Of Filter Bubbles and the End of Innocence

I got this link today (5/16/11) from Moveon.org. It’s pretty scary stuff. It kind of confirms some of my worst paranoias about web-surfing and is making me seriously consider abandoning Google as my preferred search engine. I felt a strange sadness as I watched this young man talk about having “grown up with the Internet.” Here was this seemingly intelligent guy who was afraid that he might become limited by how Google and Facebook was shaping and controlling the flow of information to him. As if he were powerless to find things on his own. And then he climaxes with a plea to Google and Facebook to ensure that the algorithms that are spitting all this back to the user had an ethical component mixed in somehow. I guess this is what we’ve come to.

Newsday, Cablevision, and Lebron

This past Sunday, Newsday employees voted to ratify a contract that would lower their salaries by 5 and 10% beginning next week, July 6. This is of course outrageous not only because Cablevision, the parent company of the Long Island daily, has reported a tripling of its profits a month ago. The huge profits seem to have resulted directly from Cablevision’s “spinning off” of MSG and its New York entertainment empire (Beacon Theater, etc.) in a move to increase dividends to its shareholders, which would seem to temper any outrage about the New York Knicks’ (owned by MSG) pursuit of Lebron James and other high-priced free agents.

But this seeming separation of the business of basketball from the business of cable monopoly is only on paper: James Dolan, CEO of the Knicks, remains CEO of Cablevision. Hank J. Ratner, CEO of MSG, is vice-chairman of Cablevision. So in effect, the heads of the corporations that own Newsday, and have had their accountants add phantom depreciation expenses to their books to make it appear that Newsday is deeply in the red, are part of a team that is actively pursuing basketball superstar Lebron James while cutting Newsday employees’ salaries. Unsurprisingly, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who can’t even keep as many people of color as high-ranking employees as the racist Giuliani administration, is leading the charge to support the Knicks, Cablevision, and MSG.

Well, I guess that it’s all good, right? Who needs unions and job security? We all have the right, like Lebron, to become free agents every day for the rest of our lives.

History Not Made by “Great” Men

Two overlong, though pretty informative pieces on major media battles have appeared recently, highlighting a disturbing trend . One focused on the software/media portal conflict between Apple and Google, while the other analyzed the insipid Rupert Murdoch as he thrusts his impotent sword at arch windmills The New York Times, and again, Google.  [Actually that would be too much of an insult to my man the Don (Quixote), so ignore the windmill metaphor, please.]

With the relentless consolidation of media, mainstream journalism is giving in to the fallacy that history is made by a handful of mega-powerful individuals, self-anointed auteurs of media. I challenge you to look yourself in the mirror and convince yourself that you are happy with that. Haven’t you been listening to your Gang of Four lately?

The only interesting issue raised in either piece is the impending death-struggle between the Gray Lady’s Metro section and Murdoch’s new WSJ New York-centric project. But again, who cares? What is the point of hoping Murdoch’s revival of the completely irrelevant New York Sun makes the Times sweat a little? Do we actually think a paper called The Wall Street Journal is going to buck Wall Street’s commercial and residential real estate agenda, the same one that happens to be the Times‘s raison d’etre? What would constitute such a challenge?

The idea that this should be considered a battle of ideas is as ironic as the fact that Pravda means Truth in Russian.

Cablevision Worse Than Murdoch?

Well, probably not, but recent stories in The Long Island Press and Media Matters suggest that the even less impressive Dolan family is turning Newsday, a once-proud newspaper (that, under previous ownership, ran my column for seven years), into a second-rate suburban cable news portal. Take one look at Newsday‘s website–oh sorry, you can’t if you don’t pay for it or are a subscriber to Cablevision’s Optimum Online service–and you’ll see a hideous, sprawling mess of useless information.

Ex-Newday editor Jaci Clement puts it succintly:

“Once Cablevision bought the newspaper, it stopped being an actual newspaper,” she says. “Now, what I mean by that is, News12 is a newsroom, that’s true. But in reality, News12 is the marketing for Cablevision. So, when Cablevision bought Newsday, they created what they call the Newsday Media Group. Expect that to become their marketing department.”

But that’s not the worst of it. Renowned union-busters, Cablevision is engaged in a nasty contract negotiation with its editorial employees that asks for givebacks like salary and vacation time cuts, plus a work speed-up under the guise of falling profits, while the parent company is making huge profits from its monopoly on cable service in Long Island, Westchester, and the Boogie-Down Bronx. An elegantly detailed explanation is available here.

Had enough? Newsday’s Hispanic-surnamed publisher Terry Jiménez actually tried to blame the paper’s falling profits to Long Island’s changing demographics!

Besides depreciating presses, though, another explanation being given by top management for Newsday’s decaying financial stability, says one Newsday reporter who asked not to be identified, is Long Island’s changing demographics, from White to a more diverse population of Hispanic, Black and Asian. According to the reporter, Jimenez made the bizarre reasoning during a slide show presentation to employees prior to the Jan. 24 vote. Some reporters were offended at the suggestion of the claim.

“Terry blamed Newsday’s recent troubles, in part, on the changing demographics,” the staffer says. “It does seem strange that the paper would seem to retrench and throw its hands up in the face of demographic changes, rather than address them through different marketing strategies.”

Yeah, like not cutting my column.

The Media Matters piece, which details how Newsday seems to have moved two reporters off their beats because of pressure put on the editors by anti-immigrant reactionary Suffolk County politician Steve Levy can be found here.

How far will the Cablevision empire go to make a mockery of journalism by punishing reporters  for doing their jobs, and perhaps ultimately attempt to overhaul its entire editorial staff? Stay tuned.

Me, Interrupted

This Wednesday night on I will appear on a show called “Independent Sources” on CUNY TV (Channel 75 in most places). I was asked to come on to talk about the Puerto Rican birth certificate invalidation issue, but was not warned I would be squaring off against Puerto Rican Federal Affairs New York Regional Director Luis Balzac. Maybe the camera will catch me rolling my eyes as he interrupted me with desperate doublespeak after I again pointed out that his own party willingly spread disinformation about the reason for invalidating millions of birth certificates and devaluing native-born Puerto Ricans’ U.S. citizenship. Unfortunately I missed the chance to ask him why there are no Puerto Ricans on the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, and why there is still no announcement of a town hall meeting to be held somewhere in the U.S. on the issue.

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