Fake News, you say? Indeed, this is to discuss the turmoil in the field of journalism, which is both a cause and a consequence of the Leftist tilt of the entire field. Journalism is in crisis, you see, and Leftist media watchers are looking for scapegoats. President Trump figures high on their enemies list, with his “fake news!,” “Enemy of the People,” and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. See my previous post on this topic. In that post I reacted to a journalist who blamed the end of professionalism in journalism on President Trump. In this post I will discuss the reasons for the collapse of journalism as we knew it.
I am happy to see the recent obituaries for Big Journalism. But before we discuss the real problems with journalism, please consider what the crisis looks like to the journalists. There have been a rash of articles and editorials from journalists that have expressed fear and frustration. This is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the New Yorker back in January:
Conglomeration can be good for business, but it has generally been bad for journalism. Media companies that want to get bigger tend to swallow up other media companies, suppressing competition and taking on debt, which makes publishers cowards. … Craigslist went online in the Bay Area in 1996 and spread across the continent like a weed, choking off local newspapers’ most reliable source of revenue: classified ads. … By 2000, only three hundred and fifty of the fifteen hundred daily newspapers left in the United States were independently owned. … Then came the fall, when papers all over the country, shackled to mammoth corporations and a lumbering, century-old business model, found themselves unable to compete with the upstarts—online news aggregators like the Huffington Post (est. 2005) and Breitbart News (est. 2007), which were, to readers, free. News aggregators also drew display advertisers away from print; Facebook and Google swallowed advertising accounts whole. Big papers found ways to adapt; smaller papers mainly folded.
(When researching for this post, I saw an article from 2016 that said local newspapers had shed 60 percent of their workforce over the previous 26 years.)
In January of this year they had a particularly tough day, in which 1,000 journalism jobs were chopped in one day.
Now, I have been part of several Ratburgher discussions in which we generally agreed that mass media journalism is the Enemy of the People, so I don’t expect to hear a lot of sympathy for the journalists here. But there is a problem that I want to address.
Where does news come from?
Yes, there are some intrepid conservative organizations that do great investigative journalism. But they are few in number and are concentrated on political matters. When your local paper dies, how do you get local news about the ordinary life of your community? You would have to join a dozen local blog sites to be able to continue to be aware of the shenanigans at City Hall, or the hoo-rah at the School Board, or the embezzler in the suburbs, or the police blotter, or area high school sports, or any of a number of local matters. You might not be very much interested in any of those matters, but it used to be that you could be generally well-informed about the community you live in by just skimming the headlines in the local paper on a regular basis.
Those days are gone. My local Memphis paper is now owned by the USA Today Network, which is part of Gannett. The people who lay out the paper work in a rival city in another state (Louisville). Shortly before I canceled my subscription last year they ran an article in the “Local News” section about an industrial park. That industrial park is in my state, but it is a seven-hour drive from my city. So much for “local news.” It was fine in two other papers that are owned by the USA Today Network, so it was just too easy to pretend that it belonged in our paper, too. Their “customer support” is in the Philippines, Sales is in Phoenix, and the payment processing center is in Cincinnati.
So, what now? There are the local TV stations, but they just pretend to do news. They only have “reporters” who are transcribers. They look into stories after they are alerted by citizens who call, or mostly they just pass along the police blotter and the stuff that comes to them in press releases. After they learn that something is going on, they scramble a camera guy (no longer a camera crew) to race out and act like they covered the event for hours. Also we have a couple of local blog sites that are attempting to make a name for themselves as the go-to place for local news. But they are the same old Leftist journalists who recently lost their jobs due to downsizing at the newspaper, and so their political coverage is the same old Leftist bilge through and through.
Killed by the Internet
Local papers were killed by the internet. On the internet, “information wants to be free.” Local stories get picked up by aggregator services, and it became really easy to check out Google News for local news. Facebook tried to provide local news links for a while, but the way they promoted Leftist news and suppressed conservative news caused such a backlash that they dropped that effort.
What gets blamed a lot for killing local papers is Craigslist, which is where all the classified ads went. But the real culprits are Google and Facebook, which now have all the ads by the big chain retailers.
But if there is no local paper, then Google cannot steal their news any more. Nor can Facebook or any conservative alternative aggregator.
Follow the Money
There was about 129 billion dollars in digital advertising in America last year. Google slurped up about half. Facebook took in about 25%. Youtube, Instagram, Microsoft, Verizon and Amazon combined for about 22%. All newspapers combined brought in about one percent. All magazines combined brought in about one percent. Craigslist brought in about one percent.
Facebook and Google to the rescue?
So I was sort of amused to see that both Facebook and Google have new initiatives to muscle in on the local news business. Now that they have killed off the newspapers, they want to take over. The trend going forward looks like our people becoming even more dependent on Google and Facebook. This is not good.
There have been several recent articles advocating “slow news.” They come from journalists who are observing that the field of journalism has been overtaken by a rush to clickbait. The Editor of NewYorker.com quoted Pablo Boczkowski, a professor of communications at Northwestern University:
“If you’re an average site, you have five to seven seconds to tell your story.”
The solution preferred by journalism ‘leading lights’ is the digital subscription model. Only a handful of outlets are likely to survive via that model. Journalists are hungry for readers who will read a full slate of news articles at one site, the way we used to read the morning newspaper over breakfast. But, as Professor Boczkowski observed, contemporary consumers of news learn the news one click at a time from dozens of sources, mostly those that are shared on social media by their circle of Facebook friends or the people they follow on Twitter.
A “news desert” is a place that does not have any source for local news. Lots of America is heading into news desert status.
As happy as I am to see the obituaries for Big Journalism, we still need news. How do we get real information about our community and our state? Conservative and Christian niche media seem to me to do somewhat well on the national scene. But I really hate the thought of being dependent on evil Google for information from my state capitol.
I don’t have any answers. I suppose we will have to hope for a cadre of citizen journalists to blog the news of the day. The problem is finding them amidst all the competing noise on the internet. And, if they also blog with conservative opinions, then their posts will be suppressed when you try to search for them.
Perhaps all you Ratburghers could start posting local news here. Ratburger.org could become a rival for Google and Facebook, right up until Google or Facebook noticed us and took us out.
Anybody out there have any bright ideas?