The year the journalistic sewer changed hands

Everyone’s talking about this, and I agree with the point in the kicker:

Still, it is less often we think about Bannon simply as a media executive in charge of a private company. Any successful media executive produces content to expand audience size

One thing the Buzzfeed article shows, although it doesn’t call it out explicitly, is that the Breitbannon show took on a very specific function in the media ecosystem – it was where you could leak stuff you couldn’t actually run under your own byline, whether because it was too libellous or offensive to take responsibility for it, of such poor sourcing quality or stupendous triviality your editor wouldn’t want it, or because your motivation for publishing it was to insult somebody for your own reasons. They mention case after wretched case.

There’s always an outlet that takes on this role, the main sewer of the journosphere. You can tell it because it’s the worst-sourced outlet that any mass circulation outlet will follow up. Within recent memory, the Drudge Report played this role for years, tellingly, right up until Breitbart took over from it. In the UK, Paul Staines made a career of sorts out of it, but in the pre-Internet era, Private Eye did (and does) far more of this stuff than it would ever admit. In France, Le Canard Enchainé can be very like that – as well as genuinely important investigations and document leaks, a lot of its word count for a typical week is trivial-but-vicious political gossip and poor-quality hit pieces someone sent it.

It can be hard to tell whether you’re taking on the stories no-one else has the balls to cover, or picking up the trash nobody else will admit to dropping in the street. Also, there’s a gift economy at work – I’ll let you see this doc if you plant this quote. This is definitely the problem for the Eye and Le Canard, but you’d struggle to make a case for Drudge or Bannonbart. The cut-over from Drudge to Breitbart, though, is interesting. It implies that one way to look at the 2016 experience was that the group of fairly horrible politicians and journalists whose association with Matt Drudge had defined his standards as being the worst acceptable ones lost their grip, and a new group of even more horrible actors were able to set up a new, worse standard of depravity, not least because they had a new downstream distribution network.

Sometimes outlets like this get to drive the wider news, and it is almost invariably horrible, no matter what their pretentions to quality are. I guess my point is that treating this lot as a firm operating in the news industry points up how much of their awfulness is driven by the awfulness of journalist subculture.

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