Here are the biggest media mysteries of 2017
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Certitude is the stuff of visionaries, the mask of con artists and a coin of the realm in media.
You need only experience the pregnant pause of a TV news booker when you tell them a particular issue is very complex. Or a cable host's dyspepsia if you decline to give a prediction, or actually say, "I don't know."
Ambiguity, or even a frank admission of ignorance, is not the pathway to a high profile or fat speaking fees. But it is a hallmark of candid journalists whom I queried at the start of the new year. The question: What don't you know about what's ahead in 2017?
Maureen Dowd, columnist, The New York Times: "Will Daenerys and Jon Snow fall in love and have to part, realizing they are related, or will they go for it, a la Cersei and Jaime?"
Bob Cohn, president, The Atlantic: "What I really want to know is how Donald Trump will govern. Everything we've seen during the transition suggests he'll continue to be petty and pompous and impulsive, so I should probably stop expecting he'll suddenly turn presidential. But still I hope."
"Closer to my publishing home, I wonder if 2017 is the year that traditional digital advertising — the direct-sold boxes and banners we've lived with for 20 years — collapses."
"At the high end, these units are being pushed out by branded content and custom ads that are more sophisticated than the old boxes and banners. At the lower end, programmatic networks have moved in, gobbling up the traditional ad real estate at a much lower price point. As a result, with most high-end publishers focusing on the new and leaving the rest to programmatic, the box-and-banner economy matters less and less. This may be the year it matters not at all."
Christine Brennan, sports columnist, USA Today, and contributor to CNN, ABC News: "Will the sports world continue to cave in to the scourge of performance-enhancing drugs? Baseball Hall of Fame voters appear to be softening on the doping daily double of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. What a travesty that would be if they get in when results are announced Jan. 18. We'll see."
"And the International Olympic Committee still is so paralyzed by its love affair with Vladimir Putin (sound familiar?) that it is letting the worst state-sponsored doping this side of East Germany go basically unchecked. Will international sports federations pick up the slack and ban the Russians? Will international athletes who aren't cheating rise up to fight for a level playing field if their sports leaders do not?"
Liz Sly, Beirut bureau chief, The Washington Post: "Will Trump even try to regain any of America’s lost influence in the Middle East? Or will he be content just to let Russia get on with it?"
Jill Abramson, senior lecturer, Harvard University and former executive editor of The New York Times: "For the first time since 2012, will the Yankees make postseason play? Will hot young prospects like Jorge Mateo fulfill their promise?"
Joe Conason, founder and editor in chief, The National Memo: "I wonder how far the GOP will try to go with Social Security and Medicare privatization, supposedly against Trump’s will."
"I also wonder a lot about his vaunted infrastructure promises. He needs to get a lot of projects underway before he runs again, even before midterms. But GOP termites, especially in the Freedom Caucus, are profoundly opposed to real infrastructure spending. So what happens? And what happens with retirements, etc., on the Supreme Court?"
Michael Ferro, chairman, Tribune Online Content (Tronc): "When do social media companies drop the word social and acknowledge officially they are media companies with the same editorial and ethical responsibility to provide real journalistic content to the communities they serve?"
Austin Beutner, former publisher and CEO, the Los Angeles Times: "How does a publisher get paid for deep engagement with an audience? The traditional model of being paid for modest engagement, measured in tonnage (or the digital equivalent, clicks), is dying as Google and Facebook gobble up the lion's share of the economics. A publisher seeking more clicks via new tricks is on a fool's errand. There's money in clicks but not enough to support a journalism enterprise."
"Customer revenue or subscriptions are only part of the answer. Long term, publishers have to find a way to get meaningful ad revenue from the deep engagement they have with their best customers. These audiences might be smaller and more targeted but offer much more value to sponsors and advertisers. That's the $64,000 (or multi-billion dollar) question."
Raina Kelley, managing editor, The Undefeated: "First, I am eaten up with the question of what protest will look like in 2017. Everyone keeps bringing up 1968, but as my dad says: 'If you think this looks like '68, you weren't there.' There is a similar conflation of protest and treason as there was in the late sixties (and) early seventies, but in 2016 there seems to be mainly incoherent stuttering in the face of that conflation and not enough people elucidating protest as one of the most American of rights and one of its most precious assets."
"Second, how, oh how will my boo Angelina Jolie be tarred as an insane kid-collecting black widow in a year all about allegedly pushing back against misogynistic stereotypes? I'm not in their marriage, how could I be? But somehow, someway, this whole divorce will be chalked up to her bad choices. I just don't know how."
Kukula Glastris, books editor, The Washington Monthly: "I think that the huge question looming above all others is what will Trump do? What will he dismantle? Will he ever be able to disentangle U.S. foreign policy from his own business interests? And if he steps over the line — as he is bound to do — will the Republicans do anything to stop him or fall in line as they usually do? We ran a piece in the last issue on that subject."
"For me, the dismantling of the safety net by the odious alliance of Paul Ryan and Mike Pence will be the biggest question of all — my crystal ball is awfully murky on that one."
Anne Hull, Pulitzer Prize winner, former longtime Washington Post investigative stalwart: "I wonder if the voters who voted to make America great again will feel greatness in their own lives."
Rick Hirsch, managing editor, Miami Herald: "I'd like to know if we, in the so-called mainstream media, can find a straightforward way to address emotional issues in a way that is credible to partisans across the political spectrum."
David Freeman, editorial director, NBC News' MACH, a new digital content vertical on technology and innovation: "If I had a crystal ball, I’d look at the weather on Aug. 21, 2017. On that day, the U.S. will be treated to a total solar eclipse — the first in almost a century to cross from coast to coast — and I’d be able to find a place in its path with clear skies so I’d have a good view."
"Then again, maybe I'd look to see if someone figures out a way to test whether we’re all real beings — or just characters in some vast computer simulation (a possibility some scientists say can’t be dismissed). If it turns out I’m not real but virtual, maybe I'd stop worrying so much about getting to the gym."
Alan Mutter, newspaper industry analyst and journalism teacher at the University of California, Berkeley: "Will the economically weakened and ill-trusted mainstream media be strong enough to counter the aggressive Trump misinformation program — and will a sufficiently large percentage of the general public believe them?"
Jim Warren, chief media writer, Poynter (that would be me): "What happens first: Sean Hannity admits Trump screwed up badly or Rachel Maddow admits he did something really smart? And will either happen before Mariah Carey next gets caught lip-syncing?"
Joe, Mika and Trump
Joe Scarborough's Washington Post attack on media hypocrisy and defense of his and Mika Brzezinski's appearance at Trump's New Year's Eve party (to talk business), was longer than USC's 52-49 Rose Bowl victory over Penn State. (The Washington Post) On Tuesday's show, he seemed to have gone on to other matters.
"Morning Joe" spent ample time on House Republicans voting to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics and bar it from considering anonymous allegations. "They are essentially rendering the whole thing toothless," said NBC's Kasie Hunt. Mark Halperin predicted the GOP reverses the moves, given the awful "optics." Scarborough found this ridiculous, too, like coverage of his trek to Mar-a-Lago.
The Washington Post now says, "As federal officials investigate suspicious Internet activity found last week on a Vermont utility computer, they are finding evidence that the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility, according to experts and officials close to the investigation." (The Washington Post) The Post admitted its mistake early and now elaborates.
Same old, same old
In a typical game of rich guys playing chicken, "Cable giant Comcast Corp. has reached an agreement to continue carriage of Fox News Channel, the two companies said, averting a blackout that would have left millions of viewers without access to the popular network." (The Wall Street Journal)
It's only two days into the new year but an early candidate for 2017's best magazine piece is C.J. Chivers' "The Fighter" in the The New York Times Magazine. It's a psychologically complicated and unrelievedly melancholy tale of a Midwest kid who fights in Afghanistan, is deeply scarred emotionally and goes very awry upon his return home to small-town Illinois.
Chivers clearly had a role in a dramatic (and one hopes positive) turn in his protagonist's life as a result of his dogged reporting. But the grim greatness of his handiwork, and the war itself, is the saga's very ambiguity. (New York Times Magazine)
The Hollywood Reporter is keeping us abreast of the party scene this week leading to Sunday's Golden Globe Awards. Tomorrow night brings, "W Magazine & Audi, Chateau Marmont, 8221 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 7:30 p.m. Hosts include W's Stefano Tonchi and Lynn Hirschberg with hotelier Andre Balazs at this always-packed penthouse party to celebrate the Globes and the mag's 'Best Performances' issue in partnership with the luxury automaker."
Tips for media CEOs
Not that any corporate press chieftains need any help in navigating the digital world, but Harvard Business Review offers some counsel in "To Lead a Digital Transformation, CEOs Must Prioritize." (Harvard Business Review)
Video of the day
Korean food mavens, especially, should check out, "Indulge in Fried Chicken and Frosty Beers at Turntable Chicken Jazz in NYC — A neon-lit destination for salty, fried foods and a night of drinking." (Eater)
The Boss and Marc Maron
If you're a Bruce Springsteen lover and have missed him on his book tour, here is a good interview on Marc Maron's "WTF" podcast. It gets into the origins of the "Nebraska" album, Springsteen's relationship with his parents and his views of the "Un-American" Donald Trump. It's also surely the first Springsteen session sponsored jointly by Audible, Blue Apron, Hint Water and The United Nations Development Programme. (WTF)
Wanna be a celebrity photog?
Noam Galai put together a seven-minute video with one second from each day in 2016. Adam Savage, Pharrell, Adam Lambert, Dionne Warwick, Sally Field, J.J. Abrams, Helen Mirren, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christina Grimmie, Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jesse Eisenberg, Miranda Cosgrove, Alan Cumming, Bryan Cranston and Mariah Carey (on New Year's Eve in Times Square) are among the many celebrities photographed. (Petapixel)
The morning babble
CNN's "New Day" focused on solicitous remarks Trump made about foreign business chums at that New Year's Eve party while it accentuated belated reports of U.S. intelligence finding "digital fingerprints" of Russian hackers in the election cyber attacks. The thrust was that the distrust of some Trump aides of the intelligence community clouds the camp's collective judgment.
A giddy "Fox & Friends" had "Dems in Disarray?" Surprise! "Do Dems really want to find 'common ground'?" So after about eight years of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowing openly to undermine Obama, it's now an outrage that Democrats are criticizing a GOP president-elect. It also gave time to a right-wing conspiracy theory that Obama might appoint Merrick Garland as a recess pick to the Supreme Court today at noon. Not.
"Morning Joe" delved into Trump family business dealings and whether it should change its business ways. Scarborough initially compared Trump maintaining his vast holdings to Barack Obama's pre-presidential book royalties going into a blind trust. GOP pundit Elise Jordan argued he should sell his businesses. Scarborough then said, yeah, that would be the right thing to do.