Politico: The Media Bubble Is Worse Than You Think

In Politico, Jack Shafer and Tucker Doherty have an excellent piece titled “The Media Bubble Is Worse Than You Think”, which looks at how the MSM got the Nov election so wrong. It explores, and finds confirming evidence for, the notion of a liberal media living in a bi-coastal bubble:

The answer to the press’ myopia lies elsewhere, and nobody has produced a better argument for how the national media missed the Trump story than FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, who pointed out that the ideological clustering in top newsrooms led to groupthink. “As of 2013, only 7 percent of [journalists] identified as Republicans,” Silver wrote in March, chiding the press for its political homogeneity. Just after the election, presidential strategist Steve Bannon savaged the press on the same point but with a heartier vocabulary. “The media bubble is the ultimate symbol of what’s wrong with this country,” Bannon said. “It’s just a circle of people talking to themselves who have no fucking idea what’s going on.”…

Where do journalists work, and how much has that changed in recent years? To determine this, my colleague Tucker Doherty excavated labor statistics and cross-referenced them against voting patterns and Census data to figure out just what the American media landscape looks like, and how much it has changed.

The results read like a revelation. The national media really does work in a bubble, something that wasn’t true as recently as 2008. And the bubble is growing more extreme. Concentrated heavily along the coasts, the bubble is both geographic and political. If you’re a working journalist, odds aren’t just that you work in a pro-Clinton county—odds are that you reside in one of the nation’s most pro-Clinton counties. And you’ve got company: If you’re a typical reader of Politico, chances are you’re a citizen of bubbleville, too.

So, are the big online media content providers (such as Politico itself) in less of a bubble? Nope:

Where newspaper jobs are spread nationwide, internet jobs are not: Today, 73 percent of all internet publishing jobs are concentrated in either the Boston-New York-Washington-Richmond corridor or the West Coast crescent that runs from Seattle to San Diego and on to Phoenix. The Chicagoland area, a traditional media center, captures 5 percent of the jobs, with a paltry 22 percent going to the rest of the country. And almost all the real growth of internet publishing is happening outside the heartland, in just a few urban counties, all places that voted for Clinton. So when your conservative friends use “media” as a synonym for “coastal” and “liberal,” they’re not far off the mark…

How did this happen?

The magic of the internet was going to shake up the old certainties of the job market, prevent the coagulation of jobs in the big metro areas, or so the Web utopians promised us in the mid-1990s. The technology would free internet employees to work from wherever they could find a broadband connection. That remains true in theory, with thousands of Web developers, writers and producers working remotely from lesser metropolises.

But economists know something the internet evangelists have ignored: All else being equal, specialized industries like to cluster…

As Enrico Moretti, a University of California, Berkeley, economist who has studied the geography of job creation, points out, the tech entrepreneurs who drive internet publishing could locate their companies in low-rent, low-cost-of-living places like Cleveland, but they don’t. They need the most talented workers, who tend to move to the clusters, where demand drives wages higher. And it’s the clusters that host all the subsidiary industries a tech start-up craves—lawyers specializing in intellectual property and incorporation; hardware and software vendors; angel investors; and so on.

This bi-coastal clustering can largely be explained by the proximity to the epicenters of political power (D.C.), financial power (NY), social media power (Seattle, San Francisco), and cultural power (L.A.) :

The online media, liberated from printing presses and local ad bases, has been free to form clusters, piggyback-style, on the industries and government that it covers. New York is home to most business coverage because of the size of the business and banking community there. Likewise, national political reporting has concentrated in Washington and grown apace with the federal government. Entertainment and cultural reporting has bunched in New York and Los Angeles, where those businesses are strong.

The result? If you look at the maps on the next page, you don’t need to be a Republican campaign strategist to grasp just how far the “media bubble” has drifted from the average American experience. Newspaper jobs are far more evenly scattered across the country, including the deep red parts. But as those vanish, it’s internet jobs that are driving whatever growth there is in media—and those fall almost entirely in places that are dense, blue and right in the bubble.

How this manifested itself on Election Night, and how the Media got things so wrong, is part of a dynamic that only seems to be getting worse:

As the votes streamed in on election night, evidence that the country had further cleaved into two Americas became palpable. With few exceptions, Clinton ran the table in urban America, while Trump ran it in the ruralities. And as you might suspect, Clinton dominated where internet publishing jobs abound. Nearly 90 percent of all internet publishing employees work in a county where Clinton won, and 75 percent of them work in a county that she won by more than 30 percentage points. When you add in the shrinking number of newspaper jobs, 72 percent of all internet publishing or newspaper employees work in a county that Clinton won. By this measure, of course, Clinton was the national media’s candidate.

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