- Recently, I was flipping through the local TV channels.
I get four stations clearly, but none is worth watching more than once
a week. I stopped briefly at an interview. Talking head #1 was a nationally
known TV news teleprompter reader, also known as an anchorman. The other
one was unfamiliar to me. He was a print media journalist - a reporter.
The anchorman began his questioning of the journalist with this observation.
"We're both representatives of the MSM: mainstream media."
- It hit me. The MSM is at long last visibly on the defensive.
The moment you acknowledge that you are part of the mainstream media, you
are necessarily also acknowledging the existence of another media, which
I like to call the Upstream Media. It swims against the mainstream, which
is flowing downstream. It's easy to flow downstream. You just let nature
take its course.
- The trouble with downstream rafting is that eventually
you either hit the rapids or go over the falls. In any movie about going
over the falls, someone in the raft asks:
- "What's that noise?"
- The optimists say that the river will carry them to the
ocean. Fine. But if you don't climb off the raft, you will drift out to
sea and disappear. The point is, at some point you had better get off the
raft. The mainstream will eventually kill you.
- Today, because of the Internet, hundreds of millions
of people are getting off the raft, all over the world. They grab a motorboat
and head back upstream.
- There are lots of tributaries heading back upstream.
No single tributary that is feeding into the river is getting all of the
traffic. But hundreds of millions of people are now headed in the opposite
direction, at least with respect to some important issues. Other issues
will follow. Issue by issue, readers are concluding, "We've been lied
to." They are correct.
- The Establishment at some point will face the implications
of widespread disbelief in everything it says. At some point, people will
not voluntarily do what they are told when they perceive their leaders
as liars. When that day comes, political consensus will disintegrate. So
will the mainstream Establishment's control systems.
- Upstream media were not readily accessible to most people
as recently as a decade ago. The cost of locating alternative news sources
was too high. The economists' rule held firm: "When price rises, less
of the item is demanded." Now the same rule is being applied against
the mainstream: "When price falls, more of the item will be demanded."
The Internet has changed the relative pricing of media. This is a revolutionary
turn of events.
- The price of obtaining alternative views is falling fast.
In fact, the main expense today is the value of our time. We have less
and less time for the boring, superficial, and lying mainstream media.
They know it. There is nothing they can do about it.
- The monopoly that they have enjoyed for about 5,000 years
is coming to an end. So is the free ride of political parties that rely
on the mainstream media to keep the masses in line.
- NEWSPAPERS ARE DYING
- How much time do you spend each day reading newspapers?
An hour? Probably not.
- How much time do you read on-line? More than you spend
with a newspaper.
- Day by day, there are more people just like you.
- A decade ago, I subscribed to three daily newspapers
and about two dozen magazines. I also subscribed to a dozen investment
newsletters. Since 2000, I have subscribed only to half a dozen paper-based
newsletters. More and more newsletters are digital.
- Instead of reading newspapers, I visit Websites. We all
do. We are in news-overload mode. This is getting worse. Even with Google
and similar search tools, we have too much on our plates. The allocation
of our reading time has replaced the allocation of our subscription money
as our most pressing reading problem.
- Year after year, the network news departments of the
three main TV networks are watching the Nielsen numbers fall. The same
thing is happening to newspapers. They are declining in circulation. This
is especially true of local newspapers. Readers are interested in national
news, and they go to the Web for it.
- This is creating a major problem for certain retail industries,
most notably automobiles and furniture. Newspapers rely heavily on pages
of full-page ads for local cars and furniture. As newspaper readers switch
to on-line versions of local newspapers, as they are doing by the millions,
the full-page ad's pull per dollar is fading. There are little ads on-screen,
which we have learned to ignore. There are even PRINT THIS buttons that
strip out most of the ads. When I post a link to an article, I always link
to the print-screen version.
- Local car companies and furniture stores ought to have
on-line sites that are kept up to date hourly. A car is sold. Its photo
should immediately be taken off the Website. But retailers in these industries
have not yet made the transition to the Web. They do not understand it.
Web marketing is still in its shake-out period. Yet the Web is replacing
newspapers today. The Web shake-out will not be over before hundreds of
paper-based newspapers die. Subscriptions since 1990 have been steadily
falling at 1% per year. This has now risen to over 5% in some cases.
- Beginning in the late nineteenth century, large-circulation
urban newspapers shaped local public opinion in America. There were many
papers, morning and evening, and each one represented one of the two major
political parties. Then came radio and television, both regulated by the
Federal Communications Commission, which controlled frequencies and station
broadcasting power. Now the Web and for-pay satellite TV and radio have
unplugged power from the FCC. The FCC legally regulates the content of
only the no-pay airwaves. It does not regulate the Web at all.
- Politicians in the two parties have built their power
base on the basis of controlling local media. Today, local media are dying:
newspapers and local TV stations. Broadcasting is dying; narrowcasting
is replacing it. This will force a re-structuring of American politics.
- LOCALISM IS DYING
- Two competing social forces are now moving in opposite
directions. Retail outlets along the main drag in every city are going
national: Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Office Depot, etc. Locally owned retailers
of physical stuff are disappearing. Price competition is killing them.
- At the same time, information is decentralizing. Choices
are decentralizing. These are aspects of the same trend: anti-localism.
The decentralization of information is virtual, not geographical. It is
the radical decentralization of the Drudge Report: straight into a guy's
apartment in Hollywood. It bypasses regions, states, and townships. His
apartment could be located anywhere. When information can come from anywhere
and be delivered to anywhere at the same monetary price - zero - geography
ceases to matter. We live in an information-centered age. So, we no longer
live in a geography-centered age. This has never happened before. We are
entering uncharted social waters.
- "What's that noise?"
- Localism is fading: local loyalties, local politics,
local schools. Higher levels of government absorb our tax money. Textbooks
are produced nationally. Local school boards are impotent. Local politics
gets the leftovers.
- When I want to buy a new product, I go onto the Web and
read reviews. Then I use the Web to find the cheapest seller. For electronics,
the seller is usually located in the northeast, probably in New York City,
and is not open on Saturdays. (The seller is not a Seventh-Day Adventist.)
What do I care? To save 20%, I'll buy on Thursday. Besides, I can order
on-line 24x7. The phrase "24x7" is a sign of the times. Locally
owned stores are not open 24x7. Web-based digital shopping carts are.
- Regionalism is also fading. People are mobile. They move
every five years. They do not establish local loyalties, which are costly
to break. The ties that bind no longer bind very efficiently - in housing,
occupations, regions, or marriage.
- Regional mobility has been going on in the United States
ever since the earliest days. Free land meant the move west. The kids got
in a wagon and moved away . . . forever. Opportunity in America has always
trumped regional loyalty in the long run. Regional loyalties have faded
with every reduction in transportation costs. U-Haul and Ryder have done
their work well.
- The South will not rise again. Similarly, the yankees
of New England have not visibly run the country since Jack Kennedy died.
They do it indirectly. After Lyndon Johnson, the Texas presidents have
been ersatz: both Bushes are of Connecticut stock, by way of Yale University
and Brown Brothers, Harriman, the investment banking firm. George W. Bush
bought his Crawford, Texas ranch in 1999 in preparation for the 2000 Presidential
campaign. I call it "Potemkin Ranch." Here is a man who could
afford to buy 2.5 square miles of land 25 miles from Waco - not exactly
prairie dog country. The mainstream media never bothered to point out these
incongruities. That is why they are mainstream.
- When I say that the South will not rise again, I don't
mean the old commitment of the South: resistance to centralized government.
That idea is spreading as never before by means of the Web. It just isn't
associated with a region any longer.
- This is not just an American phenomenon. It is becoming
universal. The gatekeepers of every national government are on the defensive.
The gates cannot easily keep out electronic digits. The gatekeepers have
lost power ever since the invention of the printing press. They could exercise
some control over printing presses, ink, and paper. They cannot control
- Our political world will change, even as our retailing
world has changed. When it becomes obvious to voters that Washington, without
robbing us blind, can no longer supply the stolen money with which it has
bribed us for 90 years, mainstream politics will suffer a blow comparable
to what the mainstream media are suffering.
- NEWSLETTERS ARE MORPHING INTO WEBSITES
- I mentioned that by 2000, I had cancelled all paper-based
communications except for newsletters. They, too, are changing. They are
dying off along with their editors.
- My favorite newsletter, Otto Scott's Compass, ceased
publication in January, 2005. Mr. Scott, now in his mid-eighties, could
no longer write it. His daughters placed him in a rest home. My second
favorite newsletter, Hilaire du Barrier's report on European affairs, ceased
publication a year ago when the editor, age 94, died. Neither man was famous.
Both were lifelong journalists. Hilaire du Barrier was not a well-known
journalist. Yet I honestly believe that any historian who tries to write
about European affairs, 1945 to 2004, who does not have a set of Hilaire's
newsletters will not get the story right.
- Hilaire was an upstream media man. He had been captured
by the Japanese in 1941 in French Indo-China. He had been tortured for
two weeks. He did not reveal anything about the network of French spies
he knew about. After the war, they reciprocated. He had a network of informants
like no other journalist I ever met. Yet he was always in the upstream.
Almost no one knew about him.
- A couple of years before he died, I persuaded a friend
of his to put all of his reports on a CD-ROM. At some point, this CD-ROM
will go on-line. Of this, I am sure. Then his life's work will get the
readers it always deserved. The story of the insider's creation of the
New Europe will then get the distribution it deserves.
- The gatekeepers have a problem. The insiders have a problem.
The story is getting out. As it gets out, political loyalties fade. The
European Union was sold to the voters by Jean Monnet and his successors
on the basis of greater economic opportunity, not the benefits of a new
political loyalty. There is still little political grass-roots loyalty
to the European Union. France will probably vote against the new 230-page
EU constitution. Anyway, I hope so.
- Websites are replacing paper-based newsletters. The flow
of non-approved information is becoming a torrent. This undermines consensus.
This process includes political consensus.
- Think of what home schooling means for the intellectual
consensus. Think of the threat to the Powers That Be. The cost of textbook
production has kept upstream interpretations away from most students. But
now home school curriculum developers can get new views to millions of
students by way of CD-ROM and the Internet. Parents who are sufficiently
upstream to have pulled their children out of America's only established
church - the public school system - are ready to consider new interpretations.
This is driving the academic gatekeepers crazy. Their monopoly over the
media is fading. Now their near-monopoly over tax-funded education is slipping.
- CAMPUS FOLLIES
- Today, American higher education absorbs something in
the range of a third of a trillion dollars a year, and this is rising by
about 7% a year - the sign of government-enforced monopoly. The government-supervised
college accrediting system keeps out price competition. It also keeps upstream
opinions out of most colleges. But this monopoly is producing the familiar
result: falling standards and falling output.
- The young wife of a college professor (engineering) I
know told me that at the college, where she is finishing her bachelor's
degree in June, several of her professors in the social sciences will not
accept as valid any citation from a Web site that does not end in .gov.
These people are crazy leftists. I mean really crazy - over the top Democrats
and statists who honestly believe that their students are being corrupted
by non-.gov political Websites. They are trying to keep students away from
non-government-approved digits. They really are crazy. They have lost touch
with reality. They are tax-subsidized nut cases.
- In January, I visited an old friend who teaches history
at an obscure state university. He and I were teaching assistants in the
Western civilization program at the University of California, Riverside,
in the late 1960s. That was back when all college grads had to take a class
in Western civilization: dreary, long-dead days indeed.
- For 35 years, I have recalled that when he could not
decide what grade to give a student exam, he would have me read it. This
was always an A/B decision. Invariably, I could not help him. I always
graded it the same way: right on the dividing line. Yet he was a New Deal
Democrat, and I thought Reagan was a sell-out. (I voted for William Penn
Patrick in the 1966 Republican gubernatorial primary.) We had the same
sense of what constituted student competence. That world of semi-objective
standards is gone - buried in waves of political correctness.
- He told me that his students today are extremely well-versed
in digital research. They have grown up with the Internet. But, he said,
there are two major problems: (1) they cannot evaluate the truth of what
they read; (2) they are prone to submitting term papers that they have
- So, we are seeing the result the triumph of official
relativism in academia: "There is no objective truth." The students
have bought the academic party line. They respond accordingly: (1) "One
opinion is as good as another." (2) "A purchased term paper may
be worth the money and risk." The Web is filled with conflicting opinions
and cheap term papers.
- Problem: in engineering and architecture, this outlook
can lead to collapsing structures.
- THE POOL OF TALENT
- Year by year, a third of the labor pool emerges with
a college degree. Most of these degrees are in the humanities and social
- Meanwhile, China produces over 450,000 college graduates
a year in science and engineering - as many scientists and engineers as
the United States has, total. Then, next year, China will do it again.
- There are teamwork issues here. There are also cultural
mindsets. If I were an American manufacturer, I would rather employ a team
of scientists and engineers that individually graduated from American colleges
and whose members are entrepreneurial. Progress in commercial product development
is not just a matter of individual competence in surviving formal education,
based mainly on skill in mathematics. But as the comparative supply of
such graduates shrinks in the United States, and as the American tradition
of entrepreneurship invades Asia - as it is invading - there will come
a time when wage competition from Asia will undermine the competitive advantage
enjoyed today by teams of scientists in the United States. Even if companies
develop products here, they will have them produced off shore. Only the
most creative science grads will be amply rewarded here for product development.
Civil engineers - road-builders - will have an advantage based on geography.
Electrical engineers won't.
- Until the year 2001, Asia sent its best graduate students
to study in the United States. The post 9/11 tightening of immigration
standards (not on the border with Mexico, of course), coupled with the
new prestige of Asian technical training, has reduced the percentage of
foreign graduate students in American universities. This has never happened
before in the post World War II era.
- Mainstream media are losing to upstream media. This is
eroding consensus among readers and TV viewers. Cable and satellite TV
are undermining the networks. The Web is undermining the newspapers. Narrowcasting
is undermining broadcasting. Home schools are undermining the tax-funded
schools, though only at the fringes. Only the colleges seem immune, where
government control is greatest. But they are becoming a laughingstock,
even though parents still shell out far more than they need to (at least
three times more) by sending their children off to college. Parents who
know the system can get their kids through school for under $15,000 - maybe
as little as $10,000 - which means that the kids can pay for their college
educations by working part-time. The Establishment is on the defensive
even in the halls of ivy.
- This is becoming clear: price competition is now unstoppable.
If you are not in a position to sell something cheaper, you are in big
trouble. This fact is killing the mainstream media, which lost its ability
to compete after 80 years of government regulation and protection. It is
going to kill every other cozy little arrangement with the state.
- Sell services, not stuff. Sell services locally, where
Chinese college graduates cannot compete. Sell information, where Chinese
college graduates cannot compete . . . and not many American college graduates
- This is the era in which everything mainstream is hitting
the rapids. The mainstreamers thought they were cruising up a lazy river.
- "What's that noise?"
- Gary North [send him mail, firstname.lastname@example.org> is the author
of Mises on Money. Visit http://www.freebooks.com. He is also the author
of a free multi-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.
- Copyright © 2005 LewRockwell.com