Journalism is on Life Support, and Its Survival is Far From Certain
A recent spat between Australia and Facebook uncovers how far journalism has plummeted
In 2010 my daughter flew home to Florida from Colorado, where she was in college. I asked her if she saw the oil spill when she flew over the Gulf of Mexico. When she answered, “What oil spill?” I was shocked that someone in college, or anywhere in the U.S., would not know about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that had been going on for months. Ironically, at the time she was considering a major in Journalism. It was a wake-up call that real news and journalism were in trouble.
Then a recent war between Australia and Facebook revealed that over half of that country’s citizens got their news only from the social media giant. Australia dared to ask Facebook to pay for news content. The social media behemoth reacted by blocking all news content to that nation’s followers. The down under citizens will now have to get their news from, shudder, actual news sources. Facebook is great for keeping friends and families up to date on children, pets, and travel. But as a reliable news source? No. Over half of Americans get their news regularly from only social media as well. How we got here is no mystery. Instant internet access to voice your opinions and read others is more convenient than researching news stories from original sources. I continue to be amazed at what people will share and re-Tweet on-line when all it takes is a couple of minutes to look up the validity with an independent web search.
Every news source these days has a political bias. Even ‘fact-checkers” bend and influence their conclusions with qualifiers like “lacks context” or “incomplete.” It will be hard for young folks to imagine, but some broadcasters read the news before the internet without voicing an opinion. It was impossible to tell the political leanings of a Walter Cronkite or David Brinkley. Until Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, I rarely saw Chuck Todd from “Meet the Press” smile. Now he is wide-eyed and grinning all the time. It’s not hard to guess his political beliefs.
We classified Fox News as “about equally trusted and distrusted”.
Today, the news world is such a fractured place that finding an objective and unbiased source is about as easy as finding a unicorn. Most networks have given up and try and represent opposing views with a panel of experts or pundits. Conservative Fox News Channel will have two conservatives and one liberal. NBC will have the reverse. Ratings drive programming, and that means pandering to your audience. A recent Pew Research study revealed this divide. “Asking about both trust and distrust also allowed us to examine the ‘ratio’ between these two measures for each outlet. For instance, Fox News is among the sources in this study trusted by the largest percentage of Americans, with 43% of U.S. adults saying they trust it for political news. But it is also among the sources with the largest portion who distrust it — 40% of Americans express this view. Since that’s the case, we classified Fox News as ‘about equally trusted and distrusted’”.
The once highly respected New York Times no longer makes a pretense that it is objective.
24/7 news sources and social media have muddied and not clarified news stories. What passes for news often belongs more on an op-ed page. Bias can be subtle, like relocating a report from the front page to the interior or vice versa. The above photo of the February 19 New York Times front page has a story about conservative Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s trip to Mexico. But there is no mention of the growing bipartisan condemnation of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2020 nursing home deaths debacle and cover-up. The once highly respected New York Times no longer makes a pretense that it is objective. Last summer, amidst protests and riots in many cities, Senator Tom Cotton wrote an editorial for the paper. The gist was to send in troops to restore order. After publication, the outcries from the left-leaning factions were so intense that they pulled the editorial. The respected editor involved, James Bennett, later resigned.
News organizations live in constant fear of internet mobs that organize in an instant to boycott them and their sponsors if something is published or broadcast that is not to their liking. Objective journalism has always been a far-reaching goal. However, in the modern-day climate, we mostly see taking sides, public ridicule, and potential loss of jobs and income. It was terrible enough that most of Academia lean left as well as most media. Add to that now Big Tech and social media giants who block and cancel unpopular voices and points of view. What is left is a fragmented, partisan, and destructive system.
The Ministry of Truth
There may not be a way back. George Orwell wrote about the Ministry of Truth in his prophetic and dystopian novel 1984. The Ministry of Truth was involved with news media, entertainment, the fine arts, and educational books. Its purpose was to rewrite history to change the facts to fit Party doctrine for propaganda effect. The modern-day “cancel culture” bears an eerie resemblance. Statues of many of our forefathers are gone. Schools are renamed. People lose jobs and suffer public shaming for words uttered, or tweeted, many years ago. The woke intelligentsia judges and then alters our language and speech. Unless, and until we admit that the tipping point has passed, honest journalism has no chance of survival.
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