MEDIA MASH: Inside.com's Mega Media Play

It's Still an Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad World

Adbusters Magazine's Web site recently won the Webby award for activism. This may mean that the Webby voters are way behind the times, since Adbusters is rather old hat. Or perhaps, thinking optimistically, their aggressive critique of consumer culture may be gaining new momentum, and Adbusters, by dint of their persistence, is back in the center of things again. Kalle Lasn, the Estonian turned Canadian who is the creative force behind Adbusters, has a new book out: Culture Jam, which the Masher hasn't read yet, since there already is a pile of unread books sitting on his desk. But one of these days.

Regardless of Adbuster's victory at the Webbys, it is amazing how advertisers are so disgustingly clever at figuring out ever more places to stick ads. AlterNet columnist Donella Meadows quotes Lasn in a recent Global Citizen column: "You reach down to pull your golf ball out of the hole and there, at the bottom of the cup is an ad for a brokerage firm. You fill your car with gas, there's an ad on the nozzle. Your kids watch Pepsi and Snickers ads in the classroom. You pick up a banana in the supermarket and there on a little sticker is an Ad for the summer blockbuster at the multiplex. Coca Cola strikes a six month deal with the Australian postal service for the right to cancel stamps with a Coke ad. A company called VideoCarte installs interactive screens on supermarket carts."

Lasn is a cultural jammer looking to turn the tables on the advertising culture in whatever guerrilla way possible. One of his suggestions: "When we find an unsolicited ad in our fax machine, fax back a sheet of black paper (which drains the toner of the receiving machine) with a small white window within the message that reads: 'Don't fax me ads.'" Well, the Masher guesses every small step counts.

Hersh and Anderson -- The Clash of New and Old Media

Kurt Anderson, Web media entreprenuer, and Seymour Hersh, dogged reporter, are two media celebs of the moment. They represent as stark a contrast between the new media and the old as you'll ever find.

The Hersh Story

Sy Hersh is the storied investigative reporter who received a Pulitzer for uncovering the My Lai massacre in 1968 during the Vietnam War. In the May 22 New Yorker, after six months of research, Hersh has penned a powerful and extremely comprehensive 34 page dissection and indictment of the behavior of former General Barry McCaffrey, an Army commander during the Gulf War. McCaffrey is the current drug czar of the Clinton administration who is trying hard to mobilize more than a billion dollars in military aid to Colombia. Many suggest that the proposed aid package is intended more to do battle with leftist guerillas than to halt Colombia's drug production.

Hersh's well documented charge against McCaffrey is that McCaffrey, in an attempt to produce warrior glory for himself, ordered his soldiers to attack and slaughter thousands of Iraqi troops in retreat, two days after a cease fire went into effect.

McCaffrey, predictably, went ballistic over the story, attacking Hersh long before the article even came out. McCaffrey claimed that Hersh was recycling old news and had no integrity. McCaffrey was cleared of misconduct by the military in earlier investigations. But strikingly, Hersh was able to get numerous military personnel -- many of them high ranking officers -- to support the charges against McCaffrey. Clearly McCaffrey was as disliked by many of his fellow military officers as he is despised by drug refomers today, since his take-no-prisoners drug war approach has many of the same characteristics and ramifications as his actions in the desert nine years ago.

The Hersh article is compelling investigative reporting at its best. Editor David Remnick and the New Yorker deserve huge praise for taking the story on and sticking with Hersh, despite enormous pressure. Hersh, of course, is known for his tenacity and persistence. As Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post points out, "In another New Yorker piece, Hersh interviewed more than 100 present and past government officials in questioning whether the U.S. had bombed the wrong building in a 1998 strike against Sudan, as many critics have come to believe."

Hersh's current article offers a detailed and rich inside view of the military at work, portraying the military as complex and many of its officers as more humane and sensible than stereotypes suggest -- with McCaffrey being an exception. The Masher hopes if you haven't read it, you will move this article to the top of your reading list.

The Anderson Story

Kurt Anderson, Spy Magazine founder, New York Magazine editor, successful novelist and Bobo hipster, has a different idea of "inside" than Hersh. Anderson and his partners have launched Inside.com, the mega Web site of the Millennium thus far. Inside.com promises to provide all the information one will ever need about TV, film, music, media and books, which is saying something. And he expects you to pay $19.95 a month for the privilege of reading it all.

Phew! Easy for all the corporate types who will expense the cost, but how many media junkies, like the Masher, will be willing to plunk the cash down? Remember when Slate (aka Microsoft) tried to do squeeze cash out of Web denizens? It was no way, Jose.

The site is up now and still free -- 30 days of freedom actually -- so go look for yourself. One of the major manipulations of the site is the Power Index -- the ranking of the 50 most influential people in each of five main areas. But you have to pay to vote, except for the overall power Index, where Gerald Levin (#1) is rated over Steve Case (#2) even though Case, theoretically, is the boss. They are followed by Rupert Murdoch, Sumner Redstone of Viacom, and Mel Karmazin of CBS.

Needless to say, the site has been and continues to generate enormous buzz in the media community, no doubt far more than Hersh article ever will. With $28 million in start-up dough and a staff of 72, Inside.com should be able to show the potential of a super-comprehensive, fast-changing magazine on the Web, with small gestures of interactivity. But the Inside.com people are playing with an old content formula, which is not something that packs a lot of excitement in the stock market these days.

Just about everybody says that Anderson is a very smart guy, but a recent crack he made -- that raising venture money today was as easy as getting laid in 1969 -- made me wonder. Especially since Anderson was 14 in 1969. Are these guys just having fun with other people's money or might they pull off something new and big? And what about Brill's Content, Salon, Jim Romenesko's MediaNews.org, the MediaChannel.org and a cast of thousands of media critics -- the Masher included? Will Inside.com be able to sweep us all away with sheer size? Are we witnessing the birth of the Amazon.com of the of the content world, or just another doomed ambitious and grandiose Web play without a workable business model? Stay tuned.

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