Saving Journalism

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.

Slow News

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.

News Desert

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.

No Solutions

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?

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18 thoughts on “Saving Journalism”

  1. Crisis of Archives

    When the local paper dies, what happens to all their back articles that were on their website?   Who preserves that trove of information?   Can you find everything on the WayBack Machine?   Do we have to live in a future of ignorance of the recent past?

    https://www.cjr.org/tow_center/archiving-report-facebook-digital-news.php

    In addition to the failure to archive published stories from their own websites, none of the news organizations we interviewed were preserving their social media publications, including tweets and posts to Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media platform. Only one was taking the steps necessary to tackle the problem of archiving interactive and dynamic news applications. Digital-only news organizations had even less awareness than print publications of the importance of preservation. A persistent confusion that backing up work on third-party, cloud servers is the same as archiving it means that very little is currently being done to preserve news.  …

    Staff at news organizations often cited relying on the  Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library that maintains hundreds of billions of web captures, to preserve their own publications— even though web archiving has limitations around the formats it can capture and preserves only a fraction of what is published online.

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  2. March 26 article at The Atlantic about the crisis in journalism:  https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/03/local-news-is-dying-and-americans-have-no-idea/585772/

    There are fewer and less experienced reporters. Each paper covers a smaller chunk of the region, leading nearly half of Americans to say that their local news doesn’t actually cover their own local area. The editors don’t have a lifetime’s worth of knowledge of the places they’re working.  

    Columbia Journalism Review article (Feb 26) about how to keep morale up in the newsroom in the midst of crisis.  https://www.cjr.org/analysis/layoffs-newsroom-managers-internships.php

    We may wince every time we hear we’re endangered, but thank goodness the connection between journalism and democracy is being discussed. 

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  3. Facebook competing in the local news business

    http://www.niemanlab.org/2019/03/facebook-enters-the-news-desert-battle-trying-to-find-enough-local-news-for-its-today-in-feature/

    …Facebook emphasized its support for local news this year with a $300 million commitment with donations to journalism efforts like the American Journalism Project and Report for America, membership and subscription coaching, and more TBA. Since January 2018, Facebook also shifted its algorithm in favor of local news….

    (The irony of Facebook — which with Google now controls nearly two thirds of the entire U.S. digital advertising market — noting the decline of local news media will not be lost on many.)

    From 2016: 

    https://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2016/jun/06/almost-60-of-us-newspaper-jobs-vanish-in-26-years

     

    Putting a happy face on the crisis.   Hey, most people with degrees in journalism can find jobs.   The only trick is that they are P.R. jobs and not newsroom jobs.

    https://www.recode.net/2019/2/25/18224696/chart-transition-journalism-public-relations-content-social-media-jobs

     

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  4. I just renewed my subscriptions to IBD and the WSJ. Shockingly, the Journal has gone from $650 a year to $400. I still love the editorial page of IBD and writer Kimberley Strassel at WSJ.

    I’ve also renewed National Review because I’m able to ignore Rich Lowry and appreciate Jay Nordlinger. 🙂

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  5. EThompson:
    I just renewed my subscriptions to IBD and the WSJ. Shockingly, the Journal has gone from $650 a year to $400. I still love the editorial page of IBD and writer Kimberley Strassel at WSJ.

    I’ve also renewed National Review because I’m able to ignore Rich Lowry and appreciate Jay Nordlinger. 🙂

    Yes, but none of these news purveyors will tell you what is going on in Tallahassee or Jacksonville.

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  6. There already are local bloggers and apps like NextDoor that cover local news. Frankly, most folks are simply not much interested in local news. The main reason they bought local papers is for the classifieds, which is precisely why sites like Craigslist damaged them.

    For better or worse, people are most engaged by national news. There are plenty of independent sources for that. Papers like the WSJ cover national and international news, so they are not relevant to this discussion. The same goes for WaPo and NYT for most subscribers, who live outside those papers’ regions. WaPo was always crappy at local news anyway. They had higher aspirations.

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  7. I’d also add that many communities have free weeklies that cover local news pretty well: city council, police blotter, restaurant reviews. We have two such papers; they come on Thursday. I occasionally read this one.

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  8. Don’t get too excited.  We are witnessing the collapse of assumptions, not of reality.  The internet inflated a bubble of expectations, that everything would be preserved online for free.

    Most detailed records throughout history are lost to time.  Journalism, as the first draft of history, is meant to be supplanted by actual histories.  Journalistic articles are followed by current events books, by studies, by policy recommendations and implementations, and eventually, by actual books of history.

    It has always required specialized knowledge to dig up real details.  The only thing we are losing on this score is the ease of finding this information which media mergers and the internet brought to us — for a while.  But this specialized knowledge is EXACTLY what gets replaced by the blogger age.  Rather than rely upon a media conglomerate to select the news we care about (for instance, I could not care on whit about sports, and it is easily half of news production in the United States), the boger age requires us to select the topics that we care about, and to select the sources that we trust.  This is losing something?

     

    It has also always required specialized interest to be able to integrate facts into trends, to scry import, to gauge the weather.  True, the ubiquitous availability of information over a short period of time has caused us to neglect skills such as scouring the stacks, or using a card catalog.  And local journalism is of great import to locals.  But we should compare our feared future to our known past, in which most was unclear, and we had to rely upon interpretations, reputations, and implications.  These are the aspects which made morals more important than facts.  What?  That’s right — despite certain Marxists’ abuse of the contention, mere data cannot make decisions — only humans armed with morality, informed by data.

    We are DROWNING in data, and could do with a great deal less of it.  Humans are limited creatures and can deal with only so much information.  We are saturated, and do not have the capability to deal with what we perceive.  Our ability to tell facts from nonsense is also crippled by the ease with which nonsense can be validated these days.  Move over, photoshop — now video “proof” of events which never happened can easily be had.

    The data is not the point.  The analysis and consideration of the meaning of the data is what matters.  We have never had “complete” information about anything, we never will, and should not fear losing it.

    This pops particularly clear for me in the current context, which sees the media as nothing more than hostile propagandists.  We need not feel constrained by Jefferson’s preference for newspapers without government over the reverse of that situation, because by “newspapers” he meant not “credentialled journalism” which did not even exist in Jefferson’s time, but the freedom of the citizenry to report upon the doing primarily of government.

    And as far as CNN’s or the New York Times’ crooked reporting from Iraq or Afghanistan — no big loss.  We already cannot get to the bottom of things.  No need to keep paying our Riefenstahls for our own bamboozelement.

    Burn, media, Burn.  Journalism will be conducted just fine by citizens without credentials.

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  9. Haakon Dahl:
    Journalism will be conducted just fine by citizens without credentials.

    In many cases it already is.   Next Door is pretty good.   But nobody on Next Door goes down to City Hall to ask what is going on.

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  10. MJBubba:

    EThompson:
    I just renewed my subscriptions to IBD and the WSJ. Shockingly, the Journal has gone from $650 a year to $400. I still love the editorial page of IBD and writer Kimberley Strassel at WSJ.

    I’ve also renewed National Review because I’m able to ignore Rich Lowry and appreciate Jay Nordlinger. 🙂

    Yes, but none of these news purveyors will tell you what is going on in Tallahassee or Jacksonville.

    True, but I stopped my subscription to our daily paper yrs ago; not enough state news.

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  11. MJBubba:

    Haakon Dahl:
    Journalism will be conducted just fine by citizens without credentials.

    In many cases it already is.   Next Door is pretty good.   But nobody on Next Door goes down to City Hall to ask what is going on.

    Yeah, no. Next Door is not the only alternative. As I noted above, there are still local weeklies. Besides, Haakon is right: there are plenty of citizens with a smartphone and time on their hands. Overpaid reporters with production staffs and studios are simply not needed to do this job. As Seawriter mentioned on another thread, journalism is a trade, not a profession. Any dedicated amateur can do it.

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  12. All this means is an opening for entrepreneurs.   If there is a demand for local news, someone will fill it, but it will be delivered to mobile phones. Podcasts are proliferating and my son’s generation lives on non network produced youtube videos.

    The cost of entry is merely time spent gathering content, no ink, printing presses  and advertising sales managers necessary.

    I suggest that there are a number of old fogeys who might fill this gap in county and town level news. It would be a great franchise idea to set them up with the bandwidth and software. A lot of them know how to spell as a bonus.

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  13. TKC 1101:
    The cost of entry is merely time spent gathering content, no ink, printing presses  and advertising sales managers necessary.

    Of course you’re right but that won’t stop me from rueing the day I could spread out a newspaper, fold it and highlight my favorite articles. I enjoyed reading on the beach and poolside without worrying about dropping my phone in the water or sand.

    Ah… progress.

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  14. TKC 1101:
    All this means is an opening for entrepreneurs.   If there is a demand for local news, someone will fill it, but it will be delivered to mobile phones. Podcasts are proliferating and my son’s generation lives on non network produced youtube videos.

    The cost of entry is merely time spent gathering content, no ink, printing presses  and advertising sales managers necessary.

    I suggest that there are a number of old fogeys who might fill this gap in county and town level news. It would be a great franchise idea to set them up with the bandwidth and software. A lot of them know how to spell as a bonus.

    There may be some fogeys who are blogging about local news in my community and I just haven’t yet found them.   I wish there were some roster for that.

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  15. In the meantime, Hillsdale is producing new graduates in journalism.   They may be able to work for religious publishers or find jobs in PR.   I doubt if there will be many real news jobs available for them.   The number of positions continues to decline, and the Big Media people seem to be uninterested in hiring for intellectual diversity.

    But Hillsdale is doing it right.   They just added Mollie to their staff:

    https://thefederalist.com/2019/04/25/hillsdale-college-welcomes-mollie-hemingway-as-senior-journalism-fellow/

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  16. MJBubba:
    In the meantime, Hillsdale is producing new graduates in journalism.   They may be able to work for religious publishers or find jobs in PR.   I doubt if there will be many real news jobs available for them.   The number of positions continues to decline, and the Big Media people seem to be uninterested in hiring for intellectual diversity.

    But Hillsdale is doing it right.   They just added Mollie to their staff:

    https://thefederalist.com/2019/04/25/hillsdale-college-welcomes-mollie-hemingway-as-senior-journalism-fellow/

    Very cool! A friend from high school had the foresight to attend Hillsdale when the rest of us desperately wanted to go to Ann Arbor. 🙂

    Hillsdale College is a private college in Hillsdale, Michigan. Founded in 1844 by devout abolitionists known as Free Will Baptists, it has a liberal arts curriculum that is based on the Western heritage as a product of both the Greco-Roman culture and the Judeo-Christian tradition.Wikipedia

    Address33 E College St, Hillsdale, MI 49242

    Undergraduate tuition and fees:25,540 USD (2017)

    It’s a bargain!

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  17. EThompson:

    TKC 1101:
    The cost of entry is merely time spent gathering content, no ink, printing presses  and advertising sales managers necessary.

    Of course you’re right but that won’t stop me from rueing the day I could spread out a newspaper, fold it and highlight my favorite articles. I enjoyed reading on the beach and poolside without worrying about dropping my phone in the water or sand.

    Ah… progress.

    You could have the cabana boy print out your morning reads.

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