How do you do, fellow news consumers.
I guess I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like The Messenger very much. Rosemary Rossi collected some early reviews for The Wrap: “Literally unreadable” raved Kendall Baker. Jay Rosen called it “a digital news site with as few ideas as possible.” And Peter Kafka said it was “the least defensible kind of publishing to get into as the ai race to the bottom starts.” Sure, every new publication is looking for a moat, but only The Messenger had the guts to start by drowning in theirs.
In The Guardian Margaret Sullivan wondered whether there’s a future for digital media at all, building her column about the recent collapses of BuzzFeed News and Vice on a scaffolding borrowed from the “seminal 2009 essay, Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” by “the brilliant New York University professor Clay Shirky,” which is extremely worth reading as the collapse of the newspaper business brought on by the internet has started to more obviously metastasize into the collapse of journalism as a whole that Shirky predicted was coming back in 2009.
Sullivan concludes that her “deepest hope is that news consumers—also known as citizens—and philanthropists alike recognize the importance of quality reporting and are willing to support it,” which is laughable because categories like “news consumers” and “philanthropists” only exist within a capitalist economic order that is fundamentally hostile to journalism. I don’t mean to be all…
…but capitalism fucking did this.
Hamilton Nolan also wrote about The Messenger, in the context of a media world where Axios and Semafor are the apotheoses of “publications designed from the ground up to appeal to the demographic of ‘business people who incorrectly imagine themselves to be ideas people.’” Like Sullivan, Nolan started his post by recapping Shirky’s argument, possibly without meaning to, but he does offer the parenthetical suggestion that “(The solution… is to either tax tech companies to fund journalism or just have the government fund journalism directly…).” Debatable!
But if government funding is the answer for journalism, I wonder what the answer for the music business is. Jaime Brooks wrote a long essay about the Vocaloid technology behind Hatsune Miku, the recent “AI” Drake song “Heart on My Sleeve” and Drake in general as both an artist and a platform, as well as the surprisingly recent history and apparently dim future of “the recording artist” as a concept and music creation as a business, along with some side quests into Louis Armstrong’s tape recording habits and the invention of fan-art by Japanese otaku culture. It’s an extraordinary post, find the time to read it.
In 2009, Shirky wrote that “That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place.” The way Brooks puts the same idea is:
For Vocaloid Drake to thrive, Drake the “recording artist” would almost certainly need to be destroyed. This is what advocates of “AI” are pushing for when they call for established artists to “open-source” their names, voices, and likenesses. They don’t understand how any of this works, and they don’t want to. They’re just here to break things. It’s all they know how to do.
But if capitalism has discovered a way to satisfy the human needs of “feeling informed” and “listening to pleasant sounds” without the negative externalities of journalists reporting things the powerful would rather keep secret or artists saying things their owners didn’t script for them, what possible use can the market have for reporters or musical artists anymore? Maybe finding “viable business models” for journalism or music isn’t actually the problem that we need to solve.
Yahoo! did Tumblr the biggest favor in social media platform history by stripping it of nearly $1.1 billion of tech VC expectation. That’s why Tumblr is the only social media site that just does goofy shit for no reason now, and Intern Camille is back with an update on the latest goofy shit Tumblr has done. Welcome to:
Tumblr is once again a PvP-enabled zone with the launch of new badges on Friday. Users quickly realized that the badges had the potential to be weaponized by sending them to others, to "turn on" a “commissions open” sign.
The badges themselves are supposed to be harmless references to Tumblr culture: Goncharov, for the fictional mafia movie that the site created en masse; Coppy, for the site's 2015 April Fool's riff on Clippy that it seems determined to resurrect, judging by the physical Coppy merch currently for sale; and a “Commissions Open” badge, which is supposed to recognize the artists on the site and how frequently they’re asked "are your commissions open?"
Tumblr started selling icons in November 2022 as a cheeky response to Twitter Blue checkmarks. Tumblr, which is pseudo-anonymous and has never done verification, announced that they would sell two checkmarks for about the same price as Twitter Blue’s lousy single checkmark, and the checkmarks are stackable up to (and potentially beyond) thirty two. But these are the chaotic microblog community’s first non-checkmark designs.
Beyond Twitter and Tumblr, of course, badges are omnipresent online, especially as a way of customizing and personalizing one's profile. Tumblr badges specifically are reminiscent of DeviantArt's Llama badges, which can also be gifted to others, but are intended to promote community rather than exclusivity.
The way that Tumblr users specifically envision using badges is reminiscent of Adrienne Shaw's theory of encoding and decoding affordances, where the affordances and design of media aren’t passively received by an audience. Instead users are active participants in reworking design features for their own needs and desires, like a previous generation did with LinkedIn endorsement trolling. In this case, users can reimagine the site as a battle arena for making your online friends turn down fan-art inquiries.
The archaic word of the day is ludibrious: ridiculous or wanton.
—Camille Butera is Coppy-protected and open for commissions.
Why are space scientists only either extremely precise or extremely vague? They’re always like: “the object will make its closest approach at exactly 02:13:39 AM Zulu time and will pass 12,892.71 kilometers from the edge of Earth’s atmosphere,” or they’re like “we expect the sun to explode in about five billion years, give or take a billion.” In Scientific American Meghan Bartels reports that Betelgeuse is 50% brighter than it should be, and astronomers claim that if we all say its name three times it might explode soon, which will be incredibly sick:
The supernova’s first harbinger would be subtle but unmistakable—a flood of ghostly neutrinos emitted during the star’s collapse that would suddenly wash over Earth, lighting up detectors around the globe. Shortly thereafter, as high-energy photons burrowed out from the dense expanding cloud of stellar debris, the real fireworks would begin. “What we would see is Betelgeuse getting really bright—like 10,000, 100,000 times brighter than it normally is—on a timescale of a week,” Goldberg says. Depending on exactly how powerful the explosion turns out to be, the supernova remnant could become perhaps one quarter or half as bright as the full moon, concentrated into a single point of light—sufficiently luminous to be visible during the day and to cast stark shadows at night.
I’m so ready! When will it happen? Apparently “sometime within the next 10,000 to 100,000 years.” Goddammit astronomers.
WSJ columnist Joe Queenan managed to sneer at both Stuff Old People Do and Kids These Days at the same time. But the youth? They do be snacking. Zelda, the boy from the Legend of Zelda game, has gained a surprising new power. Amanda Mull traced the supposed “stealth wealth” trend from Kendall Roy’s $625 baseball cap through the lifestyle news industry to stealth-wealth dupe TikTok and concludes that it probably never existed as an actual trend at all. I guess “my dog was driving” is a pretty original way to try to get out of drunk driving charges.
Finally: We’re trying to find the guy who gave a vanishingly few regretful detransitioners so much influence with transphobic state governments, insists The New York Times.
Today’s Song: Manni Dee, “Pillow Princess” (ft. ANGEL BBY)
Thanks Music Intern Sam, thanks Words Intern Camille, thanks Reading Intern You. Capitalism fucking did this.
Is that what citizens are? Are you sure?