The state of the Fourth Estate—and who can save it.
Brittany Karford Rogers writes: If hashtags had been a thing, these would have been some #FakeNews whoppers.
The 32 BC Mark Antony takedown: it began with a fake-news campaign masterminded by Octavian, complete with Tweet-like proclamations on ancient coins.
The Simon of Trent humdinger: in 1475 a prince-bishop in Italy set off a story that local Jews murdered missing 2-year-old Simon—and used his blood for rituals. Fifteen Jews burned at the stake.
The Benjamin Franklin special edition: he concocted an entire 1782 newspaper, peddling a fake story about Native Americans scalping 700 men, women, children, and infants.
In short, fake news is old news.
For all the handwringing over fake news today, BYU journalism professor Joel J. Campbell’s (BA ’87) response is more “meh.” It’s another punch for a profession that’s been in the ring for the better part of a decade. Trust in news media is at an all-time low. Revenue models are upended. Reporters are exhausted. Readers are fragmented. And that’s just a short list of jabs.
Looming larger in Campbell’s eyes are analytics-driven newsrooms and disenfranchised readers, who, flooded with content, are living in information silos or, worse, opting out altogether.
So how does one make sense of the crowded, increasingly polarized news landscape? And what’s left of journalism as we knew it?
BYU faculty and alumni practitioners—their collective résumés spanning Fox News, C-SPAN, CNN, the Atlantic, and more—have some ideas.
Before you throw your hands up, consider the forces at play, take heart in journalists’ earnest self-searching, and look in the mirror—because the finger pointing goes all the way around.
It’s worth asking, “Is journalism still doing its job?” But as our panel of experts chimes, there’s an equally important question: “Do the citizens of this country have the will to save it?”
A Happy Accident
Journalism has a lofty goal—one epitomized by the career of R. John Hughes.
The emeritus BYU professor won the Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for his coverage of an attempted communist coup and its bloody aftermath in Indonesia. Over his career as a writer for and then editor of the Christian Science Monitor, he covered revolutions and interviewed world leaders.
“Journalism was almost like a religion to me, to get the story, and get it right, to help evince change,” Hughes says. “It’s a kind of love affair for most journalists, shining light in dark corners.”
Journalists call themselves the watchdogs, the truth seekers. The press is dubbed the Fourth Estate after all, the final check on all three branches of government. Democracy requires informed citizens; the press make up the informants. “Democracy Dies in Darkness” goes the new Washington Post tagline.
That’s the why of modern journalism.
The how—being objective, non-partisan—“is rather a new phenomenon in the history of news,” says Campbell.
It has always depended on who’s paying.
Wealthy traders and merchants underwrote the first news in the Americas, and it was all route intel. In the colonial period political parties footed the bill for most papers—party organs that were far more partisan and acrimonious than what we cry foul at today. It wasn’t until the penny-press era—the 1830s on—that a new funding model developed: scale up the circulation, then sell readers’ attention to advertisers. That advertising revenue could bring the cost of the paper down to something many could afford.
Writing to a mass audience, publishers began to recognize there was a market for real, honest news that could cross political divides and speak with a relatively neutral voice. This paved the way for professional journalism standards. And for most of the 20th century, it made newsrooms the information power brokers.
Then the internet smashed the model.
“For the last decade, we have seen a steady erosion of the advertising economy for newspapers,” says Campbell. That’s the nice way of saying it. Revenue streams have been gutted.
Department stores and auto malls, the go-to advertisers, cut back on ads, facing their own disruptions: e-commerce competition and recession. Craigslist happened to the classifieds. And reader eyeballs, once concentrated among a few media outlets, are now diverted to Facebook, YouTube, and that thing you just Googled—and the bulk of advertising has followed them.
As they say in the industry, the digital transition traded print dollars for digital dimes and, in turn, digital dimes for mobile pennies.
One thing is certain: it’s a fascinating time to study the news. Alum Seth C. Lewis (BA ’02) holds the Shirley Papé Chair in Emerging Media at the University of Oregon and is a leading scholar on the digital transformation of journalism.
“We’ve gone from media monopoly to media disruption and ubiquity,” says Lewis. And in ubiquity, no one gets a sizable piece of the economic pie.
Lewis suggests that maybe the last century of advertising-based news subsidy—which fostered these objective, non-partisan notions—“was just a happy accident. Maybe instead we’re returning to other forms of funding and thinking about the news.”
“Up until now, the company had not indicated that layoffs would happen if targeted numbers weren’t achieved,” Grant Glickson, president of the NewsGuild, told Media Ink.
As part of the NYT’s ongoing restructuring of its editing ranks, 109 copy editors have had their jobs eliminated. There are estimated to be about 50 new jobs available in the restructured editing operation that the Times envisions for its digital- and video-oriented future.
When the downsizing was first revealed in late May, a memo from Baquet and Managing Editor Joe Kahn portrayed the cuts as a “streamlining” of the editing process and indicated that some of the savings would be used to hire up to 100 more journalists.
But in a mid-June meeting with department heads, Baquet admitted that journalists could be targeted in a new round of layoffs once the editing ranks are culled. Read the rest of this entry »
The New York Times has crossed a moral line, writes James Taranto.
Jan. 11, 2011, James Taranto wrote: After the horrific shooting spree, the editorial board of New York Times offered a voice of reasoned circumspection: “In the aftermath of this unforgivable attack, it will be important to avoid drawing prejudicial conclusions . . .,” the paper counseled.
Here’s how the sentence continued: “. . . from the fact that Major Hasan is an American Muslim whose parents came from the Middle East.”
The Tucson Safeway massacre prompted exactly the opposite reaction. What was once known as the paper of record egged on its readers to draw invidious conclusions that are not only prejudicial but contrary to fact. In doing so, the Times has crossed a moral line.
Here is an excerpt from yesterday’s editorial:
It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman’s act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge. Many on the right have exploited the arguments of division, reaping political power by demonizing immigrants, or welfare recipients, or bureaucrats. They seem to have persuaded many Americans that the government is not just misguided, but the enemy of the people.
That whirlwind has touched down most forcefully in Arizona, which Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik described after the shooting as the capital of “the anger, the hatred and the bigotry that goes on in this country.” Anti-immigrant sentiment in the state, firmly opposed by Ms. Giffords, has reached the point where Latino studies programs that advocate ethnic solidarity have actually been made illegal. . . .
Now, having seen first hand the horror of political violence, Arizona should lead the nation in quieting the voices of intolerance, demanding an end to the temptations of bloodshed, and imposing sensible controls on its instruments.
Source: Covers | New York Post
Paul Bedard writes: In the latest sign that Washington operates in an alternate economy, journalism jobs around the country dove 22 percent in the last 10 years, but they spiked a whopping 38 percent in the nation’s capital, according to a new economic study. What’s more, salaries for Washington journalists rose 7 percent while diving nationally.
While 12,000 reporting jobs were eliminated in most markets in the last decade, the Washington journalism market expanded from 2,190 to 3,030. That is more than five journalists for every single House and Senate member.
In New York, by comparison, the drop was historic, from 5,330 jobs in 2005 to just 3,478 in 2015, said the study from Apartmentlist.com.
The study reviewed rents in major cities and showed how rents have spiked while the salaries of reporters hasn’t. That gap may be responsible for the shift by reporters, even award-winning journalists, to better paying public relations.
“Our analysis illustrated that reporter salaries are growing slower than rents in most metros. Nationwide, reporter salaries declined by 7 percent over the past decade while rents increased 9 percent. If this trend continues, publications will struggle to hire and retain talent,” said the report provided to Secrets. Read the rest of this entry »
Random thoughts on the fifth anniversary of his death
Andrew Breitbart died five years ago last week, so I’m thinking it might pay to remind people where the name “Breitbart” hails from: a man who is no longer on this earth, but seems to be felt everywhere.
First, Andrew was one of the deepest, funniest, smartest individuals I’ve ever met — and the world deserves to know him. Most people know of my relationship with A.B. — though I don’t talk about it much, unless I’m asked.
[Order Andrew’s legendary book “Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World!” from Amazon.com]
In short, we wrote together, talked daily about everything. We conspired hourly for weeks at a time — from our start at the Huffington Post (yes, kids, he launched that site, and I wrote for it) to the Anthony Weiner episode — almost entirely and accidentally choreographed by Breitbart himself. He graced my show Redeye many times, peppering it with memorably absurd appearances. We always drank and sometimes got into trouble afterward (see the Opie and Anthony appearance after the Anthony Weiner press conference). I edited his pieces sometimes, helped organize his second book and helped when I could on his latest endeavors. This went on for nearly a decade, until his death.
“Andrew died a great man, and his life — and death — spawned a movement. In my humble opinion, you could not have had the election of Donald Trump without the phenomenon that was (and still is) Andrew Breitbart.”
Sadly, I had the honor that no one wants when it comes to a close friend: to speak at the reception following his funeral.
If Breitbart is part of your everyday lexicon, then you should know where the moniker hails from. Andrew Breitbart was a joyful, hilarious man. How many people know that? They must know that.
There is a grim silver lining when you die young. There’s no additional 30 years of assorted career changes, gaps of non-exciting employment and detours into events that muddy early great achievements. If you live
long enough, you become disappointing.
Andrew died a great man, and his life — and death — spawned a movement. In my humble opinion, you could not have had the election of Donald Trump without the phenomenon that was (and still is) Andrew Breitbart.
* * *
Andrew was about waging war with the left by using the left’s tactics. His foot soldiers are everywhere now, and their footprints are all over the faces of the shocked liberals who never saw them coming.
Andrew was inclusive, not solely ideological. He was a party leader who wanted a tent big enough for everyone, not a litmus test for locksteppers. He might have rubbed shoulders with the religious, the vocally right-wing, the hardcore moralistic — but he had no tolerance for those who demonized by lifestyle. Did you know Andrew backed out of CPAC because it initially refused to allow gay groups to speak?
When groups planned to boycott CPAC 2011, Andrew promised to throw a bash for right-wing gays. He wanted to call it the “first annual Roy Cohn CPAC Breitbart Homocon Welcoming ’80s Extravaganza.” Breitbart loved exceedingly long titles. Overdoing it was his way of doing it.
* * *
Andrew once was a liberal, but like all liberals with a brain, he wised up. He was a crappy student (he wasn’t much of a reader, he admitted) who liked to party, and he was a default liberal — simply because it was easy and without risk. But when he saw the Clarence Thomas hearings, he transformed from a goofy, partying liberal into a libertarian/conservative Reaganite. He worked for Matt Drudge and then he gravitated toward Arianna Huffington, working as her researcher before helping launch her celebrity-drenched site. He told me his purpose at HuffPo: By giving a voice to liberal celebrities about political issues, he could show the world how absurd their beliefs really were. Read the rest of this entry »
Source: Covers | New York Post
Two videos: 1, the New York Time’s “Truth” ad, which itself stands as mockery against the Times, then 2, the NRA’s rebuttal to the NYT ad.
‘The Same NYT that Just Ran a Self-Congratulatory Ad About How Devoted to ‘Truth’ They Are Stealth-Deletes an Inconvenient Lie from an Article, Then Refuses to Explain Themselves’
“The time for small thinking is over,” he said in the Capitol Hill speech. “The time for trivial fights is behind us. We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts. The bravery to express the hopes that stir our souls. And the confidence to turn those hopes and dreams to action.”
“I am calling on all Democrats and Republicans in Congress to work with us to save Americans from this imploding ObamaCare disaster.”
Trump emphasized his effort to rework ObamaCare with a new plan he hoped would “expand choice, increase access, lower costs and, at the same time, provide better health care.”
“I am calling on all Democrats and Republicans in Congress to work with us to save Americans from this imploding ObamaCare disaster,” said Trump. Read the rest of this entry »
Victor Davis Hanson writes: After the election, Democrats could not explain the inexplicable defeat of Hillary Clinton, who would be, they thought, the shoo-in winner in November. Over the next three months until Inauguration Day, progressives floated a variety of explanations for the Trump win—none of them, though, mentioned that the Clinton campaign had proven uninspired, tactically inept, and never voiced a message designed to appeal to the working classes.
When a particular exegesis of defeat failed to catch on, it was mostly dropped—and then replaced by a new narrative. We were told that the Electoral College wrongly nullified the popular vote—and that electors had a duty to renege on their obligations to vote for their respective state’s presidential winner.
“Fake news is something quite different. It is not merely a public figure’s spinning of half-truths. It is largely a media-driven, and deliberate attempt to spread a false narrative to advance a political agenda that otherwise would be rejected by a common-sense public.”
Then followed the narrative of Trump’s racist dog-whistle appeals to the white working classes. When it was reported that Barack Obama had received a greater percentage of the white votes than did either John Kerry in 2004 or Hillary Clinton in 2016, the complaint of white chauvinism too faded.
“The methodology is to manufacture a narrative attractive to a herd-like progressive media that will then devour and brand it as fact—and even lobby for government redress.”
Then came the allegation that FBI Director James Comey had given the election to Trump by reopening the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails just days before Election Day. That fable too evaporated when it was acknowledged that Comey had earlier intervened to declare Clinton without culpability and would so again before November 8.
Then came the trope that Vladimir Putin’s hackers stole the election—on the theory that the Wikileaks revelations had turned off the electorate in a way the Clinton candidacy otherwise would not have. That storyline then evolved into the idea of Russian propagandists and Trump supporters variously peddling “fake news” to websites to promulgate myths and distortions—as a grand plan to Hillary Clinton and give Trump the election.
More specifically, it was alleged that Trump’s exaggerations and fabrications—from his allegations about Barack Obama’s birth certificate to rumor-mongering about Ted Cruz’s father—had so imperiled journalism that the media in general was forced to pronounce there was no longer a need to adhere to disinterested reporting in the traditional sense.
“No one has described the methodology of fake news better than Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor for Barack Obama and brother of the president of CBS News, David Rhodes.”
The New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg and CNN’s Christiane Amanpour confessed that they could not be fair in reporting the news in the era of Donald Trump. Apparently, being fair had become tantamount to being a co-conspirator in Trump falsity. The New York Times in a post-election op-ed explained why it had missed the Trump phenomenon, admitting, but not necessarily lamenting, that its own coverage of the election had not been fair and balanced.
“Ben Rhodes cynically bragged about how the Obama administration had sold the dubious Iran deal through misinformation picked up by an adolescent but sympathetic media (for which Rhodes had only contempt).
Yet all politicians fib and distort the truth—and they’ve been doing so since the freewheeling days of the Athenian ekklesia. Trump’s various bombastic allegations and claims fall into the same realm of truthfulness as Obama’s statement “if you like your health plan, you can keep it”—and were thus similarly cross-examined by the media.
“As Rhodes put it, ‘The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.’”
Yet fake news is something quite different. It is not merely a public figure’s spinning of half-truths. It is largely a media-driven, and deliberate attempt to spread a false narrative to advance a political agenda that otherwise would be rejected by a common-sense public. The methodology is to manufacture a narrative attractive to a herd-like progressive media that will then devour and brand it as fact—and even lobby for government redress.
Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen has never been to Prague to negotiate quid pro quo deals with the Russians. Trump did not watch Russian strippers perform pornographic acts in the bedroom that Barack Obama once stayed in during a visit to Moscow. Yet political operatives, journalists, and even intelligence officers, in their respective shared antipathy to Trump, managed to lodge these narratives into the public consciousness and thereby establish the “truth” that a degenerate Trump was also a Russian patsy.
No one has described the methodology of fake news better than Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor for Barack Obama and brother of the president of CBS News, David Rhodes. Read the rest of this entry »
‘Mr. Trump’s plans to eradicate violent extremists…’
“The emerging details suggest that Mr. Trump’s plans to eradicate violent extremists are not only at odds with Mr. Obama’s; they trample on American values and international law.”
The Times’ editors worried that Trump’s approach to fighting radical Islamic terrorism — which they referred to with scare quotes — is “more likely to further inflame anti-American sentiment around the world than to make the United States safer.”
“The emerging details suggest that Mr. Trump’s plans to eradicate violent extremists are not only at odds with Mr. Obama’s; they trample on American values and international law,” they wrote. Read the rest of this entry »