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CNN employs two people as so-called media critics. Their job, as best I can tell, is to watch Fox News and then report back what the people over there are saying. It’s an odd business model (and based on how their ratings have been going down it seems not to be a great one). But someone at CNN thought that their viewers would really enjoying hearing what the other guys are talking about but they would also need to keep their hands clean while doing it. See, you could always just watch another station, but what if that other station was full of crazies and weirdos and it’s just too icky for you? Enter the media critic. You get all the information (that they want you to have) without being one of those unwashed viewers of Bad Cable News Channel X. And it works for everyone! Want to hear some disingenuous thing Jake Tapper said? Well there’s definitely like three different right wing podcasts that will tell you about it. Did Tucker Carlson really say that about vaccines? Worry not, Brian Stelter will do a whole segment on it tonight. In a world where access to information has never been easier or cheaper we have built an ecosystem that ensures we are always watching the crowd watching the crowd. The internet revolution didn’t cut out the middle man, it gave us a seemingly inexhaustible supply of middle men. And we absolutely asked for it.
Where does commentary from increasingly popular (? - I don’t think it’s an illusion) “independent media analysts” fit into this equation - like the people writing on substack as free agents who used to work for news organizations.
It is possible to argue that ET is in this category sometimes as well - not necessarily in service of political narratives - but in analyzing the presentation of news.
For instance, where would this post be in your narrative map?
I wonder if there are two types of meta-commentary: (1) the kind that you’re highlighting: articles attacking or supporting other narratives by social, media, and political actors, and (2) the kind of meta-commentary on this platform: where we learn to examine how the information we consume is packaged and shoehorned into larger ideas and narratives.
What is curious to me is that I would think that the increasing popularity of free agents would make the map more diffuse, or is this an indication that this is not occurring? Or is this contributing to the glut of metacommentary?
I am almost surprised to learn that there is any simple reportage of facts anymore. Both sides know that the issue of crime broadly is an important one for their campaigns. One side gained mightily from the perception of police brutality last year and the other is attempting to exploit the mayhem that ensued and the various issues around that. When the Rothschild’s pigeon’s were carrying the news of Waterloo, no one had access to any facts. Now the sky is thick with them but no one can tell which are real.
Hey, Eric! Really good thoughts and questions!
I think if you write about narrative, you’re always going to live in the meta. It’s unavoidable. I’d like to think we don’t have an ideological axe to grind, but of course we do. I think it just happens to not be on the most dangerous and divisive axis socially, but that’s my story, not a fact. I’d like to give our genre of media criticism a separate category as you do, but I’m not sure it’s always as distinct a thing as we’d like.
As for Substack journalism, I think it’s mostly supplanting similar volume coming out of larger publishers (especially the volume of a person who leaves such an outlet to set up their own direct content feed). That would make it more of a fragmentation than a shift, and I wouldn’t expect that to have a material effect on the mix or nature of the meta’s influence on coverage more broadly. That’s mostly assumption work on my part, though. I don’t know if my priors about how free agents supplant mainstream content are correct.
No doubt. FWIW, I think @bhunt watches the shows-about-the-show networks promote when he watches The Bachelor, etc., so while we are all to blame, he may be slightly more to blame.
Even more worrying - I’m not sure if we care!
This is spot on and going on in the the micro level as well as the macro media level. When anyone talks current events 1v1, almost all of what they’re remarking on is the coverage of the event in question. Very little gets discussed about the actual fact pattern.
Could this emergence of a central meta-cluster dominated by *discussions of discussions" possibly reflect that most newspapers (media) have moved online and most news articles now allow readers to “comment”?
From a technical perspective, not explicitly, in that the text we’re analyzing doesn’t include those comment sections.
But I think it’s certainly the case that writing to induce comments and social media sharing is a big part of ALL content production, including that of hard news, so in a way it is absolutely a part of why this sits at the center.
When the primary job of news media became to shape opinion rather than report news , I guess this was inevitable.
The struggle I’ve been having with this discussion/comment thread - came to the fore with your comment.
I don’t think we’ve ever done anything other than shape opinion. The idea of the water we live in is that we lose the background for the foreground. We forget we live in a world of dualities (joy is meaningless without sadness).
Even if I am reporting, accurately, a series of events as perceived by me and others and reported in an effort to remove bias - ie facts - there is a whole other narrative to be told by the facts and viewpoints that escape that process.
(IF]f you want to go meta - there is a whole discussion to be had on the narrative memetic meaning of the word “fact” and what “facts based reporting” really is…)
To me, I always find it interesting to look at the negative, at what was not reported, at “the dog that didn’t bark”. From a potter’s perspective, the void inside the vessel (the negative space) is what gives it utility.
My sense is that what we are expereinceing now is that they are not even pretending anymore. With technology and a #YOLO world in which we seem to live - narratives rule the day and the idea of presenting your narrative as “facts” seems to have massively diminished.
and, that, I find super fascinating.
It’s not just us, and it is getting crazier, and Covid probably is a reason why. Despite thinking about the narrative world a lot, the snippet attached from Grant’s really jumped out when they published it. It seemed so ridiculous because they talk about these fundamental things - which may or may not be significant, but that you definitely could incorporate into a DCF valuation. And then they sum up with “further weighting on the narrative.” Wut?
Covid was too perfect for the narrative world because no one knew anything, even the experts, and a vanishingly small portion of talking heads last March and April were actual experts. Meaning, most of us were left talking about people talking about Covid. One consequence of the metaworld is I always remember facts (not fiat news, actual facts) don’t necessarily matter, it’s how those facts are formed, shaped, and used by The Narrative. It’s the voting machine every day all of the time. That’s always been an issue but Covid was tailor-made to strengthen the effect.
The selective inclusion or omission of information, the placement, the amount of emphasis - as you say, all of these things can be done without explicitly expressing an opinion, and can be done either consciously to shape the response or subconsciously to reflect the perception of ‘what matters’ by the author. And that’s been true…forever!
But I think what we are observing goes beyond not even pretending any more. I think it matters to know that the intention of publishers and authors is explicitly to shape opinion, and more powerfully that it is becoming knowledge that it is not only acceptable but desirable to do so. Even if we should always be cautious of the natural, unavoidable ways in which framing and story shaping will happen, I think that the new common knowledge world we are describing here is specifically the one which permits the emergence of two sets of facts.
Really shrewd find here. We’re updating our work on Fiat News and meta-narrative (discussion of the narrative) and this is indeed a prime example of the emergence of that genre.
Maybe I am being too cute or too zen - I just think that the narrative that we have told ourselves is that some time back we had entered a period of enlightened “news” - you know, “all the news that’s fit to print” - that finally was the truth.
And now, we’ve realized - it’s the same as it ever was.
Rusty - I totally agree with your comments that it matters to consider this. I think it also matters to consider that it may not be a degradation from an objective truth reporting standard. It’s just our narrative nature as humans expressing itself in a myriad of ways.
I agree the media has always had a slant and the primary tool they employed was in their choice of which stories to cover and how much time to allocate. This was a very powerful tool because they could still retain the facade of objectivity.
Like you said - they are not even trying anymore , for me when I saw network after network standing in front of cities on fire - using the words “ peaceful protest” it was beyond debate that this was a collaborative effort to create a narrative. We have seen it many many times since .
The real problem becomes , IMO, is that it further erodes the trust we have in our institutions. In a world where everything is political, and the people that provide us our information have taken a political stance, either way ,half the population will distrust that information.
Times come when it’s vitally important to get facts and trust those facts —by everyone. Like a pandemic .
All these institutions have been viewed as apolitical for a reason , the CDC , the WHO , FBI , IRS, Justice Dept etc etc. This has now changed and we will pay a dire price.
Only if those institutions don’t pay the dire price.
Here’s one from ESPN today, and I know it’s obvious when they use the actual word, but notice how they don’t ask the question: “What are Middleton’s chances of winning the MVP over Giannis?” No instead let’s talk about people talking about that.
Another good one. Pretty sure we could fill a thread in the forum with these just about every day.
I might be remembering an old ET note, but is there an analogy with financialization? Everything is a derivative in news as in finance. I understand financialization as the result of the big guy’s need to invent new products so as to maintain an edge over the little guy. In both contexts, the process is aided by consolidation of institutions into fewer, larger, easier-to-coordinate entities. [Fun fact: the Clinton administration deregulated both!]
One difference is that, in news, everybody seems to have positive gamma. You can push a narrative for months or years, and if the underlying facts break the other way you can just move on to something else without much cost. Or maybe all the negative gamma is being concentrated in the commons.
As narrative gets more reified into a concrete subject of discussion, does that make public support for censorship easier to build?
Yep! Not just an analogy with financialization, but with functionally all ET concepts, I think: A financial derivative and news about news are both abstractions of a thing.
What I DO like about the specific analogy you mention, however, is the clever description of “negative gamma being concentrated in the commons.” 10/10 will absolutely steal. And yes, consistent with that description, I think that it is almost universally true that those who benefit from the promotion of the abstractions are rarely the ones who bear the increasing (and accelerating) costs.
yup…the proverbial free option…reminds me of the hf industy
So here’s something that I cannot quite wrap my head around and maybe it’s because I am (as impossible as it seems) not cynical enough: would we ever willingly accept this kind of construct in any business other than media?
If Proctor & Gamble released statements every day discussing what Unilever was doing would we be the slightest bit interested in it? Would we ever in a million years just take their word for it when it came to the accuracy of their statements? I’d like to think we would be critical enough to laugh this notion off entirely. And yet…
CNN says Facebook is dangerous and killing people. They followed up by saying something similar about Fox. Now my contempt for those three entities is pretty high, but isn’t this just one group of people with a financial interest in their network’s success trash talking their competitors? Why is that deemed to be newsworthy? Facebook has, for better or worse, obliterated dinosaur Boomer media. Every single time you read something bad about Facebook it is likely being put out by someone who is losing their audience to the company they are bad-mouthing. Again, we used to understand this. Cable news is wrestling with the reality that they’re all Gimbels and the last four years gave them a brief stay of execution. But their demise is back on schedule and the race to the bottom is going to get much uglier.
If anything, other industries have been moving almost exclusively in the “target-huge-TAMs-and-ignore-competition” direction.
More reason to believe that “look how stupid / immoral / incompetent the other tribe is” IS the product of a goodly portion of explainer media IMO.
Only two set of facts?
I define, therefore I am.
There are two kinds of people in the world - those that think there are two kinds of people and everyone else.
Disclaimer: I don’t have measurements for any of this. This is conjecture.
I don’t think this is new, information has always been weaponized. Is this any different from old school propaganda? Or even Ceasar’s military reports (literally titled “Comments on the Gaulic Wars”, as if they were just matter of fact statements and not political ads)
Maybe @Zenzei is correct and “it’s the same as it ever was”, however I think the all-the-news-that’s-fit-to-print period actually was somewhat different in content, not just that it was less criticized than “main stream media” today.
One theory is that in the age of just radio and TV, you couldn’t target viewers very well (as a broadcaster or as an advertiser). So your content had to appeal to a wide audience, and your advertisements did too which only put more pressure on the broadcaster to be mainstream. That meant fringe ideas were harder to promote. The internet and advanced tracking/surveillance changed the calculus on all that, so now you can be hyper targeted, and you only need to worry about your narrow audience.
Now, was that era of mainstream targeting more truthful/factual? Probably not as much as people then liked to believe, but I do think there was a stronger focus on maintaining your reputation based on facts - and thus more rigor. Because your audience was broader you could be challenged by a broader group. Nowadays, with a much narrower audience one is less likely to be challenged as long as you fit in with the echo chamber.
Haha at least two, anyway.
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