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Armed Liberal presents two must-reads inspired by the LA Times recent front page sneer-piece on Michael Yon.
It's only fair to note that if the mainstream media holds Yon in any contempt, the feeling is not mutual.
My thoughts on all that later. There's much to discuss.
Update one: From the LA Times piece:
But Carl Prine of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a National Guardsman and former Marine, saw platitudes, thin reporting and a lack of context in Yon's work.Those comments are from several months ago - for a more in-depth examination see Chap's response.
"As someone who has seen a great deal of combat in my life and who earns his daily bread as a reporter," Prine opined on the Internet, "I can assure you that a lot of what Michael Yon writes is misleading, inaccurate and vapid."
Prine's real problem with Yon is that he's not a mainstream journalist - he explains in some detail why he thinks the work of the NY Times reporters is much better. But his critiques are somewhat contradictory:
He’s not a very good writer. He doesn’t understand, yet, that not every detail needs to go into a dispatch. Not everything is relevant.Is followed closely by:
He’s not a good reporter. He misses things that should immediately trick up some imagination. Here’s something he wrote the other day:In other words - too much detail I don't want, and not enough detail I want - "I" being the key word. And yes, the headlines and focus in a media story about a mission would likely be on the gear that failed, so we must credit Prine with having the "nose for news" that distinguishes today's successful mainstream journalist from guys like Yon. What he misses is that this is exactly why readers find Yon appealing.
“So, of course, glitches and snags started occurring the first day. Among other things, key gear failed; but overall, the Surge was going well.”
Uhhh, what gear failed????
But this quote is even more revealing:
I’m not sure who is “raving” about Yon. Nor am I exactly sure how Yon can continue to do what he’s doing and make money. He seems to be scraping by on donations.Actually he did much better than "scraping by". Prine's "marketplace" is "what mainstream media wants" - the market Yon tapped is what people want. That those markets aren't one and the same is but one of many reasons why so many old-guard media producers are seeing plummeting ratings and sales.
In the marketplace is the arbiter of value, then Yon has little. If he was so beloved, if there were so many raves, then he mgiht [sic] be a bit more successful.
Update 2: By the Numbers
More from the Times:
Although the profusion of links gives an indication of Yon's growing popularity, the blogger has yet to draw an audience as large as many traditional news outlets, which measure their traffic in millions. His blog has not hit the threshold of 360,000 distinct monthly users to be tracked by Nielsen/NetRatings.There's a reason the LA Times obsesses over this fact. Their own numbers, while significantly greater than Yon's, are disturbing. Here's a quick calendar year in review:
Circulation revenue at The Los Angeles Times fell in the first quarter, according to Tribune Co.'s first-quarter results.2Q and 3Q
Circulation revenue for all newspapers under the Tribune umbrella was down 9 percent. However, Tribune said the two biggest drops occurred for the L.A. Times and Newsday in New York.
For the six months ended Sept. 30, 2005, the Los Angeles Times reported a six-day Monday-Saturday average circulation of 869,819, a decline of 3.6 percent from the prior year, and Sunday circulation of 1,247,569, a decline of 3.5 percent from the prior year, according to figures filed with the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC).The fourth quarter - could they finish strong? No.
Fourth-quarter earnings tumbled 38 percent at Tribune Co....LA Times/Tribune Co. folks will acknowledge some reasons for declining circulation - one is the competition they face from their own online version of their paper - and their competitors'. Long accustomed to being the only game in town, major metropolitan newspapers now struggle to come to terms with business models shifting at the speed of thought. On the internet they now find themselves competing for a share of online readers from around the globe - a huge potential audience - but local car dealers and other businesses have little incentive to advertise to folks from the other side of the Mississippi (or the Pacific, for that matter). And local readers unhappy with the local paper are free to click elsewhere.
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dennis FitzSimons said circulation revenue from the company's 11 urban dailies are still down but cited progress and said paid circulation is stabilizing.
Wall Street was not impressed. Shares in Tribune fell 30 cents, or 1 percent, to close at $28.71 on the New York Stock Exchange after sinking as low as $28.40 - their lowest prices since March 13, 2000.
...The publishing unit, consisting of Tribune's newspapers, saw operating profit decline 26 percent... Advertising revenue fell 2 percent for the quarter, while circulation revenue were down 4 percent.
A subscription fee for reading the online version won't work with so many other options available for casual news consumers, nor will it drive those people back to the print edition. If such a fee was adopted the resulting decline in online readership will bring reduced ad revenues there, offsetting the subscription income.
And of course it's those ad revenues that support the newspaper business, not the profit from subscriptions or newsstand sales. No paper has ever been so highly regarded that it could survive purely on its sales - because never in history has a public been willing to actually consider a newspaper so indispensable that they would be willing to pay enough for it that it could be sustained independent of corporate sponsorship in the form of ads.
And if you're thinking ahead of me you've already realized the underlying reason for the Time's obsession with Mike Yon's readership numbers, and the jealousy underlying it. While the LA Times may boast a large ("millions") number of people willing to read their output as long as they don't have to pay for it (and a dwindling number of people willing to part with a few pennies a week for the actual paper) Mike Yon enjoys a smaller readership (thousands) willing to underwrite his efforts to the point that he needs no corporate sponsorship, or "success" on the terms defined by media dinosaurs.
By himself, Yon represents no threat to the LA Times. He doesn't have the inside scoop on the Lakers, offers no clue as to whether his readers will need an umbrella tomorrow, and offers no advice whatsoever for the lovelorn.
Update 3: Conservative estimates
If you're a reader here I don't need to tell you who Yon is, but the Times recognized they would have to define him for the majority of their readers:
Michael Yon may not be a household name, but he emerged last year as the reporter of choice for many conservatives and supporters of the war.But is "conservatives and supporters of the war" an apt description of his readership?
An interesting question.
Yon was working on another story when he learned that two friends had been killed in Iraq. As the Times reports,
The deaths galvanized Yon. He contacted an Army officer he'd known in high school, who in turn put Yon in touch with a commander in Iraq. That got him a ticket to Baqubah.The Times doesn't point this out, but the deaths of friends doesn’t motivate one to become a champion for an unjust war in which they died (this same fact applies to all milbloggers). And Yon did not become that champion - even if the Times would have us believe otherwise. In-country he simply reported what he saw, told the story of the war without the filter of a major corporation and a league of editors re-writing his accounts to fit available space in column inches and the box defined by their own distant view of events - shaped by whatever forces that may be.
Thus Yon's dispatches became a valuable source of information for those wanting a full picture of what was going on in Iraq - people whose quest for knowledge didn't stop with what the local paper had to say - or worse, the two-minute soundbite on the TV news. Those who do limit their knowledge to those sources comprise a large number of Americans. It's odd (Orwellian, if you give it any consideration at all) that the Times labels the rest of us - those who seek information from all possible sources - as "conservative". I'd speculate that those same people who read Yon, this site, or any other MilBlog are also familiar with the efforts of Michael Moore. That they are nonetheless "supporters of the war" speaks volumes to their ability to decide for themselves. Bottom line: "conservative supporters of the war"? The Times was half right.
I've noticed that same mislabeling phenomenon here. Whereas hundreds of thousands of visitors have found this site via links from center-to-right wing weblogs, the Left avoids this site - and other military blogs - like the plague. (Perhaps due in no small part to the fact that they can't dismiss us with the "chickenhawk" label - the most powerful - albeit lame - argument they can muster against those who support the war.) But this site thus gained a reputation as being politically "right wing" and "conservative", in spite of the fact that I don't wade into issues of Supreme Court appointments, border security, homosexual marriage, and a host of other topics unrelated to what we're about - authentic "boots on the ground" coverage of the war - from those wearing the boots.
So if you're still here, I've got some news you might not appreciate: you are probably a liberal. While others shy away and deny themselves a robust view of the state of the world today you are looking for the complete picture. An we'd like to think we offer that, or as close as we can - in our daily Dawn Patrol and in the weekly Meanwhile back at the Front. There we'll present as many sides of the story that we can, from the front-line GIs and citizens in Iraq to the editors in New York, LA, London, and all points between.
We're confident that you'll draw your own conclusions.
After all, isn't that what being liberal is all about?
Soldier's Dad, in comments below:
"...no Media organization, obsessed with advertising revenue, would hire Yon. The purpose of a newspaper, is to get people to read the Advertisements, not the news.Touché. Read this too.
Yon writes stories people want to read. They'll miss the 3/4 page ad for BillyJoBob's Auto Emporium.
Print depressing news...a new car from BillyJoBob's Auto Emporium is just the cure."
(First posted: 2006-02-10 17:37:52)
Gosh guys, everybody knows bloggers like Yon are not real journalists like those in the LA Times! Anyhow, how can he be impartial (like they are in the LAT), he supports the troops for cripes sakes!!
Let's hope Mike gets a Pulitzer - wounldn't that get the attention of the "real journalists" scumbags?Posted by NOTR at February 10, 2006 06:20 PM
The story came across as nothing but a bunch of sour grapes.
"Although the profusion of links gives an indication of Yon's growing popularity, the blogger has yet to draw an audience as large as many traditional news outlets, which measure their traffic in millions. His blog has not hit the threshold of 360,000 distinct monthly users to be tracked by Nielsen/NetRatings."
Posted by HomefrontSix at February 10, 2006 06:58 PM
Mike Yon's blog was the first real clue I had that all was not as the media portrays it. I routinely send folks to check out his riveting story-telling.
His writing is amazing - clear, intelligent and riveting. He gets along on donations so that he does not have to bow to any editor with a not-so-hidden agenda.
This guy needs to spit out the sour grapes.Posted by Lyric Mezzo at February 10, 2006 07:46 PM
YEAHHHHH....what they said. He/They sound very whiny and jealous.Posted by toni at February 10, 2006 09:30 PM
I'd challenge any LA Times reporter to start their own blog and see what the readership would be. My guess is they couldn't average 6k visits a day for 3 months - assuming they were all different that would be half that "360,000 distinct monthly users to be tracked by Nielsen/NetRatings"
I'd extend that challenge to any msm reporter.Posted by D. Tierney at February 10, 2006 09:38 PM
Thanks for posting on this. Meanwhile, the LA Times continues to drop in subscription numbers.Posted by wordsmith at February 10, 2006 10:13 PM
A couple of tidbits -
Includes Tribune Company quote on the definition of "Customer Satisfaction"
Also Newspaper Association of American Letter to Presidential commission, defining their competitors as "Direct Mail Marketers"
Somehow, I don't think the writers at the LA Times know that their real competitor is Money-Saver Mailers.
Pretty sad really, being so unaware that you don't even know what the corporate "Mission Statement" is.Posted by Soldier's Dad at February 10, 2006 11:09 PM
What a bunch of losers! Could their envy be more transparent? Have they NO shame?
But hey, Jack Bauer could write the the LA Times AND the New York Times by himself, and still beat their circulation. Before lunchtime. And then kill a bunch of terrorists.
(I know, :groan:)Posted by Beth at February 11, 2006 12:43 AM
"I’m not sure who is 'raving' about Yon. Nor am I exactly sure how Yon can continue to do what he’s doing and make money. He seems to be scraping by on donations."
I may have missed something, but since when was Yon in it for the money? And I don't know about "raving," but I have read and trust Michael Yon and have never heard of Carl Prine until now.
"In the marketplace is the arbiter of value, then Yon has little. If he was so beloved, if there were so many raves, then he mgiht [sic] be a bit more successful."
Well, I've never spent even a dime on the Times and never will, but I have donated money to Michael Yon. I consider respect to be a sign of success and under that criterion, Prine and the MSM have been a complete failure.Posted by Don Miguel at February 11, 2006 12:49 AM
"sour grapes" is dead spot on. The LA Times, like so much else of the msm, sees their power slippping away, and they're scared. As they ought to be.Posted by Tom the Redhunter at February 11, 2006 02:29 AM
My dear 'ole mum, took early retirement from Capitol Cities/ABC. It wasn't about the story anymore. It wasn't about real people anymore. It was about style, and fonts, and ADVERTISING revenue. USA today does quite well on dumbed down articles and a lot's of colorful pictures and graphs. One can read it cover to cover in 5 minutes, and know nothing.
Yon did what reporters WANT TO DO, but aren't allowed to do.
The LaTimes guy got it right, no Media organization, obsessed with advertising revenue, would hire Yon. The purpose of a newspaper, is to get people to read the Advertisements, not the news.
Yon writes stories people want to read. They'll miss the 3/4 page ad for BillyJoBob's Auto Emporium.
Print depressing news...a new car from BillyJoBob's Auto Emporium is just the cure.Posted by Soldier's Dad at February 11, 2006 02:50 AM
Who reads Michael Yon? I do and so do many of my fellow military retirees. We also send donations to support his work. I am old enough to remember Ernie Pyle and Michael has that same ability to capture the moment with the soldiers he accompanies. Kaplan, who wrote Imperial Grunt is the only other writer I know who can do this. God Bless Michael Yon and keep him safe.Posted by Possum at February 11, 2006 08:32 AM
OK. I went and read the stuff between "Chapomatic" and Prine. I have to say that Prine is entitled to his opinion and I think you were unfair with him.
It seems to me that a reporter who is in the military would be the right person to ask what's wrong with some reporting about the military. He put out his case pretty well. At least I think he did.
I used to read Yon when he was in Mosul and I thought then what Prine said about it. It kind of was boring for those of us who have been in Iraq and I wished someone else was doing it.
Not sure I want the NY TIMES to do it! Prine is an expert on reporting and he says a bunch of Yon's reporting is "vapid" and "misleading."
I don't have to be a reporter to see the same thing.Posted by SoldierOnPatrol at February 11, 2006 10:53 AM
Sorry, I missed something. Who is being unfair with Prine, and how?Posted by Greyhawk at February 11, 2006 12:39 PM
I'm sorry but Prine's complains seem to me to be a way to rationalize how Yon can possibly have a positive attitude. The "Sode Straw" effect is a way of dismissing his upbeat coverage. "He doesn't see a quagmire because he's not looking in the right place.. but we all know it really is a quagmire.. right?"
Yon wasn't pretending to report on what's happening all over Iraq. He was up-front about living with Deuce Four and reporting their exploits. Those of us with brains can read the writings of other reports in other parts of Iraq and splice them together into a coherent picture of events. It's precicely the raw nature of the information we get from Yon which gives it incredible value - it's unfiltered by any of the (generally) highly opinionated, ignorant newspaper and magazine editors who know how to put a negative spin on any news.
We also have people like Bill Roggio have military experience who trawl through news reports, putting together a coherent and insightful picture of what's really going on over there in an operational and strategic sense, when we don't have the time to do that ourselves.
I'm hate to paint with such a broad brush but Prine, being part of the MSM, calling Yon "misleading" is just sad. If I want to read something misleading I only have to buy a newspaper or magazine. If I want to read a gripping account of one day in the life of some soldiers from Deuce Four, written by someone who has walked the walk and knows how to talk the talk, I'll read Yon. Vapid? I really can't see where that word comes from, other than Prine has run out of ways to belittle Yon.
I'm sorry but I don't want to believe what the newspapers, magazines, radio and TV want me to believe. I want to form my opinions independently, by cross-validating as many sources of informed commentary as possible. The MSM has shown us we simple can't trust semi-anonymous third party analysis of complex situations. And besides, I *enjoy* reading Yon. Compared to what I'm fed by the Main Stream Media, that's a revelation.
'But this site thus gained a reputation as being politically "right wing" and "conservative", in spite of the fact that I don't wade into issues of Supreme Court appointments, border security, homosexual marriage, and a host of other topics unrelated to what we're about - authentic "boots on the ground" coverage of the war - from those wearing the boots.'
Unfortunately to many on the left, the military and even the concept of the military is "right wing." Since their world-view is primarily shaped by their ideology, there is no way that they will look at military blogs because they assume them to be Bush propaganda organs or pawns. That is very unfortunate because most military blogs do nothing more that give an account of what the individual blogger experiences, which when one takes all sources of information into account, are the only ones you can really trust.
I also find it interesting that many on the left totally discount the role of Iraqi bloggers for the simple reason that very few of them support their point of view. I guess when you get down to it, if you are against the war and your point of view is based on your ideology and what you learn from the MSM, it is very inconvenient to accept opposing points of few from people with first-hand knowledge (but whose profession is not to tell you what is happening).
Why should I trust the LAT or the NYT or any of a host of other shining examples of journalism? Why would I want to read any paper that gives Cindy Sheehan more print space than Paul Ray Smith or others like him? If the papers ever figure this out I might just be willing to start buying them again.Posted by SSG_K at February 11, 2006 07:29 PM
OK. I guess I'm still a little confused. This Prine fellow is a MSM reporter. OK. But is the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review really a Cindy Sheehan kind of newspaper?
I doubt it. If he's talking about "quagmires" then why did he quit reporting to be in Iraq in the National Guard?
I hate to say it but what he said about Yon and Bill Roggio I think too. So hate me, right?
I think Yon is boring, whether he is "unfiltered" or not, and Roggio just doesn't get the details.
I have never heard of Prine but that doesn't mean he's not a good reporter or that what he says makes sense. It sure does to me. Is he going to be a reporter again when he goes back? Is he back from Iraq now?
I can't keep track of all this.
I think Mudville is backing the wrong horse here but that's just my opinion.Posted by Soldier Again at February 12, 2006 07:26 AM
You're welcome to think Yon is boring, if that is how you feel about his writing. However, I think you're in a minority.
I tossed "quagmire" in there as an expression representing the always-negative attitude of the media. What bothers me is not that Yon specifically is criticised, but the pattern which I see of criticism falling largely on those who have something positive to report.
As for complaining that Roggio "doesn't get the details" - what do you expect of a strategic overview? A description of what kind of MREs the soldiers ate on a particular operation? Sometimes detail is interesting, which you get from the day-to-day first-hand reporting which Yon does. Sometimes I want to get a high-level overview putting the various tactical operations in place in the overall strategic scheme. Detail at that level seems superfluous to me.
I've never heard of Prine either. And I've not said he's a bad reporter. What I am saying is that his disdain for Yon is disappointing, but what I would expect from a professional reporter. Maybe what he thinks people want to read, and what "Soldier Again" wants to read are the same thing, but maybe there are a lot of people, including me, who want something different.
So, if Yon has a "market" (and surely he does with 365k unique visitors) then why not let him fulfill his market in peace, and you can get your news elsewhere.
I don't want to seem adversarial here, as I said you and Prine both have your opinions and you can publish them too.
However, there are two things that bother me. First, Yon gives me a perspective on events which isn't really available anywhere else, including the MSM. There are some reporters from the MSM who have since started reporting in a similar fashion, but at the time I was reading his blog, his was one of the few places I could go and read about the exploits of a particular unit in a particular location and how they fared over a number of months, without reading what was written by a member of the unit. It was interesting, watching them take control of Mosul and seeing the personalities and the problems they faced.
Now, maybe that's boring. I don't know. But it is DIFFERENT from what I've come to expect from the media, and variety is important. Prine is complaining that Yon doesn't have the attributes he associates with good reporting. But those differences can be strengths. There are thousands of media outlets and none of them captivate me. Why would I want Yon to turn into just another reporter like anyone else? I'm dissatisfied with regular media reports and I think a lot of other people are too. Yon gives us a fresh perspective.
Seeing an (ex-?)reporter complain about him, especially the hypocritical aspects of it (e.g. complaining he doesn't give enough detail, when most reports have far worse detail and often incorrect details), makes me feel like this is sour grapes.
Anyway, continue to hold and express your opinions, and read what you find interesting. I know I will, and I think a lot of what I read will continue to be alternative media, simply beacause I get what I want there.
I'm sure many people found Ernie Pyle and his stories about ordinary soldiers boring, too.Posted by Don Miguel at February 12, 2006 04:45 PM
OK. Maybe I continue to just not get it. If Prine is a "sour grapes" reporter, then why was he making these comments on Chapomatic as a soldier, not a reporter? He quit to go to Iraq, right? And from the context of his talking with Chapomatic, he seems to be an enlisted guy to boot, and in the infantry.
Some of his comments take on Yon as a reporter, but most seem to come from his experience as a marine and now a soldier (finally, he chose the right uniform).
I sent an email to his Tribune account and it came back with his military email, so I hope to hear from him so maybe we can hear his perspective on all of this. If it's "sour grapes" I'll tell you.
If he's at some real distant FOB, he probably doesn't even know anyone is mad at him. His comments seemed really constructive to me. Kinda made me want to be a reporter, but I don't want to retire until I hit my 20 and I've got a couple more years to go!
I don't know why I'm getting all invested in this stuff. I don't really care about him or Yon but he seems like an interesting guy.
I've posted edited hightlights of the wit and wisdom of Carl Prine:
Posted by Carol at February 13, 2006 12:00 AM
What convinces me about the quality of Michael Yon's work is that he does everything that Mr. Prine dismisses. (Sorry.)
I've been reading Yon before he became well known. He made me see the Iraq operation and understand it. That's the most important thing. 1--Excellent cultural context (he knows it's never just a military conflict) 2--up close detail, military and civilian 3--personal involvement. A core of decency and civilized outlook at the basis of his outlook (that makes him American). Finally, an amazing literary quality to this off the cuff composition. In fact, if the great war journalists of yesteryear would here to vote, they'd like Yon's stuff. MSM dinosaurs such as the LA Times have a right to fear Yon. Would that soon (maybe over their Iraq Lies!) they would go belly up like their long ago namesakes.
"Maybe I continue to just not get it. If Prine is a "sour grapes" reporter, then why was he making these comments on Chapomatic as a soldier, not a reporter?"
Let start at the the starting point. The military is a LARGE authoritarian regime. It has to be, we don't want the 82nd Airborne taking out Oracle because Bill Gates was offering triple overtime.
There is no shortage of reporters, that can't accept that fact. They are quick to point out the inefficiencies and sometimes seemingly insane side effects.(A C5-A toilet seat costs $350 because it has to conform to 500 pages of specifications, the bolt holes alligning and being the right color is not enough)
Posted by Soldier's Dad at February 13, 2006 04:37 AM
OK. I went to Carol's website. I really began to feel for Prine while reading the squabble on Chapomatic's blog. He seemed to be very tolerant of a great deal of verbal abuse I guess I would never take. He must be a very patient small unit leader. Or he has children.
He had me laughing, but perhaps that's just a soldier's humor.
Sue me, but I'm going to withhold any judgement about him until I hear from him by email. I think that's fair.
I also don't see why everyone is attacking him and not his position. I agree with his position as an officer, if not as a gentleman. I think he offers some point for us to discuss the issue from a military perspective.
If I might offer some talking points. Perhaps the reason so many people like Yon is not because he is that good of a "reporter." I can't really judge what a good "reporter" is, but I would hope he got details right, understood the context of the war and tried to make sense of what we do.
If Mosul was like our sector, then I think Yon was intentionally disregarding a lot of things. Some would say it's patriotic to do that, and I would tend to agree. But I don't think that's what a reporter's role in our world
Am I wrong about that?
This Prine man seems to have reached a similar decision. He said that he couldn't be a reporter and a soldier at the same time, so he choose to be a soldier.
I want to talk to him because I think that's pretty great. I'm at the point now in my career that I want to meet men like that. If Prine is Iraq now, maybe I'll get my chance.
When is Yon coming back? Maybe I can get them together.