’s a reason Newsweek was absorbed into the Daily Beast – the website is where the good stuff is. Newsweek is the afterthought, for the old folks who want something tactile in their hands. And of course eBooks now outsell physical books – everyone offers some sort of Nook thing. And the brick-and-mortar bookstores are disappearing – not just the little ones, but Borders is now gone and Barnes and Noble soon will be, by all accounts. Print had a fine run, for a few centuries, but that seems to be nearly over.

But there are last gasps. There always are, and in the Los Angeles Times (online) Rene Lynch explains one of those last gasps:

Time magazine’s breastfeeding cover story asks: “Are You Mom Enough?” But it might as well ask: “Who Says Print Is Dead?”

The magazine is the talk of the nation this morning, dominating the morning talk shows, the radio shows, social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, and that gold standard of relevancy, Google. It’s the No. 1 search term there today.

“This is a cover that has the entire nation talking,” said magazine expert Samir Husni. “When was the last time you saw a story do that,” unless it was a breaking news event? “This is an example of print well done. It’s a stroke of genius … the print industry really needed this cover to show they are still the movers and shakers.”

They are? There is a picture of the cover at the link, which seems to be designed to be provocative:

The Time cover shows breastfeeding in an up-close-and-personal kind of way that many Americans have never seen before: a 3-year-old boy standing on a chair so he can better suckle at his standing mother’s breast, with both mother and child looking directly into the camera.

The headline says, “Are You Mom Enough?” perhaps because nothing sells magazines like preying on a woman’s insecurities. The headline and cover have started an array of offshoot conversations, including: Is the 3-year-old being set up for a lifetime of ridicule? And why does the media love pitting mothers against one another?

Yes, there was quite a buzz, and Lynch has links to it all, and discusses how this introduced the nation to a new term – extreme breastfeeding of course. But that buzz was the point:

It all adds up to the secret sauce behind the cover’s success, said Husni, a professor at the Magazine Innovation Center, Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi. The editors have taken a very old topic – breastfeeding, after all, has been around forever – and managed to put a very fresh spin on it.

“It didn’t just start the conversation, it’s continuing the conversation,” he said. “This is not just ’15 seconds of fame, go on to the next story.’ This story is going to be 24/7 [for a while]. There’s a reason why people call this ‘old media.’ That’s because it took 500 years to build up this tradition. You don’t just throw the white flag and say, ‘OK, everything is digital now.'”

He says this is an editor’s dream come true – a magazine that actually matters. So print isn’t really dead – for a moment at least.

Of course Tina Brown, once the editor of The New Yorker and now the head of the combined Daily Beast and Newsweek operations, after Time released its hot breastfeeding cover, said this – “‘Let The Games Begin!” And she wasn’t kidding, as now we have the “First Gay President” – Newsweek marking Obama’s surprise announcement with their own controversial cover you can see here – Obama in the Shepard Fairey “Hope” pose with a rainbow-colored halo, with this preview of the cover story by Andrew Sullivan:

It’s easy to write off President Obama’s announcement of his support for gay marriage as a political ploy during an election year. But don’t believe the cynics. Andrew Sullivan argues that this announcement has been in the making for years. “When you step back a little and assess the record of Obama on gay rights, you see, in fact, that this was not an aberration. It was an inevitable culmination of three years of work.” And President Obama has much in common with the gay community. “He had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family,” Sullivan writes.

Maybe that’s a stretch, and the irony is that Sullivan isn’t that much of a print guy. His blog The Dish – part of the Daily Beast mixed-media conglomerate – gets more traffic than almost every other political site in the world. So this might not be striking a blow for the supremacy of print. And the media critic Will Bunch simply asks will somebody please get a gun and put America’s newsmagazines out of their misery?

He’s not happy:

If you think it’s hard for a once-a-day print publication to stay relevant in a 24/7 world, then you need to multiple that struggle times-seven for America’s newsmagazines. For the last decade, pundits have asked how these publications that ruled the media landscape in the mid-20th Century can survive in this kind of environment.

The only moderately satisfying answer is that publications like Time and Newsweek – which have large staffs of enormously talented journalists – can publish news and commentary on the Web in a timely fashion similar to Web-oriented sites like Slate or the Huffington Post. They do this and they do it okay, although like every “legacy media” outfit the revenue isn’t sustaining as the big profits of the print monopoly era. But what can they do about the supposed raison d’être of the whole enterprise – that thinner-and-thinner glossy thing that’s on the newsstand once a week?

Honestly? Nothing. The “weekly newsmagazine” is an oxymoron. There’s just nothing about the news that has a “weekly” component to it anymore. At this point, the print editions of Time and Newsweek would need to do something truly remarkable and praiseworthy to justify their continued existence. Instead, they are going out like a tragically insane individual, stripping naked and running down the street yelling profanities at civil society.

And here we go again:

Newsweek’s cover, calling President Obama “America’s first gay president” because – like roughly half of all U.S. heterosexuals – he now supports the idea of same-sex marriage, reminds me of their famous 1964 cover calling Lyndon Johnson “the first black president” after he signed the Civil Rights Act. OK, I’m just kidding… they didn’t do that in 1964. People would have thought such a cover was stupid and immature. …

Of course, in the short run they’ll probably sell a few extra copies with these shock covers. But at the expense of destroying a brand of top-notch journalism that it took seventy-five years to build up. And then what desperate ploy will they use to beg readers to pay attention? One can only imagine. Harry Truman said famously that it’s a damn shame when anyone dies, and that will be no less true of Time and Newsweek.

But it’s just so sad and pathetic to see it end like this.

And the article is now online – you don’t have to buy the dead-tree version at all. And Sullivan himself quotes it at his website of course:

Barack Obama had to come out of a different closet. He had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family. The America he grew up in had no space for a boy like him: black yet enveloped by loving whiteness, estranged from a father he longed for (another common gay experience), hurtling between being a Barry and a Barack, needing an American racial identity as he grew older but chafing also against it and over-embracing it at times.

This is the gay experience: the discovery in adulthood of a community not like your own home and the struggle to belong in both places, without displacement, without alienation.

Actually, Sullivan’s item is rather subtle and insightful, and the parallel he establishes makes sense, as does his contention that acceptance of gays, and assuming they ought to have the same rights as everyone else, has gone mainstream now.

And, as proof of that, as reported in Talking Points Memo, even the Republicans see that:

Republicans must evolve on gay rights or risk political extinction, a top GOP pollster warns leading establishment figures in a revealing new memo.

Jan van Lohuizen, who polled for President George W. Bush in 2004, finds that support for gay rights – including same sex marriage – is rising at an accelerated pace among members of all political affiliations. He calls on Republicans to acknowledge the shift in the way they talk about the issue.

The memo, reported by various news outlets, recommends that Republicans express their support for “equality under the law as a fundamental principle” because “freedom means freedom for everyone.”

And he recommends a little political ju-jitsu, reframing gay rights as a core conservative value:

“As people who promote personal responsibility, family values, commitment and stability, and emphasize freedom and limited government we have to recognize that freedom means freedom for everyone,” he advises Republicans to say. “This includes the freedom to decide how you live and to enter into relationships of your choosing, the freedom to live without excessive interference of the regulatory force of government.”

It’s hard to see the many Republicans deciding that’s how to deal with this, but passages in his long memo do hammer that home:

People who believe in equality under the law as a fundamental principle, as I do, will agree that this principle extends to gay and lesbian couples; gay and lesbian couples should not face discrimination and their relationship should be protected under the law. People who disagree on the fundamental nature of marriage can agree, at the same time, that gays and lesbians should receive essential rights and protections such as hospital visitation, adoption rights, and health and death benefits.

And this ain’t affirmative action:

This is not about giving anyone extra protections or privileges, this is about making sure that everyone – regardless of sexual orientation – is provided the same protections against discrimination that you and I enjoy.

And Josh Marshall comments:

It’s a fascinating document – not so much for the argument it makes (that Republican should essentially embrace marriage or call off the war against it) as the data it advances. Because the numbers it shows pretty convincingly make the argument that the war over gay marriage is basically over.

This isn’t to say President Obama’s decision to embrace the issue is a gimme for him in political terms – it’s still quite possible that it will be a net loser for him in purely electoral terms, though I think that’s now slightly less than likely. But the direction of the public opinion data is so overwhelming as to suggest that there’s no way to turn back to the tide. Anyone who’s followed the public opinion data on this topic knows that marriage equality is overwhelmingly more popular among the young than the old. But, as he notes, even among older voters opinions are rapidly changing. Until 2009, support went up about 1% a year. Since then it’s been about 5% a year.

Still, this might not fly:

The electoral power of GOP politics is still largely driven by white evangelical voters. And I don’t expect that group to move any time soon. Still, the change is vast and rapid…. Just as important though, I think the number of people who are intensely opposed is still at least a bit larger than those who are intensely supportive. But intensity can only overcome relatively small differences in support levels.

Watching how the Republicans work this out will be fascinating, especially concerning the evangelicals, as Rachel Held Evans suggests here:

When asked by The Barna Group what words or phrases best describe Christianity, the top response among Americans ages 16-29 was “anti-homosexual.” For a staggering 91 percent of non-Christians, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about the Christian faith. The same was true for 80 percent of young churchgoers. (The next most common negative images… “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and “too involved in politics.”) …

So my question for those evangelicals leading the charge in the culture wars is this: Is it worth it?

Nicholas Beaudrot adds this:

The once near-universal brand of American Christianity is being associated with an ever-shrinking size of the American public. Like Burger King and Axe Body Spray, you may wake up one day and find that the overwhelming majority of the public has simply tuned out everything you have to say. Now, it’s always possible that the leaders of the major American churches may want it this way. But for those who don’t, the window of opportunity where people might be willing to consider a more relevant form of modern Christianity is closing.

And as for that advisory memo, Sullivan says this:

Read the bluntness of this. This is the GOP establishment talking to itself – and the Republican pollster who arguably knows more about the politics of the gay issue than anyone else (how else to explain the Ohio campaign of 2004?) is advising them in no uncertain terms that they need to evolve and fast, if they’re not going to damage their brand for an entire generation.

But that may be harder than it seems:

Evangelicals and social conservatives are urging Republicans to make the fight against same-sex marriage an election-year priority and go after President Obama over his new-found support for the cause. So far, the GOP establishment is resisting.

Rick Santorum pushed Mitt Romney to use the issue to his advantage. “I think what you see is his is a very potent weapon if you will for Gov. Romney if he is willing to step up and take advantage of a president who is very much out of touch with the values of America,” the former presidential candidate said.

But the Republican establishment is singing a different tune, showing little interest in focusing on the issue, and instead fielding questions about it by pivoting to the economy. The result is a strategic divide over how to handle the issue of same sex marriage on the right, pitting politicians against the evangelical community as they negotiate their response to the president’s gay marriage position.

And this is getting hot:

“I don’t think the way the Republicans on Capitol Hill are addressing it is the way to do it, saying it’s a distraction,” Tony Perkins, president of the evangelical Family Research Council, said Sunday on CNN. “Defending the family, the cornerstone of civilization, is not a distraction. It should be a priority. And it should be a part of what Mitt Romney talks about.” Perkins wasn’t downplaying the importance of discussing the economy but he expressed dissatisfaction with Republicans for soft-pedaling the issue of same-sex marriage so far.

Perkins also disputed the idea that Obama was posturing politically, contradicting the main line coming from the Republican establishment. “I don’t think the president did a political calculus to do this because if he did, he needs to go back to the calculator, because it’s a bad formula,” he said, pointing to anti-gay marriage amendments in swing states, like the one just passed in North Carolina, as evidence.

Evangelical leader Gary Bauer agreed with the assessment. “I think the president this week took six or seven states he carried in 2008 and put them in play with this one ill-conceived position,” he said on CNN.

Maybe he did, but read the polls – most folks think he did the right thing. But there was this:

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul remarked on President Obama’s decision to publicly support same-sex marriage by saying, “Call me cynical, but I wasn’t sure his views on marriage could get any gayer.”

The comments by the Republican lawmaker from Kentucky drew big laughs at a gathering sponsored by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition. A video became public after it was posted on the website “The Iowa Republican.”

“It did kind of bother me though that he used the justification for it in a biblical reference,” he continued to more laughter. “He said the biblical golden rule caused him to be for gay marriage. And I’m like what version of the Bible is he reading? … I don’t know what version he’s getting it from.”

It’s that copy of the Bible with that injunction to do unto others as you would have them do unto you – Matthew 7:12 actually – and Matthew doesn’t carve out an exception for gay people. There are no carve-outs.

But it’s pointless to argue about the Bible with these evangelicals – in the Bible that they read, Jesus is the angry he-man with the big biceps and six-pack abs, kicking ass and taking names, and, as they say, bringing on the pain. And of course Rand Paul was just using the slang taunt – That’s so GAY!

But it seems that taunt is losing its power. That’s so gay? Yes, perhaps, and what’s your point? And Obama is the first gay president? Maybe so, but who cares? Some things just don’t matter anymore – just like newspapers and weekly news magazines. There’s no going back.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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