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Consumer Reports and endism?

(We were going to title this post “Is Consumer Reports dead or is Michael Wolff a jerk?” but we’ve been leveled with charges of journalistic nihilism before and we’re reluctant to keep reinforcing Shafer’s point…Well, somewhat reluctant.) At any rate…

Wired EIC Chris Anderson is writing a blog about a book he’s writing, based on this article. At the moment, he’s fixated on a quote by Michael Wolff in the disappeared IWantMedia article from last week’s edition of FishbowlNY:

WOLFF: Well, I think Consumer Reports at one time was the brand in product evaluation. That’s what you would say: “Check Consumer Reports.” But if you want to buy something now, it’s “Check the Web.” It’s not that Consumer Reports doesn’t have a business, but it has certainly lost its position as the grail of product evaluation.

Anderson’s theory:

There are three kind of people, which being a science geek, I will describe in physics terms (that noise is the sound of a readership stampeding for the exits):

A) Position People
B) Velocity People (first derivative)
C) Acceleration People (second derivative)

Category A people think: “4 million subscribers is a lot. Consumer Reports must be doing something right.”

Category B people think: “It used to be 4.2 million. Consumer Reports is in decline.”

Category C people think: “They lost 200,000 readers in three years! Consumer Reports is dead.”

Now I should quickly add that I have no idea if Consumer Reports is indeed losing readers; I just made those figures up for illustrative purposes (and to add to the evidence that blogs are not journalism)…the third, which is clearly false, is the one that gets all the attention. People are drawn to grand overstatement, especially if it’s in service of a broader point.

The pinnacle of grand overstatement is endism, the declaration that the moment something stops growing it is effectively dead. In this, Wolff is in good company…The reason endism is not necessarily a sin is that all three of those perspectives are legitimate.

We get endism, but we’re more well-versed in trendism, which is sort of the opposite. Growth indicates that something is over, and therefore, effectively dead. This happens most frequently in fashion—see ponchos, trucker hats, and soon, if we’re lucky, Ugg boots (which should have been over two years ago)—but also in entertainment, media, etc. If we’re wrong about this, we’d imagine that there are hundreds of thousands of column inches of intellectually dishonest “In/Out” charticles in American magazines that need to be abolished permanently. (You don’t want to have to fill that space with actual reportage, do you? Then just admit we’re right.)

One commenter adds:

Wow, did you miss an opportunity. Consider:

A) Position People
B) Velocity People (first derivative)
C) Acceleration People (second derivative)

should have been followed by:

D) Jerks (third derivative)

I’m not making it up. That’s the name for the third derivative of position. The name for the fourth is inauguration.

In defense of endism [The Long Tail]

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