so? Well, because Salon.com's stock isn't worth the paper
it's printed on, such big media startups as TheStreet.com
are struggling, and several others have bitten the dust.
"I always said I'm a Web junkie and everyone would come
around to my view" and "here it is 2001, and they didn't,"
TheStreet.com's Jim Cramer whines. "There is no prognosis;
the patient has died," says New York magazine columnist
Michael Wolff. "Virtually everyone who took public money
is either going to go out of business or be merged out
of business. . . . Everyone who's saying, 'We're going
to make these businesses work, blah blah blah,' I don't
think it's real. Everyone in their heart of hearts feels
what I feel." Of course, Wolff's deep noir pessimism
may have something to do with his own unsuccess: as Kurtz
parenthetically notes, Wolff's "own Internet company went
belly up." That, indeed, is the common denominator shared
by virtually all the eulogists cited by Kurtz: they are
a bunch of losers, who are now complaining that the market
wasn't smart enough to realize their own inestimable value.
biggest whiner is, naturally, David Talbot, chief honcho
over at Salon.com: "In the beginning," says Talbot, "journalism
as we know it was going to be completely changed, and
journalists like myself would become overnight billionaires.
That was wildly inflated, and equally so is the gloom-and-doom
media coverage we've been getting." Poor little David:
and he so wanted to be a billionaire. Just like the big-wheels
of Hambrecht & Quist, the hi-tech investment banking
group headed by William Hambrecht, Friend
of Bill and Democratic party fundraiser, who
put up the money for the fancy offices (in at least
three cities), the hundreds of employees, and the much-ballyhooed
public offering of Salon.com stock. Reacting angrily to
repeated accusations that his brand of online journalism
was simply Clinton.com in a "magazine" format, Talbot
declared that "Salon's board is a hodgepodge of political
affiliations, from Libertarian to Democrat to Republican
to Independent. Their only common passion is money, and
the fervent hope that Salon makes lots of it." It is a
passion that has gone completely unrequited: for the price
of Salon stock has plummeted ever since it was first offered
for sale. Salon lost $8 million in the first half of its
current fiscal year, the company has been shedding employees
and closing branch offices like a dog with mange
and Talbot is furious. "Where are the independent
news voices on the Internet?" he asks. "Where's the great,
flourishing media democracy?" An article by Paul Farhi
in the American Journalism Review, breathlessly
Salon Make It?" is a sounding board for his self-pitying
lament: "He clicks on his list of bookmarked sites, turning
up, among others, CNN.com, Matt Drudge, Slate, NPR.org.
'Most of these are extensions of bigger media organizations,'
he says somewhat dismissively, adding, 'There's got to
be room for a few independent voices.'"
really bothers Talbot is that there are, indeed,
independent voices on the Internet all of them
on the Right. It's no wonder his bookmarks are so, uh,
boring NPR.org? Slate? Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
But of course the only really interesting and successful
sites all have a rightish tinge, and Talbot either doesn't
know or doesn't want to know that a whole genre of online
magazines and news organizations has grown up on the Internet.
All have a mostly conservative or libertarian orientation:
WorldNetDaily, CNS, Capitol Hill Blue, FreeRepublic.com,
Newsmax, LewRockwell.com, and, yes, Antiwar.com, to name
just a few. Joe Farah's WND has a million-plus visitors
on a daily basis, Free Republic has tens of thousands
of registered users, and we ain't doing so bad,
either. But within the narrow confines of the world as
seen through Talbot's eyes, none of this matters, because
his well-funded but ill-conceived venture is gong down
uses the example of Salon to make the same point as Kurtz:
"Salon's odyssey from struggling newborn to struggling
5-year-old raises a fundamental question: Can the
Internet support a purely journalistic enterprise? So
far, the answer appears to be no, or at least, not yet.
Like Salon, almost every news or 'content' site remains
in the red." What follows is a long paean to the alleged
"risk-taking, buzz-creating" scoops uncovered by Salon's
intrepid team of journalists: the Henry Hyde affair story,
the alleged "stealing" of the Florida election (by disqualifying
convicted felons), the Dan Savage-licking-Gary-Bauer's-doorknob
brouhaha, etc. ad nauseum. The complete cluelessness
of this crew is reflected in what Gary Kamiya, a Salon
editor, describes as one possible solution to Salon's
financial woes: charge for "subscriptions"! "The whole
idea is fraught with peril," says Kamiya, in what has
to be the understatement of the century. "Whatever we
do, we're not contemplating gating off all of our content
at once. That could be catastrophic. But this downturn
has brought home the fundamental truth that it's risky
to be tied to advertising alone." Salon is selling "high-quality,
interesting journalism. That's a real business model."
To which Farhi adds: "On the Internet, as in real life,
there are no guarantees. But as Salon slowly fades, it's
worth wondering: Shouldn't good journalism be enough?"
TAPPER'S EXPENSE ACCOUNT
me a break, willya? These are the same people who
actually thought that a section entitled "Women Who Think"
would be a real winner. A story on the most recent schoolyard
shootings is headlined "Is There Anything New to Say?"
Well, if there isn't anything new to say, then
why the **** should I click on it? This kind of gratingly
"hip" know-it-all world-weariness, overlaid with Left
Coast radical chic, has long been the hallmark of the
David Talbot School of Journalism. Salon was never anything
more than the online voice of the Clinton White House,
a subsidized operation from the word go, which never had
much to offer but the (infrequent) columns of Camille
Paglia and is now undergoing a much-deserved and protracted
death. As they sit there, in their offices on the sixteenth
floor of a posh building overlooking San Francisco's scenic
waterfront, let the Salonistas contemplate the
two major reasons for their demise. First and foremost,
because there is no real market for sucking up to Power,
except among the powerful few. When their generosity and
patience runs out, and the money spigot is turned off
or when they are turned out of office, and the
perks and privileges of proximity to power are no longer
available it's time to close up shop and look for
another gig. No ordinary person in this country needed
or wanted to go online to hear apologias for the Satyr-in-chief,
and Jake Tapper wasn't worth half his expense account.
FALL OF THE GATEKEEPERS
the whole corporate model of Internet success was and
is completely misplaced. All the dot-coms cited by Kurtz,
Farhi, and others as "proof" that the promise of Internet
journalism has gone largely unfulfilled were funded by
large corporate entities: Salon was loaded with cash,
and pretensions, when it was first launched. And that,
it turns out, may have been the problem. Large organizations
invariably play down the intensely personal and individualistic
aspect of communicating with readers over the Internet.
The elimination of the middlemen, the once-might media
Gatekeepers (Kurtz & Co.), points to a new model for
cyber-success. As Farhi points out, Salon may be failing
and TheStreet.com is practically in the street,
the niche market generating the most excitement: opinionated,
idiosyncratic, one-person Web sites. In the wake of Matt
Drudge's phenomenal success with his gossip site, Jim
Romenesko's MediaNews.org, Mickey Kaus's kausfiles.com,
AndrewSullivan.com (by the New Republic columnist)
and Joshua Micah Marshall's Talking Points have been attracting
small but loyal followings."
cites Sullivan, who correctly opines that "When you put
a regular magazine on the Web, you don't have the liberating
experience of getting rid of proprietors, editors, advertisers
all the things that can constrain you. You're just
putting yourself up there and venting on a daily or hourly
basis. You have this wonderfully direct connection with
your readers. People take the time to dash off e-mail
to me telling me I'm completely wrong about something."
But this pared-down and very basic sort of operation is
the exact opposite of the set-up over at Salon, with its
once-many-layered editorial hierarchy and army of worker
bees. Amid all the hype about the promise of the Internet,
echoed most enthusiastically by the Salonistas
in their salad days, there was very little understanding
of the technology or its meaning. That, more than anything
else, is why they failed: and their leftist ideology had
a lot to do with it.
INTERNET AND CAPITALIST DEVELOPMENT
technology that led to the development of the Internet
is part of the ongoing process of individuation
that represents the not-always-upward march of civilization.
As such, it values specialization: in its very
structure, its multiplicity, the Internet represents the
division of labor that is the hallmark of capitalist development.
The Internet is a structure that distributes knowledge,
but no one wants to know (or can know) everything at once:
they want to know something in particular, which
means that marketing on the Internet is niche marketing.
Do you need to know before anyone else does? Go
visit Drudge. Want the latest on the Marc Rich story?
Go to a news site like FreeRepublic.com,
and do a search. Are you a political activist, who needs
intellectual ammunition in arguing with your liberal friends?
Go to NationalReview.com if
you hate Ludwig von Mises and yet still consider yourself
on the right side of the spectrum: all others go to LewRockwell.com.
So, you didn't believe the lies of the NATO-crats as they
bombed a nation without provocation? Then Antiwar.com
was and is the place for you and there are more
of you every day.
JOY OF GLOATING
love gloating, as my regular readers know, and certainly
the impending death of Salon is the occasion for it. On
the grounds of pretentiousness alone, its demise is well-earned.
Far from being the proof of the Internet's alleged failure
to fulfill its journalistic promise, the funereal orations
delivered over the prone body of a near-lifeless Salon
merely confirm what we knew all along: that the free market
operates with maximum efficiency to reward the entrepreneur
with foresight and to punish the clueless. And
what could be more clueless than editor Kamiya's suggestion
that they "gate off" traffic to their site by charging
for "subscriptions"? How Old Media can you get? This failed
when Slate tried it, and, aside from that, the idea violates
the number one value the Internet has to offer, and that
is accessibility. Pricing on the Internet is dependent
on a long-term relationship with the product: how much
is a visit to Salon worth? There is no way to calculate
this except over time. A site must make itself
indispensable: it must deliver with regularity, and it
must be always available. The only kind of "subscription"
that works on the Internet is one given online and spontaneously
by the readers. If Salon had set itself up as a Clintonian
thinktank or propaganda organ, instead of pretending to
be a bona fide magazine, and simply asked for contributions
from die-hard Friends of Bill once a generous lot
they would be raking in the dough. After all, wouldn't
you say that Salon is just the kind of enterprise that
Marc Rich might be interested in?
small, one or two-person websites that are now being hailed
as the new model for journalism in cyberspace follow precisely
the pattern of Antiwar.com's development: our evolution,
from a compendium of news stories and this column, to
the premier foreign policy newsite on the Internet, prefigured
this trend. We started updating daily in the first days
of the Kosovo war, as a gesture of defiance against the
"humanitarian" barbarity of an immoral and, as it turned
out, disastrous intervention and have been at it
ever since. Around what was originally a small kernel
of reliably updated news and original commentary, Antiwar.com
was formed like a pearl with a grain of sand at its core.
In the near future we will be expanding our cadre of columnists,
as well as our regional coverage, and making the first
steps toward becoming an alternative news source, generating
more original commentary and reporting in the foreign
policy field than most corporate news operations. This
is how real online journalism is going to evolve.