Big Media and Coastal Elites

  • Media concentration: Only three cities matter anymore
  • Aspiring journalists work side gigs as baristas…
  • While Big Media stars cash in by selling out (we name names)
  • “Fake news” a bigger issue than terrorism?
  • Strong job numbers today (but that’s a media distortion too).

“All of media has become concentrated in three cities,” says Emma Roller — describing an ominous development if you believe America’s survival as a free country depends on an informed citizenry.

Ms. Roller is 30 years old. She used to work in Washington, D.C., writing about politics for the website Splinter. Last year she took a buyout. She moved to Chicago to be closer to family. But when she started looking for a new job, she made a horrifying discovery: Many of the positions she applied for required living in D.C., New York or Los Angeles.

“I chose to move away from where journalism jobs are,” she acknowledges to Bloomberg News. “But at the same time it’s a structural problem.”

For now, Roller scrapes by with freelance gigs, supplemented by part-time work at an elementary school and a coffee shop.

“The news business is on pace for its worst job losses in a decade,” Bloomberg reported this week.

“About 3,000 people have been laid off or been offered buyouts in the first five months of this year.”

The losses are across the board. Newspapers continue to shed readers. TV networks continue to shed viewers. And page views are plateauing at “digital media” outfits like BuzzFeed and Vice Media.

Little wonder. News consumers are jaded and overwhelmed. If you’re among them, I can’t blame you… and I’d know because I used to work in the business!

“In most industries, employers can’t find enough people to fill the jobs they have open,” says Andrew Challenger of the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas — which compiled the job-loss figures. “In news, it has been the opposite story. And it seems to have been accelerating.”

It’s gotten so bad journalism professors are telling their students to find another line of work.

For real. I’m only slightly exaggerating the findings of a new research paper by Rice and Rutgers universities with the insufferably pretentious title, “Professionalizing Contingency: How Journalism Schools Adapt to Deprofessionalization.”

The researchers spoke with 113 faculty, staff and administrators from 44 J-schools around the country.

The upshot? “They’re telling their students that they don’t have to, in fact shouldn’t, go work for traditional news organizations,” says Rice researcher Max Besbris. “They can do temporary, contract or freelance work, or work for non-news corporations, the government, NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) or almost any other place.

“The post-Watergate media era where you would work for a local paper or TV station and work your way up to retirement with a nice pension is behind us.”

Meanwhile, the elite journalists concentrated in those three cities? They’re living large. In fact, many live as well as the government officials and corporate executives they cover.

Washington Post star and Watergate legend Bob Woodward routinely collects up to $70,000 a pop speaking to special interest groups — that is, trade associations and other outfits that wield beaucoup lobbying power in the capital. Only last month Woodward spoke at a conference of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the top health insurance lobby.

Nor is he alone. CNN analyst David Gergen collects similar fees and spoke last year to the Edison Electric Institute — a lobby for electric utilities. Fox News’ Chris Wallace spoke last year to the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and the Retail Industry Leaders Association. Earlier this year, NBC’s Chuck Todd spoke to the American Hospital Association.

[Kudos to two nonprofits, MapLight and Tarbell, for studying two years’ worth of trade groups’ conference schedules and spotting the journalists on the speaker lists.]

In theory, this sort of “buckraking” is a no-no. The Society of Professional Journalists calls on reporters and editors to “refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.”

But in practice, Big Media has become indistinguishable from the Big Government and Big Corporations they’re supposed to be scrutinizing. Little wonder Big Media stars are cashing in.

For his part, Bob Woodward justifies the palm-greasing by donating his speaking fees to a family foundation.

That’s a clever dodge. Tax records reveal Woodward’s foundation gave $600,000 to his alma mater, Yale University, between 2015–18 — a time that coincided with his daughter’s attendance there.

This incestuous relationship between media elites and the people they’re supposed be holding accountable? It reminds us of a meme we saw during the 2012 presidential campaign — riffing on a famous line of the late, great George Carlin…


In their more candid moments, Big Media leaders will fess up to this phenomenon — power and influence concentrated in three cities, while those of us in “flyover country” cease to count.

New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet spoke to a conference of fellow media elites in 2017: “I think it is perilous — probably for the business, but more for journalism — if, as other news organizations die, the news is dominated by a handful of very elite institutions on the coasts, driven by the coasts. I think we have to work very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Too late. Only this week came word that the sole newspaper serving Youngstown, Ohio, will shut down later this summer. It’s hardly the first newspaper to cease publication… but Youngstown is in a metro area of more than a half-million people. A region that size losing its local voice? That’s new.

But it’s all good if you’re The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN or some other coastal elite outfit. More power and pelf for you.

Under the circumstances, is it any wonder Americans consider “fake news” to be a bigger issue than terrorism?

That was what stood out in a recent Pew Research poll — 50% of respondents describing “made-up news/information” as “a very big problem” in the country. Only 34% thought terrorism worthy of that description.

This month, I’m launching what might be my most important project yet in my 12 years at Agora Financial. It builds on the previous 20 years I spent in the TV news racket — during which time I was on the payroll of all the “Big Four” broadcast networks.

As I said up top, it takes an informed citizenry if we’re going to hang onto a free country. And the flow of information is increasingly under the control of those coastal elites.

So with that in mind, we’re calling this project “Freedom Underground.” It’s a free video series we launched just today, a series of conversations between me and publisher Matt Insley. Among the topics I cover with Matt…

  • The alarming trends I observed firsthand during two decades in Big Media
  • How social media could have revolutionized the news for the better… but now it’s being weaponized by the Establishment
  • The false financial narratives propagated by Big Media.

The first part of the series was released at 1:00 p.m. EDT today. It’s in your inbox with the from line “Freedom Underground” and the subject line “The Insider.” Give it a look. I promise it’ll be worth your while.

To the markets… where once again, good news is bad news.

The monthly job numbers were good. But traders fret they’re so good that maybe the Federal Reserve won’t cut interest rates after all later this month.

The wonks at the Bureau of Labor Statistics conjured 224,000 new jobs for June — way more than expected. The official U-3 unemployment rate ticked up to 3.7% — still close to a 50-year low.

Thus, the major U.S. stock indexes have all tumbled at least three-quarters of a percent from the record closes they notched on Wednesday. Bonds and commodities are selling off too — gold’s been knocked back below $1,400 for a second time this week.

As long as the job numbers are on our mind, it’s worth mentioning how they’re subject to massive media distortions.

Each month, along with the official numbers, we mention the “real world” jobless rate as calculated by Shadow Government Statistics — an outfit that runs the numbers using the same methodology the government did 40 years ago.

For June, the real-world unemployment rate is 21.2%.

Why the enormous gap over the official number?

The official number doesn’t count part-timers who want to work full time. Nor does it count the people who’ve simply given up looking for work — a number that exploded in the years after the Panic of 2008.

If you’re not looking for work, even if you’re of working age, you’re not considered part of the “labor force.”

That sorta puts a different spin on the headlines these last couple of years about the economy being near “full employment,” wouldn’t you say?

Dartmouth economist David Blanchflower believes the bar for “full employment” is now closer to 2.5%, as measured by the official U-3 number. Not the current 3.7%.

In a new book called Not Working: Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?, Blanchflower’s research affirms what you already sense: Large numbers of Americans are working more than one part-time job, just squeezing by. (We’re thinking of Ms. Roller, whom you met at the start of today’s 5.) Many others who do have a full-time job don’t earn as much as they used to — oftentimes less than they did before the Great Recession hit with full force in 2008.

“Underemployment” is what economists call this phenomenon. Blanchflower makes a strong case that underemployment is driving the high rates of substance abuse and suicide among the middle aged, especially white working-class Americans — a depressing trend we’ve chronicled now and then here in The 5.

There’s some context you won’t see in today’s stories about a job market that “roared back to life last month” (New York Times) and “easing fears of a hiring slowdown” (Wall Street Journal).

(Yeah, we’ll throw in another pitch here for our new video series about media distortion. Check your inbox for an item with the from line “Freedom Underground.” It should have already arrived today.)

“Goddamn but I love The 5 today,” a reader wrote after yesterday’s episode — which was in fact a reprise of our Aug. 8, 2018, edition.

“You nailed it big-time and I am looking forward to your unfolding announcement in the next few days.

“Peter Van Buren is a winner and that’s by far the best P.S. that you’ve ever included.

“Keep up the good fight, you snarky bastard.”

“Very informative,” affirms another.

“I find it difficult to find any good or truth in the media today. Keep up the great work.”

One more: “Thanks for a well-thought-out, well-written (as usual) commentary on the censorship trend and the risk to independent voices. Food for thought on Independence Day.

“You mentioned in reference to Scott Horton’s Twitter suspension. It may be worth noting the passing of one of freedom’s great voices, Justin Raimondo, co-founder and the previous author and editorial director of the site, late last month.

“RIP Justin. His voice is now quieted but his influence toward noninterventionism as a critical key to freedom remains.”

The 5: Like many of the people who’ve written fond remembrances of Mr. Raimondo in the last week… your editor eagerly looked forward to his impassioned and deeply researched columns every Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the early years of the “war on terror.”

With his passing at 67, he didn’t live an especially long life — but it certainly was colorful. Reason writer Jesse Walker memorialized him in a tweet as “the only man to both deliver a nominating speech for Pat Buchanan and publish a book celebrating militant gay revolution.” Word…

Have a good weekend,

David Gonigam

Dave Gonigam
The 5 Min. Forecast

P.S. As long as the reader mentioned…

Late in my broadcast news career, maybe around 2006 or so… I became sufficiently concerned about my employer tracking my web-surfing habits that while I took meal breaks at my computer, seeking alternative headlines to relieve my workaday tedium… I consciously avoided looking at Antiwar. I read it only at home.

So yeah, there’s a firsthand tale of how Establishment media enforce conformity.

It was bad then. It’s much worse now. Which is why I agreed to take on Agora Financial’s new project we’ve dubbed “Freedom Underground.” In this exclusive video series, I explain how the current media environment became so toxic… and what you as a citizen can do about it.

Again, the email already landed in your inbox at 1:00 p.m. EDT. The from line is “Freedom Underground” and the subject line is “The Insider.” If it’s not there, check your spam folder. If you already deleted it, not realizing what it was, check your trash. I think you’ll find it eye-opening, to say the least.

Dave Gonigam

Dave Gonigam

Dave Gonigam has been managing editor of The 5 Min. Forecast since September 2010. Before joining the research and writing team at Agora Financial in 2007, he worked for 20 years as an Emmy award-winning television news producer.

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