The roots of independent media

It seems to be advertising revenue, which gives media the incentive to appeal to a broad audience and the means to be independent of particular donors and interest groups:

The source of media revenues is an important
determinant of media behavior. News coverage depends on the preferences
of those who pay the costs. In a theoretical model, I argue that higher
potential advertising revenues increase the value of news outlet’s
audience and thus decrease media dependence on subsidies of interest
groups. The model shows that higher advertising profitability implies
lower media bias and less distortion caused by the presence of special
interest groups. I use data on 19th century American newspapers to test
the model, showing that there were more independent newspapers in
counties with higher profitability of advertising. The effect of
advertising works through both the entry of new newspapers and changes
of affiliation of old newspapers.

That’s from a new paper by Maria Petrova, who is on the job market this year from Harvard.


Let's take the James Watson witch hunt as a counter-example. Which publications have come to the defense of America's most prominent man of science? Basically, nobody. Advertisers don't want to be associated with heresy. The exceptions are mostly a few publications largely supported by reader donations, such as

I hate to derail this comment thread but...

That's a bad counter example, Sailer. VDARE is a special interest publication that regularly publishes pieces where immigrants and minority groups are portrayed in negative light, as your own weekly contributions to their website shows. VDARE and others came to Watson's defence because his opinion in this particular case matches well with the positions that are normally advocated by VDARE and its sponsors vis-a-vis Blacks and Hispanics.

In any case, the Watson episode is a highly specific case that, by itself, cannot disprove the claims in Petrova's paper even if your claim were true.

Another reader-supported web publication that stood up against the crushing of the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA was Gene Expression. Jason Malloy recently published an epic summary of the current state of scientific knowledge on the subjects raised in the Watson brouhaha in his definitive posting "James Watson Tells the Inconvenient Truth: Face the Consequences."

Judging by the vast outpouring of condemnation of James Watson, and his immediate kicking to the curb, almost without protest, by the great laboratory he had built up over the last 39 years, a lot of people are obsessed with race in general. Their personal obsession, however, is covering up the science and enforcing political correctness.

Consider the Larry Summers brouhaha, which might be of more self-interest to readers of this blog than James Watson's inquisition, since it involved the firing of an economist.

One of the problems of the media moving from a subscription-based model on paper to an advertiser-based model on the Web is that the economic base shifts somewhat from males to females. The subscribers to serious publications tend to male (for political magazines, for example, readership is well over 80% male), but women in our society spend more money, so they are more attractive to advertisers. (My rough estimate is that each year in U.S., men hand women about one trillion dollars to spend.)

Now, women love controversies over individual personalities (e.g., Britney's child-raising style), but they tend to not like more general, more abstract controversies. "Why can't we all just get along?" Thus, when experts in the human sciences such as Watson and Summers say impolite things, there is an economic incentive for the media to hound them out of their jobs as evil individuals.

I don't see any problem with me expressing an opinion on Watson, the Summers affair for instance I thought was an outrage and I am more than willing to say so. I will say a) I've been traveling almost non-stop, b) I don't really know what went on, c) media are not always reliable on such incidents, and d) one really needs to have the details nailed to opine on such matters. I don't. I would add it is not a major interest of mine, though in a calmer world I could imagine it worthy of comment.

I would say that "judging public individuals" is not a major interest of mine. Africa is an interest for sure, "major" is tough to define.

Tyler, this blog is great.

That is all.

"Tyler is not the culprit."

Of course Tyler's not the culprit. I'm raising this issue with him precisely because he has the potential to be one of the few heroes (like Edward O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins) who stand up in this case in defense of scientific freedom.

SFX: A man coughs, uneasily.

SFX: A cricket chirps.

find an incident in the past similar to the Watson/Summers brouhaha but with a media that had the old incentive structure. How did the reaction differ?

In the Snopes Monkey Trial, a teacher wanted to use a textbook that claimed that it was obvious that there was a continuum of races, with the white superior to the yellow superior to the red superior to the black, with the black obviously closest to monkeys. The media defended him and even produced movies defending the right to use such a textbook as an important part of academic freedom.

(Of course, the trial was about more than just that, but it's amazing just how racist the textbook in question was. Doesn't really fit the simple heroes and villains story, though.)

To answer TGGP, H.L. Mencken's dominance of the American press in the 1920s (as exemplified by his version of the Scopes trial coming down to us as The Truth when it was actually highly tendentious) is a good example of the pre-feminized media. I'm not a huge Mencken fan, but he could hardly have avoided getting Summersized if he were around today.

SFX: A commenter gags.

It creeps me out that anyone's voice could be shut down as swiftly and completely as Watson's was... but in this comment thread, I could make an exception.

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