“out of money, out of hope, it looks like self-destruction….”
Poor Jill Lepore. The New Yorker decided to run her desperate plea for newspapers, journalism, and the MSM at the very moment SERIOUS JOURNALISTS decided to embarrass themselves not once, but repeatedly.
She sees journalism and journalists as mainly victimsvictims of Wall Street, of tech oligarchs, of social media temptations, of conservative pundits. That is to say, she has the story mostly wrong. Kevin Williamson has a much better take on what lies at the root of the crisis:
Does Journalism Have a Future?
Even veterans of august and still thriving papers are worried, especially about the fake news that’s risen from the ashes of the dead news. “We are, for the first time in modern history, facing the prospect of how societies would exist without reliable news,” Alan Rusbridger, for twenty years the editor-in-chief of the Guardian, writes in “Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now.” “There are not that many places left that do quality news well or even aim to do it at all,” Jill Abramson, a former executive editor of the New York Times, writes in “Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts.” Like most big-paper reporters and editors who write about the crisis of journalism, Rusbridger and Abramson are interested in national and international news organizations. The local story is worse.
And Jim Hanson is pretty good over at the Federalist:
Crisis of Citizenship
The Covington fiasco has proved to be a clarifying moment. And here is what has been made clear: Much of the American media is no longer engaged in journalism. It is engaged in opposition research and in what is sometimes known among political operatives as “black p.r.”the sinister twin of ordinary public relations.
Georgi Boorman, also at the Federalist, is on point:
The Media Is Becoming A Megaphone For Foreign Influence Operations
Our information space is broken. There is no way for a normal person to just check in and get the news. At best, we get news analysis colored by the partisan bias of the person or organization presenting it. At worst, we get propaganda tailored to create a narrative or stories presented without fact-checking and validation because they were too juicy to skip. As our country has become more polarized over the past decade, this has become even more prevalent. This past weekend another false narrative blitzed though our public information space. A group of boys from Covington Catholic High School were accused of harassing a Native American elder and shouting racist slurs. My organization debunked this with less than 30 minutes of research, and the information we put into this video was all available to the journalists who smeared these kids, but the tale of a MAGA-hat-wearing mob of teens was too good to pass up. The whole incident seems to have been precipitated by a fake account on Twitter with all the characteristics of an influence operation.
Lepore tries to skate past a couple of awkward points. She is wise to skate -- the stubborn facts she tries to ignore undercut her main arguments.
How Twitter Lets The Mainstream Media Get Away With Constant Slander
Journalists can focus on viral outrage, with no fact-checking, promoting anything that confirms their pre-existing biases.
For one thing, Lepore casts her story as a melodrama: evil capitalist and tech titans are impoverishing reporters and destroying democracy.
That’s not the whole story and Lepore, as a historian, should know that.
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.
Matt Welch (2013):
This blog (2007):
It was the classic deal between mostly liberal newsrooms and mostly conservative boardrooms: Close down the competition and use the profits to professionalize the news divisions, instilling a more liberal ethos even while embracing the advertising-friendly pose of objectivity. Then sit back and enjoy the 20 percent profit margins for four decades.
Basically, the MSM had everything in its favor: politically dis-engaged ownership, unchallenged near-monopolies, and the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. Then they recklessly over-played their hand right when technology undercut their position. They lost credibility, then customers, and finally employers.
The owners were [happy] because monopolies provide a nice stream of predictable earnings. The newsroom liked that the owners were fat and happy because as long as the income statement looked good the owners did not interfere with content. Editors and reporters were free to chases awards, collect bigger paychecks, and indulge their ideological obsessions. Local monopolies also gave journalists bigger megaphones and a de facto victory in “explanation space”.
Now, about those tech titans….
More alarming than what the Times and the Post failed to do was how so much of what they did do was determined less by their own editors than by executives at Facebook and BuzzFeed. If journalism has been reinvented during the past two decades, it has, in the main, been reinvented not by reporters and editors but by tech companies, in a sequence of events that, in Abramson’s harrowing telling, resemble a series of puerile stunts more than acts of public service.
Facebook may be greedy and puerile but the ZuckerBorg is far less worrisome than the dogma animating Professor Lepore. Helping people read what they want to is apparently a mortal sin to those who worship in the High Church of Journalism.
Even as news organizations were pruning reporters and editors, Facebook was pruning its users’ news, with the commercially appealing but ethically indefensible idea that people should see only the news they want to see.
That is castor oil journalism with a strong dash of proto-totalitarianism.
the commercially appealing but ethically indefensible idea that people should see only the news they want to see.
Lepore seems to be in the same camp as Kristof of The Times:
That’s the rub for people like Lepore and Kristof. They abhor the fact that people like them and people they like have lost control over explanation space. It is becoming harder and harder to build and sustain Narratives. Wrong Think is allowed to spread. Facecrimes go unpunished.
The decline of traditional news media will accelerate the rise of The Daily Me, and we’ll be irritated less by what we read and find our wisdom confirmed more often. The danger is that this self-selected “news” acts as a narcotic, lulling us into a self-confident stupor through which we will perceive in blacks and whites a world that typically unfolds in grays.
Nurse Ratchet can no longer dole out her castor oil.
And that makes people people like Kristof, Lepore, and Brian Stelter sad.
The Brooks-Sailer boundary: How the Deciders decide what you should read
Why the MSM can’t reform itself
No, the market does not make newspapers liberal
Way-points on the path to irrelevance and oblivion
Duke lacrosse: Auto de fe
Harvard verus Harvard