Happy Holidays! And a Holiday Gift for TSW Readers

We usually have posts about trees on Christmas, but today I thought I’d post the above from the Utah DWR via the Cowboy State Daily. New Zealanders.. who knew?

Some gifts below.. links to stories about what we do here.

People often ask me why I spend my time on The Smokey Wire. Pretty much I can’t describe it in words. But I can detect it when other peoples’ writing gets at it. And what they talk about is the importance of having a place where people can hear diverse points of view. And the internet can bring light or darkness (Happy Solstice!), and we are, have been, and will be,  working on bringing the light.

We are and have been in the middle of a news/media transition. In fact, as the Bennett story below illustrates, some have chose to go off the divisive deep end in the quest for more clicks and/or the tribal delights of self-righteous witch-hunting.  But sometimes things have to die before something new and wonderful is reborn.  I think I heard that on a Rob Bell podcast, something like “the system falls apart because the new thing is better, beyond, superior and more compelling.”  And as Eliot said in (Merry Christmas!) The Journey of the Magi:

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

TSW was before its time.. or after?

Our friends at the Atlantic published a piece about how Substack is full of Nazis, or to be fairer, that Substack should do more moderation. For those of you who don’t know about Substack, it’s kind of like a place that would host The Smokey Wire, except that it makes it easy for writers to monetize their writing. TSW readers benefit from my subscriptions to the likes of Roger Pielke, Jr., Doomberg, and others on Substack. And there are many others I would like to subscribe to as well in the general news category.

Sidenote: Atlantic is also one of those who writes that Musk has “swung Twitter to the right”. Which is kind of funny to me, as in my corner of Twit-X all I can see is that I get more likes from bots known as “Hot Girls”. This is one of the piece of “you should believe what we say over your own experiences” which is a losing argument whether it’s about Twit-X or theology.

Anyway, Substack is not backing down on the moderation question. But I thought this article was interesting.

And Substack—everyone’s favorite platform for pretending like it’s 2005 and we’re all bloggers again—has already come under fire multiple times for its moderation policies (or lack thereof).

Substack differs from blogging systems of yore in some key ways: It’s set up primarily for emailed content (largely newsletters but also podcasts and videos), it has paid some writers directly at times, and it provides an easy way for any creator to monetize content by soliciting fees directly from their audience rather than running ads. But it’s similar to predecessors like WordPress and Blogger in some key ways, also—and more similar to such platforms than to social media sites such as Instagram or X (formerly Twitter). For instance, unlike on algorithm-driven social media platforms, Substack readers opt into receiving posts from specific creators, are guaranteed to get emailed those posts, and will not receive random content to which they didn’t subscribe.

These are all good things..and we have them on TSW through the goodwill and donations of all of you (it’s the season of Peace to People of Good Will). Perhaps we have always been onto something valuable :)… well, not valuable in the monetary sense, of course, but valuable in the sense of exchanging news and increasing our mutual understanding and joint search for facts and truths. And no one seems to care that WordPress doesn’t moderate.. so perhaps it’s not about ideas so much as people making money? Who knows.

James Bennet’s Story in the Economist

This link seemed to help me avoid the paywall so perhaps it will work for you. It’s called “When the New York Times lost its way America’s media should do more to equip readers to think for themselves.” It’s by a fellow named James Bennet, who was the op-ed page editor of the New York Times. It’s quite long (and worth reading, but fairly depressing) so I’ll excerpt the parts that reflect observations similar to mine here at TSW.  Or the story might be cheerful, if you think “at least my workplace isn’t like that…talk about hostile work environment!”

As everyone knows, the internet knocked the industry off its foundations. Local newspapers were the proving ground between college campuses and national newsrooms. As they disintegrated, the national news media lost a source of seasoned reporters and many Americans lost a journalism whose truth they could verify with their own eyes. As the country became more polarised, the national media followed the money by serving partisan audiences the versions of reality they preferred. This relationship proved self-reinforcing. As Americans became freer to choose among alternative versions of reality, their polarisation intensified.


It is hard to imagine a path back to saner American politics that does not traverse a common ground of shared fact. It is equally hard to imagine how America’s diversity can continue to be a source of strength, rather than become a fatal flaw, if Americans are afraid or unwilling to listen to each other. I suppose it is also pretty grandiose to think you might help fix all that. But that hope, to me, is what makes journalism worth doing.


But there was a compensating moral and psychological privilege that came with aspiring to journalistic neutrality and open-mindedness, despised as they might understandably be by partisans. Unlike the duelling politicians and advocates of all kinds, unlike the corporate chieftains and their critics, unlike even the sainted non-profit workers, you did not have to pretend things were simpler than they actually were. You did not have to go along with everything that any tribe said. You did not have to pretend that the good guys, much as you might have respected them, were right about everything, or that the bad guys, much as you might have disdained them, never had a point. You did not, in other words, ever have to lie.


This fundamental honesty was vital for readers, because it equipped them to make better, more informed judgments about the world. Sometimes it might shock or upset them by failing to conform to their picture of reality. But it also granted them the respect of acknowledging that they were able to work things out for themselves.


A journalism that starts out assuming it knows the answers, it seemed to me then, and seems even more so to me now, can be far less valuable to the reader than a journalism that starts out with a humbling awareness that it knows nothing. “In truly effective thinking”, Walter Lippmann wrote 100 years ago in “Public Opinion”, “the prime necessity is to liquidate judgments, regain an innocent eye, disentangle feelings, be curious and open-hearted.” Alarmed by the shoddy journalism of his day, Lippmann was calling for journalists to struggle against their ignorance and assumptions in order to help Americans resist the increasingly sophisticated tools of propagandists.


On the right and left, America’s elites now talk within their tribes, and get angry or contemptuous on those occasions when they happen to overhear the other conclave. If they could be coaxed to agree what they were arguing about, and the rules by which they would argue about it, opinion journalism could serve a foundational need of the democracy by fostering diverse and inclusive debate. Who could be against that?


The Opinion department is a relic of the era when the Times enforced a line between news and opinion journalism. Editors in the newsroom did not touch opinionated copy, lest they be contaminated by it, and opinion journalists and editors kept largely to their own, distant floor within the Times building. Such fastidiousness could seem excessive, but it enforced an ethos that Times reporters owed their readers an unceasing struggle against bias in the news. But by the time I returned as editorial-page editor, more opinion columnists and critics were writing for the newsroom than for Opinion. As at the cable news networks, the boundaries between commentary and news were disappearing, and readers had little reason to trust that Times journalists were resisting rather than indulging their biases.


That is also, by the way, an important means by which politicians, like Cotton, can learn, by speaking to audiences who are not inclined to nod along with them. That was our ambition for Times Opinion – or mine, I guess. Americans can shout about their lack of free speech all they want, but they will never be able to overcome their differences, and deal with any of their real problems, if they do not learn to listen to each other again.


Is it journalism’s role to salt wounds or to salve them, to promote debates or settle them, to ask or to answer? Is its proper posture humble or righteous?

Happy Holidays, everyone!  See you after New Years!

1 thought on “Happy Holidays! And a Holiday Gift for TSW Readers”

  1. How about this: facts are quantified and checked. All else is opinion.
    12 people fled the building (fact)
    12 terrified people fled the building (opinion until all are interviewed)
    BTW I read the whole article (fact) but thought it was too long (opinion)


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