U.S. High-Speed Rail—Good Thing, Bad Thing?

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U.S. High-Speed Rail—Good Thing, Bad Thing?

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Nov 18, 2010 7:56 am

I had never questioned whether a high-speed rail system in the U.S. wasn’t a good thing. Infrastructure, jobs, efficiency, green – what’s not to like? I thought the following Newsweek article made me think twice about my previous assumptions.

High-Speed Pork
_______________________

Ken G – November 17, 2010

PS: This isn’t exactly the topic of this posting, but as I thumbed through the pile of magazines on my desk it reminded me of how I have watched the quality of U.S. weekly news magazines slowly decline over the last few years. First it was U.S. News & World Report. They decided to cut in half the number of issues published each year and the remaining issues would be on topics of ‘special interest’ and not your usual news magazine. Well, so far the success rate of topics of interest to me has been maybe one in five. And this is after I prepaid for two years of weekly issues. When I contacted them and said I had signed up for an issue a week and not one every other week they said I could read the news on their website – and forget any thoughts of a refund. So, scratch U.S. News & World Report, which had originally been my favorite of the big three.

Next, Time Magazine slowly turned into a rag trying so hard to be cutesy and hip that it was beginning to make me nauseous And when I realized the only thing I liked about it was columnist Joe Klein and an occasional article, I finally deep-sixed it and just let my subscription lapse after many, many years. So, scratch Time. Recently, my favorite columnist, Fareed Zakaria moved from Newsweek to Time to become Editor-At-Large. I don’t know if he will have any influence in improving the quality of what this magazine has become, but who knows?

Newsweek has always been pretty decent. The first thing I always read was editor Jon Meachem’s column, He was always thoughtful, non-partisan, and just wrote beautiful stuff that was a pleasure to read. His biography of Andrew Jackson, The American Lion was outstanding. In August he announced his resignation with the purchase of Newsweek (which was owned by the Washington Post Company) by Sidney Harman (you’ve heard of Harman audio equipment). He bought it for $1 in exchange for assuming Newsweek's huge debt (they reportedly lost 30 million last year alone) and I’ve got to feel sorry for them. And then, as mentioned above, Fareed Zakaria, probably one of America’s finest journalist/analysts/editors/. . . jumped ship to Time.

A few days ago it was announced that the website, The Daily Beast, which is actually pretty decent, was merging with Newsweek with the Beast’s editor, Tina Brown, becoming editor of the merged company. Newsweek gives up its website which becomes the Daily Beast and Newsweek, the print version, becomes Beastweek (no, still Newsweek) and a big chunk of Newsweek's writers have already resigned or will be rightsized out of their jobs posthaste.

But I guess it’s all economics and newsprint magazine/newspapers are going the way of the dodo bird. I hope that what Newsweek and perhaps others morph into is something I still want to read, even after the print version is gone (which it inevitably will be) and I am forced to buy a Kindle (or a . . .) so I can sit and read a passable news magazine while I eat my din-din.
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Re: U.S. High-Speed Rail—Good Thing, Bad Thing?

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Nov 18, 2010 11:08 am

I too fear for the long-term future of our news sources, especially of the print media, whose failure would adversely affect the health of our democracies. The proper functioning of democratic societies is heavily dependent on governments being made indirectly accountable to their electorates through the investigations and reporting by the media (whether print, broadcast or -- increasingly -- online, or a combination of these under a single roof, such as the BBC).

The current predicament of the print news media is a tragic story of hubristic assumptions being used to justify some terrible business decisions whose ultimate impact will be felt far wider than in the industry most directly affected by them. Most of it is probably already familiar, but I think it still bears outlining here.

10-15 years ago, most large news organizations around the world made what has turned out to be a dreadful error of judgment when they decided to go along with the then-fashionable mantra, "Information wants to be free". They began porting their journalism online free of charge in the belief that a stream of online advertising revenue coupled with reduced printing and distribution costs would make up for what they were going to lose in traditional sales.

Unfortunately, before they gave away their chief asset -- the journalism in which they had invested so heavily in terms of expensive talent, investigative reporting, news bureaux and foreign news-gathering sources -- they failed to properly validate the revenue assumptions of their new business models.

The revenues of the print media have since tended to fall drastically, despite the large aggregate increases in readership that has resulted from consumers having easy and essentially cost-free access to online news. The print media also did not foresee the race to the bottom in terms of news values that began when once-loyal readerships started to fragment and gravitate to online news outlets and blogs that reflect their personal views and values, but were (and are) often largely or entirely devoid of original reporting and adherence to what were till recently standard editorial criteria of presentation, factual accuracy and even-handedness.

The most significant loss of the US print news media organizations' revenue streams has been due to the emergence of Craigslist, which, by virtue of costing nothing to advertise in and being easily searchable, has proven to be a far more attractive venue for people posting classified ads than traditional print newspapers that charge heftily for placing an ad. In addition, many large retailers have been switching their advertising from display ads in newspapers and magazines to targeted online ads that track the activities of existing or potential consumers across the Web.

Some of the major news organizations have now woken up to the consequences of their folly, including Rupert Murdoch's enormous news empire, News International, which a couple of years ago introduced a fee-for-access model for some well-known titles in its stable of newspapers (e.g. the [London] Times papers and the Wall Street Journal). The New York Times (a non-Murdoch paper that Murdoch is very eager to kill off) will follow suit next year. However, the writing is now on the wall in towns and cities across the US that have already lost some or all of their mainstream newspapers or are in great danger of doing so, including Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver, Detroit, Tucson and San Francisco. The well-respected Christian Science Monitor today exists online only. Several large national newspaper groups are also in serious financial trouble.

Newspapers and news magazines are clearly experiencing a period of turbulence and fundamental reorganization in terms of how they conduct their business. It is too early to say with certainty how the processes they are currently subject to will ultimately pan out, but it requires a great leap of optimism to envisage a bright future for most of the mainstream titles that exist today.

My opinion, for what it's worth, is that we will probably see the largest and most business-focused organizations like News International absorb or kill off most of their smaller competitors, while at the other end of the spectrum the blogosphere will continue to be a free-for-all of mostly crappy or unverifiable reporting, disinformation, and opinionated ranting whose news input is derived from the biased output of the likes of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal's extremely conservative editorials -- with very little that is worthwhile existing in between these two extremes. I really hope I'm wrong.
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Re: U.S. High-Speed Rail—Good Thing, Bad Thing?

Post by Wizard of Oz » Thu Nov 18, 2010 12:04 pm

.. Erik see elsewhere in Addict's Corner how James Blunt saved the world .. great reporting and responsible editing ..

WoZ
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Re: U.S. High-Speed Rail—Good Thing, Bad Thing?

Post by JANE DOErell » Fri Nov 19, 2010 7:07 pm

I read news on line for a couple of hours each day. I have not read print news in several years. I think the New York Times at Starbucks in the only newspaper to be found in our suburb of 20000. The library might get some day-old newspapers.

My concern with the disappearance of print has to do with comparability of the electronic sources.

Just an example or two, not news related but showing what could happen to archived news in just a couple of years. My wife bought a 2009 car. It won't play her books on print that worked fine in her 2007 car. Netflix streaming is sweeping the country but I cannot appreciate movies or TV shows without CC or subtitles. Netflix streaming don't show CC or subtitles on English language movies and most TV even if they are on the DVD. ...
Last edited by JANE DOErell on Fri Dec 24, 2010 11:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: U.S. High-Speed Rail—Good Thing, Bad Thing?

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Nov 19, 2010 9:17 pm

JANE DOErell wrote:My wife bought a 2009 car. It won't play her books on print that worked fine in her 2007 car.
Do you mean audiobooks on CD? Otherwise it sounds as though you are probably referring to some kind of e-book, but I have not heard of any car manufacturer supplying an e-reader as original equipment.
JANE DOErell wrote:Netflix streaming is sweeping the country but I cannot appreciate movies or TV shows without CC or subtitles. Netflix streaming don't show CC or subtitles on English language movies and most TV even if they are on the DVD.
I sometimes have the same problem with closed captioning (CC) when viewing cable TV shows on demand. Some shows for which CC
text can be made to appear on-screen when the show goes out live do not allow it when those same shows are played on demand.

However, I don't think this is a format compatibility problem so much as a case of the cable company for some reason occasionally failing to transmit the CC data signal along with the audio and visual data signals (sometimes episodes of a particular show can be viewed on demand with CC text, sometimes they can't).

If this is a consistent problem with Netflix's streamed movies, I suspect it means that Netflix has decided it is more profitable for it to omit the CC signal from its streamed movies than to provide it.

I suggest that you contact Netflix to get confirmation of the actual reason behind the absence of CC text on their streaming movies. If you are able to get an answer out of it, you will then both be able to complain about its policy and share what you learn with us here. :-)
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Re: U.S. High-Speed Rail—Good Thing, Bad Thing?

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sat Nov 20, 2010 6:42 am

Speak of the devil! I picked up today’s mail and what did I find?

Dear Valued Subscriber:

We are writing to inform you that this will be your last issue of U.S. News & World Report magazine. U.S. News & World Report will no longer be published as either a monthly print [[guess I haven’t been paying attention – last I knew it was a biweekly]] or digital replica magazine. The U.S. News Media Group will continue to publish the usnews.com website and many other products.
____________________________

The times they are a-changin'. And another print news outlet bites the dust. (>;)
______________________

Ken – November 19, 2010
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Re: U.S. High-Speed Rail—Good Thing, Bad Thing?

Post by JANE DOErell » Tue Mar 22, 2011 4:58 pm

JANE DOErell wrote:I read news on line for a couple of hours each day. I have not read print news in several years. I think the New York Times at Starbucks in the only newspaper to be found in our suburb of 20000. The library might get some day-old newspapers.

My concern with the disappearance of print has to do with comparability of the electronic sources.

Just an example or two, not news related but showing what could happen to archived news in just a couple of years. My wife bought a 2009 car. It won't play her books on print that worked fine in her 2007 car. Netflix streaming is sweeping the country but I cannot appreciate movies or TV shows without CC or subtitles. Netflix streaming don't show CC or subtitles on English language movies and most TV even if they are on the DVD. ...


Here In Ishinomaki, news comes old-fashioned way: Via paper - The Washington Post is a much better example of what I was attempting to convey in the quote above.
"Unable to operate its 20th-century printing press — never mind its computers, Web site or 3G mobile phones — the town’s only newspaper, the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun, wrote its articles by hand with black felt-tip pens on big sheets of white paper. But unlike modern media, the method worked."
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Re: U.S. High-Speed Rail—Good Thing, Bad Thing?

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Mar 23, 2011 4:10 am

For a short while in 2005, the New Orleans paper, the Times-Picayune, had to resort to similarly minimalist measures after Hurricane Katrina made it impossible to print the paper for three days. In its case, though, it was at least able to publish an online version.

Returning to the topic of Ken's Newsweek article, the online magazine Slate (part of the Washington Post stable of publications) recently published an article by David Weigel titled Off the Rails -- Why do conservatives hate trains so much?.

It must be said that Weigel's article tends to skate over the details of the economics of resurrecting passenger rail in the U.S. and instead prefers to focus on the ideological debate. However, his article includes a link to an interesting July 2001 pro-public-transit paper published by conservatives Paul Wyrich and William Lind titled Twelve Anti-Transit Myths: A Conservative Critique that seeks to refute the arguments sometimes advanced against the building of urban light-rail systems like those of Portland, OR, Los Angeles, CA and elsewhere.
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