The Remains of Journalism 

It is not news to anyone that the news industry is struggling. More than two local newspapers go out of business every week. Conglomerates have bought out our mainstream news media. Billionaires like Jeff Bezos (the third richest man in the world) and Patrick Soon-Shiong (one of the richest doctors in the world) own major newspapers like The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, respectively. We see more than enough detrimental effects of this billionaire-owned, corporate-run news media.
News has become more divisive; it has lost its diversity, comes from consolidated sources, and is sensational. Despite apparent lies, the January 6th insurrection and George Santos’s election are just two examples of how divisive or nonexistent journalism affects us. So at the expense of sounding like yet another journalist making a mountain out of a molehill, I will argue that journalism is in a devastating place in 2023, and we need to fix it before it becomes a lost cause.
First, let me give you a highly condensed history of how we got here. The so-called golden age of newspapers—and by extension, journalism—was in the twentieth century. However, then came television in the 1950s, deregulation in the 1970s, the internet in the 1990s, and various attention-sucking social media networks in the 2010s. Add the 2020 pandemic to the mix, and we have declining local, independent, and in-depth news.
In 2020 alone, according to the New York Times, approximately 37,000 employees in the news media sector were laid off, furloughed, or subjected to pay cuts. That represents hundreds of thousands of stories lost in a time as unprecedented as the pandemic.
The rise of the internet and information saturation on social networking sites is perhaps the most devastating blow to news media. Consumers enjoy getting information—no matter how faulty—for free from the internet. And advertisers follow consumers wherever they go. Not to mention, the significantly reduced advertising prices on the internet compel advertisers to stay there. This leaves newspapers and news media scrambling for advertisers, patrons, and owners willing to support them. Unfortunately, there are not that many. Hence, they are all struggling to survive, and we have very few reliable sources left.
National Public Radio, every podcast junkie’s favorite drug, declared a hiring freeze and a pause in its internship program due to a lack of advertising revenue. Gannett, the largest newspaper predator in the nation, initiated yet another round of layoffs in 2022, eliminating 6% of its journalism jobs. And despite being owned by the world’s third richest man, The Washington Post is cutting jobs in its newsroom. Mother Jones reported on some recent budget and personnel cuts at what was deemed the digital rebirth channels of journalism: Buzzfeed is laying off 12% of its staff; Vice Media is cutting 15% of its costs; Politico was sold to a German media conglomerate.
Several independently funded and managed news organizations do in-depth investigative reporting. Some examples include Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit news site that reports on inequality in America; ProPublica, a non-profit newsroom that reports on abuses of power; the Marshall Project, a progressive non-profit news organization reporting on issues of criminal justice; Mother Jones, a progressive non-profit magazine focusing on social justice issues; and others. A complete list is available on Park Center for Independent Media’s website: https://www.parkindymedia.org
The existence of these independent investigative organizations is one reason journalism can still hold powerful corporate and political interests accountable. It is this journalism that major TV news channels, podcasts, and online news-gathering sites pull from to reiterate in their reporting. However, these organizations are in financial distress. They are not popularly known, read, or shared. When taken by other major media outlets, their reporting can be deprived of its nuances, transforming the issue into a politically divisive one. All of these are major concerns for a well-informed citizenry—a significant reason why freedom of speech for the press was ordained in this country.
One can’t help but wonder: how grim is the future of journalism? Of course, every journalist, politician, and news junkie will have a different answer. But I have compiled some of the most commonly cited ones by those who understand this field the best.
According to a 2022 report by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, the United States will lose one-third of its newspapers by 2025. We have already lost about 25%. This indicates many changes, the worst of which are growing news deserts. Communities will be more clueless about what is happening across the street from them while getting further divided on issues that remotely affect them.
The emergence of Artificial Intelligence writing and anchoring is another aspect of the journalistic future. News companies already use AI to automate workflow, target advertisements, find stories, and even write them. As newsrooms have dwindling budgets, we can expect more AI-generated, written, and anchored news on our media outlets. Not only does this significantly decrease the quality of information, but it also leads to further job losses for journalists and unreliable news for consumers. And, of course—it seems that the news will get increasingly divisive because that is what pays.
When the wealthiest elite control the narrative of politics AND journalism, i.e., Donald Trump discrediting many reporters and news channels before, during, and after his presidency, one can only expect citizens’ trust in the fourth branch of government to disintegrate.
These doomsday predictions do not discourage journalists that are fighting day and night to keep the credibility of their profession alive. We have entered a new age of journalism in which we witness a rapidly changing industry. Non-profit, local news reporting is one significant change exemplified by the Voice of OC and Voice of San Diego, two newsrooms well-known in California. They only function online and are donor funded. Cutting out the middlemen of funding—advertisers—allows journalists more freedom to write without monetary restrictions and gives residents a direct channel to engage in community journalism.
Philanthropy and subscriber-supported journalism seem to be the future of the industry. Since 2009, philanthropic support for journalism has nearly quadrupled. In addition, Substack, a subscriber-supported platform that many journalists use, has seen a growth in subscribers to half a million. Further, as Nicholas Lemann, Dean Emeritus of the Columbia Journalism School, writes, the government has to step in to fund journalism.
As more social media behemoths get regulated over the next decade, some breathing room will be provided for news outlets. However, at this time, monetary support for big and small news outlets, especially local ones, will be required. The “Build Back Better Act” and a 2022 initiative in the California State Senate, SB 911, are both initiatives to fund journalism, but they need our support and advocacy.
Many journalists prefer sharing their reporting via newsletters and podcasting without any advertiser or editor demands. This allows for a direct consumer-journalist relationship, eliminating the media companies serving as gatekeepers. This could be deemed as truly independent journalism. Of course, the algorithm plays a huge role as to which journalists one is even exposed to if only searching for news online. We are getting rid of old gatekeepers and adding new ones.
Yet, journalism is not at a complete standstill. The tides can still be turned. You, the consumer, can do so. The first and most important step you can take is to become a better, less gullible news consumer. You can do this by examining the biases of your sources, fact-checking information, learning about issues beyond the headlines, and, most importantly, talking to experts in real life instead of believing pundits on Facebook. The second and easiest way is to subscribe to independent news outlets. Most yearly subscriptions are less than forty dollars, with options to donate more and get member perks. This supports a newsroom for a bit longer and exposes you to nuanced and in-depth reporting one can rarely find on social media. A third way to support journalism is by becoming a monthly sustainer of a newspaper, podcast, magazine, newsletter, or journal of your choice. By doing this, you can provide guaranteed support for journalists doing instrumental work. A fourth way to support independent journalism is to get involved. If you know how to investigate, research, write, interview, and report, consider volunteering for a local newspaper/news outlet.
The library and/or your local news reporters can give you resources to learn how to investigate. After making some mistakes and connections, volunteering for your local newspaper or channel/radio station will become rewarding. And lastly, if you live in a news desert, perhaps you can consider starting–or restarting–a newspaper. Many organizations like the Knight Foundation help local news outlets do the work of local journalism and even provide funding.
The good news is there is always a demand for vetted, in-depth, and honest news. The industry may be changing rapidly, but we have the power to change it for the better. So I invite you to join the cause and help us save journalism.

3 replies »

  1. There’s so much quickly-accessed information — good, bad, ugly. As adults, we might ask our kids, “What is your information diet?” And teach them how to tell the good from the bad. And how about, in schools, the science of researching the sources of your information?

  2. Yup. And most Americans are too ignorant to notice the decline.

    I think it all started with Reagan’s successful assault on the educational system here in CA; it worked so well here he applied the axe nationwide. “Dumb ’em down, that late 60’s-70’s generation was the best educated this country has ever had, and just LOOK at the trouble THAT caused,” I can hear him saying in private.

    Now you have a couple of generations of know-nothings that have no idea who really IS the source of most of their economic misery- the 1%. Trump tapped into that rage, and conned ’em into voting him in.

    As George Carlin once said, “It’s a big club, that 1%, and YOU’RE NOT IN IT!”

    Now, the teens and young adults now coming up? They’re a little more sophisticated. in THEM we have a hope.

    Hey, kids, save your grandparents from the GOP!!

  3. Very well-written article on American Express, I must admit it’s quite a while since I saw an article as brief and equally speaks volumes as this. I wrote an article about this on my blog but the quality isn’t as standard as yours. Hopefully, you get to check it out and leave a comment if you can, otherwise great job!