Denver Post and NREL, Meet Bastiat

Let’s play the game of “spot the economic fallacies” in today’s editorial by the Denver Post, which essentially advocates corporate welfare. (This follows a slanted news story on the same topic.)

The Post claims that the tax-funded National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden has created “efficient” solar film, windmill blades, and office buildings. What’s the fallacy? A more technically “efficient” gadget is not necessarily economically efficient to produce; often it is not. If solar and wind were cheaper than alternative sources of energy, then they would not need subsidies and mandates to “succeed.” And if companies can save money through greater energy efficiency, they’ll be more than happy to spend their own money figuring out how.

But the Post’s main argument is that subsidizing NREL creates jobs. What’s the economic fallacy? It’s what Bastiat and Hazlitt refer to as the problem of the unseen. What is seen are the jobs associated with NREL spending. What is unseen are all the jobs lost by forcibly transferring that wealth. When people pay higher taxes, and when the federal government sucks money out of market investments through deficit spending, that money is no longer available to fund what consumers want and investors see as the more productive opportunities. The result is that jobs shift from more-productive to less-productive ends, destroying wealth.

The wrinkle is that cutting federal spending only for Colorado would screw Colorado taxpayers more by forcibly transferring their wealth to less-productive jobs in other states. The solution to that is to cut spending in every state — or to simply stop forcing Colorado taxpayers to finance corporate welfare in other states. As I noted earlier this year, on net Colorado gets screwed in the wealth redistribution game, which costs the state net jobs.

There are obviously some people on the Denver Post’s editorial board who are not utterly ignorant of basic economics. Why not let them formulate the articles pertaining to economics?

Denver Post Reissues NREL’s Misleading Release

There are two stories here. One is that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has put out an intellectually dishonest release touting the organization’s benefits to Colorado’s economy—without counting any of the costs in terms of tax subsidies and transferred resources. The second story is that the Denver Post reissued this release as “news” without bothering to mention its status as a copied release; the byline claims it is “by The Denver Post.”

Sure, if you totally ignore all the costs, any government expenditure looks like a great deal. Then again, if you ignore the costs, bank robbery also seems like a great deal, because look at how much the robbers are “stimulating” the economy by putting all that money into circulation! I have written about the general problem elsewhere, and economists have made the same rebuttals at least since the early 1800s.

But these sorts of releases are not intended as intellectually serious arguments; they are intended to stir up emotional support among economically illiterate (or simply dishonest) journalists, politicians, and taxpayers. So the fact that NREL would issue such a self-serving release is no surprise, even though any honest scientist working at the organization must be embarrassed by it.

I confess that I am surprised by the Post’s treatment of the release. I first heard of the story when hard-core leftist-environmentalist Pete Maysmith mentioned it on his Twitter feed: “More evidence that renewable energy is a boon for CO’s economy. #coleg” The shortened link accesses the Denver Post “story.” I got the idea that something was screwy when identical language showed up at Wind Today, and after a couple of phone calls I found the NREL release at the source.

I guess I just expected something a little more from the number thirteen newspaper in the nation.

Denver Post Politicizes Murders to Push Gun Restrictions

Today’s condescending, factually inaccurate, and intellectually dishonest lead editorial from the Denver Post politicizes the horrible murders in Arizona by advocating more useless, rights-violating gun restrictions.

The Post wants to limit the capacity of gun magazines, yet the paper declines to tell us what number it deems appropriate. “The standard Glock magazine holds 15 rounds,” the paper notes. But the editorial also favorably mentions the so-called assault weapons ban of 1994, now expired, which restricted the importation and manufacture of magazines for civilian use to ten rounds. So which option does the Post prefer? Fifteen? Twelve? Ten? Four?

Of course, for the anti-gun lobby, ten rounds is ten too many. I’ve heard anti-gun activists argue that all guns that hold magazines should be banned, and at most single-shot guns should remain legal.

The Post incorrectly states, “It wasn’t so long ago that [the murderer] couldn’t have bought a gun magazine of that size,” under the expired ban. But sales of higher capacity magazines remained perfectly legal under the ban; what was banned was importation and manufacture for civilian sales.

The Post speciously claims, “The NRA is apparently worried Americans won’t be able to defend themselves against the possibility of a 33-person, home-invasion team.” The number refers to the capacity of the magazine used by the Arizona murderer. But the NRA defends normal capacity magazines, not just the higher capacity ones. The Post’s comment could only have been written by someone who has never devoted a serious thought to the problem of self-defense — or who is intentionally lying about it. Home invasions by multiple assailants are actually fairly common, so far as home invasions go (which thankfully are relatively rare due to high gun ownership rates in the U.S.). Home invasions often take place at night. The perpetrators often wear heavy clothing and sneak about. Because gun wounds usually aren’t fatal, a criminal might remain quite dangerous even if shot. For all of these reasons, having fifteen or more rounds might be essential for effective self-defense.

Self-defense — a fundamental human right protected by our Constitution — deserves more than derision by Colorado’s largest newspaper.

(True, for most tactical purposes, carrying a gun with a magazine that extends far beyond the grip makes no sense. But artificially limiting magazine capacity beyond the natural limitations of the grip size is insanity from a self-defense perspective.)

I found this line from the Post interesting: “A reader sent us an article which cited the Glock website where, we’re told, the Glock ‘pistol magazines can be loaded with a convincing number of rounds.'” That line has certainly made the rounds. The quote is accurate; however, the Post neglects to mention the qualifier, “up to.” I’ve verified that a 33 round magazine is available for the Glock 19.

Notably, the murderer bought four magazines. Ludicrously, a Brady Center spokesperson pretends that he had only one magazine and could not have used more than one magazine in the assault. Perhaps the Denver Post could enlighten us as to whether it believes carrying forty rounds total (ten rounds in each of four magazines) is just fine, whereas carrying 33 rounds in a single magazine must be outlawed. By the logic of the anti-gun crusade, guns with magazines per se should be totally outlawed, if not all guns.

The Denver Post is targeting guns because they make a convenient scapegoat. Nevermind the fact that the murderer suffered severe mental illness. Nevermind the fact that he had numerous run-ins with the authorities over a span of years. No, forget all that: the thing to do is restrict the ability of law-abiding, decent people to buy gun magazines.

The absurdity of the Post’s “case” is illustrated by juxtaposing two headlines: “Gun Sales Surge After Obama’s Election,” and “Violent Crime Falls Sharply.” While this does not demonstrate that the additional guns helped drive lower crime rates, it does offer a reminder of how weak the case is for imposing additional gun restrictions.

Cowards at Denver Post Pull ‘Where’s Muhammad’ Cartoon

Just weeks after violent Islamists sent American cartoonist Molly Norris into hiding in fear of her life, the Denver Post pulled a Non Sequitur cartoon titled, “Where’s Muhammad,” Michael D. Brown reported.

Because Brown does not offer direct evidence that the Denver Post also pulled the cartoon, I called the main switchboard and asked for somebody who works in the cartoon department. A representative told me, “Yes, we did pull it.”

As Brown notes, “Muhammad doesn’t even appear in the cartoon.”

With this decision, the Denver Post has sanctioned violence and betrayed the First Amendment. I urge the paper to change course.



Anonymous October 11, 2010 at 1:30 PM

How can you blame the Denver Post? In our egalitarian Leftist society, noone will come to your defense against Jihad Muslims, not even the government. But I wonder how you reconcile your position with unlimited mass 3rd world immigration, including Muslim immigration.

The problems we have with death threats from Muslims is because there are Muslims in the West. If we want to live free of Sharia and Jihad violence, don’t you think it would be a good start to limit our Muslim population (preferably down to zero)?

D. Bandler

Ari October 11, 2010 at 1:35 PM
First, I do not call for “unlimited” immigration; the contagious and the violent must be kept out. Violence is precisely the issue at point here.

Second, keeping out all peaceful Muslims because of the violence of other Muslims violates justice as much as it would for any other religious group.

Denver Post’s Snarky Fact Check Fails: Ken Buck and Social Security

Note to Elizabeth Miller of the Denver Post: when writing a “fact check” about political candidates, you should probably try to make sure that your own statements are correct.

Consider Miller’s snarky — and obviously false — statement about the founders’ beliefs: “[U.S. Senate candidate Ken] Buck called the [Social Security] program unsustainable, and said he didn’t think the nation’s founders intended to have a program like Social Security (let’s recall that these people hadn’t conceived of a fire department or a postal service, either).”

I do not know the founders’ specific views on fire departments, but no serious person thinks they “hadn’t conceived of fire departments.” [August 17 update: a reader sent in a link about Benjamin Franklin’s firefighting efforts.] But regarding the postal service, we have readily available evidence. Perhaps Miller has heard of a little document called the U.S. Constitution, which contains the following line (Article I, Section 8): “The Congress shall have Power To… establish Post Offices and Post Roads…”

A review of the source Miller reviews, John King’s interview with Buck, clarifies that Buck made no mention of fire departments or the postal service.

Miller’s comment is not only stupid in content, it is wildly out of place. (I suppose it’s possible that an editor inserted the comment. If so, Miller, whose name appears on the piece, can take it up with the editor. If the line is indeed Miller’s, then her editor should take up the matter with her.) A “fact check” article is supposed to evaluate the claims of a candidate, not insert the writer’s own editorial remarks.

In fact, America’s founders did not envision Social Security or anything like it. Indeed, they did not envision a federal welfare state, which is almost entirely the product of the past century. Social Security dates from 1935. So Buck’s statement on the founders’ views is entirely correct, which is all that should concern Miller for the piece in question.

It is true that, at times, Buck has seemed to criticize Social Security per se, as when he said “the idea that the federal government should be running… retirement… is fundamentally against what I believe and that is that the private sector runs programs like that far better.” However, it is possible to think that while still advocating reform to save the system now that it is in existence, and that is Buck’s stated view.

I’m surprised that Miller does not reference Buck’s interview with the Denver Post’s own editorial board, which I have reviewed, in which Buck offers a specific plan for reforming Social Security.

To briefly review my own positions, I have indeed called for the privatization of the Post Office. I absolutely oppose the misnamed plan to “privatize” Social Security by transferring a portion of the funds to government-managed investment accounts. Instead, I want to truly privatize retirement planning by slowly phasing out Social Security by incrementally and continually raising the pay-out age. Perhaps Miller will note the difference between stating one’s own views and evaluating the views of others.

Denver Post Takes a Cheap Shot at Buck

I worried that, with the loss of the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver Post would get even worse. In the good ol’ days, generally I loved the News and hated the Post. But then I had a chance to chat with Post editor Greg Moore, who generally impressed me, and the Post also hired Rocky favorites Vincent Carroll and Lynn Bartels. Add to that the solid work of David Harsanyi and Chuck Plunkett, plus generally good news reporting, and the Post has slowly won me over.

Yet obviously sometimes the Post makes mistakes (such as when it rushed to report a possible secondary plagiarism scandal that didn’t pan out).

The paper’s editorial board erred (in a small way) in taking a cheap shot at Ken Buck while endorsing Jane Norton in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

Now, it doesn’t bother me that the Post endorsed Norton, and several of the paper’s arguments are fairly strong ones. For example, the Post notes that Buck received “a letter of reprimand… for bad-mouthing a felony case to defense attorneys,” an issue that will be used against him by Democrats regardless of the justice of the attack, and Buck “helped launch a questionable raid on a tax preparer’s office that was the subject of a Supreme Court rebuke” (which bothers me rather more).

I am no party man; indeed, I’m not even a registered Republican voter, so I have no say in the primary vote. I will mention that, initially, I thought Norton was the stronger candidate despite her endorsement of the Referendum C tax hike, though recently she has quite irritated me by smearing Buck and (following Buck) endorsing the horrific “personhood” measure.

My problem with the Post’s endorsement stems from the following language:

When we asked the two Republican candidates about spending, Norton zeroed in on the problem: federal entitlements.

She offered ideas about how to shore up Social Security and talked about means-testing Medicare. She wasn’t afraid to say that even military spending should be on the table.

Buck went for the easy gotcha, offering up the standard Republican line about cutting the National Endowment of the Arts and other small programs that are unpopular on the right. Perhaps they should be cut, but they represent only a tiny slice of government spending. When we asked him to be more specific, he had trouble.

“There are issues like Medicare, I just don’t know how to right this ship,” he said. “I mean, let’s be honest, we are beyond a simple solution to this. We have to call in the experts and figure this out. I can’t sit here and say this is the answer in Medicare.”

Judging from this analysis, Norton offered ideas for how to solve the entitlement crisis, while Buck said nothing about it. But that doesn’t square with the Post’s own published interviews with the candidates.

In fact Buck offered a good basic plan for reforming Social Security:

But I think in terms of Social Security . . . I have told my 19- and 22-year-old, you are not going to retire at age 62 with Social Security as life expectancy continues to increase. We have to put off the date of receiving benefits. Now, we shouldn’t do that with someone who’s 58 years old. But we should make sure the expectations for a 19- and 22-year-old are further down the road than 62 or 65. And we’re probably looking at a date like age 70 or something along those lines.

My only complaint is that Buck wants to raise the pay-out age only somewhat; I want to keep slowly raising it until the program is completely phased out.

Meanwhile, what did Norton say about Social Security?

One would be [look] at the automatic cost of living increases, the COLAs, in Social Security. … I think you’d have to look at increasing the age of retirement for the Medicare programs, Social Security, but not for those people who are close to retirement. So for young people coming into the system, I think that’s one of the things we’re going to have to do in the short term. In the long term, voluntary investment accounts if people want to do that. But again it’s going to have to be phased in, but we truly have to start talking about it.

So Norton wants to raise the pay-out age, which is exactly the same thing Buck wants to do. Sure, Norton mentions “voluntary investment accounts,” but no federal program is required to “allow” people to “voluntarily” invest their money, so on this point Norton’s suggestion is entirely vacuous. Norton’s answer is no more “specific” than is Buck’s, contrary to the Post’s editorial claim.

And what is Norton’s plan for Medicare? “You would have to look at means-testing in the Medicare program.” That’s it. That might be more than what Buck offered, but it hardly takes a Hasan Family Foundation fellow to parrot the term “means-testing.”

Now, if you want to complain about Buck’s interview, I offer the following exchange for consideration. The Post asked Buck about insurance. Buck said some nice things about health savings accounts and tax-deductible insurance premiums for individuals. Yet he also had the following to say: “I think it makes sense to not ban people that have pre-existing conditions.” The Post asked, “So how do you pay for that? Buck answered, “The same way you pay for a lot of things. We’re going to spread the burden out across the rest of the people who are insured.”

In other words, just as Obama wants to forcibly “spread the wealth around,” so Buck wants to forcibly “spread the burden out.” That is an anti-free market position. The real solution is to end the political controls that have destroyed long-term health insurance, thereby creating the problem of uninsurable pre-existing conditions.

Norton apparently wants “a high-risk pool for people who really need it, for people that aren’t insured and have a pre-existing condition;” it is unclear to me whether she wants to force insurance companies to “spread the burden out.”

On practically all policy matters, there’s really very little difference between Norton and Buck.

Theater Smoking Ban Violates Free Expression

The January 10 Denver Post published my letter under the title, “Why smoking ban shouldn’t apply on stage.” The letter replied to a January 4 editorial.

The Post argues that, because actors can use fake cigarettes on stage, the state smoking ban should apply. But just because The Post is capable of publishing fake news and commentary doesn’t mean it should be forbidden from publishing the real thing. The owners should decide policy, and patrons should decide which plays to see. It is a matter of property rights as well as free expression. By inviting politicians to set policy in the playhouse, The Post invites them to do the same in the newsroom.

Free association is also a critical right under assault by the smoking ban, in the theater as well as other private establishments. Actors too have a right to reach mutually agreeable terms for working. A play properly involves the mutual consent of theater owners, actors, and patrons. Politicians violate the rights of all those parties by interfering.

The Post is schizophrenic regarding the First Amendment (which is odd given that free expression is what enables newspapers to do business). Thankfully on January 22 the Post stood with free speech by declaring that individuals retain their rights when they join an association to promote ideas with their financial resources.

Dear Dean Singleton, Please Charge Me

Westword’s Michael Roberts reports that “Dean Singleton… plans to start charging readers for lotsa online content at select MediaNews papers in California and Pennsylvania beginning in 2010.” This is relevant to us in Colorado because Singleton also publishes the Denver Post. Are fees for the online Post in our future?

God, I hope so.

Good journalism is hard work. Good investigative journalism is especially hard and time-consuming work. People tend not do do a lot of hard work without compensation. (I imagine Roberts would confirm this.) Thus, journalism needs to pay.

Journalism can pay in one of three general ways: advertising, philanthropic contributions, and reader payments. Advertising can be direct or indirect; for example, Michelle Malkin runs direct advertising, and her entire blog serves to advertise her books. (You’ll notice that I advertise my own book, Values of Harry Potter, on my web page. And it makes a fine addition to the tree or stocking!) I would be interested in learning how much of the Incredible Shrinking Westword’s revenues come from print versus online advertising. (While the weekly’s print edition has gotten noticeably smaller, its online content has expanded dramatically.)

I doubt anybody is going to make a generous gift to the Post.

That leaves reader contributions to supplement advertising revenues. These payments can be by the piece or via subscriptions.

As I suggested earlier, I think papers (and it’s funny even to still call them “papers”) should give readers a choice: watch an annoying ad, pay a monthly or annual subscription, or pay to read a single article at a time.

How is that not the best of all worlds? Cheapskates can still read content for free, except they have to pay with their time by watching a real advertisement. Regular readers can subscribe, preferably for a low annual rate (I would seriously consider paying, say, $50 per year to read the Post online). And occasional readers who value their time can pay some token amount — perhaps an amount that varies with the ambition of the piece — to read a single article. As I also mentioned before, the key to this is to figure out a very-fast way to make micropayments (else there is no time savings).

The fact is that readers who value good content and don’t want to waste time looking at ads will be prepared to pay to read that content. I absolutely hate the Post’s online ads that pop up, block text, push text down the page, and otherwise annoy the living hell out of me when all I’m trying to do is read a spot of news. I would much rather pay a little than deal with those sorts of ads.

I think it’s worth revisiting what Post editor Greg Moore said in September:

In terms of advertising being a means of supporting original [journalism]… right now advertising provides like 85 percent of our revenue. It’s still a huge, huge, huge driver. It’s a huge source of revenue. It’s going to be probably for a while. But I think our survival — and when I say survival I’m not talking about the newspaper, I’m talking about our ability to do journalism — I think we’ll have to shift to a different model. And I think that model is that the user will have to pay for the content that he or she consumes.

I don’t think that the cat is out of the bag. I think that the record industry sort of proved that, the music industry sort of proved that you can change people’s behavior. Napster, in the mid-1990s, everyone thought that would just sort of kill everything, and they put those people in jail, put them out of business, and now people pay for music. They do it differently — they don’t buy albums anymore, they buy singles, but they still pay a lot of money for music.

So I think there’s still hope for us, that we can sort of reverse this trend. As somebody said, I think the worst decision that was made by the owners of newspapers was to sort of be stampeded into giving away their content for free. But it doesn’t mean that it’s over.

Unfortunately, rather than quote somebody who knows what he’s talking about, such as Moore, Roberts quotes some clueless blog post by Rob Burgess.

Burgess quotes survey results from NewFiction:

80 percent of consumers recently surveyed by Forrester Research say they would discontinue their favorite free print content if they were asked to pay for it. Less than 10 percent of respondents would agree to subscription models; only three percent would opt for micropayments.

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner nicely summarize the problem with this in their new book SuperFreakonomics: “There is good reason to be skeptical of data from personal surveys. There is often a vast gulf between how people say they behave and how they actually behave” (page 7).

If you ask people if they want to pay for something they now get for free, what do you expect them to say? They’re going to give you some variant of “no.”

But if a person actually has a choice of reading a great article and paying, versus not reading that article, in at least some cases the person is going to pay up and ask for more. (Again, I think newspapers would be smart to offer a third option of spending time watching an ad, probably in the form of a short video. These sorts of ads are already common on a variety of web pages.)

So Burgess’s first argument is bunk. Let us turn to his second argument:

You ruined everything in the beginning by starting with giving everything away for free. It has now been almost 15 years since the Internet broke wide and you’re just NOW getting around to asking people to pay for your content? I don’t blame people for not wanting to pay for it anymore, why should they? Who would pay for something they can get for free?

The options are not “get free content” versus “pay for content.” The other option is “get no content,” at least as far as investigative journalism is concerned. With that as the alternative, paying doesn’t look so bad after all. People “should” pay, and they should be willing to, if that’s the only way to get hard-to-produce content they want to read. (Again, easy-to-produce content will remain free, and ads can help pay for hard-to-produce content.)

What Burgess seems to think ridiculous is Singleton’s comment, “We have to condition readers that everything is not free.” But Singleton’s comment is perfectly sensible. Moore uses the example of paying for music online. Today many people pay to receive television stations that they could otherwise get for free, because the reception is better and the broadcast stations are packaged with cable-only stations. Consumers change their behavior all the time, even (or especially) after they say they won’t.

There ain’t no such thing as free journalism. If journalists aren’t willing to work without compensation, philanthropists don’t pay, and advertising doesn’t pay enough, the only alternative is for readers to pay, if they want the benefit of the product.

Really advertising is a way of extracting a payment of time from readers. Again, I think papers should offer that alternative. I would much rather pay in dollars, as for me that would be the far less costly alternative.

Could Micropayments Save Newspapers?

At last month’s media panel, somebody (I believe Adrienne Russell) mentioned the idea of micropayments for online media content. Such payments might help save the newspaper industry as well as help fund better bloggers.

The idea is that readers would pay a small fee — say a quarter or fifty cents — to read an article online. A popular story that drew a hundred thousand readers could do quite well for a publication.

Consider how the Wall Street Journal presents its news stories. It gives you the headline and the opening sentences, then asks you to subscribe. But I don’t subscribe to that paper, because I rarely want to read one of its news stories (and its opinions are available for free). But, if I could pay a small, one-time fee to read the occasional story, I’d probably pay that paper a few dollars per year. That’s not a lot, but multiplied by a few hundred thousand extra readers it could add up. Indeed, newspapers could offer monthly subscriptions for regular readers as well as micropayments for occasional readers.

At the media panel, Greg Moore of the Denver Post said a couple of things of particular interest to this issue. First, he said that newspapers might have to print less frequently. Second, readers would have to pay for online content, eventually, for newspapers to survive and thrive. I can envision a newspaper that goes to press, say, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. The print edition would be stuffed with ads, comics, classifieds, crosswords — stuff people like to touch and feel. They would be big, perhaps nearly as many pages as seven days runs now, so subscription rates could at least stay even while production and distribution costs dropped dramatically. This would be the answer to traditionalists, who actually enjoy getting their hands dirty reading the paper. (I would as soon eat dinosaur eggs for breakfast.)

Under such a scheme, the Post would raise revenue from print and online ads, print and online subscriptions, online only subscriptions, and micropayments for individual stories. Publications that used micropayments would probably want to make some significant portion of its content available for free.

Bloggers (the kind with actual readers) and strictly online publications might also be able to employ micropayments for more ambitious stories.

The key to micropayments, of course, is to make them easy. A PayPal account might get the job done, or perhaps PayPal could adapt its existing program to make micropayments easier. Most people aren’t going to pay a small fee to read an article unless it’s as easy as clicking a button or maybe two.

One publication that has already combined ads, micropayments, and subscriptions is The Objective Standard. The publication shows the first part of an article online for no cost. To read the entire article, one must subscribe or “Purchase a PDF of this article” for, in this case, $4.95. (Micropayments for journal articles or specialty articles can be higher than for regular newspaper stories.)

The more I think about it, the more I love the idea of micropayments. Don’t saddle me with a long-term commitment. I have enough of those. Don’t litter my screen with pop ups and flashing lights trying to sell me crap. (That said, a third option to a subscription or a micropayment might be to watch, say, a thirty second video advertising some product before reading the article. I notice that Fox already does this for online video.) Just give me the option of paying a small fee to read something that interests me.

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Media Panel: Discussion Continues

The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition hosted a media panel September 24 at the Tattered Cover in Denver. Previously I transcribed my opening comments and added a quick answer to a participant who asked whether she should enter journalism. Here I continue my review of the discussion.

First, though, as an aside, just yesterday I heard about the Nevada News Bureau, edited by conservative Elizabeth Crum (whom I met at the Sam Adams Alliance earlier this year). This service allows free, attributed reproduction of content. The about page states: “We’re launching this news service in part because the owners of newspapers and television news teams have, in many cases, cut back on statehouse reporting and investigative journalism which in turn has eroded their ability to be a true ‘watchdog’ for the voter and taxpayer. … The Nevada News Bureau is a non-profit project of Citizen Outreach, a 501(c)(3) exempt organization.” So, I don’t know anything about that nonprofit, and I don’t know what caliber of journalism the service will produce, but it struck me as an interesting model.

Now on with the media panel discussion. I’m pulling quotes from the longer recording, and again these quotes are slightly redacted to ease the transition to text.

Adrienne Russell added weight to my point that independent writers often conduct original journalism: “What are bloggers going to do if mainstream journalism dies [one of the questions asked]? I think anyone who knows anybody who is an online journalist knows many many cases of journalism stories that break into the larger news media landscape that actually originated in the blogosphere. And most often times, it’s not even traced back to that after the first couple hours or the first day.”

Russell continued:

I think what I want to try to focus on for my few minutes is…. [journalism’s] role as a public service or a public interest. … What is the future of newspapers? But I think what obviously we really should be asking is, what is the future of journalism, and its ability to facilitate, and further, and make for a healthy public discourse, in this democracy and all over the world. …

I think those two questions go hand in hand. But recently there have been all these stats that have come out, specifically one recently from the Pew Foundation… report that says that web traffic to the highest ranked news sites has gone up 27 percent from 2007 to 2008. And so what does that tell us? I’m actually not a huge stats fan, I usually don’t throw them around. I’m more of a cultural studies person. But what does that tell us? It tells us that people are still interested in news.

And also I recently read that the Columbia journalism program, the masters degree program, got almost twice as many applicants this year as they did last year, which also signifies something about our attitude, and our understanding, and our relationship with journalism in this country.

… I think that the question of the business model has to look beyond newspapers, and has to look at all of these great examples that are actually emerging and beginning to flourish. Like, whether or not you like the politics associated with them, or you think they could be sustained in this giant model, things like the Colorado Independent, the Huffington Post, Slate — there’s all these examples of journalism that is flourishing, that is serious journalism. … One of the better examples is ProPublica…

So probably what needs to happen is, traditional news organizations need to keep paying really close attention to what’s going on with these successful models, whether they be for profit or not for profit. …

Like Ari said, this is a time of innovation and great flourishing in terms of journalism, if not the journalism industry as we know it. And one of the reasons for this is that the new media technology, which is so often framed as threatening journalism as we know it, is creating these new possibilities for people to get involved in creating media. …

So I think embedded in one of your questions was this idea of, are we just going to be inundated with this information that hasn’t yet been debunked, and what are we going to do with it, and how are we going to… function without the filters that we’ve come to depend on. An the answer to this, to me, is that we’re all, not only having an increased capacity to create media, but in that process we’re learning how to assess it. So we’re learning — we have to learn a higher level of media literacy. So, in that way, we’re so much more engaged in the media landscape than we ever could be.

And the old model was great in certain respects, but I think we all know that it also privileged particular sectors of society, it propped up the status quo, it’s failed us in major ways. In ways I’m not sure that is possible anymore, given the dynamic environment where people are actually contributing. …

Dominic Graziano feared that his classes aren’t preparing future journalists for new media. He also said he thinks more people are applying to graduate school “because there’s no jobs.” Russell said at least “they must have a faith that there will be [jobs available] some day.”

Graziano continued:

The points that we’re making about how journalism — decent, investigative journalism — can still be seen on the internet… I truly believe that. … But, my problem as a student at least, is [this.] We can take this upon ourselves. Every citizen can take it upon themselves to look into whatever they believe deserves looking into, and write a story about it. The question is where does the money come from. As a blogger… you’re not going to get corporate sponsorship. …

I can spend weeks up on weeks researching a story, and doing interviews, and stuff like that, and post it up on my blog, and it can get picked up by CNN, or the Post, and they can spend eighty bucks as a freelancer. …

The problem with getting rid of corporate journalism is you get rid of the possibility of a salary. And when everybody’s working freelance hours on freelance budgets, we will see a decrease… What happens when we’re not covering everything? What happens when we can’t be at every [hearing?] in the courtroom? … Where are people going to get this information? … That’s really what concerns me the most about the future of journalism.

Ari talks about bloggers being able to provide feedback to content that’s being published. But when that content isn’t being published, when bloggers are responsible for all that content, it’s going to turn into very partisan arguments… People will visit the websites that either completely support what they already believe, or [are] completely against what they already believe, in order just to argue with it.

We need to focus a lot more on balanced reporting, fair reporting, in-depth reporting. And my fear, as a student, and as a journalist, is that as everything moves away from these media giants, is you lose the ability to pay somebody to do a good job.

I thought of the fact that newspapers of old tended to be overtly partisan, but I never saw the opportunity to discuss this point at the forum.

Wendy Norris followed:

… I think there is a crisis in our nation around critical thinking. And that hits on the editorial/journalistic side, and that hits on the readership side. People are too willing to believe whatever is delivered to them, whether it’s in the newspaper, or a blog, or on television. And I think Tom’s example of Justice Sotomayor is a very good example of that. It’s very easy to find that speech online and learn that those remarks were taken completely out of context.

And I think that we talk a lot in this country about First Amendment rights, but there are also responsibilities with the First Amendment. And I think that if we’re going to find a new way to deliver news content — and I’m a huge proponent of blowing up what we’ve got now and starting anew, because it just simply does not work in this era — then we need to be really honest about what it is that we’re trying to do and what it is as news consumers that we want.

Norris said that even when working with a nonprofit organization, “I had to fight constantly to do the kind of investigative reporting that I thought was important for this community to have access to.” She said that readers have a responsibility to support something better than fluff and sensationalism.

Greg Moore rounded out the introductory remarks:

I’m really surprised that so many people are out tonight. I think it’s great, and to see so many young people in the audience is really heartening.

The first question was, what will become of the newspaper business model in the next five to ten years? Is there any hope for advertising as a means of supporting original reporting? And then the whole thing about public or nonprofit subsidization.

I don’t believe, first, that we’re in a post-journalism era. We are not. And I don’t think we’ll ever be in a post-journalism era. It may take on different forms or be done by a disaggregated sort of collection of people like what we’re beginning to see now. But there’re always going to be things happening that we didn’t know, or that we’re intensely interested in. We’ll always be looking for people to help us understand what’s happening.

In the next five to ten years, I think that newspapers will be still around. I think there’s something about the authentication of an event that is really important. I’ll just give you an example. When Barack Obama won the election, that was posted online. But people were lined up in our lobby to get a newspaper. Why? Because 100 years from now, would you rather have a printout from this blog or whatever, or would you rather have a 92-point headline that declares the election of the first black president? That’s simple.

If your kid runs for 350 yards for the football game, do you want a printout that could have been manipulated or whatever, or would you want it in a newspaper? You’d want it in a newspaper.

So I think there’ll be newspapers. I think we’ll be smaller. I think we probably will come out less frequently. I think it’ll cost more. I think the notion of being a paper of record, of trying to cover every city council meeting and things of that nature, will increasingly be left to bloggers and other sort of independent gatherers of news and information. …

In terms of advertising being a means of supporting original [journalism]… right now advertising provides like 85 percent of our revenue. It’s still a huge, huge, huge driver. It’s a huge source of revenue. It’s going to be probably for a while. But I think our survival — and when I say survival I’m not talking about the newspaper, I’m talking about our ability to do journalism — I think we’ll have to shift to a different model. And I think that model is that the user will have to pay for the content that he or she consumes.

I don’t think that the cat is out of the bag. I think that the record industry sort of proved that, the music industry sort of proved that you can change people’s behavior. Napster, in the mid-1990s, everyone thought that would just sort of kill everything, and they put those people in jail, put them out of business, and now people pay for music. They do it differently — they don’t buy albums anymore, they buy singles, but they still pay a lot of money for music.

So I think there’s still hope for us, that we can sort of reverse this trend. As somebody said, I think the worst decision that was made by the owners of newspapers was to sort of be stampeded into giving away their content for free. But it doesn’t mean that it’s over.

In terms of public or nonprofit subsidization, I think it’s still an open question. We’re sort of like still the nascent stages of that. I stood on the advisory board of ProPublica, and I think that it’s a really interesting experiment. We’ve published some of their stories. I think they do good work. But they look more like old media than new media. I think that’s important to acknowledge.

I also think it’s really sort of hard assess what the future’s going to be like, because the people who work for ProPublica are some of the best old media print journalists ever. And so that whole thing about a firewall between the people who pay for the news operation and the people who gather the news operation is really scrupulously adhered to. …

Second question is about the internet. Is what we see on the internet from sources other than mainstream media really journalism? I will say, yeah, it is. It’s a different kind of journalism. But, when we put together our newspaper, it’s a menu of things. While I would not necessarily describe everything that’s being done by bloggers as journalism, I think it’s content generation. And it’s interesting content. Sometimes it does lead to stories in mainstream media.

And I might add that bloggers have existed since the beginning of newspapers; they wrote letters to the editor. … There’s always them, when you write a story, somebody out there who knows a lot about a little. They know a lot. And they can finds things you left out of a story, they can find things you got wrong. So bloggers don’t bother me. I don’t have any problem with blogging. But what will bloggers do and cable commentators do? They’ll just do what they’ve been doing. And hopefully they’ll do it a little bit better.

But here’s the big distinction. And you can deride corporate journalism if you want to. But the thing about corporate journalism is that you have a support structure to do tough things. That’s my lawyer, okay? I mean, I pay him a lot of money to open doors, to stop people from trying to prevent us from publishing stories. And the question is, what’s the structure an independent blogger has? What happens when you’re trying to write a really tough story, and they say, you know, I’m going to sue your butt off? I’m going to take your house, I’m going to take your car, I’m going to take everything? Does that journalism get done? Well, it’s much more likely with the sort of support structure that we have — corporate journalism — that we can. …

What do we need to do to keep the public service component of newspapers alive? We need money. You know, what I always say is, a free press ain’t free. It costs a lot of money to do journalism that matters.

And to your point, that newspapers or journalism has supported the status quo, I vigorously disagree with that. I think that newspapers and journalism is about challenging the status quo. It always has been. …

We’re not entering a post-journalism era. We are entering a post-fact era, where facts aren’t really that important to a lot of people. And I don’t mean that they don’t care about facts, they just care about the facts that agree with their position. And there’s this really interesting book that’s out that’s called… True Enough. And it talks about sort of the belief society, where people actually won’t let in information that challenges things that they believe, and only accept information that sort of supports their point. … So we’re in a post-fact era, and I think we run the risk of getting in really deep trouble by only letting in stuff that we agree with.

I think that one of the things that sort of contributes to a vigorous democracy is finding out about things that challenge your assumptions. That make you question what you believe. And I worry about the silo mentality that seems to be developing in this post-fact society. …

I will say this about the Sotomayor quote. … The day after the story came out, when Newt Gingrich accused her of being a racist, we read the speech. We read the speech — we do have time to do good journalism. We read the speech, and we actually wrote a story that said that’s out of context. Here is what she said. Here is what she meant. Here’s what she said before, here’s what she said after. And that’s really what journalism’s about. Journalism is about the business of verification. And we as a society can’t afford to lose that.

During the questions I offered one final push (and this is where I’ll leave things here):

One big issue that we’re talking about here is this idea of impartiality or disinterestedness, versus partisanship. … I think that, as a goal, disinterestedness is completely wrong. If you’re disinterested, that just means that you’re lazy and you don’t care about the story. What you ought to be is passionately interested in obtaining the truth.

So it’s not about being disinterested versus being partisan. It’s about, are you looking for the truth, or not? And I totally agree with Greg Moore that we do need some larger media enterprises with these checks and balances, with good editors. Because there are a lot of bloggers who just don’t have the discipline to write good stuff. …

That doesn’t mean that a large organization is overcoming this partisanship. I’ve seen some what I consider overtly partisan “news” stories in the pages of the Denver Post. … You’re not going to escape the problem by having big media versus little media. The difference is, is the individual reporter going to go after the facts.

So I’m overtly partisan. I mean, that’s why I do journalism, because I’m a political activist. I’m an advocacy journalist. I’m oriented toward free markets and individual rights. That’s my thing. So, for instance, I did a lot of original research into corporate welfare in Colorado. …

Instead of having a distinction of disinterestedness versus partisanship, I would like to make another distinction, which is the straight, easy, fact-based news… versus more of the analysis, the integration of the facts. Now, with that integration of the facts, that’s a lot harder, and that’s where we get into a lot more disagreement. So that’s why I love reading Colorado Independent, Westword (some writers at Westword tend to have sort of a left-wing bent), but I love reading these publications because they look up good facts, and that’s useful to me. I mean, a fact’s a fact, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican, Democrat, right winger, left winger.

I’d like to briefly address the Sotomayor issue, just because that illustrates what we’re talking about. So, if you tend to lean toward the left, and you’re reading a publication that tends to lean toward the left, and it says that a quote by Sotomayor is out of context, it’s like, “Yes, we’re all right, and everybody who’s beating up Sotomayor is wrong.” But, you know what, I read that speech too… I’ve done a detailed analysis of that speech on my web page. … And the fact is that she is basically a judicial subjectivist. That’s what she is, and she repeats the point over and over again, in many different ways. So the broader point is not out of context. …

So one of the complaints is we filter the facts according to our perception. But a lot of people saying this, and beating up the other side, are doing the exact same thing, right? So it’s a mirror that we need to hold up to ourselves too. … Whether we’re partisans overtly or unnamed partisans, I think that that’s very very important.