In a vibrant and healthy democracy, the press keeps citizens informed and provides a first line of accountability on behalf of citizens. The press should maintain journalistic standards for bias, truth and transparency.
We do not live up to this ideal right now. The integrity of the press has eroded.
Like so many other topics here, we have shifted our focus away from social good to individual profit. As society became more complex and included larger numbers of people and countries, we have yet to recapture a way for establishing shared purpose and vision and we leave it to politicians and corporations to sort out.
If we can all agree that the press serves an important function in our society, then we ought to look at ways to ensure its health and integrity.
Challenges in Journalism
We break it into 4 major buckets:
- Disruption of revenue models – The most obvious changes are in local newspapers. As classifieds moved online and readers moved to their phones, the revenue models were severely challenged. The disruption happened in many other ways too – satellite radio, podcasts, streaming services, cutting the cord on cable, etc.
- Ownership – Local TV stations are being snapped up by Sinclair Media. Newspapers are being bought out by people from the world of Finance or billionaires. Who owns the news greatly affects the perspective and quality of the journalism.
- Standards – In 1941, Orson Welles made Citizen Kane which was about the king of “Yellow Journalism” – William Randolph Hearst. Hearst wanted his newspapers to reflect his political bias, drive political narrative and affect election outcomes. Bias and agenda are not new problems in journalism. One way that we tried to raise the standards was the 1949 “Fairness Doctrine” Act which required TV stations to give equal air time to opposing viewpoints. In the 1980s, the Fairness Doctrine was repealed. The legislation as it was written might now have been able to resolve all the modern complexities of cable, podcasts, social media, etc., but it illustrates that we can make an effort to maintain standards.
- Both Sides – It also seems that our journalists are unprepared for how to deal with lies and propaganda. In an effort to seem fair, they propagate false talking points and seem uncomfortable with calling lies lies.
How Do We Create the Journalism We Want
Here are some small steps we can start with:
- Support local papers
- Be aware of who owns the media you consume
- Hold your news source accountable for bias or misinformation
- Support positive news journalists like Next City
On a societal level, we could
- Fund public media alternatives – See Joshua Benton’s post below
- Restore the Fairness Doctrine or a modern equivalent
- Hold politicians who lie accountable
- Establish media literacy programs
- Ask Congress to create standards for social media
- Promote group discussions on standards
- Joshua Benton post Do Countries with Better Funded Media Have Healthier Democracies
- Cory Doctorow Twitter thread on VCs buying up Local Papers
- Margaret Sullivan Explains how the Decline of Local Journalism Undermines American Democracy – Video
- Minority Owned Media and the Digital Duopoly – Report by American Economic Liberties Project
- Media Matters
- American Economic Liberties Project https://www.economicliberties.us/#