Noam Chomsky on changes in the media

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Media & persuasion - Oct 5

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New ‘Positive Change’ Magazines Thrive In Fertile Bay Area Soil

Heidi Benson, San Francisco Chronicle
When the editors of the monthly news magazine Ode moved from the Netherlands to Mill Valley three years ago, they gained more than a view of Mount Tam. They gained proximity to innovation and to readers who crave it.

“Most of the positive change in the world comes from California,” said Ode’s editor in chief, Jurriaan Kamp, a 48-year-old journalist with a visionary bent. “This part of the world looks toward the Asian basin, the basin of the future. The Atlantic is the basin of the past.”

...Today, Ode is among a new generation of “positive change” magazines that, by focusing on problem solving, tap a burgeoning readership seeking to act upon its convictions - or at least read about those who do.

Positive change might sound New Agey, but it has proved to be an increasingly popular and profitable approach for print magazines, even in the midst of the digital revolution.

San Francisco’s Yoga Journal, which was founded in Berkeley in 1975, claims a circulation of 350,000 and won the 2007 National Magazine Award for Best Consumer Publication.

And San Francisco is one of the largest markets for Utne magazine. The 27-year-old, Minneapolis-based stalwart of the “progressive lifestyle” category, with a circulation of 225,000, recently updated its name (formerly Utne Reader) to emphasize its commitment to action and change.

Other successful long-running national magazines in the genre are Body & Soul, founded in 1974 as New Age Journal, and E/The Environmental Magazine, an 18-year-old bimonthly.

“These are magazines for people who give a damn,” said Samir Husni, the University of Mississippi journalism professor known as “Mr. Magazine.” “They are in the business of activating the human being to enjoy their surroundings.”

Husni believes the recent growth in magazines focused on “sustainability and community” is tied to 9/11, as well as political and environmental concerns such as the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and global warming.

Another factor driving the proliferation of positive change magazines is advertising dollars from companies selling hybrid cars, organic beauty products and eco-fashion.
(5 October 2007)
Also at Common Dreams.


So You Think You Have a Policy

Scott Adams, Dilbert Blog
...As president, I would solve all the world’s problems by creating a reality TV show where think tanks compete for the best solutions to everything from health care to energy policy to immigration. The judges would be experts who help viewers sort the squirrel shit from the caviar, but the final decisions would be made by viewers, just like on American Idol.

I think you can see many problems with this plan. But you have to compare it to the current political process where idiots elect liars to transfer wealth to crooks. How's that working out for you?

You might think one problem with my plan is that few people would watch a show about political policies. But before the TV show Survivor came on, who predicted that millions of people would watch a bunch of assholes fighting over a coconut? Before American Idol, who predicted that a show featuring bad singers (mostly) would be a worldwide sensation? A good producer can make anything seem fascinating.

Let’s take one example: energy policy. At the risk of oversimplifying, our current energy policy in The United States involves shooting bearded people. It’s not hard to imagine better ideas coming out of a reality TV show. I’m not a think tank and I can give you a few great ideas right off the top of my head:

1. Pass a law in the United States requiring power companies to put a patriotism rating on customer bills. Depending on how much you reduce your consumption over the prior year, you earn a rating of up to four American flags. If you use more energy than last year, your bill comes printed with only one flag. And it’s the flag of Saudi Arabia, you frickin’ traitor. Energy consumption would drop like a rock.

2. Pass a law requiring all cars to have a large gas mileage label on the driver's side door, with an arrow pointing to the driver’s big ol’ head. Everyone already knows, in a general sense, which vehicles use the most gas. But if you have to drive around town with a “9 miles per gallon” label pointed at your mullet, it might make you think twice the next time you consider putting monster tires on your pickup truck.

Seriously, I’d love to watch a reality show where two think tanks argue over whether we should go balls-to-the-wall growing sugar cane and turning it into fuel. Is corn for losers? Does Brazil have it right? It’s all slightly too boring for me to research on my own, and it wouldn't help because I don’t believe anything I read. But I’d watch a reality show about it if the losers were insulted by someone witty. That’s the kind of leader I am.
(4 October 2007)
Scott Adams is the cartoonist behind "Dilbert". Note: This is satire. -BA


Noam Chomsky interview: A Revolution is Just Below the Surface

Eva Golinger, Venezuela Analysis
...CHOMSKY: Well, the history of media in the west is interesting. I mentioned that the period of the freest press in the US and England was the mid-19th century, and it was rather like what you were describing. There were hundreds of newspapers of all kinds, working class, ethnic, communities of all kinds, with direct active participation, real participation.

People read in those days, working people. Like a blacksmith in Boston would pay a 16 year old kid to read to him while he was working. These factory girls coming from the farms had a high culture, they were reading contemporary literature. And part of their bitter condemnation of the industrial system was because it was taking their culture away from them. They did run extremely interesting newspapers and it was lively, exciting and a period of a really very free vibrant press, and it was overcome slowly, most true in England and the United States, which were then the freest countries in the world.

In England they tried censorship, it didn't work, there were too many ways around it. They tried repressive taxation, again it didn't work very well, similarly in the US.

What did work finally was two things: concentration of capital and advertiser reliance. First the concentration of capital is obvious then you can do all kinds of things that smaller newspapers can't do. But advertiser reliance means really the newspapers are being run by the advertisers. If the source of income is advertising, the main source, well that's of course going to have an inordenent influence. And by now it's close to 100%.

If you turn on television, CBS doesn't make any money from the fact that you turned on the television set, they make money from the advertisers. The advertisers are in effect, the corporation that owns it is selling audiences to advertisers, so of course the news product reflects overwhelming the interests of the corporation and the buyers and the market, which is advertisers. So yeah, and that over time, along with concentration of capital, has essentially eliminated or sharply reduced the diverse, lively and independent locally based media. And that's pretty serious.

In the United States, which has had no really organized socialist movement, nevertheless, as recently as the 1950s, there were about 800 labor newspapers which probably reached maybe 30 million people a week, which by our standards were pretty radical, condemning corporate power, condemning what they called the bought priesthood, mainly those who run the media - the priesthood that was bought by the corporate system offering a different picture to the world.

In England, it lasted into the 1960s. In the 1960s the tabloids - which are now hideous if you look at them - they were labor-based newspapers in the 1960s, pretty leftist in their orientation. The major newspaper in England that had the largest circulation, more than any other, was The Daily Herald, which was a kind of social-democratic labor-based paper giving a very different picture of the world. It collapsed, not because of lack of reader interest, in fact it had probably the largest reader interest of any, but because it couldn't get advertisers and couldn't bring in capital.

So what you're describing today is part of the history of the west, which has been overcome slowly by the standard processes of concentration of capital and of course advertiser reliance is another form of it.

But it's beginning to revive in the west as well through the Internet and through cheap publishing techniques. Computers, desktop publishing is now much cheaper than big publishing, and of course the internet. So the new technologies are giving opportunities to overcome the effects of capital concentration, which has a severe impact on the nature of media and the nature of schools and everything else.

So, there's revival, and actually the major battle that's going on right now is crucial, as to who is going to control the Internet. The Internet was developed in places like this, MIT, that's the state sector of the economy, most of the new economy comes out of the state sector, it's not a free market economy. The Internet is a case in point; it was developed in the state sector like here, actually with Pentagon funding, and it was in the state sector for about 30 years before it was handed over to private corporations in 1995 under Clinton. And right now there's a struggle going on as to whether it will be free or not.

So there's a major effort being made by the major corporate centers to figure out some ways to control it, to prevent the wrong kinds of things from their point of view from being accessible, and there are now grassroots movements, significant ones struggling against it, so these are ongoing live battles. There is nothing inherent in capitalist democracy to the idea that the media have to be run by corporations. It would have shocked the founding fathers of the United States. They believed that the media had to be publicly run. If you go back to the...it’s hard to believe now…
(28 September 2007)
Long interview, mostly about Venezuela but with some excellent media analysis in the middle of the article. -BA

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