Personally, I think it’s too early to start shopping for headstones for MSNBC’s liberal opinion lineup, but there’s no doubt that there are big changes going on at the network. Morning Joe seems in no danger of going away and Rachel Maddow is hanging on to the 9 pm time slot like grim death, but many of their other shows are either gone, moved to the low rent district or being looked at by executives with axes in their hands. Ronan Farrow, Joy Reid, The Cycle and Ed Schultz have effectively vanished. Alex Wagner moved to the weekends and Al Sharpton (who the executives are terrified of firing entirely for fear of lawsuits and protest marches) has been shuttled off to an hour on Sunday mornings when nobody is watching. Despite persistent rumors of his impending doom, Chris Hayes is still doing an evening show but that seems to be a week by week decision.
But if progressives are the “mainstream” of the new generation as they always claim, and MSNBC is really the only bastion for them in terms of finding consistently liberal programming, what went so wrong? Leslie Savan, writing at The Nation, seems despondent over the changes but hazards a guess at one reason why things didn’t work out. The content was just boring pablum.
Mainstream news standards, which turn on he-said/she-said attempts at “balance,” can eclipse the truth. But MSNBC’s he-opined/she-opined standards, especially in daytime, had become boring: one uninspired if liberal show after another, all of them indistinguishable, featuring the same stories, the same guests, but different hosts. And, ultimately, boring hurts the left—it always has. Poor ratings don’t prove that progressive thought is unpopular, just that MSNBC had become predictable. Function followed format, and the format was flat.
But that doesn’t mean that you are going to walk out your door tonight and find armies of listless, liberal zombies wandering the streets aimlessly looking for something to do. Unbeknownst to me, there’s apparently been a whole new generation of non-traditional video content being generated online. Savan identifies some of them.
In fact, over the last several years, a whole world of more or less progressive TV news has emerged—streaming, on demand, on mobile, and, increasingly, on cable TV itself. Vice News, Fusion, and Free Speech TV are available on cable and satellite, as are Al Jazeera America and Russia Today.
As for web TV, HuffPost Live now streams eight hours of original programming a day. Cenk Uygur’s nightly show The Young Turks is one of the most-watched online news shows in the world, having racked up more than 2 billion views on YouTube. Even MSNBC is producing its own digital alt-news channel, the assertively lowercased shift by msnbc.
I was aware of HuffPost Live (mostly because I was invited to come on several times but declined) and I knew that there were at least as many liberals cranking out YouTube channels as conservatives, but the rest of the items on the web menu were Greek to me. But my first question for those outlets is how they’re doing in terms of monetizing their streams. That’s been the major stumbling block for most web based news efforts since the beginning. You can have some of the best content going and develop a big fan base, but if you can’t pay the bills it’s not going to last unless you have a major sugar daddy backing you up. (For one example: Media Matters for America.)
The cable and satellite shows listed were a different matter entirely. I’d never heard of Free Speech TV, though I’ve seen Fusion and Vice News on the cable channel guide around here. But while we’re on the topic, if you’re advertising the wonders of Al Jazeera America and Russia Today as “more or less progressive TV news” then it might be time to take a fresh look at exactly which team you’re playing for. There is still (I hope) a difference between content with a liberal / progressive bent and flatly anti-American efforts such as those.
What sort of conservative online content are you watching these days, assuming you take in any at all? I’m sorry to say that I’m just not in the cool kids crowd and I haven’t graduated to anything beyond listening to podcasts in my free time. Seeking out video programming which is only available on my phone or my laptop just isn’t something I’m ready for yet.