Audience lock in

Switching from advertisements to subscription revenue was supposed to bolster the New York Times’ independence and improve the quality of their journalism. I’d argue the exact opposite has happened. Now the paper is increasingly partisan and beholden to printing what subscribers want instead of leading to more objective editorial decisions.

Others have noticed the decline. The Times of a decade ago was a decidedly different publication.

The same phenomenon is happing with “independent” journalists that are paid directly by their readers via Substack, Patreon, etc.

Let’s take Michael Tracey.

He’s built up a paying audience that’s partisan, even tribal, in demanding that any mainstream position must be wrong. Thus Tracey had no choice to go all in on attacking Ukraine. Had he chosen to say that brutally attacking a neighbor, forcing millions of refugees across the border and killing thousands is, well, bad and that Russia solely to blame, he’d have lost his audience.

There’s an argument to be made about what level of involvement the US and EU should have. That’s not what Michael Tracey is arguing. I’ll let him speak for himself:

Let it be recorded for posterity that the world’s number one lobbyist for World War III has also been christened the world’s number one hero

When you look at the original tweet, he’s talking about Zelensky — not the man who started an unprovoked full-scale war in Ukraine, is propping up a dictator in Syria and is sitting on frozen conflicts in three other countries.

Zelensky’s crime, in the eyes of Tracey and his ilk, is wanting his country to survive this war and continue to exist. Zelensky is a war monger for not immediately acquiescing to every single Russian demand.

Let’s not forget that Zelensky was elected in free and fair elections. European integration was broadly popular before the war, now support for joining NATO and the EU are nearly unanimous. Thus the will of 40 million people in a democratic country is meaningless, they just need to listen to tyrant with bigger guns.

Tracey’s reporting on this, from Poland no less, is a bit asinine. He doesn’t speak any of the local languages, has no in-depth knowledge of the region. He’s a chomskian imperialist.

That leaves two options for Tracey, Greenwald, et al.:

  1. They’re idiots
  2. They’re not arguing in good faith

I’ve seen little to demonstrate that Tracey is an idiot. On the contrary, his writing shows deep reflection and thoughtfulness.

Coming back to where I started, the New York Times became less independent after relying on their subscribers rather than advertisers for support. American political tribes are polarized and will cancel their subscriptions if you don’t publish exactly what they want to read.

Sometimes the contrarians are right, but basing an entire ideology on being a contrarian is a surefire way to end up being nothing more than a horse’s ass.