Journalistic Woes


Recently, McClatchy Company, the publisher of the Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star, The Charlotte Observer, and dozens of other newspapers across the country filed for bankruptcy protection.

The newspaper industry has been devastated by changing technology that sent the vast majority of people online in search of news. While McClatchy and others have pushed digital operations aggressively, advertising dollars have continued to flow toward internet giants like Facebook and Google.

Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia University’s famed journalism school, laments the sorry state of journalism and wonders if the “broken media” can be “saved.  The recent newspaper bankruptcies are just a continuation of a steady downward spiral in print journalism.  As Lemann reports, “Just between 2007 and 2016, newspapers’ advertising revenue, their major source of income, declined from $45.4 billion to $18.3 billion . . . Almost 1,800 newspapers, most of them local weeklies, have closed since 2004. This collapse is especially significant because newspapers were traditionally where most American journalists worked, and where most original reporting was done.”

Perhaps unwittingly, later in his article Lemann put his finger on another reason for the decline of newspapers and mainstream media in general.

Beginning before the 1960s, “newspaper journalists were becoming white-collar: paid better than they had been before, and more likely to be college educated and to think of themselves as independent professionals with the stature to question government officials and other institutional authority figures. . . Television and radio had eroded their ability to be the prime deliverers of basic facts about daily events; newspapers responded by turning to what Pressman calls “interpretive journalism” and Schudson calls “contextual journalism.

Look at the front page of a first-rate American newspaper, and you’ll probably see that only a minority of the stories are summaries of events from the previous day and that several of them entail the reporters gathering information on their own and using it to present a conclusion they have drawn. That represented a big change from the newspaper tradition before the 1960s, which was more neutral, stenographic, and focused on official events.”

What is true of newspapers is also true of mainstream media in general.  Reporters and commentators began lurching to the left and reflecting that bias in their news coverage, thereby alienating millions of Americans.  Esteem for the media today is about on par with regard for trial lawyers and used car salesmen. Journalists have become puffed up celebrities, often part of the story themselves and believing that they have specialized professional expertise equivalent to the expertise of physicists and physicians. Lemann admits that reporting consists less and less of reporting what happened in favor of thinking it is the job of the journalist to interpret events for you. The media today “spin” the news every bit as much as politicians do, but they have no self- awareness of this basic fact.

Note: Portions of the last paragraph are direct quotes from a recent on-line article, but I have been unable to rediscover the source and give proper credit.  The writer’s conclusions perfectly reflect my own opinion.





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