This Tinkerbell Job
*Clap* *Clap* *Clap*
Hello, dear readers. Parker here.
As I sit here, reflecting on the recent wave of layoffs sweeping through the media landscape, a whimsical-yet-oddly-fitting analogy strikes me: my job, much like the existence of Tinkerbell, hinges on belief. Mine, not in the clapping-hands-to-save-a-fairy sense, but in a more tangible-yet-equally-precarious way.
You see, in the ever-shifting realm of media and journalism, my existence as a writer, an analyst, a voice in the chaos, is sustained by those who believe in the value of my work — subscribers, readers, those willing to pay for the words I cobble together.
Just as Tinkerbell's light flickers and dims without the steadfast belief of others, my role as a writer wavers in the absence of audience support. In this digital age, where “content” is king yet paradoxically of little value, the connection between creator and audience has never been more critical. The recent layoffs are a grim reminder of the fragility of media as an industry. Talented voices are silenced not by a lack of skill or passion, but by the brutal economics of a field in flux and often just a bit of bad luck.
But first, real quick: here’s the part of the newsletter where I ask you to consider signing up for the free version if you’re new here and ask existing free subscribers to consider upgrading to the paid version.
Layoffs are more than just lost jobs. They are lost stories. Somewhere, a corrupt city councilmember will get away with a career of heinous wrongdoing because of one of the jobs lost to recent cuts. Journalism matters. How we see the world matters. The journalists who lost their jobs last week, last month, last year, and last decade deserve better than they’ve gotten. They shouldn’t have to hope to land Tinkerbell Jobs that exist through belief and patronage. In fact, they can’t. It’s not sustainable. What so many of them have provided is a public service whose value cannot be valued in simple economic terms alone.
And that’s why I feel so fortunate to somehow have this Tinkerbell Job of mine, sustained for the moment by your belief and patronage. So long as that's the case, I will do my utmost to provide analysis, opinions, and insights when applicable. Thank you. Again.
First Five: Stories on a Single Topic to Start Your Week
I’ve been thinking of debuting a few regular features here and there. One of these is a round-up of five stories on a single topic I’ve been thinking or writing about. So hey! Let’s give that a try, okay? This week’s theme is the state of media/journalism.
Hundreds Of Journalists Just Lost Their Jobs. I’m One Of Them — And I’m Begging You To Pay Attention (HuffPost, Emily St. Martin)
This isn’t just about me or the others who now find themselves out of work. This is much bigger than any of us. Journalism is more crucial now than maybe ever. A free press holds politicians and leaders accountable. Journalists investigate and call out all the unkept promises and hollow plans spouted passionately from podiums. They hold feet to the fire and uncover abuses of power. It is often their work that shines a light into the darkest places to find answers — that offers and insists upon the truth in an increasingly unscrupulous world.
Los Angeles Times Owner Clashed With Top Editor Over Unpublished Article (The New York Times, Ryan Mac, Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson)
When Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire owner of The Los Angeles Times, hired Kevin Merida to be the newspaper’s top editor nearly three years ago, he hailed the journalist as someone who would maintain the publication’s high standards and journalistic integrity.
By this winter, the professional warmth between the two men had chilled. Their relationship was strained in part by an incident in December when Dr. Soon-Shiong tried to dissuade Mr. Merida from pursuing a story about a wealthy California doctor and his dog, three people with knowledge of the interactions said. The doctor was an acquaintance of Dr. Soon-Shiong’s, the people said.
The previously unreported incident occurred as The Los Angeles Times, the largest news organization on the West Coast, struggled to reverse years of losses amid a difficult market for newspapers. Mr. Merida resigned this month. Shortly afterward, the company laid off roughly 115 journalists, or about 20 percent of its newsroom.
We Need Your Email Address (404 Media, Jason Koebler, Samantha Cole, Emanuel Maiberg, Joseph Cox)
In December, we noticed that articles we spent significant amounts of time on—reporting that involved weeks or months of research, talking to and protecting sources, filing public records requests, paying for and parsing those records, hours or days of writing, editing, and packaging—were being scraped by bots, run through an AI article “spinner” or paraphraser, and republished on random websites.
Sam’s investigation into the inclusion of child sexual abuse material in the LAION large language model, a hugely important and sensitive story that we ultimately worked on over the course of nearly a year before we even launched, consulted with a lawyer on, and spoke to many experts for, quickly became an article called “They Delete A Database To Train AI Generative Images To Contain Child Sexual Abuse Material” on a website called “Nation World News.” Jason's scoop about a Russian stowaway became “LAX Passenger Arrives on International Flight Without Passport, Visa, Ticket, Report Says” on the Clayton County Register, another site full of AI cloned articles. Emanuel’s lighthearted interview with John Hittler became “The Man With the ‘worst Last Name In Human History’ Reveals How He Discovered Its Benefits” on “Nation World News” and, separately, “How The Man With the Worst Last Name in Human History Discovered Its Advantages” on “World Nation News,” a totally different website. Joseph’s article about how AI-generated plagiarism is showing up all over Google News, while our articles are not, was quickly picked up by a website called “Digital Information World” in a completely illegible, obviously AI-generated article called “AI-Produced Content Is Being Marketed Across Google News And The Company Is Aware Of It,” apparently written by Dr. Hura Anwar, a dental surgeon who publishes articles on the website roughly every six minutes, all day every day. Digital Information World is, of course, indexed by Google News.
This problem is going to get worse, not better. Over the last few weeks Jason has been researching and experimenting with a series of AI tools that promise to “spin” articles for their users. One, called SpinRewriter, lets users create 1,000 slightly different versions of the same article with a single click and to automatically publish them to as many WordPress sites as you want using a paid plugin.
NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen’s thread explaining the downturn in the news industry: big layoffs, scant investment, no recovery in sight.
A list of factors is not an explanation, I said. But that is what I have.
So here's my thread. None of it should be news to people in the business.
Factors converging on the news industry to hollow it out, weaken the product, scare investors, and threaten jobs:
With a few exceptions, the search for a stable business model has been unsuccessful, in part because the problem changes faster than R & D in the news business.
The rich guy rescue plan rarely works. The rescuer typically underestimates how hard it is to find money in news and keep quality reasonably high. When that is made clear, rich guy's commitment starts faltering. And the hedge funds lie in wait. See San-Diego Union Tribune.
The ad industry doesn't need the news industry when there are so many other ways to purchase attention, and so many better ways to target users.
The internet is rewiring not only the media sector (as with streaming) but the public itself, which is breaking up, or being broken, into multiple — some say parallel — realities.
As you can tell from my halting attempt to describe it, we do not have a good language for this shift.
The news industry is still struggling to re-establish a direct connection with readers (through newsletters and podcasts, for example...) after social media captured a lot of that territory for itself.
After a period in the 2010s when it appeared that they did, the big tech platforms today clearly don't care much about news delivery or quality, and yet they have greatly disrupted these things.
Local news is the hardest hit, and local is where people form an initial relationship with journalists and journalism— or don't. TV viewers still develop bonds with local anchors. But TV newsrooms lean heavily on the local newspaper's reporting, and that is where the crisis is.
Journalists have to take it upon themselves to treat sustainability as their problem, but this is not what they signed up for. They signed up to do great stories.
Philanthropy has taken its time to grasp what is happening, and government funding is (in my view) as much a threat as it is a solution.
To say that trust in the news media has declined is correct, but too vague. The reality is that destroying confidence in the practice and products of journalism is a potent and successful political strategy, as with Steve Bannon's "flood the zone."
Final note: Decades ago, the leadership class in American journalism accepted the argument that real pluralism had to come to their newsrooms, or the journalism would suffer. Or at least, this is what they said to themselves…
But the bosses also said this: We can have a diverse and multi-colored newsroom, and maintain the view from nowhere.
See the contradiction? Under-represented journalists are to simultaneously supply a missing perspective and suppress it— in order to prove their objectivity.
I mention this for a simple reason: Some of the wounds are self-inflicted.
This thread is input. For the output go to CNN: "News industry off to brutal 2024 start as mass layoffs devastate publishers, raising questions about the future of journalism."
The News Business Really Is Cratering (Politico, Jack Shafer)
The ongoing flood obviously won’t sweep all journalism away. But except for a few big players, will it become more of a cottage industry than an economic and cultural force? If great cities like Los Angeles, with its many prosperous, educated and engaged citizens, can’t support a decent daily newspaper, what hope is there for the rest of the country? Are we belatedly learning that the great journalism empires — the Times-Mirror chain, Knight Ridder, Gannett, Scripps-Howard, Tribune, McClatchy, Advance Publications, Hearst, Freedom Communications and the rest — weren’t journalism empires as much as they were advertising colossuses, and that they became doomed when they lost status as the best advertising vehicle?
What I’m reading
I’ve been trying to read more newsletters lately. I think I’m going to start dropping links at the bottom of my posts — just generally anything that I find interesting or worth sharing. These could be from newsletters hosted on Substack, Ghost, Buttondown, Beehiiv, or anywhere else.
atpublished a story over the weekend about the anti-trans “endgame” you should all check out.
The tl;dr is that Republican legislators in Michigan and Ohio openly admitted that the “endgame” in their anti-trans legislative push is to make trans care illegal for all trans people of all ages.
For years, trans people have warned that things like bans on care for minors and bills micromanaging who can play on what sports team were part of larger efforts to effectively criminalize trans existence. Every so often, anti-trans activists will openly admit as much. Even so, trans people regularly get framed as overreacting. Well, here lawmakers are, again, proving that trans people are not, in fact, overreacting:
Over at,has some thoughts on the year in progress:
And I enjoyed this post atand this example of how dumb these “anti-woke” controversies tend to be [bolded emphasis mine]:
Australia has not escaped the hysteria over Woke. Despite the fact that our politicians are usually fiercely, to the point of cringe, protective of Australiana and against foreign seppo bullshit like Halloween, they can nevertheless be trusted to import a conservative moral panic about three seconds after an American Republican comes up with it.
This piece isn’t about that debate, but about another controversy that sprang out of it. This year, the supermarket chain Woolworths decided that it would not sell Australia day merchandise and paraphernalia. The tacky and frequently foreign manufactured flags, beer coolers, straw hats and novelty inflatable thongs (note to Americans: These are what we call sandals, not what you’re thinking) necessary to signify affection for one’s country for a single day before heading off to landfill did not adorn the shelves of Woolies this January.
This was, of course, a national disgrace. Peter Dutton, the leader of the nation’s conservative party and prospective Prime Minister, who incidentally looks exactly like an even paler, smoother Voldemort with roughly equivalent politics, called for a national boycott of the supermarket, claiming that they were working against the national interest.
As a result, stores have been vandalised and the controversy has risen to the level of a national scandal. This guy who runs a competing supermarket called Drakes thinks this is just absolutely not on, as evidenced by his stern crossed-arms pose and his denunciation of “Wokeworths” which he will probably maintain until the day he dies is the wittiest thing he’s ever come out with.
But why has Woolworths supermarket opted to betray the country with such radical far left posturing? Do they hate Australia or want to exterminate white people due to the woke mind virus the globalists put in the Covid masks?
No, it turns out the stuff just doesn’t sell. Also, the Woolworths chain, whose logo is a W cleverly shaped like a lettuce, primarily focuses on food and produce. People just don’t rush to the local big box meat and veg megastore to pick up a vuvuzula with the Southern Cross and Union Jack on it. Not only does the store need to take a loss on the merch they don’t sell, but they also lose the valuable retail space.
But the fact that people don’t want to actually buy this junk is beside the point. They want to see that it’s there. It’s the very definition of a virtue signal, not the version of the term conservatives snidely throw at anyone who says something that isn’t racist. It’s a lighthouse lamp that has to stay on all the time because people are afraid if it goes out it means someone got infected by the woke mind virus.
That’s it for me today. I hope you’re all doing well.