Photo: Getty

Thomas Jefferson’s famous quip that he’d prefer “newspapers without a government” to “a government without newspapers” has become gospel in American journalism, but its full significance only becomes clear in the context of a decidedly less recognizable Jefferson quote, from 1814:

I deplore the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them…As vehicles of information and a curb on our functionaries, they have rendered themselves useless by forfeiting all title to belief.

Throughout his political career, Jefferson often decried the failings of the early American press…


Following Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, the internet buzzed with essays and think pieces about the contributing role of fake news, filter bubbles, polling failures, identity politics, sensational news coverage, and false equivalence. But in an article for Politico, media economist Ken Doctor pointed to a less obvious explanation for Trump’s success: the shrinking of local newsrooms.

While it seems that everyone reads the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or Washington Post, in reality, they don’t, and they never did. They relied on the local paper. …


For the country’s three major broadcast networks, 2005 could have been a landmark year. In the span of only six months, CBS’s Dan Rather, NBC’s Tom Brokaw, and ABC’s Peter Jennings all stepped aside from their evening news anchor desks, opening the door for transformative change at a time when many media critics believed it was desperately needed. Between 1980 and 2004, nightly evening news viewership dropped from 52 million to 27 million — a 48 percent decline — and research suggested that many young viewers were turning away from the broadcast networks altogether. …


By today’s standards, there was nothing particularly unusual about news coverage of the 1988 presidential race. Dozens of campaign reporters followed the candidates across the country, documenting moments of staged drama like Michael Dukakis’s ill-fated appearance atop a military tank; news magazines produced exclusive features detailing the candidates’ childhoods, medical histories, and personalities (while giving short shrift to their issue stances); and anchors regularly led their broadcasts with updates on the “race” for the White House, putting “titillation above education,” candidate Bob Dole lamented, and obsessing over journalism’s latest shiny toy: public opinion polls. “Simply put,’’ Peter D. …


Journalist Judith Miller testifies. Image: AP Images

On January 29, 2002, less than 15 minutes into George W. Bush’s first State of the Union address, the president fired the opening salvo of a yearlong campaign to take the United States to war. “Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror,” Bush told the country. “The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens…This is a regime that agreed to international inspections — then kicked out the inspectors…


No trend has reshaped the media landscape more dramatically than the open web

Every night for 19 years, CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite ended his newscast with the same assurance to his viewers: “And that’s the way it is.”

And that’s the way it is. Only in a world without cable news, without Breitbart, without Twitter trolls, and without late-night satirists would a journalist dare make so bold and sweeping a claim. But to paraphrase Cronkite, that’s the way it was in broadcast television. No “alternative facts.” No alternative realities. And barely any alternative voices. Before cable television and the internet, the news was the news, composed of the same top stories…


Photo: Getty

In early October 2015, before the news cycle became entirely consumed by scandal and poll numbers, by 24-hour chatter about Donald Trump’s undersized hands and Hillary Clinton’s private email servers, the presidential election race served up its first troubling sign of the crisis in American journalism.

It happened in Boulder, Colorado, during the third Republican presidential debate, as the line of questioning veered from vacuous to combative. Within 15 minutes, the moderators had asked the candidates to explain their “biggest weakness,” quizzed Donald Trump on his “comic-book version of a presidential campaign,” and prodded Jeb Bush about his falling “stock”…

Ed Madison & Ben DeJarnette

Co-Authors, Reimagining Journalism in a Post-Truth World

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store