News

Journalism in decay

 

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The race to the bottom appears to be over.

CareerCast.com, a website that ranks jobs in the U.S., now puts journalism at the bottom of the list of worst jobs of 2017 with no better prospects for the near future.

Newspaper reporter earns the distinction of being number-one worst. It’s the first time in a long time that job has earned a first for anything.

Broadcast reporter comes in number two.

“The worst jobs of 2017 are some of the cornerstones of our society,” the website says, “and great careers for those with the personality types able to face stress (and sometimes danger) head-on.”

“The two lowest-ranking jobs of 2017 have recently taken center stage in American culture in a way not seen in many years. The value of trained, professional Newspaper Reporters and Broadcasters has taken on heightened importance recently as well as increased scrutiny. Journalists covering politics in particular, have been under extreme pressure as they strive to credibly cover the news and keep our nation informed.”

All of that reads like it was written by a former journalist given all the assumptions treated as fact.

Journalism was once a cornerstone of our society. Whether it remains so today is open to debate given that so much of today’s journalism involves little but rewriting press releases. It could be that public relations is the new cornerstone of our society

As for the “sometimes danger” of journalism, a few journalists (almost all war correspondents) or reporters/editors in other countries, do sometimes face danger. The overwhelming majority of journalists working in this country don’t.

There were 48 journalists killed in 2016, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.  None of them were killed in the U.S. There have been seven journalists killed in this country since 1992, according to the project.  That’s an average of one death about every three and a half years.

If you’re in the market for a job with the thrill of danger, try commercial fishing with a death rate of about 120 per 100,000; or logging, 102 per 100,000; or aircraft pilot, 57 per 100,000 (almost all in small plane crashes like those that happen to regularly in Alaska), or refuse worker, 41 per 100,000; or roofer or structural iron worker or rancher or truck driver or lineman or taxi driver. 

Journalism doesn’t even make the list.

The worst “danger” most journalists face is someone yelling at them. This must what Career Cast considers the “extreme pressure as they strive to credibly cover the news and keep our nation informed.”

Over glamorized

Journalism might score high on the list of most over-glamorized jobs in America, but those don’t appear to have been quantified. Journalism is largely grunt work, and it’s role in today’s society is so rapidly evolving it’s hard to  keep up.

Thomas Jefferson, one of the country’s Founding Fathers and later a U.S. president, once famously observed that “the basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

But the “newspapers” of Jefferson’s day were more like the social and internet media of today than what came to be called the profession of journalism. Journalism as most Americans have come to know it today is something that dates back only to about the beginning of the Twentieth Century, and its shift from partisanship to  “objectivity” was driven not by high standards but by economics.

“The emergence of advertising for mass markets contributed greatly to the decline of the partisan press,” editors Robin Andersen and Jonathon Gray observe in “Battleground: The Media”. “Non-partisan ‘objective’ journalism enabled newspapers to purse the broadest possible readership, and thus advertising revenue.”

The newspapering of Jefferson’s day was more like what you get today at  MustReadAlaska or The Midnight Sun than at the Alaska Dispatch News, though admittedly there are those who contend the latter has a slant. The trained journalist there would argue otherwise. Feel free to debate.

MustRead editor, reporter, publisher and struggling businesswoman Suzanne Downing openly  concedes that “most Must Read Alaska readers are conservative Alaskans. This is our safe space, unbullied by the liberal intelligentsia.” 

The Sun isn’t quite as upfront, claiming it “harbors no partisan agenda,” but most know it as an arm of Lottsfeldt Strategies, the lobbying, political campaign, and consulting business of Anchorage’s Jim Lottsfeldt. And it doesn’t take an internet sleuth to connect Lottsfeldt to all sorts of Democrat candidates.

Partisan news sites have been on the rise since the internet took over news. Some are now seriously wondering about the future of non-partisan sites.

“Does nonpartisan journalism have a future,” Justin Buchler, a political science professor at Case Western Reserve University asked at “The Conservation” earlier this year.  He went on to suggest that readers won’t necessarily get what they want; they will get what the market supports.

“Just as market incentives supported the development of a neutral press, market incentives, combined with technology, have allowed institutions like Fox News and MSNBC to provide news coverage from decidedly conservative and liberal perspectives, with internet sources further fragmenting the media environment into narrow ideological niches,” he wrote.

Buchler goes on to argue that this partisan split poses a nightmare for any media still trying to stay nonpartisan in the time of Trump. New President Donald Trump, as it should be clear to everyone now, operates for better or worse in a world where he believes to be true whatever he believes to be true whether the facts fully support the belief or not.

In that, he’s probably more like the rest of us than not, but for non-partisan journalists the behavior – what we commonly refer to as “lying” – presents big problem.

“Each time he lies,” Buchler wrote, “any media outlet that aspires to objectivity must decide whether to point it out – which would make it indistinguishable from the Democratic-aligned press – or to allow the lie to go unremarked, thereby remaining complicit in the lie, tacitly aiding the Republican Party. Neither is likely to inform anyone in any meaningful way, which renders the model of the neutral press nearly inoperable.”

The future

What the loss of a neutral press would mean to news consumer, the working journalists of today and the new journalists of tomorrow going forward is hard to say. If non-partisan news is dying, and a Politico story on “The Media Bubble” would appear to make an argument that it is, why should the journalists of today even bother trying to stay non-partisan?

Why try to make of yourself something the market doesn’t want?

A similar question might be asked of the country’s journalism schools: Why school young journalists in objectivity if what the market wants is subjectivity?

OK, let’s face it, journalists were never really schooled in objectivity. They were schooled in trying to change the world for the better, which is a hugely subjective matter, but at least they were trained in the idea that approaching ideas objectively is the best way to figure out which ideas might make the world better.

The chance to make the world better once attracted a lot of smart people to journalism.  The profession used to be chock-a-block full of people driven by an overdose of intellectual curiosity. Yes, there were those who still got into journalism because they wanted to be a somebody, but there were far more there because journalism gave them a good excuse to explore a world full of ideas.

There are a lot fewer of those people in journalism today. Some of the older ones abandoned the profession. Some of the would-be younger ones showed their smarts and took different paths.

Journalism, as Career Cast noted, has “felt the years-long squeeze of diminishing job prospects due to declining advertising revenue that has impacted the newspaper, radio and television industries. The two professions rank among the 13 worst for job outlook, with negative growth forecasted through 2024 in this year’s Jobs Rated report.”

The decline of journalism has been clearly obvious for a decade. Paul Gillin started Newspaper Death Watch just a little more than 10 years ago.

“Since 1999, I’ve worked principally online,” he wrote then. “That experience has taught me about the tectonic shifts that are taking place in the media world, changes that will ultimately destroy 95 percent of American major metropolitan newspapers.”

Gillin professed to  be  optimistic that “this painful decline will give birth to a new model of journalism built upon aggregation and reader-generated content.” He imagined “the new journalism will be better in many ways than what preceded it. It’s just that getting there is going to hurt a lot.”

He also confessed his real job involved advising “marketers and business executives on strategies to optimize their use of social media and online channels to reach buyers cost-effectively.”

Social media might actually be where the news is going. Alaska’s Brad Keithley, who actively stirs the pot of Alaska’s fiscal debate on Facebook, has labeled it “the new newspaper,” and with some merit. He and a handful of others do seem to have been able to at least partially pull the public policy debate out of the mainstream media and into Facebook.

But then the ability of the Alaska mainstream media to handle complicated stories has been fading for years. Few outlets have the time to dig down, and some of them lack for intellectual horsepower. It’s hard, actually very hard, to report complicated stories people will actually read or watch.

It’s a lot easier to cover breaking news. Television learned that long ago and simplified the guidelines to five words: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

A lot of mainstream media time is now spent chasing breaking stories of greater or lesser importance from homicides to fires to dogs hit by cars to “fake news” stories of moose born in parking in lots. It must be tough for young people now considering a future in journalism to look at what it is daily produced and contemplate “is that really what I want to do for the rest of my life?”

That only makes the future look worse for journalism.

At a time when journalism truly needs America’s best and brightest, the best and the brightest are likely to decide they don’t need journalism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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