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The State of News

Tom Ley, over at Defector, wrote:

Everything’s fucked now. Newspapers have been destroyed by raiding private equity firms, alt-weeklies and blogs are financially unsustainable relics, and Google and Facebook have spent the last decade or so hollowing out the digital ad market. What survives among all this wreckage are websites and publications that are mostly bad. There’s plenty to read, the trouble is that so much of it is undergirded by a growing disregard (and in some cases even disdain) for the people doing the actual reading.

What readers are being served when a sports blog leverages its technological innovations in order to create a legion of untrained and unpaid writers? Who benefits when a media company cripples its own user experience and launches a campaign to drive away some of its best writers and editors? Whose interests are being served when a magazine masthead is gutted and replaced by a loose collection of amateurish contractors? Who ultimately wins when publications start acting less like purpose-driven institutions and more like profit drivers, primarily tasked with achieving exponential scale at any cost? What material good is produced when private equity goons go on cashing their checks while simultaneously slashing payroll throughout their newsrooms? Things have gotten so bad that even publications that get away with defining themselves as anti-establishment are in fact servile to authority in all forms, and exist for the sole purpose of turning their readers into a captive source of profit extraction.

The truth is that nobody who matters—the readers—ever asked for any of this shit. Every bad decision that has diminished media—every pivot to video, every injection of venture capital funds, every round of layoffs, every outright destruction of a publication—was only deemed necessary by the constraints of capitalism and dull minds. This is an industry being run by people who, having been betrayed by the promise of exponential scale and IPOs, now see cheapening and eventually destroying their own products as the only way to escape with whatever money there is left to grab.

Without a doubt, this is one of the most direct and forceful assessments of how the news media has become what it is, today. Rather than having reporters and editors working to produce high-quality products which are designed to serve the interests of their readers they are, increasingly, forced to capitulate to managerial actions that are designed to temporarily gin up sales numbers at the expense of the very readers who should be being served. It’s no wonder that the state of political discourse, and public discourse write large, has become so degraded when that degradation is actually chased after if it means a few more ads or advertorials can be placed for a short-term increase in numbers.

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The truth is cameras are mere tools. Film is a mere medium. Digital data is a mere medium. They do not define what we do, only how we do it. Most importantly, they do not define why we do it! I photograph to explore my world and plumb my mind and my creative spirit. I recommend you ask yourself the same: ‘why do I photograph?’

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If anything, what [Bytes, Bombs and Spies] points out is how little value you can get from traditional political-science terms and concepts. Escalatory ladder makes little sense with a domain where a half-decade of battlefield preparation and pre-placement are required for attacks, where attacks have a more nebulous connection to effect, deniability is a dominant characteristic, and where intelligence gathering and kinetic effect require the same access and where emergent behavior during offensive operations happens far beyond human reaction time.

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The fact that it was [sic] responsibility not of the RCMP but of the employer, whether government department or private company, to actually remove a security risk from employment, that is, to exercise direct coercion, is precisely in line with the panoptic element. The RCMP merely watched, gathered information, and provided advice, silently and in the shadows. The effect was to induce political discipline through pervasive, diffuse fear of the consequences of risky ideas, friends, or associations. Totalitarian states enforced political discipline through cruder forms of police state coercion. In fighting the Nazi state, Canada was also groping towards a more effective, non-coercive, form of discipline. The RCMP provided to be able students of the new science of political surveillance.

  • Reg Whitaker et al, Secret Service: Political Policing in Canada from the Fenians to Fortress America
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Between 2002 and 2009, the [Industrial Control System Cyber Emergency Response Team] conducted more than 100 site assessments across multiple industries–oil and natural gas, chemical, and water–and found more than 38,000 vulnerabilities. These included critical systems that were accessible over the internet, default vendor passwords that operators had never bothered to change or hard-coded passwords that couldn’t be changed, outdated software patches, and a lack of standard protections such as firewalls and intrusion-detection systems.

But despite the best efforts of the test-bed and site-assessment researchers, they were battling decades of industry intertia–vendors took months and years to patch vulnerabilities that government researchers found in their systems, and owners of crucial infrastructure were only willing to make cosmetic changes to their systems and networks, resisting more extensive ones.

– Kim Zetter, Countdown to Zero-Day

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We are now learning that the effect of density is nuanced. For one thing, wealthier people do better in apartment towers than poor people. Not only do they have the money to pay for concierges, maintenance, gardening, decoration, and child care, but, having chosen their residences, they tend to attach greater status to them. Home feels better when it carries a different message about who you are. (A building’s status can be altered without any physical change at all. When they were sold on the open market, once-despised social housing blocks in central London became objects of desire for middle-class buyers who fetishizes their retro modernism.)

  • Charles Montgomery, Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design
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We need the nourishing, helping warmth of other people, but we also need the healing touch of nature. We need to connect, but we also need to retreat. We benefit from the conveniences of proximity, but these conveniences can come with he price of overstimulation and crowding. We will not solve the conundrum of sustainable city living unless we understand these contradictory forces and resolve the tension between them. How much space, privacy, and distance from other people do we need? How much nature do we need? Are there designs that combine the benefits of dispersal with the dividends of proximity?

  • Charles Montgomery, Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design
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… the meeting place, the agora, the village square are not trivial. They are not civic decoration or merely recreational. The life of a community is incomplete without them, just as the life of the individual is weaker and sicker without face-to-face encounters with other people.

  • Charles Montgomery, Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design
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The ability to socialize with friends in private spaces without state interference is vital to citizens’ growth, the maintenance of society, and a free and healthy democracy. It ensures a zone of safety in which we can share personal information with the people that we choose, and still be free from state intrusion. Recognizing a right to be left alone in private spaces to which we have been invited is an extension of the principle that we are not subject to state interference any time we leave our own homes. The right allows citizens to move about freely without constant supervision or intrusion from the state. Fear of constant intrusion or supervision itself diminishes Canadians’ sense of freedom.

  • Factum for Tom Le, in Tom Le v The Queen, Court File No. 37971
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… surely there is no automatic, positive link between knowledge and power, especially if that means power in a social or political sense. At times knowledge brings merely an enlightened impotence or paralysis. One may know exactly what to do but lack the wherewithal to act. Of the many conditions that affect the phenomenon of power, knowledge is but one and by no means the most important.

  • Langdon Winner, The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology