I’m a sucker for live televised events, so I found myself tuning in this week to the General Conference Commercial Event the Apple corporation throws from time to time.
One of the splashiest announcements the company made at the event was that the makers of iPhones and MacBooks will be dipping into the streaming entertainment business, trotting out major talent like Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey to talk up (in the vaguest of ways) what they are making with Apple’s endless amounts of money.
The message seemed to be, “It’s Netflix, but different!” Except, it’s not really different. It’s just another service that is going to be competing for my monthly dollars.
But Apple announced something else at the event that could more accurately be described as “Netflix but different,” and it carries much more disturbing consequences: Apple News+, a subscription news service.
Apple News+ sounds good at first, because it seems to solve a genuine problem: With free news all over the Internet, how can publishers get news readers to start actually paying for news?
Apple sort of succeeded at solving a similar problem in the past: When everybody was illegally pirating entire music libraries on Napster, iTunes offered an affordable and (most importantly) easy legal option, and consumers went for it.
Journalism needs funding in order to exist, and with everyone getting their news for free, the industry has scrambled to re-think its model, without many good innovations. Local newspaper websites are unwieldily and ugly, with nonexistent or nonfunctioning mobile apps, while massive brands like The New York Times are doing just fine, thank you very much, and the difficulties of funding twenty-first-century journalism don’t really apply to them. They profit off endless Donald Trump celebrity crisis porn, and people still think they’re suffering and send them pizzas.
In other words, the problem isn’t that journalism has no funding, it’s that the economy of journalism looks like the larger economy: The rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer.
So I’m skeptical that the solution to journalism’s problems will be found by sending more of my dollars every month to an already enormously rich single company, especially a company that is not primarily a journalism company, which means its corporate values may have absolutely nothing to do with speech ethics or freedom of the press.
According to Apple, the service will offer human-curated articles from a wide variety of publications like the New York Times and the New Yorker. Consumers pay Apple for access to high-quality journalism, Apple pays the publications, and everybody is happy.
Except, adding a corporate middle-man in between readers and journalists introduces new questions, like:
What platform will smaller, local news sources be given on this service?
What level of editorial transparency and accountability is possible when the editors are faceless human/algorithm hybrids and also the world’s largest technology corporation?
Will Apple’s curators include news stories that are negative to Apple, or will those stories not seem “relevant” to readers?
Will publishers actually benefit when only a selection of their content is going out to readers, and with no control over how their stories are presented? Especially when that presentation will always include direct competition with other publications?
I believe consumers will feel good about having a convenient way to pay for news, but I worry that this solution from Apple only exploits that consumer desire, offering a solution that may actually make the problem worse.
The best solution, as I see it, would be for local newsrooms and publishers to have the means and the focus to package their content in a more contemporary way, and to be able to earn more of those profits themselves. I don’t know how to get to that point, but maybe it will involve people paying for local news even when the product isn’t packaged as sexily as it could be, and for local newsrooms and publishers to work hard to innovate and earn (and keep) the trust of their small but big-enough audiences.
Or, as someone I rode a train with this week suggested, social media companies like Twitter and Facebook should be paying publications already, even if readers pay nothing to click on them. Social media companies have exploited the broken system of post-Internet journalism for years, and they have gotten rich from viral links spreading on their ad-saturated platforms.
If someone’s going to be paying for journalism, why shouldn’t it be the other companies that are actually getting rich off of journalistic content?
That’s all for now,
PS Speaking of social media companies, I made a pretty decision last week and I quit Facebook. You can read more about that decision here. I already sorta miss it, but I have to say, I have no regrets. I feel sort of free, untethered (OMG have you seen Us yet? Come on readers, go see Us.) Plus, quitting Facebook meant a handful more of you started following this newsletter, so welcome! My goal of 50 subscribers has been officially reached — and surpassed by three! Please continue to spread the word if you find this letter valuable.
Also, I’m working hard on some podcasting goodness, so check your Mosaic feeds soon for more!
On my radar: March 29-April 4, 2019
To put something good on my radar, please get in touch.
Friday, March 29
📺 Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Fridays @ 9 p.m., CW) — The final season continues! Plus: a behind-the-scenes documentary is available now on CW Seed, but according to Rachel Bloom it contains spoilers for the finale, so I’m holding off watching it for now.
NYC: 🎭 Tootsie (Broadway, previews begin March 29, opens April 23) — I have adored Santino Fontana since I first saw him on Broadway in Cinderella and then heard him in Frozen. Now, he'e starring in a new musical based on one of my favorite film comedies, with a score by David Yazbek (The Band's Visit, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels). My anticipation is through the roof.
Saturday, March 30
📺 Saturday Night Live (New episode March 30 @ 11:30 p.m., NBC) — Sandra Oh hosts with musical guest Tame Impala.
Sunday, March 31
📺 Barry (Returns @ 10 p.m., HBO) -- The first season of Barry was a comedy about what it means to kill (both people and onstage). I can't wait for more. Trailer.
Monday, April 1
📺 The Twilight Zone (Two episodes drop April 1, with weekly episodes to follow beginning April 11, CBS All Access) — Jordan Peele’s reboot of the classic anthology series. Am I going to have to sign up for CBS All Access for this? (Yes.) Trailer.
NYC: 🎬 Minding the Gap screening with director Bing Liu — This free screening is happening literally the street over from our apartment, and Bing Liu is one of the most exciting artists working, so I would love to hear what he has to say. More info.
Tuesday, April 2
NYC: 📚 The Rock and the Star (Mid-Manhattan Library at 42nd Street, Program Room, April 2 @ 6:30 p.m.) — This 2011 documentary tells the story of the first Jewish colony in the Americas, which was in Recife, Brazil. I lived in Recife for two years, so this sounds like a film I'd love to see. The director, Kátia Mesel, will be in attendance at the screening. More info.
NYC: 🎭 Socrates (The Public Theater, opens April 2, closes May 19) — Tim Blake Nelson directs, but what I’m most looking forward to is seeing Michael Stuhlbarg in the cast. More info.
Thursday, April 4
📺 Superstore (New episode @ 8 p.m., NBC) — Slept on this show for too long. It's hilarious and well-written.
🎬 Movie Marathon Series: The MCU in chronological order — I’m doing a series of movie marathons this year, and the first is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, leading up to Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame. More info.
🎬 Movie Marathon Series: Bob Fosse/Gwen Verdon — My next movie marathon is in preparation for the FX biopic series Fosse/Verdon. More info.
At the end of each newsletter, I look to — the past! — to mention the most most notable pieces of culture I've been paying attention to, whether they were previously on my radar or not.
🎬 Clemency (Release date TBD) — I was fortunate to catch this film by Chinonye Chukwu at the New Directors New Films festival this week. It won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Alfre Woodard stars as a prison warden who has overseen 12 executions, and the toll that job has taken on her life. The film is exceptionally moving as an examination of the human nuances of the political question of capital punishment. It is one of the first essential films on 2019. More info.
Visit the full list for my complete listing of upcoming movies, TV shows and more.
ADDED THIS WEEK:
NYC: 🎬 A Woman’s Work: The NFL’S Cheerleader Problem (Tribeca Film Festival, public screenings April 27 @ 6:30 p.m., April 29 @ 5:45 p.m., May 1 @ 6:45 p.m. and May 4 @ 3:45 p.m.) — More info.
Thanks for reading! What's on your radar? Get in touch to let me know! And look for my next letter to go out on April 5.