In case anybody missed it, Nate Silver over at fivethirtyeight.com has written an essay, "There really was a liberal media bubble," that blames the media's inability to figure out Donald Trump was going to be elected president on "groupthink" and a pack mentality.
His thesis: the media suffered from a lack of diversity of viewpoint and independent thought. Rather than finding out what was going on with real people, the media, by talking to each other in an echo chamber, came to the faulty conclusion that Hillary Clinton had a 100 percent chance of winning an election that she lost badly.
My hat's off to Silver for engaging in an exercise that the media seldom does: trying to figure out what went wrong when they screw up. Sadly, this type of thing never happens here in Philadelphia. In a town where we suffer from a double blind: a liberal Democratic newspaper of record that mirrors the prevailing groupthink of our liberal Democratic city. At a time when the newspaper is on life support and our local government is both inept and corrupt.
But then I became aware that something was going on with Trump. So I forced myself to watch an unedited video of one of his campaign rallies. I saw that Trump, running as the quintessential political outsider, was connecting with people in a free-flowing way that was generating all kinds of crowds and energy. In a year where people were desperate for change. Then I looked at Hillary and saw that she was preaching to the choir in her usual shrill and wooden way.
My son gave me the single most illuminating insight of the entire presidential campaign when he pointed out that Donald J. Trump was a member of the pro wrestling hall of fame. Pondering this insight, I began to see all the obvious ties between the huckstering at Trump campaign events and the hype at the old WWF bouts, down to the cartoon villains, one of which was the media, which was dutifully playing along.
I canvassed many of my liberal Democratic friends in the media, basically telling all of them that if the Dems stuck with Hillary as their candidate, she was going to lose. Their reaction was unanimous: some of them thought that Hillary was the smartest person in the room; others saw her flaws. But regardless, every one of them insisted she was going to win and win big. Trump was a clown who was going to get killed. And I was an idiot for doubting the prevailing wisdom.
How does this apply to the local media?
Nate Silver wrote about a disturbing unanimity of thought and lack of diversity among the media, where only 13 percent of jobs at daily newspapers are held by minorities, at a time when 92 percent of journalists have college degrees, and only 7 percent identify themselves as Republicans.
This brought me back to the 1990s, when I was a reporter at the Inquirer, and forced to attend "mandatory" diversity workshops, a real exercise in comedy.
What I thought was so funny at the time was what did it matter if we concentrated our energies on hiring more minority reporters? When everybody that we hired, black white or whatever, all wound up living in the same parts of town [Mt. Airy or the suburbs] read the same books and newspapers, went to see the same movies, and basically all thought alike to a frightening degree?
What was so diverse about that?
Last week, a young reporter for a local news website asked me how I came up with the story about District Attorney Seth Williams getting banned from the Union League. I basically tried to explain that 90 percent of journalism is just showing up. Listening to people and getting them to trust you. So that when something happens, they might tell you about it.
Sadly, when I go to many news events, I often see all the reporters in a huddle talking to each other. Rather than talking to real people who might know something. As a wise old editor once told me, there are no stories in a newsroom. To find a story, you actually have to leave the building.
So why does our local daily newspaper miss so many stories that we wind up by default writing about on this blog? Because too many people down at our local daily newspaper all think alike.
Right now, people at the Inky are upset because some editors had to reapply for their jobs in a game of musical chairs that amounts to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
Once again, what does it matter if they all think alike?
So in the spirit of constructive criticism, here's my three-pronged proposal guaranteed to reverse the sagging fortunes of our daily newspaper, beginning today:
-- Fire all the editors. Immediately.
Replace them with young independent-minded reporters, and turn them loose. Maybe even hire some non-college graduates. Or if you insist on college degrees, some non J-School grads who might actually know something. Maybe even consider hiring some Republicans or conservatives or Libertarians. Or people who don't automatically accept the prevailing wisdom.
-- Insist that everyone who covers the city actually live there. Just like they used to do with cops. So that earnest young journalists might meet some real people who might tell them something.
-- Enact an immediate ban on all stories that have as their theme the latest outbreak of racism or sexism or homophobia. Especially such stories as written by your increasingly shrill columnists or editorial writers. See if you can go a week, or maybe even a month without sermonizing.
Here's a tip: the general public keeps telling you, whether by electing a non-PC president, or by not buying your newspapers any more, or by teeing off on liberal writers with hostile comments on philly.com, that they are sick and tired of being lectured to by the PC Ministers of Truth.
Last week, Sandy Shea, the editorial page editor of the Daily News, wrote an idiotic column where she proposed first a day, then a week without men.
Some of Shea's open-minded and enlightened prose:
Imagine a day when men aren't scheming to design new restrictions on a woman's control over their own body and her own health, or access to contraception . . . or to appropriate billions more to the military budget, or to concoct new ways to kill their fellow human beings.
You get the idea. The sad part was that the editors at the Inky turned off the comments section so that readers couldn't tee off on Shea for her silly screed.
At least that would have been interesting.