What Are We Dune 2 Journalism?

It's Season X, Dairy Daddies.

Hell yeah I’m ready for Dune 2: Dune 2 of these newsletters and then wondering how it’s still only Wednesday. Welcome to Today in Tabs Season X: Special Worm Unit.

While Tabs was on hiatus Vice finally died, but at least they didn’t actually delete the whole website (yet). After surviving a near-fatal barrage of thumbs-down emoji, Cory Haik deactivated her Human Media Executive camouflage and fled to her spaceship to hang up Shane Smith’s bleached spinal column in her trophy room next to Chris Altchek’s. No one knows what media company Haik will target for destruction next, but visitors to the Vox Media offices last week reported an eerie voice whispering “turn around…over here…from behind the potted ferns.

Of course Cory Haik isn’t responsible for the death of journalism, she’s just another parasite siphoning cash out of an already weakened host. But who is responsible? I talked to a Master’s Journalism student at Columbia over the hiatus, and found myself unable to explain it. I remember when there was a news industry—it really wasn’t that long ago. And I don’t think the audience has changed significantly, so what happened? I don’t know. But being a journalism grad student right now must feel like studying paleontology in the hopes that when you graduate you’ll find a job as a dinosaur.

Meek Mill posted: “This computer generated shit really deep faking yall to try destroy all the top place winners …. Most people not smart enough to out beat the a computer they sheep! I can’t be destroyed through a computer I’m too outside” and I can’t stop mumbling “I’m too outside.”

One thing that did happen to media is Google consumed the entire advertising market, and then realized that instead of paying for ad inventory it would be more profitable to replace the web with a bunch of AI sludge and advertise directly against that. Now Google is reportedly “experimenting” with removing the News tab from search results, probably because most of the News results pages are just ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ at this point anyway.

In an effort to find any hope amid the ongoing collapse of public service news gathering, Lauren Mechling wrote in The Guardian about journalism refugee coöps like 404 Media and Defector. I love the coöps, but they currently employ a lot fewer journalists combined than Vice alone just fired. The article features a subscriber count for newsletter collective Flaming Hydra that suggests its sixty contributors are currently making about $1200 a year each. I’m not sure those are “saving journalism" numbers.

So I don’t know exactly where the media industry went, and I don’t know how to fix it. But if you want a glimpse of how the business works now, you can’t do much better than this Road & Track story about Formula One racing by McMansion Hell architecture critic and cycling journalist Kate Wagner, which was published on Friday and then almost instantly unpublished for reasons that will soon become obvious.

The piece is fantastic—it’s one highbrow editorial pass away from being New Yorker dot print quality and works simultaneously as a genuine paean to Formula One’s combination of engineering and athletic achievement, a critique of the global capitalist system that produced a sport where the wealth disparities are so glaring they make pro cycling look bourgeois, and a pre-explanation of its own fundamental unacceptability to the “nice people with faces” who finance the few magazines that still exist in 2024. Wagner wraps up all three themes in their closing paragraph, which all but explicitly predicts that the piece will not survive corporate review. I’m going to quote the whole thing here because I don’t have a better summary for how absolutely fucked the media is right now:

I learned more about myself on my trip to Austin than I did about F1. I learned that I'm the kind of person who would rather be right than happy, would rather stand in my ivory tower than frolic in the fields below. I experienced firsthand the intended effect of allowing riffraff like me, those who distinguish themselves by way of words alone, to mingle with the giants of capitalism and their cultural attachés. It is to give this anointed everyman a taste of the good life, to make them feel like a prince for a day, and that if they do this with enough scribblers they will write nice words and somehow ameliorate the divide between the classes. My hosts were nice people with faces. They showed us extraordinary hospitality. If one takes many trips like this, I can see how it warps the mind, the perception of the world and our place in it. Power is enticing. Like Lewis Hamilton? You can eat steaks that cost the same as your electricity bill and meet him again. You, too, can bask in the balding aura of Prince Harry and the fake glow of Instagram models. Any wealth and status you lack, you can perform. What I received wasn't a crash course in Formula 1—in fact, Formula 1 only became more mystifying to me—but journalism, as viewed by the other side. The great irony of the other side is that they need journalism. The petrochemical companies, deeply powerful institutions, need journalists to write about all the things they attach themselves to that are not being a petrochemical company. Formula 1, on a rapacious tangent for growth and new markets, needs journalists to spread the good word of the richest sport in the world. Unfortunately for the other side, journalism still remains a double-edged sword. Send me on an experience and I'll have an experience. Sadly, I suffer from an unprofitable disease that makes me only ever capable of writing about the experience I'm having. The doctors say it's terminal.

The only thing Wagner got wrong is whether the petrochemical companies need journalists to exist on any terms but their own: they do not.

What Else Happened?

Elon Musk sued OpenAI and Liz had to update the Matt Levine list again. Matt’s special Friday take is that the suit is not very likely to succeed.

Adam Rubenstein, the deeply stupid Bari Weiss protege who at age twenty five edited the infamous Tom Cotton “Send in the Troops” New York Times editorial, inadvertently confirmed every claim that James Bennet’s critics ever made in a piece for The Atlantic which he seems to have intended as a defense of his work. It opens with an implausible David Brooks-ian sandwich discourse anecdote about the Woke New York Times which we’re supposed to believe because he’s apparently been telling it to his dimwit friends for years.

Also in The Atlantic, Ian Bogost resumed his campaign of being wrong about everything by encouraging us to abandon the only part of the internet that still works: email.

Email technology wasn’t owned by someone in particular, so anyone could use it. That fact alone should have been foreboding.

Bro, please stop writing.

If you found yourself thinking “I really miss Tabs” any time in the last two weeks, you have both a legal and ethical obligation to become a paying subscriber:

DevOps is a Meaningful Term

Danville, VA baseball team manager: Hey, you design that new team mascot?
Designer: Sure did boss, real fuckin sexy just like you asked.
Manager: what

Also over the break, Tabs’ original email home TinyLetter shut down, and Kevin Nguyen wrote about it. I can’t believe they never sent me a mug! What the heck, TinyLetter.

Today’s Birthday Boy: Happy Birthday to the inventor of micropayments Clay Shirky, who turns 32 today. Here comes everybody… to your birthday party Clay!

Today’s Word: tittenmauspad.”

Today’s Song: Abandoned Pools, “Aliens” (i.e. Cory Haik).

~ The whisk-tail’d merchant bade her taste in tabs as smooth as honey ~

It’s March Fourth: “Star Wars Day.” March the Fourth be with you. Thanks to Music Intern Sam, and thanks to you for reading. I bet there will be much more cheerful news tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.