America faces a raft of very serious problems. This blog routinely pontificates about them–usually by citing from various media resources that have highlighted them. Over the past several years I have become increasingly convinced that it is the state of that media–especially its fragmented nature–that has exacerbated all of them.
That conviction won’t come as a surprise to longtime readers of this blog–it’s the “dead horse” I’ve been flogging for years.
The Pew Research Center recently issued a report on the current nature of what we like to call traditional media–primarily newspapers and broadcast (radio and television). For the first time, newspapers made more money from individual subscriptions than from advertising. That looks superficially like good news, but is really a reflection of the extent to which the business model that sustained those newspapers over the years has collapsed.
That collapse is why more than 2000 local newspapers have ceased publication during the past decade, and one of the reasons (along with their acquisition by greedy national companies) why so many of those that remain have been able to maintain only skeletal reporting staffs.
Yes, national papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post have been able to maintain and even grow both their reporting staffs and their subscribers, but in the cities and towns where citizens depend upon the press for the incredibly important watchdog function, these “ghost” papers no longer have the capacity to do so.
I’ve ranted about all of this in previous posts–flogging that “dead horse”–and noting the multiple consequences, but I keep coming back to what is, in my view, the most significant problem created by our current media environment: the facilitation of informational silos. Bubbles enable us to confirm our pre-existing biases, and–perhaps even worse– to avoid recognizing what we don’t know.
As I used to tell my students, even newspapers that were never particularly good–the Indianapolis Star comes to mind–served one very important function: they provided the citizens of a community with a common description of their local reality. Even if you only picked up the newspaper to see sports scores, you saw the same headlines your neighbors saw. The local school board was embroiled in a debate. Local crime rates had increased. The city was issuing bonds for a new library, and that might affect your property tax rate.
Today, good luck scanning the Indianapolis Star for education news– reporters will cover school board meetings only when enraged racists descend on board meetings to demand that schools stop teaching something they don’t teach anyway. If you want to know anything else about education policy, you need to go to sources like Chalkbeat, an online media resource covering education.
And that’s the problem.
In various conversations, I’ve asked people if they have ever heard of Chalkbeat–or a few of the other specialized sources that cover discrete areas of our common life. Very few have. We are at a point where the information we need in order to be minimally-informed citizens is “out there,” but only available to those who know enough–and are motivated enough–to search for it.
You may not have children in school, but what the local school board does affects your property values. You may be disinterested in the proceedings of your local department of transportation, but those proceedings will determine the condition of the streets you drive on. You may not care about the financial woes of a local hospital, but if you have a health emergency, those woes will suddenly become relevant.
Look–I’m not one of those people who looks back fondly at a past that never existed. I know that most people, even those who subscribed to local papers, tended to skim over the articles that didn’t interest them. For that matter, a lot of folks didn’t even subscribe–at best, they tuned in to the local TV news at dinnertime to hear brief summaries that the stations had usually gotten from the local newspapers. The point is, they saw the same headlines. They heard the same summaries.
They might argue over the accuracy of the reporting, or what it meant, but they shared a common starting-point.
The absence of local, in-depth news contributes to American polarization by nationalizing news consumption. Pew found that in 2020, Fox News’ prime time average audience increased by 61%, CNN’s increased by 72% and MSNBC’s grew by 28%.
Perhaps what we need are local versions of aggregators like the Huffington Post–one-stop “entry points” with short blurbs and links to the specialized sites that are doing credible, professional reporting on particular slices of what should be our common civic concerns.
National news is important–but so is verifiable, credible scrutiny of local governments and civic organizations.
16 thoughts on “About That Dead Horse….”
For one, those subscribers are paying a deeply discounted rate just so the newspapers can show they have readers to the businesses they are trying to sell ads to. It’s a dying racket, starting from the bottom and moving to the top.
The press was given immense powers by our Founders because they knew human nature. Jefferson was a huge advocate of protecting the people’s government from becoming the wolves, just like the private economic class (oligarchs).
The press gave away their power. Now, you can’t even get a response from the press secretary if you ask a tough question. They ignore you.
The wolves have settled in.
Reading the Tweets from the Assange hearing yesterday, and knowing that case intimately, and watching how our federal government treats whistleblowers, it’s sickening. What’s even worse is watching the inaction, the absolute silence, of the existing media. They’ve all sold out. They should be screaming at the top of their lungs. Absolute silence.
Without their power, they are competing with other media platforms. Once events went on Facebook, it was only a matter of time.
What’s the point of reading a powerless rag?
Furthermore, with the wolves running the government and knowing they are not being held accountable, what kind of decisions do you think they are making? No wonder it’s a revolving door between industry and government; the wolves get fatter and fatter.
There are watchdogs out there, but you have to go looking for them instead of picking up a newspaper on your front porch. It’s not that easy anymore.
I miss my morning newspaper with my coffee; I do NOT however miss the Indianapolis Star.
As for the mass media outlets; we are not MANDATED to read, watch or listen to any of them in their various forms. Those we do choose to read, watch or listen to can be tossed by the roadside when we become aware they are too one-sided or provide misinformation. The same is true of Social Media along with news and information outlets. Most of us have resources at our fingertips to research fact vs. fiction, fake news and misinformation such as we are inundated with today regarding life-saving measures against Covid-19 in its more dangerous variations. Millions of our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and beyond are returning to schools at this time as politicians fight against ordering protection which they have provided in the past in the way of seat belts, infant and child car seats, speed limits and on and on. The primary age group of those taking to the streets to protest masks and vaccinations after reading, watching and/or listening to the misinformation regarding protection from the Pandemic are of the age who received those vaccinations against “childhood diseases” which too often resulted in deaths and disabilities.
“National news is important–but so is verifiable, credible scrutiny of local governments and civic organizations.”
All of the above is sadly lacking in Indiana as well as Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas who are headline news on all media forms today. Those “dead horses” must be stinking by now.
One of the things I despise is the 24 hour news cycle. There really isn’t that much going on that is truly newsworthy, so we get several talking heads’ points of view on a single issue. We really don’t need that. We just need to know what’s happened or what’s supposed to happen.
Correct the polarization of our society is clear. Im even a stock holder of the Washington Post and see it as a smart investment in its strategy to increase subscriptions. Whats more real is that our society is forgetting its being represented at the local level. Feom the passage of the Seventeenth amendment where Senators are fought over on a national level instead of truly representing the state as appointed and voted on by the state legislators, polarization where millions of dollars of both sides are thrown into federal elections that should not be either parties business.
The south largely elected blacks as Republicans and many in the south not being slave owners through off their woes of the past. Blacks largely have been effected by Presidents like LBJ who said he would have those “people” voting Democreat for the next 200 years. Many black pastors are noticing the level of families in the black community being torn apart because of the federal governments programs.
We do truly vote against ourselves on all levels. Unions gave up insurance programs as 44 lied to them as they gave up hard fought for health plans.
Its aweful the road we are on as the national debt is swallowing up the future ability to fund programs that serve our communities. Bipartisanship truly left us as we forget our founders were on the right track to keep us a nation united as we evolved from the commmunities to the DC. The communities for instance own DC to be separate, but nationalists in Washington are interested in a power grab to put two more senators that will be more like the parliament in Russia ruling over the people as they transitioned into a centralized national government.
Are we thinking critically to what we are doing to ourselves? Repealing the seventeenth amendment should be a start that would unpolarize our nation no matter what side your on.
Press secretary? Really? If the so-called reporters asking idiotic questions would do some due diligence beforehand, Ms. Psaki wouldn’t have to embarrass them. How about the lie-fests the previous administration’s press secretaries conducted… when they were allowed to hold them?
So-called conservatives hate the truth and the facts. Those things tend to spoil their grift and their cockeyed ideologies. So, when the big money conservatives get ahold of news outlets like The Star, what else would we expect to see?
Once again, almost everything big money “conservatives” touch dies.
One reason I discontinued my subscription to my local paper was that its obvious very conservative stance was too disturbing to put up with. Much of paper was given to total BS op-eds, both national columns and by local yahoos, and sports. I don’t want to spend my $$$ on things I don’t care about. And, I disagree with Peggy that we don’t need talking heads to discuss one issue. I, for one, learn a lot about the inner workings, of say, how voting audits are conducted that I would never see on 30 minute national news at 6:30. I realize that MSNBC is very liberal-oriented, but I don’t have the stomach for FAUX News and Enemies with their outright lies. The best way for me to stay up on local issues is through being a member of the local Democratic party and the local NAACP chapter. The Republican party, in its current form, is not worth any of my time to follow.
What Kathy M. said… Subscribe on line to the Denver Post for very well-balanced news.
We must first recognize that newspapers and other news media are in the business of making money, that the “news” is what they say it is, and that such decisions are subject to the realities of making money and staying in business via, among other things, savage reductions in newsroom journalists, thus further reducing both perception and depth in choosing and reporting the “news.”
Thus we have the “news” this week that the planet is headed for disaster unless we quickly mend our ways, but this was not on page one; rather we were fed the latest on other disasters either as done deals or in the making such as the Cuomo matter, Abbott and Costello, I mean, Abbott’s and DeSantis’s thinly cloaked homicides etc. So what is the news? Who knows? We the consumers are not involved in such determination; our role is to glance at the headlines, perhaps read the ads, and turn on Fox.
So where do we look to for objective news reporting? Let me know.
As a journalist for over a half century I am saddened greatly by what Sheila had to say, and even more so as many of the great newspapers I grew up with are either now gone or so skinny and hedge fund owned there’s nothing in them to read. It does make me happy that there are still a FEW hold-out areas and I presently live in one… Gannett owns NO newspapers here in Maine. Zero. Local owners have the two biggest dailies in the state (Bangor Daily News and The Portland Press Herald) and along with both, I get the Boston Globe (also a local owner in Boston) delivered to my door every morning… yes, all three on paper! We still have a Sunday local magazine in the Globe, the Maine Sunday Telegram has a book page and between the three I do not think there’s a school board or other local governmental issue in New England that escapes seeing print. It’s a real throwback, but readers support this. We get asked every so often to buy extra subscriptions for friends or even donate. A couple years ago when the book page was about to leave, enough of us stepped in to save it and one of the local bookstores (we have three within walking distance of my home) does the weekly best sellers and other lists so we know what neighbours are reading. I have no clue why local press has “made it” thus far in Maine, because like everywhere the department stores and retail who used to buy up all the ads no longer exist… but the model has adapted. That shows me it CAN be done… but sadly the majority of the country either doesn’t care, doesn’t notice the death of local journalism, or worse yet: they don’t care! I am glad where I live, we do!
The Guardian or BBC News have been for years my go to site for news. True, they do not report on local news.
As a Baby Boomer, most houses in my neighborhood had at least one paper delivered to their homes. There was the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times and the Hammond Times. The local TV news gave you highlights, the papers gave you depth.
Maybe at some point as a society – We became to busy to take a half hour to read the paper. It was easier to watch TV. Cable News certainly gave us the “News Silos”. You could watch the channel that agreed with you. No need to watch or listen to the other side.
There was an article I read years ago about the competition over disposable or free time. Once a person could relax did they spend their time reading the newspaper, watching the news on TV or watching entertainment on TV, i.e., cops and robbers shows, quiz shows, westerns, sports, etc??
Someone years ago wrote Orwell got it wrong in the book 1984. TV would not be used to spy on you, it would be used to entertain you and dominate your disposable or free time. No need to trouble yourself with the various inequities or scandals in our country.
I will have to agree with Peggy Hannon and disagree with Kathy M. To get people to engage with the continuous news cycle you have to make it attention grabbing and or controversial. This is along the same lines as the Facebook effect, where the more radical the opinion the more attention it grabs regardless if it is true or not. Plus it makes it easier to censure the real and important news in the continuous information flood. Information overload and distraction is the 21st century version of censorship, and the talking heads on the 24 hour news shows are well aware of this.
As for critical thinking skills, I was involved in a discussion about the current job market and why people might be staying out of the work force. Several people gave various reasons. I had read about and seen research that supported these positions. One of the points was that the extra unemployment benefits were paying people to stay home, until I pointed out that the 22 states that have already ended the Federal programs are having the results as the other 38 states. One person in the group (I think I was told she was a former college professor of economics) said that the eviction ban was enabling people to stay out of the work force. It sound pretty logical and I did not have an answer for that, but it made me think. I went home and did some research. What I discovered in all of the surveys and research on why people were staying out of the work force, this reason was never mentioned at all. So it was either never researched or it was insignificant. However the only place I did find any mention of this was on several very heavily slanted right wing web sites with no references or sources cited. I suspect that this is one of those seemingly plausible factoids that have been widely circulated in the right wing media sphere that has absolutely no basis in truth, but does support the narrative that people are too lazy to work if the government gives them handouts.
It took me more than a half an hour of searching to come to the conclusion that there was no supporting evidence for this piece of propaganda. Trying to find something that is not there is hard work and suspect almost nobody is going to do it.
Agree with Peggy, 24 hour news stations must scream & rant to keep viewers watching enough so advertisers keep paying out the dollars.
What can we do about any of that? For the time being, I would opine that we have to live with it until the climate change demon is done teaching us about the foolishness caused by the distribution of human knowledge.
The quantity of what humans know about the Universe is astounding and comparable to the amount of wealth that the combination of our knowledge and labor produces continuously. Every decade new records are set in both fields. However, the distribution among our population is also record-setting. We don’t share well. In the case of wealth, those with the bulk of it don’t share well. In the case of knowledge those who are on the short end of their accumulation of it don’t know what they don’t know so they can too easily be convinced that what they do know is all that they need to know.
As a result of that combination of realities, we are headed towards a grand reshuffling of the deck and, unfortunately, some traumatic consequences that our sharing limitations prevented us from avoiding. It won’t be pretty or pleasant, but it will be effective. It will be the chemo that defeats the cancer at the expense of our short-term happiness and comfort.
I hope that there are some good newspapers in whatever follows death so that I can read all about it.
John S. “I’m even a stock holder of the Washington Post and see it as a smart investment in its strategy to increase subscriptions.”
As an investor, you likely follow Wapo daily as we do as subscribers. We see it as a mouthpiece of the government’s policy and direction.
As a Wapo reader, have you noticed an abrupt increase in climate change MSM coverage?
Paradoxically, I’ve felt for 20 years fossil fuel industry has suppressed discussion of climate change issues (e.g. presidential debate topics).
Do you sense a dramatic shift in government policy coming? Has the fossil fuel industry changed its tune and decided to combat global warming?
Our newspaper, Wapo,
on 8/9/21 edition, page one, published this clear forecast, “… catastrophic impacts lie ahead unless the world rapidly and dramatically cuts greenhouse gas emissions.”
To our federal government, is this an emergency? Will precipitous action be necessary? Will electric cars be promoted? Will more fracking permits on federal land be issued?
We’ll look to Wapo to find out.
Ted: Sigh; wish it were true (as Maine goes….), if not as a political bellwether at least as a cultural one. My wife and I moved from Indiana to Maine and found that it rekindled our spirits. Now we’ve gone one step further—to Canada. Far from utopia, but light years from America’s sociopolitical dysfunction, inequality, climate and pandemic denial, extreme (infantile) individualism, gun culture, etc. And yet there’s guilt that we’ve abandoned the struggle. Really admire Sheila for her efforts. But also feel sorry for many old friends and family back in Indiana.
I read an article in Mother Jones yesterday that was titled something along the lines of why are Americans so angry? Bottom line is Faux News. It was a long and scary read. I’d recommend checking it out
Comments are closed.