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Pressing Issues

White Media Men Are At It Again

The Elite White Boys Club is launching yet another well-funded news organization, while independent journalism, led by women and people of color, struggles to survive.

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Another day, another white dude starts up a news organization.

Another day, another dude—hired and promoted and praised by dudes—starts a news organization with a dude, and from the reaction of dudes in elite media Twitter, you’d think the Earth had moved for the first time in their lives.

Stop the presses: New York Times media columnist Ben Smith, formerly the editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed, is leaving his post to help launch a media company with Justin Smith, the chief executive of Bloomberg Media.

What is his new outlet going to cover, you ask? Um, people. And maybe stuff.

Listen to this bitchin’ disruption: 

“There are 200 million people who are college educated, who read in English, but who no one is really treating like an audience, but who talk to each other and talk to us. That’s who we see as our audience.”

Don’t Politico, Axios, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Barron’s, CNBC, MSNBC, Vox, the Federalist, about two-thirds of Substack, and Crain’s from front to back already tread this ground, fill this “niche”? 

When people pointed out the fact that we might already have such a publication, or several dozen of them in fact, a million bros grabbed hold of their mansplain-phones to trumpet to the world an all-important message: Ben Smith is a good reporter and therefore there will be no doubt his new thing, whatever it is, will be good as well. 

It’s not about good, though. It’s about, yet again, the elevation of elite white male adequacy over the excellence of outsiders working with a fraction of the resources Smith and his ilk are handed every day simply for being in the right club

Right now a majority of Americans say the “news media” doesn’t understand them, and for non-white Americans those reasons are rooted in the unspoken assumptions read and heard in stories every day. The people who assign, create, and promote those stories do so, naturally, from their own priorities and prejudices, and the problems they choose to highlight are those faced by people like themselves. 

People like Smith’s imaginary audience are not underserved by this media landscape. For the comfortably situated humpers of the status quo, there are already about eleventy-thousand outlets that tell them that the only option to preserve the local Olive Garden is to let poor schoolchildren die of Covid. 

For the real monsters, your wannabe-Kissingers and petits Cheney, the editorial pages of center-right and “business” publications will happily feed their need to put smoking holes where entire countries used to be in order to make the stock market lift its skirt. 

News needs actually exist in small to midsize communities losing their local news due to decades of brutal corporate cost-cutting, like three community papers that recently shut their doors in Florida, or the Youngstown, Ohio Vindicator closing down its printing presses in a community that is often used as a political bellwether in a presidential swing state.

The English-speaking population “no one is really treating like an audience” lives in city neighborhoods and suburbs uncovered or under-covered by media outlets that look at their subscriber numbers and find it easy to write off Black and Hispanic populations until there’s a crime or a crisis. 

Publications actually led by women, minorities and local residents are scrapping like hell to cover these people and places. Scalawag, the Tennessee Holler, South Side Weekly, Outlier Media and thousands of others are fundraising to build their audiences, piece by piece, day by day. This very publication, in fact, is member-supported. Infrastructure, policies, back-end, marketing, production, distribution, these are all challenges for people trying to start up their own operations without the kind of built-in bro networks enjoyed by the likes of Smith and his ilk. 

Inside larger news outfits, reporters—usually young or from marginalized backgrounds—are disciplined or pushed out of their jobs for challenging race and gender bias in legacy media institutions. Several of NPR’s hosts and reporters of color are on their way out. Calling out the existence of racism has cost even Pulitzer winners who write about institutional racism at work. Expressing an opinion on Twitter, or simply reporting facts contrary to the prevailing and desired narrative of one’s editors, is a suspension-level offense for female reporters.

If you’re not the Ben Smith–type golden child, there are endless demands to prove yourself, prove you have longevity, prove you can hang with the market, prove you’re serious, prove you’re talented, prove you didn’t just get here by sleeping with someone, by affirmative action. 

And when failures happen in these communities, inevitably doubt gets cast on all women- and/or minority-run businesses, doubt that’s matched in its racism only by its effectiveness at suppressing support, financial and otherwise.

Somehow the bro-genius cohort never shows up to solve these kinds of problems. They’re too busy reinventing the wheel. What if literature, but with NFTs? What if news, but with Uber? What if art, but it’s like, about pot? What if you paid for good information, dudes? What if you just printed the news out on dead tree pulp mashed flat and, like, gave it to people for free? Wouldn’t that blow everybody’s minds?

I’ve written before about how men supporting men in media leads us to the exact trash fire we’re currently trying to extinguish, and Smith’s story is just one more example, a high-profile kick in the teeth at a time when we’re told it’s critically important to elevate unheard voices and untold tales. 

We see this every time some sex pest is amscrayed from a high-profile TV gig, the immediate list of successors, all of them male. We see this in who gets the calls to appear on the panels, who is taken seriously, verified and cited and retweeted and defended. We see who’s in the VIP room, who knows the right people, and who can do no wrong no matter how bad their takes. 

We expect a new machine when the guts are always the same, down to the rusted-ass spark plugs. Yet how easy it is to sell a shiny exterior, with a man in the driver’s seat, white smile gleaming? 

A man with a national platform he got by being hired and promoted by other men with national news experience can just saunter onto the scene and mumble “paradigm” and investors can’t get out their checkbooks fast enough. How many news startups receive the kind of glowing Times coverage Smith’s just got handed simply because he worked for them? 

What if we just stopped listening to these tools and treating their every move like it’s Tony Stark’s? Even better, what if we treated the work and worth of actual journalists like it was?

How many community news and journalism nonprofits could raise a year’s worth of funds off the kind of detailed profile Smith’s venture got, with exposure to the very savvy, very cultured, very wealthy audience that reads the Times? Why is his “idea,” which is actually absent one, worth the column inches? 

If it shuts down after six months, as so many of these companies do, and we find out that the business plan was three napkins covered in Cheeto dust and the word “synergy” written in Chapstick, will there even be a eulogy? 

Or will the men involved just go on to other male-run ventures, replacing other men, and be replaced by men in their turn? 


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