“If at any point I had thought there’s something to tell the American people that they don’t know, I would do it.”
-Bob Woodward, ‘journalist’
The position of a journalist is to present the information gathered, a conduit of news and information, not a determinant of what the people have the right to know, or should, should not, learn.
“What do journalists stand for? They uphold the public’s right to know, a spirit of openness and honesty in the conduct of public business, the free flow of information and ideas, along with truthfulness, accuracy, balance, and fair play in the news.” -Jay Rosen, What are Journalist For? (p. 281)
Hopeful thoughts from a climate correspondent.
“The climate emergency is very bad. Over the past few days, disasters have cascaded around the world. But no matter how dire the pandemic-climate-racial uprising emergency gets, there is never, ever a reason to give up.” -Eric Holthaus
On climate doom
Over the past few days, disasters have cascaded around the world. More of California burned in a one-week span than in almost any other full year in recorded history. Hurricanes have battered the Caribbean and the US Gulf Coast. The strongest typhoon in North Korea’s history made landfall. Scientists unveiled doomsday updates from Greenland, Antarctica, and the North Pole.
Watching all this, I felt a familiar sense of despair settle in. When disasters are in the headlines, I often have a counter-intuitive response. My mind automatically races to the countless everyday changes in weather that go largely unnoticed, but in aggregate add up to
I find myself noticing the impulse to give in to
from my friend and former podcast co-host Jacquelyn Gill explains how this instinct is partly a result of privilege in climate spaces. It’s often easier to imagine the apocalypse than the systemic changes necessary in every aspect of society to steer us away from oblivion.
The climate emergency is very bad. It magnifies inequalities. It’s a manifestation of hundreds of years of injustice and erasure.
But if you find yourself thinking “we’re screwed”, here’s a gentle reminder to ask yourself who “we” is. This has been happening for a long time.
This week’s good news on climate
We need to move past the “we’re screwed” narrative on climate change and ecosystem collapse. Fast. A dead world is not our destiny.
Yes, the odds are against us as long as we stay on our current path. But we can and must radically change that path. We can do this, and we will.
We’ve reached the point in the pandemic-climate-racial uprising emergency that there are multiple versions of reality floating around and it’s very difficult to keep track of reality.
and some people just aren’t willing to do it.
I’ve subscribed to the concept of atmospheric harm reduction. Harm reduction is a strategy that’s used to de-escalate violence and self-harm, and involves things like sanitised needle distribution or legalising and regulating marijuana.
The same applies to the climate emergency. Every tonne of carbon avoided through developing tough new habits, every climate denier voted out of office and replaced with an imperfect-but-better candidate, every difficult conversation that helps you articulate your ardent love for the world and everything that’s worth saving – all of those help make the world a measurably better place.
There are days when it will feel like you can’t go on, that all your work is pointless. But in those days remember that a better world is always possible. We can take breaks. We can endure setbacks. But we can never, ever give up. You were born just in time to transform the world.
“(Jean Guerrero) describes the ideological arc of Miller’s life and investigates his ties to right-wing mentors and far-right groups. She adds, many are baffled at how someone so young with so little policy or legal expertise gained so much power.”
I remember, you know, the incredible anti-immigrant hostility that was pervasive in California at the time, which may be surprising to people because California is known as such a deep-blue state and kind of leads the charge against the Trump administration today. But in the ’90s, it was sort of ground zero, like a microcosm for what we’re seeing nationally today. There were unprecedented attacks on immigrants through a proposition called Prop 187, which, you know, targeted social services for children of undocumented migrants. It was later ruled unconstitutional. There was also attacks on bilingual education statewide. There were attacks on affirmative action.
And the Republican governor of California at the time, Pete Wilson, you know, was repeatedly railing against what he called the invasion at the border – the same language that you see Trump using today – and blaming all of the state’s fiscal problems on immigrants, you know, running these ads on television that I remember watching about how – you know, showing families coming across the border, and there’s this ominous narrator over the video saying, they keep coming.
And from my reporting, it became clear to me that Stephen Miller is truly a product of this environment. He was internalizing a lot of these white supremacist and racist narratives that were common in the state and acting them out, you know, in his high school.
-NPR’s Fresh Air
Important and necessary read–solid investigative reporting from former KPBS San Diego reporter and Emmy award winner Jean Guerrero.
“A vital book for understanding the still-unfolding nightmare of nationalism and racism in the 21st century.” –Francisco Cantu, author of The Line Becomes a River
‘Hatemonger’ Paints Trump Advisor Stephen Miller As A ‘Case Study In Radicalization’
Guerrero told The Times that Miller, unlike Bannon and others surrounding the president, is not an opportunist or self-promoter but “a true ideologue, a true fanatic.” Much has been made of the question of what motivates Miller, 35, whose prior experience consisted mostly of PR work for C-list lawmakers before leveraging a single-minded obsession with immigration into the office of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions — and then into speechwriting for Trump’s nascent 2016 presidential campaign.
Guerrero’s book is an exhaustive investigation into not just the how, but the why. She continues to brave threats of violence after conducting more than 100 interviews and researching the darkest corners of the American consciousness to unpack a strange (but not rare) phenomenon: the radicalization of a privileged young white man — though this one, the descendant of Jewish refugees, grew up in an increasingly diverse Southern California.
Guerrero spoke with The Times over the phone from her home in San Diego, a conversation edited for clarity and length. By her account, Miller was primed and groomed — starved for attention, yearning for belonging, and fighting what was, then, a lonely war.’
I honestly believe that the most important reason Miller has been able to stay so long and have such an outsize impact is that he is a true ideologue, a true fanatic. More than anyone else in the White House, he believes that he is actually saving the world through what he is doing. Strategically that has worked out for him — and Trump has found whenever he takes a more moderate line on immigration or anything, he ends up getting ridiculed as weak, which Trump hates.
…nowhere in the book do I call Miller racist or xenophobic, or anything like that. We don’t know what is in a person’s heart with absolute certainty. I grappled with that. Neutrality is necessary for journalistic integrity, an integral pillar of our democracy, and we absolutely need that, but also this reluctance we’ve had as journalists to use these words has created space for white supremacists to operate with impunity.
What I tried to do in the book is show what Miller is doing and saying, and the white supremacist sources, so that people can draw their own conclusions. I did not write this book to tell you that Miller hates anyone. I can say, with the confidence of my reporting, that he is fluent in hate and deliberately traffics in hate and communicates with people who hate.
I think Miller is always going to have allies in the nativist movement and the white nationalist movement, he’s always going to find a place. He is very ambitious. … He’s told people his ultimate goal is to become a senator, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran for office somewhere. But I don’t think he’s allowed himself to envision an alternate reality where Trump doesn’t win reelection.
I don’t think Miller and everything he represents is going to go away after November. He’s going to continue to rally people around his ideas, which are not just his ideas.
The thing with Bannon and Donald Trump is, they’re out to con people. … Miller is accountable for his own actions and responsible for everything he’s done, but he was indoctrinated at a very young age into this idea that he needed to save the United States from this imagined threat of Black and brown people.
Full LATimes interview with Jean Guerrero and reporter Molly O’Toole:
“If you want to bring in different perspectives, you’ll have a different culture & different environment that will lead you to make different decisions.”
James Bennet, recently resigned opinion editor for the NYTimes, representing collective White privilege patriarchy…father, Douglas Bennet, former NPR Director/Wesleyan University president and part of both the Carter & Clinton administrations, and brother, Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator and former U.S. Presidential candidate. -dayle
A copy of the December 23, 2018, edition of the New York Times.Robert Alexander/Getty Images
America is changing, and so is the media
The media has gone through painful periods of change before. But this time is different
There have always been boundaries around acceptable discourse, and the media has always been involved, in a complex and often unacknowledged way, in both enforcing and contesting them. In 1986, the media historian Daniel Hallin argued that journalists treat ideas as belonging to three spheres, each of which is governed by different rules of coverage. There’s the “sphere of consensus,” in which agreement is assumed. There’s the “sphere of deviance,” in which a view is considered universally repugnant, and it need not be entertained. And then, in the middle, is the “sphere of legitimate controversy,” wherein journalists are expected to cover all sides, and op-ed pages to represent all points of view.
The media’s week of reckoning
Last week, the New York Times op-ed section solicited and published an article by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) arguing that the US military should be deployed to “restore order to our streets.” The piece set off an internal revolt at the Times, with staffers coordinating pushback across Twitter, and led to the resignation of James Bennet, the editor of the op-ed section, and the reassignment of Jim Dao, the deputy editor.
That same week, Stan Wischnowski, the top editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, resigned after publishing an article by the paper’s architecture critic titled “Buildings Matter, Too.” David Boardman, the chair of the board that controls the Inquirer, said Wischnowski had done “remarkable” work but “leaves behind some decades-old, deep-seated and vitally important issues around diversity, equity and inclusion, issues that were not of his creation but that will likely benefit from a fresh approach.”
One interpretation of these events, favored by frustrated conservatives, is that a generation of young, woke journalists want to see the media remade along activist lines, while an older generation believes it must cover the news without fear and favor, and reflect, at the very least, the full range of views held by those in power.
“The New York Times motto is ‘all the news that’s fit to print,’” wrote the Times’s Bari Weiss. “One group emphasizes the word ‘all.’ The other, the word ‘fit.’”
Another interpretation is that the range of acceptable views isn’t narrowing so much as it’s shifting. Two decades ago, an article like Cotton’s could easily be published, an essay arguing for abolishing prisons or police would languish in the submissions pile, and a slogan like “Black Lives Matter” would be controversial. Today, Black Lives Matter is in the sphere of consensus, abolishing prisons is in legitimate controversy, and there’s a fight to move Cotton’s proposal to deploy troops against US citizens into deviance. The idea space is just as large as it’s been in the past — perhaps larger — but it is in flux, and the fight to define its boundaries is more visible.
“Those are political decisions,” says Charles Whitaker, dean of the Medill School of Journalism. “They are absolutely governed by politics — either our desire to highlight certain political views or not highlight them, or to create this impression that we’re just a marketplace of ideas.”
The media is changing because the world is changing
- First, business models built around secure local advertising monopolies collapsed into the all-against-all war for national, even global, attention that defines digital media.
- Second, the nationalization of news has changed the nature of the audience. The local business model was predicated on dominating coverage of a certain place; the national business model is about securing the loyalties of a certain kind of person.
- Third, America is in a moment of rapid demographic and generational change. Millennials are now the largest generation, and they are far more diverse and liberal than the generations that preceded them.
- Fourth, the rise of social media empowered not just the audience but, crucially, individual journalists, who now have the capacity to question their employer publicly, and alchemize staff and public discontent into a public crisis that publishers can’t ignore.
The media prefers to change in private. Now it’s changing in public.
The news media likes to pretend that it simply holds up a mirror to America as it is. We don’t want to be seen as actors crafting the political debate, agents who make decisions that shape the boundaries of the national discourse. We are, of course. We always have been.
“When you think in terms of these three spheres — sphere of consensus, of legitimate debate, and of deviancy — a new way of describing the role for journalism emerges, which is: They police what goes in which sphere,” says Jay Rosen, who teaches journalism at NYU. “That’s an ideological action they never took responsibility for, never really admitted they did, never had a language for talking about.”
“Organizations that have embraced the mantra that they need to diversify have not as quickly realized that diversifying means they have to be a fundamentally different place,” says Jelani Cobb, the Ira A. Lipman professor at the Columbia Journalism School and a staff writer at the New Yorker. “If you want to bring in different perspectives, you’ll have a different culture and different environment that will lead you to make different decisions.”
“American view-from-nowhere, ‘objectivity’-obsessed, both-sides journalism is a failed experiment. “We need to rebuild our industry as one that operates from a place of moral clarity.”
-Wesley Lowery, journalist
‘The problem is that they don’t seem to be naming the rise of racialized authoritarianism; the media’s responsibility above all (is to) sound the alarm—boost that signal — it must tell the real story of what’s going on — before it is too late.’
The Tom Cotton op-ed affair shows why the media must defend America’s values
It cannot remain neutral when those values are under threat from racialized authoritarianism.
‘The media must begin to assert some agency over the stories it covers and how it covers them, based on its own values. In discussing journalistic objectivity, Rosen agrees that the media’s work should not be politicized, i.e., produced expressly to help one party/candidate or another.
On the other hand, he says, media cannot help but be political. Modern journalism was meant to play a political role, to expose the truth and hold politicians accountable to the small-l liberal values that make liberal democracy possible. It cannot remain neutral when those values are under threat. Like other institutions — science, the academy, and the US government itself — its very purpose is to both exemplify and defend those values. Its work is impossible without them.
The press should always be fair in the application of its values and standards, but doing so will mean making clear when there is an asymmetry.
The American public, by and large, does not understand this asymmetry and its implications. They do not understand that right-wing authoritarianism is perilously close to toppling US democracy because they are not able to pick that signal out of the noise of daily “balanced” news coverage, wherein everything is just another competing claim, just another good-faith argument to hash out through competing op-eds.
Even in the face of the inevitable pressure campaign from the right, even amid an information environment chocked with conspiracies and nonsense, the press must boost that signal — it must tell the real story of what’s going on — before it is too late.’
The stark front page of today’s New York Times, plus three inside pages, consist of two-line obituaries for 1,000 of the nearly 100,000 Americans who have died of coronavirus — 1% of the toll.
[Note: if the NYTimes had published all the names, not just the 1% of the 100,000, they would have had to punish 100 separate newspaper editions.]
A huge team at The Times drew the accounts “from hundreds of obituaries, news articles and paid death notices that have appeared in newspapers and digital media over the past few months.”
Marc Lacey, national editor, said: “I wanted something that people would look back on in 100 years to understand the toll of what we’re living through.”
Cornelia Ann Hunt, 87, Virginia Beach, her last words were “thank you.”
Restaurant Chains Took Loans Meant for Small Businesses. Will Radio Conglomerates Do the Same?
Watchdog groups fear that language in a new stimulus bill could allow individual stations owned by large companies to “masquerade” as small businesses — and take all the money
The National Association of Broadcasters, a lobbying group that represents modest radio groups as well as the massive chains — including iHeartMedia (around 850 stations), Townsquare Media (around 320 stations), and Entercom (more than 235 stations) — cheered the Heroes Act. “Hometown broadcasters and community newspapers are providing vital news and information during these unprecedented times to keep families and communities safe, while struggling with record advertising revenue losses,” the NAB wrote in a statement on Tuesday. “Broadcasters look forward to working with all Members of Congress to ensure that such legislative language is swiftly enacted.”
But other organizations said the bill’s language undercuts its original intent: to help small businesses. On Tuesday, Craig Aaron, Co-CEO of the media advocacy group Free Press Action, expressed fear that, “as written, this legislation would benefit the biggest chains at the expense of their smaller competitors and other struggling businesses.”
The American Association of Independent Music, which counts more than 700 independent labels as members, also came out against the bill’s current language on Thursday. “It would be a travesty if these large radio conglomerates were able to get money out of the next tranche of PPP forgivable loans,” says Richard James Burgess, the head of A2IM. The big radio companies “are masquerading as small businesses, but they’re gigantic conglomerates.”
Radio conglomerates claim they need these loans to maintain a local presence. But others argue that these conglomerates have never been less interested in being local than they are now. “These are companies that have gone and gutted their payrolls, dumped local talent, and replaced them with robot DJs,” Aaron says. “We’ve gotten so far from local owners that radio is almost unrecognizable now,” Karen Slade, vice president and general manager of the independently owned KJLH in Los Angeles, told Rolling Stone last year.
To recap: The NAB is asking Congress to give radio conglomerates money, supposedly to support their local programming. At the same time, it’s pushing the FCC to jettison ownership rules, which, many worry, will cement radio’s decades-long turn away from local programming.
That’s why small radio chains should absolutely benefit from the latest edition of the PPP. But they — and other mom-and-pop businesses — may be unable to benefit at all if conglomerates end up with all the money.
Pulitzers honor Ida B. Wells, an early pioneer of investigative journalism and civil rights icon
In granting a posthumous citation to Ida B. Wells, the Pulitzer Prizes honors one of America’s earliest and most intrepid investigative reporters.
Ida B. Wells was born a slave in Mississippi in 1862. She became and a writer and publisher who crusaded against lynching and for civil rights in the deep South after the Civil War. It was death-defying work for a black woman, who spent months journeying through the Southern states, investigating the lynchings of black men through records research and in-person interviews — a process that laid the groundwork for modern investigative techniques.
At 30, and as the co-owner and editor for The Memphis Free Speech and Headlight, Wells took on that most famous work, attempting to investigate the trope that lynchings usually followed the rape of white women by black men. She discovered, of course, that this was patently false: “Nobody in this section of the country believes the threadbare old lie that Negro men rape white women,” Wells wrote. Instead, she wrote, the horrible violence — and threat of that violence — were simply a means for white citizens to terrorize and oppress African Americans. Her writing was published across the United States and abroad, and included the pamphlets-turned-books “Southern Horrors” and “The Red Record.”
She continued her career as a journalist and advocate for civil rights, even after her life was threatened and she was forced to flee Memphis, her newspaper offices plundered and her presses destroyed. She is considered one of the founders of the NAACP and her later advocacy included organizing boycotts, the suffrage movement and anti-segregation activism.
She died in Chicago in 1931 of kidney disease. She was 68.
Most recently, The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, established in 2016, is “a news trade organization dedicated to increasing and retaining reporters and editors of color in the field of investigative reporting.” It was founded by journalists Ron Nixon, Topher Sanders and Nikole Hannah-Jones, who also was named a Pulitzer winner today.
The citation comes with a bequest of $50,000, said Dana Canedy, Pulitzer administrator, with details to come.
Constructive News Institute
“This is a breakthrough: For the first time future journalism students are being tested in constructive storytelling. At Danish @cfjsdu applicants had to reflect on CoJo as part of the test to enter our profession. Thanks.”
Newseum, Washington DC, November 2019
May 3, 2020
The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today issued the following statement on World Press Freedom Day:
“Today, on World Press Freedom Day, we reflect on the crucial work of journalists in Canada and around the world. We also honour the dedicated journalists who have lost their liberty or their lives while in pursuit of the truth.
“The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is ‘Journalism without Fear or Favour’. It reinforces the fact that press freedom cannot be achieved unless journalists can work safely, free from censorship, intimidation, and violence. When journalists and other media workers cannot investigate and report without interference, the public is deprived of reliable, accurate information and the foundation of our democracies starts to erode.
“Freedom of expression and access to information are vitally important, even more so during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Journalists are working tirelessly on the front lines, at home, and abroad to report on a rapidly evolving global health crisis. But they are doing much more than that: they are keeping us informed and helping us stay safe.
“A free-thinking, independent, and respected media is the cornerstone of any democracy. One cannot exist without the other. That is why Canada continues to defend press freedom and condemn all attempts to stifle the press. It is also why, together with other members of the Media Freedom Coalition, Canada calls on all states to protect access to free media and support the free exchange of information during this pandemic.
“Today, we recognize all the journalists and media workers who start conversations, shine light on stories that would otherwise not be told, expose injustices, and hold the powerful to account – often at great personal risk. They are a vital part of all healthy democracies and, through their work, they spur change and increased transparency that benefit all of us.”
AMID PANDEMIC, PEN AMERICA URGES STATE OFFICIALS TO SUPPORT LOCAL JOURNALISM
PEN America joins with Free Press and Common Cause in nationwide letter campaign urging more support for local press
(New York, NY) – PEN America today led a coalition of local news and press freedom organizations to send letters to governors in all 50 states, as well as the mayor of Washington D.C., urging government leaders to include emergency funding for local news in their coronavirus relief efforts.
PEN America led the coalition effort, alongside Free Press and Common Cause, and it builds on PEN America’s advocacy on Capitol Hill urging Congress to include coronavirus stimulus funds for local news. Forty states have recognized the news media as an essential service, and the coalition urges all governors and political leaders to provide emergency coronavirus funds at the state-level to help bolster the industry at a time when local outlets are suffering financially.
“Local news outlets, ranging from state- to city- and community-level media organizations, are necessary partners in meeting the crucial information needs of people in the United States — especially during today’s public health and economic crises,” the letters read.
“However, COVID-19’s devastating economic impact on local news outlets is threatening their ability to function at all. Over the past two weeks, in the face of plummeting ad revenue, dozens of local publications across the country — from the largest chains to successful nonprofit and community outlets to tribal media and family-owned newspapers — have furloughed or laid off their reporters, reduced their publication frequency, or dropped their print editions altogether. In an industry that employs more than 80,000 people nationwide, many outlets are now struggling to cover even half of their reporters’ salaries, with newsroom layoffs increasing across the country.”
The 51 letters say that local news is essential to informing communities, and especially to informing vulnerable populations likely to be affected by the pandemic. This includes people of color as well as people living in low income communities. For instance, a local news outlet in California responded to listener demand by shifting its reporting to cover the coronavirus and broadcasting in Spanish to better serve the immigrant population.
“As local reporters and outlets have stepped up to provide credible and critical information to communities during the pandemic, so too must state leaders rise to the occasion to support these essential services,” said Nora Benavidez, PEN America’s director of U.S. free expression programs.
“Local news is not a luxury, it is a public good. We urge state governments to act immediately to provide an immediate lifeline to local media.”
In 2019, PEN America released the report “Losing the News” which laid out the vital role played by local news for communities and for democracy, and called for a significant public and private investment in local news, as well as guarantees to ensure editorial independence. Learn more about PEN America’s advocacy effortsto support local news and the group’s spotlight series on journalists covering the pandemic.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.
‘Without empathy, journalism is lost.’ -Glen Scanlon
‘We were looking the wrong way. We had failed and were starting from scratch – trying to build relationships in the most awful circumstances.
All great journalism is about connecting with people, telling their stories with due respect and care. Great journalism and leadership needs empathy.’
‘This is the first, and incredibly important, place to help set the tone of our coverage, to talk about respect for the victims, supporting our teams and ensuring they are safe. To emphasise what I expect from our senior leaders, how they work together and with our people. You can’t show empathy without taking the time to understand what others are going through.
In these situations, leaders need to bring calm and consistency when all feels unstable.
Leaders need to ensure people have the support and room to do their work. Forget about what other media outlets are doing. Tell your staff this too. Have the strength to focus on what your people need and the stories you are trying to tell. If you’re slipping into the habits of ‘journalism at any cost’ you, the victims and their stories all lose.
This kind of coverage has an impact on everyone. You should be encouraging the sharing of emotion. Don’t be scared of people’s vulnerability – embrace it and your own. We took the practical step of immediately setting up counselling for staff. At times like this, trust comes from being empathetic.
Ultimately, you need to talk about values, not just the nuts and bolts of coverage. They give shape to everything. Our mantra was clear – it’s about the people. They are us.’
So everyday we split our resources into different groups – people are given time to build relationships and follow unique angles; some are on the daily round of important official announcements; others research deeper angles at a national level and build new material.
“What worked really well was the relentless focus on reporters’ welfare and that constant focus on telling the stories of the victims. It was like a mantra when people were tired; tell the stories of people involved. It was simple and true and decent and right. And we all tried to follow it.”
“For about a month we were regularly reminded to get support and sing out if we were struggling, but then people started moving on.
“The main thing companies can do for reporters covering trauma is to foster a safe environment for open kōrero [to tell, say, speak, read, talk, address] about how they’re feeling. It’s isolating enough having to report on such an event (you return to your normal life and no one quite understands what you’re up against) so it’s important to feel like it’s safe to reach out to your colleagues, speak about your mental health and ask for help when you need it.’
‘A famous journalism quote says our work is about speaking truth to power. I don’t believe this is enough.
We need to better represent the under-represented. We also need people from these communities to be encouraged into journalism.
The current Covid-19 crisis is a perfect example. Those with the least voice will suffer the most.’
‘Journalism faces an extinction event.’ If you value democracy, please buy a paper today or subscribe to a news organisation. We are an industry that has been battling for years but COVID-19 is an existential threat to independent journalism everywhere.’
-Carole Cadwalladr, The Guardian & The Observer
Facing a possible “extinction event” for independent media worldwide, journalists must work together globally to combat a triple threat of disinformation, government restrictions and economic calamity worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, three top editors said during an ICFJ webinar Friday.
Maria Ressa, the founder of Rappler in the Philippines, said that although her outlet is in a comparatively secure financial position, many other news organizations globally are at risk of collapse. And the result could be that many citizens might not be able to count on independent media to continue to provide factual information free of government control once the shock waves of the pandemic have subsided.
-The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ)
The Sandpoint Reader in Sandpoint, Idaho, was forced to lay off most of its staff after it lost advertising revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Mountain West News Bureau
Newspapers Face Existential Question: How To Cover The Pandemic When There’s No Money?
By Nate Hegyi
Ben Olson is exhausted.
‘Olson appears close to burning out, trying to keep his readers up-to-date with the latest COVID-19 news. The region has dozens of confirmed cases and, like the rest of the country, that number is growing. But at the same time, the number of reporters and staff at the Reader has shrunk – from four down to just one: Olson.
“I want to get my staff back to work because, number one, they’re like my family and I feel responsible for them,” he says. “But number two – I just cannot handle this by myself.”
Olson had to lay off his staff after local restaurants and bars shut down in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Those businesses often advertised events in the Sandpoint Reader’scalendar. But no events mean no money.
“I realized very quickly that I would probably make one or possibly two more payroll cycles and then I would be completely bankrupt,” he says.
It’s a problem that’s reverberating throughout the Mountain West’s media landscape. The COVID-19 pandemic is deepening the cracks and fissures in a centuries-old business model, one that traditional newspapers and alternative weeklies still rely on.
There are no journalists without robust advertising dollars to pay for them, and money from subscription and circulation revenues can only go so far – they often cover less than half of a newspaper’s expenses.
“This is a real disaster for media that are supported by advertising in general,” says Ben Smith, a media columnist for the New York Times who recently wrote an op-ed titled “Bail Out Journalists. Let Newspaper Chains Die.”
He points out that many traditional newspaper chains were on life support before the pandemic – they’ve been cutting costs by shutting down papers and laying off staff. COVID-19 just sped up the clock and Smith doesn’t expect a happy ending.
“I think we’re going to wind up with fewer journalists next year than this year, just as it has been for the past several years,” he says.
“I think there is an increasing recognition that journalism is a public service,” he says. “It’s a utility like water or electricity, in terms of keeping a community going and is an appropriate outlet for philanthropy.”
It’s a business model that has been adopted by an increasing number of news outlets across the Mountain West. Late last year, The Salt Lake Tribune became the first legacy newspaper to transform itself into a nonprofit organization. Montana Free Press embraced the nonprofit model when it launched a few years ago.
“Most of our revenue comes from members who donate to us like they would to public radio,” says John S. Adams, editor-in-chief of Montana Free Press.
Currently the outlet is doing well financially, he says. They’ve seen skyrocketing readership and an uptick in donations during the pandemic.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico and with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Professor Jay Rosen, NYU:
“The battle to prevent Americans from understanding what went down January to April is going to be one of the biggest propaganda and freedom of information fights in modern U.S. history. Data erasure and the manufacture of mass confusion have already begun.”
OfficialCounts Understate the U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll
[click photo to follow story link]
More than 9,400 people with the coronavirus have been reported to have died in this country as of this weekend, but hospital officials, doctors, public health experts and medical examiners say that official counts have failed to capture the true number of Americans dying in this pandemic. The undercount is a result of inconsistent protocols, limited resources and a patchwork of decision-making from one state or county to the next.
Early in the U.S. outbreak, virus-linked deaths may have been overlooked, hospital officials said. A late start to coronavirus testing hampered hospitals’ ability to detect the infection among patients with flulike symptoms in February and early March. Doctors at several hospitals reported treating pneumonia patients who eventually died before testing was available.
Every pandemic in history has been followed by a cultural and social blossoming. This one can too, but only if we use this time to reflect on what that blossoming might look like. In the midst of the darkness that’s our slice of light.
From Journalists and Teachers of Journalism
“Americans consistently rate the Fox News Channel as one of the most trusted TV channels. The average age of Fox News viewers is 65. It is well established that this population incurs the greatest risk from the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, Fox News viewers are at special risk from the coronavirus.
But viewers of Fox News, including the president of the United States, have been regularly subjected to misinformation relayed by the network — false statements downplaying the prevalence of COVID-19 and its harms; misleading recommendations of activities that people should undertake to protect themselves and others, including casual recommendations of untested drugs; false assessments of the value of measures urged upon the public by their elected political leadership and public health authorities.
The misinformation that reaches the Fox News audience is a danger to public health. Indeed, it is not an overstatement to say that your misreporting endangers your own viewers — and not only them, for in a pandemic, individual behavior affects significant numbers of other people as well.
Yet by commission as well as omission — direct, uncontested misinformation as well as failure to report the true dimensions of the crisis — Fox News has been derelict in its duty to provide clear and accurate information about COVID-19. As the virus spread across the world, Fox News hosts and guests minimized the dangers, accusing Democrats and the media of inflating the dangers (in Sean Hannity’s words) to “bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.” Such commentary encouraged President Trump to trivialize the threat and helped obstruct national, state, and local efforts to limit the coronavirus.
The network’s delinquency was effective. According to a YouGov/Economist poll conducted March 15–17, Americans who pay the most attention to Fox News are much less likely than others to say they are worried about the coronavirus. A Pew Research poll found that 79% of Fox News viewers surveyed believed the media had exaggerated the risks of the virus. 63% of Fox viewers said they believed the virus posed a minor threat to the health of the country. As recently as Sunday, March 22, Fox News host Steve Hilton deplored accurate views of the pandemic, which he attributed to “our ruling class and their TV mouthpieces — whipping up fear over this virus.”
Fox News reporters have done some solid reporting. And the network has recently given some screen time to medical and public health professionals. But Fox News does not clearly distinguish between the authority that should accrue to trained experts, on the one hand, and the authority viewers grant to pundits and politicians for reasons of ideological loyalty. There is a tendency to accept (or reject) them all indiscriminately, for after all, they are talking heads who appear on Fox News, a trusted source of news. When the statements of knowledgeable experts are surrounded by false claims made by pundits and politicians, including President Trump — claims that are not rebutted by knowledgeable people in real time — the overall effect is to mislead a vulnerable public about risks and harms. Misinformation furthers the reach and the dangers of the pandemic. For example, the day after Tucker Carlson touted a flimsy French study on the use of two drugs to treat COVID-19, President Trump touted “very, very encouraging early results” from those drugs, and promoted a third as a possible “game changer.”
The basic purpose of news organizations is to discover and tell the truth. This is especially necessary, and obvious, amid a public health crisis. Television bears a particular responsibility because even more millions than usual look there for reliable information.
Inexcusably, Fox News has violated elementary canons of journalism. In so doing, it has contributed to the spread of a grave pandemic. Urgently, therefore, in the name of both good journalism and public health, we call upon you to help protect the lives of all Americans — including your elderly viewers — by ensuring that the information you deliver is based on scientific facts.”
(If you are a journalist or teacher of journalism and would like to add your name, click here.)
Todd Gitlin, Professor, Chair, Ph. D. Program in Communications, Columbia Journalism School
Mark Feldstein, Eaton Chair of Broadcast Journalism, University of Maryland
Frances FitzGerald, Pulitzer Prize-winning author
Adam Hochschild, Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley
Edward Wasserman, Dean, Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley
Lisa R. Cohen; Columbia Journalism School
Gerald Johnson, Texas Student Media
Susan Moeller, Professor, Merrill College of Journalism, UMD, College Park
Maurine Beasley, University of Maryland College Park
Michael Deas, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University
Ivan Meyers, Medill School at Northwestern University
Helen Benedict, Professor, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University
Hendrik Hertzberg, longtime staff writer and editor, The New Yorker
Lewis Friedland, Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Com, UW-Madison
Dr. Tom Mascaro, Ph.D. Bowling Green State University, School of Media & Communication
Tom Bettag, Visiting Fellow, University of Maryland
Betty H Winfield University of Missouri Curators’ Professor Emerita
Frank D. Durham, University of Iowa
Dennis Darling Professor, School of Journalism, The University of Texas at Austin
Jonathan Weiner, Maxwell M. Geffen Professor of Medical and Scientific Journalism Columbia Journalism School
Ari L. Goldman, professor, Columba University Graduate School of Journalism
Jennifer Kahn, Narrative Program Lead, Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley
Meenakshi Gigi Durham, Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Iowa
Deirdre English, Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley
Rosental C Alves, University of Texas at Austin
Pauline Dakin, Ass. Professor, University of King’s College, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Nina Alvarez, Assistant Professor, Columbia Journalism School
Travis Vogan, University of Iowa
Ali Noor Mohamed, United Arab Emirates University
Linda Steiner, Acting Director, Ph.D. Studies; Professor, Phillip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland, College Park
Lucas Graves, School of Journalism & Mass Communication, UW — Madison
Anna Everett, Professor Emeritus, University of California, Santa Barbara
Richard Appelbaum, Fielding Graduate University; UCSB Emeritus
Tom Collinger, Northwestern University, Medill School of Journalism
Wenhong Chen, Founding Co-director, Center for Entertainment and Media Industries Associate Professor ofMedia Studies and Sociology, Moody College of Communication The University of Texas at Austin
LynNell Hancock, Professor, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
Donna DeCesare, Associate Professor, School of Journalism, University of Texas at Austin
Barbie Zelizer, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania
Michael Murray, UM Curators Distinguished Professor Emeritus, UM-St. Louis
Michael Schudson, Columbia University
Martin Kaplan, Norman Lear Chair in Entertainment, Media and Society, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Brian Ekdale, University of Iowa
Gina Masullo, University of Texas at Austin
Krishnan Vasudevan, Assistant Professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland at College Park
Harold Evans, former editor Sunday Times and The Times, London
Chuck Howell, Librarian for Journalism & Communication Studies, University of Maryland
Clarke L. Caywood Ph.D, Professor Medill School of Journalism Media Integrated Marketing Communications
Andie Tucher, Director, PhD program in Communications, Columbia Journalism School
Kalyani Chadha, Associate Professor, University of Maryland
Denis P. Gorman, Freelance Journalist
Jon Marshall, Northwestern University
Kevin Lerner, Marist College
Joel Whitebook, Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research
Abe Peck, Prof. Emeritus in Service, Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, Northwestern University
Carrie Lozano, Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley
Susie Linfield, Dept of Journalism, New York University
Charles Berret, University of British Columbia
Jay Rosen, Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, New York University
Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, Professor of Journalism, The University of Texas at Austin
Joseph Straubhaar, Professor, School of Journalism, University of Texas, Austin
Edward C Malthouse, Haven Professor, Medill School of Journalism, Media and IMC, Northwestern University
Mitchell Stephens, Professor of Journalism, New York University
Patricia Loew, Ph.D. Professor, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University
Richard Fine, Professor of English, Virginia Commonwealth University
John E. Newhagen Associate Prof. Emeritus University of Marylans
Caryn Ward, Northwestern University, Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing and Communication
David Hajdu, Professor, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism
Naeemul Hassan, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland
Stephen D. Reese, School of Journalism & Media, U of Texas at Austin
Kevin Klose, Professor, University of Maryland
John Vivian, Winona State University
Sue Robinson, Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Thomas P. Oates, University of Iowa
Samuel Freedman, Columbia Journalism School
Susan Mango Curtis, Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University
Prof. Robert S. Boynton, Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU
Leonard Steinhorn, Professor of Communication and Affiliate Professor of History, American University
J.A. Adande, Medill School, Northwestern
Victor Pickard, University of Pennsylvania
Summer Harlow, Assistant Professor, University of Houston
Danielle K. Kilgo, Ph.D., Indiana University
Jack Doppelt, Northwestern University
Gerry Lanosga, The Media School, Indiana University
Martin Riedl, PhD Candidate, School of Journalism, The University of Texas at Austin
Rich Shumate, School of Media, Western Kentucky University
Mac McKerral, School of Media, Western Kentucky University
Mel Coffee, University of Maryland
David J. Vergobbi, University of Utah
Tom Boll, part-time instructor, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University
Dannagal G. Young, Associate Professor of Communication and Political Science, University of Delaware
Ken Light, Reva and David Logan Professor of Photojournalism, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
George Harmon, emeritus faculty, Medill School of Journalism
Rachel Young, University of Iowa
Carol M. Liebler, Professor, Newhouse School, Syracuse University
Kyu Ho Youm, University of Oregon
Julianne H Newton, University of Oregon
Bethany Swain, University of Maryland
Gi Woong Yun, Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno
Thomas E. Winski, MJE Retired Assistant Professor of Journalism, Emporia State University
Roy L Moore, Professor (retired), Middle TN State University
Ira Chinoy, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland
Jay Edwin Gillette, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Information and Communication Sciences Center for Information and Communication Sciences, Ball State University
Michael Anderson, retired journalist
Kimberley Shoaf, Professor of Public Health, University of Utah
Erica Ciszek, University of Texas at Austin
Daniel C. Hallin, University of California, San Diego
Keith W. Strandberg, Webster University, Geneva
Sophie Furley, Editor
Frank Sesno, Director, George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs
Timothy V. Klein, Louisiana State University
*Affiliations listed for identification only.
‘Like many in business, trusted news organizations are being hit hard by this pandemic. If you can, please consider subscribing to your local paper or contributing to a VT news organization. You deserve transparency and the truth, and they work hard to keep you informed.
-Vermont Governor Phil Scott
“Abandon most for-profit local newspapers, whose business model no longer works, and move as fast as possible to a national network of nimble new online newsrooms. That way, we can rescue the only thing worth saving… the journalists.”
Bail Out Journalists. Let Newspaper Chains Die.
The coronavirus is likely to hasten the end of advertising-driven media, our columnist writes. And government should not rescue it.
“There’s all this ‘doom and gloom for local journalism stories’ that have happened in the last week or so, and I hope that other people see what we’re doing and understand that the important thing is the journalism — it’s the stories, it’s the investigations — that’s what matters,” Ken Ward said. He will also be on the staff of the nonprofit investigative powerhouse ProPublica and will have support from Report for America, another growing nonprofit organization that sends young reporters to newsrooms around the country.
The news business, like every business, is looking for all the help it can get in this crisis. Analysts believe that the new federal aid package will help for a time and that the industry has a strong case to make. State governments have deemed journalism an essential service to spread public health information. Reporters employed by everyone from the worthiest nonprofit group to the most cynical hedge fund-owned chain are risking their lives to get their readers solid facts on the pandemic, and are holding the government accountable for its failures. Virtually every news outlet reports that readership is at an all-time high. We all need to know, urgently, about where and how the coronavirus is affecting our cities and towns and neighborhoods.
So what comes next? That decision will be made in the next few months — by public officials, philanthropists, and other tech companies, and people like you.
The right decision is to consistently look to the future, which comes in a few forms. The most promising right now is Ms. Green’s dream of a big new network of nonprofit news organizations across the country on the model o The Texas Tribune, which Mr. Thornton co-founded. There are also a handful of local for-profit news outlets, like The Seattle Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Boston Globe, with rich and civic-minded owners, and The Philadelphia Inquirer, which is owned by the non-profit Lenfest Institute for Journalism. And there is a generation of small, independent membership or subscription sites and newsletters like Berkeleyside.
Elizabeth Green, a founder of Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization reporting on education issues, in Washington, D.C.
The High Schooler Who Became a COVID-19 Watchdog
The New Yorker
by Brent Crane
In December, DT said, “We have a problem that, a month ago, nobody thought about.” Well, somebody did. On December 29th, as DT vacationed with his family at Mar-a-Lago, Avi Schiffmann, a seventeen-year-old from Washington State, launched a homemade Web site to track the movement of the coronavirus. Since then, the site, ncov2019.live, has had more than a hundred million visitors. “I wanted to just make the data easily accessible, but I never thought it would end up being this big,” the high-school junior said last week over FaceTime. Schiffmann, gap-toothed and bespectacled, was sitting on his bed wearing a blue T-shirt and baggy pajama bottoms. It was late morning. He was at his mother’s house, on Mercer Island, outside Seattle.
Using a coding tactic known as “web-scraping,” Schiffmann’s site collates data from different sources around the globe—the W.H.O., the C.D.C., Yonhap News Agency in South Korea—and displays the latest number of covid-19 cases. It features simple graphics and easy-to-read tables divided by nation, continent, and state. Data automatically updates every minute. In a politicized pandemic, where rumor and panic run amok, the site has become a reputable, if unlikely, watchdog.
He began teaching himself to code when he was seven, mainly by watching YouTube videos, and has made more than thirty Web sites. “Programming is a great creative medium,” he said. “Instead of using a paintbrush or something, you can just type a bunch of funky words and make a coronavirus site.” One of his first projects, in elementary school, was what he calls “a stick-figure animation hub.” Later sites collated the scores for his county’s high-school sports games, aggregated news of global protests, and displayed the weather forecast on Mars. “His brain is constantly going from one thing to another, which is good, but I also try to focus him in,” his mother, Nathalie Acher, said. “I’m not techy at all myself. I see it as just really boring. He sees it as an art form.”
Schiffmann took the virus threat seriously before many others did. “I’ve been kind of concerned for a while, because I watched it spread very fast, and around the entire world. I mean, it just kind of went everywhere.” He took his own precautions. “I got masks a while ago. I got, like, fifteen for seventeen dollars. Now you can’t even buy a single mask for, like, less than forty.” His mother chimed in. “I wish I had listened to him,” she said. “But, in his teen-ager way, he’d come down the stairs with his eyes huge and be, like, ‘There are fifty thousand more cases!’ and I’d be, like, ‘Yeah, but they’re over there, not here.’ ”
Her son is a C student.
Now that the grownups of the world are finally, and appropriately, freaking out, it is hard for Schiffmann not to feel righteous vindication. “If you told someone three months ago that we should spend, like, ten billion dollars in upgrading the United States’ health care, they would have been, like, ‘Nah,’ ” he said. “Now, everyone’s, like, ‘Oh, my God, yes.’ But this is the kind of stuff we should have done a long time ago.”
Young people give me so much hope. ❥ -dayle
From the editor: As we face the coronavirus challenge together, thank you for your support
While the region mobilizes to respond to the spread of COVID-19, I want to take a moment to thank you for your support. So many of you have reached out to me and our news staff with your tips, questions and gratitude for our coronavirus coverage. We have been working hard to bring you the most current, factual information on this quickly evolving crisis.
It’s been two astonishing weeks — for all of you, and for all of us.
In my 35 years as a journalist, I can say I’ve never felt so keenly the importance of local journalism to our community. And in my 27 years at The Seattle Times, I’ve never seen the entire company rally behind our mission the way we are now.
We are working at a breakneck pace to report rapidly changing news developments such as closures, new cases and travel restrictions. We are asking tough questions to hold officials accountable, while also telling of the extreme challenges they face. We’re capturing moments of heart-wrenching struggle and uplifting acts of kindness.
And we are intently focused on providing you with the resources you need to navigate this unsettling time: things like tips for keeping your home virus-free, and this detailed graphic explaining how the virus takes hold and the steps you can take to stay safe.
Many of you have asked what we’re doing to safeguard the health of our staff and the public.
While we don’t pretend to have all the answers — no one does — we’re doing our best. For the first time ever, every newsroom employee is working remotely from home, as are all company employees who are able to do so.
For those who must go out to do their jobs, we are taking extra precautions.
We’ve told all Times employees, including our reporters, photographers and video journalists, to avoid areas where someone has tested positive for COVID-19, and we’ve shared public health guidelines such as keeping a distance of 6 feet or more from people whenever possible. We opted not to provide masks, after health officials advised against their use for healthy people. But we have provided hand sanitizer and have bought special protective gear for those who need it to report from inside hospitals or other high-risk places.
For our operations and circulation staff, as well as our carriers — who don’t have the option of working from home — we are taking every step we can to safeguard their health.
Our staff is fueled by your support. The kind notes, calls and social media messages we are receiving each day have kept us going at moments when we’ve felt exhausted, worried or discouraged.
We’re also heartened to see how many people are coming to us to stay informed. Readership of our website has been triple our normal volume — even 10 times the volume at key breaking-news moments. And despite the fact that we’ve made our coronavirus stories free as a public service, this coverage has drawn new subscribers at record levels.
That’s critical, especially given the fact that while the world feels changed, the economic challenges facing the news business remain the same. If you don’t already subscribe but want us to continue fulfilling the critical role of informing you, please consider joining us in this mission by subscribing. You can do so at seattletimes.com/subscribe or by calling 206-464-2121 or 800-542-0820.
As we head into uncertain times, here are some free useful resources to keep handy:
- Our daily live updates. You can find these on seattletimes.com each morning with need-to-know breaking news and information updated throughout the day.
- A visual guide outlining facts about COVID-19 and precautions on how to stay healthy.
- And a page where you can find all of our reporting on this topic, with the latest coverage at the top.
Additionally, if you have news tips, story ideas or feedback on any of our coverage, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For all of us, living in this new reality means adapting very suddenly to new routines. We’ve certainly felt that ourselves, and unlike with many big news stories we cover, we are experiencing this one right along with the people we’re writing about.
In fact, that’s one positive side effect of this pandemic: We’re becoming more empathetic by the day, and we see you doing the same.
I’d love to hear from you if you have thoughts or questions for me personally. Feel free to write me at email@example.com.
On behalf of all of us at The Times, I share our deep appreciation for your continued support of us, and of local journalism.
From Don Day in Boise. Don has been covering news in Boise for 20 years. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.
‘All eligible editorial staff in the Idaho Statesman newsroom intend to for a union, the group said Monday.
In a letter signed by 16 non-management members of the Statesman’s news staff, the journalists said the intent of the union is to “preserve Idaho news and give our staff a seat at the table.”
Each of the members signed a mission statement and said they delivered it to Statesman publisher Rusty Dodge’s assistant.
The union hopes McClatchy, which owns the Statesman, will voluntarily recognize the organizing effort. Several other McClatchy papers, including the company’s flagship Sacramento Bee, use union labor. If not, the group says it will vote in the next several weeks to form a union among eligible employees. The NewsGuild, part of the Communications Workers of America, will represent the Idaho News Guild, as the group calls itself.
A message to Dodge seeking comment was forwarded to McClatchy’s corporate PR department. A spokesperson did not respond to specific questions, but did provide a statement:
“The Idaho Statesman and McClatchy are reviewing a letter from our journalists in Boise sharing their intention to form a union. We appreciate the right of our journalists to be represented by the News Guild-CWA and will consider their request and respond shortly.”
McClatchy, which entered bankruptcy protection last month, repeatedly cut the newsgathering capabilities of the capital city’s oldest news organization. It faces pressure for a severe downturn in print advertising revenue, plus intense competition for digital advertising from Google and Facebook. The company in recent years aggressively turned to build a stronger digital subscription business to stem the losses.
Idaho is a so-called “right-to-work state,” which means a union can’t require employees to join or pay dues in order to get a job. If McClatchy recognizes the union, or a vote to form proves successful, the guild could gain collective bargaining rights over issues like wages, healthcare costs, and other labor issues.’
Idaho News Guild:
Thus far, our union has unanimous support from our 16 eligible members. Each of us signed our mission statement, which we delivered to our publisher today.
Maintaining public media infrastructure should be non-negotiable for a democratic society. We have to be bold.
The McClatchy newspaper chain’s recent filing for bankruptcy is one more data point showing that US journalism is dying. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the newspaper industry has lost more than 50% of its employees since 2001. While several big national papers like the New York Times are healthy, more typical are the closures, bankruptcies, and extreme downsizing that increasingly leave cities, towns and rural communities without local news.
Meanwhile, little evidence suggests that any new market-driven model can rescue newspapers or sustain the journalism that democracy requires. For many areas across the US, there’s simply no commercial option. The market has failed us.
This carnage has attracted opportunistic pathologies, from hedge funds buying up distressed papers and selling them for parts, to news outlets resorting to increasingly dubious forms of advertising and clickbait. A degraded product gives readers even less reason to support local news.
ut tackling the journalism crisis at a systemic level – bringing sustenance to “news deserts” where rich benefactors and foundations are unlikely to go – requires a large public media fund. How do we create it?
Ideally, we’d massively increase federal support for public media. Whether we expand or replace the PBS model is an open question, but this new system must provide for information needs across all types of digital media and platforms.
Maintaining public media infrastructure should be non-negotiable for a democratic society. Short of paying directly out of the treasury, government could help facilitate multiple revenue streams into one large fund. Two objections typically arise: its cost and its relationship to government.
Regarding independence from government, opposition to public media is often ideological, not grounded in empirical evidence. An extensive record shows publicly-subsidized media existing comfortably in democratic countries around the world. Research suggests that public media often are no less critical of government than their private counterparts, and they correlate positively with strong democracies.
Even the US has long subsidized media infrastructure, from the postal system to the internet. Nonetheless, there are legitimate concerns about state capture – just as there are with commercial capture – and yet many democracies have figured out how to make this work. Safeguards and firewalls are both necessary and feasible.
The next question is how do we pay for it? Many options exist. We could raise funds from taxing platforms like Facebook and Google, placing levees on communication devices, and repurposing international broadcasting subsidies. Other sources include spectrum sales and individual tax vouchers. We could leverage already-existing public infrastructures such as post offices, libraries, and public broadcasting stations to provide spaces for local news production.
AP PHOTOS: A corps of women covering the Weinstein trial
Corps of women covered Weinstein trial … Much of what the world has seen and heard about Weinstein’s rape trial came from women journalists — the regulars at the Manhattan courthouse who would be there reporting regardless of whether a celebrity was involved.
They’ve put their natural journalistic competitiveness aside to go through their notes to ensure they’re accurately quoting testimony, despite the courtroom’s shoddy sound system and the constant wail of sirens outside.
AP’s Mary Altaffer writes:
‘Much of what the world has seen and heard about Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial has come from a core group of women journalists — the regulars at the Manhattan courthouse who would be there reporting regardless of whether a celebrity was involved.
Down in the cramped press room, they’ve squeezed together to offer other reporters a place to work.
They’ve put their natural journalistic competitiveness aside to go through their notes to ensure they’re accurately quoting testimony, despite the courtroom’s shoddy sound system and the constant wail of sirens outside.
Laptops in hand, they’ve repeatedly made the trek from the courthouse gallery to the hallway to file breaking news updates. During lulls, they’ve turned the adjacent women’s bathroom into a lounge and a news bureau, making calls, jotting notes and taking time for themselves to recharge.’
‘More than 2,000 newspapers ceased production in the last 15 years, according to a recent think-tank report from the Brookings Institution.’
‘The inflection point for McClatchy’s bankruptcy was the failure to get pension relief from Congress. A pension solution appeared hours away from a legislative agreement late last year, before falling victim to partisan politics.
The likely new owners, if the court accepts the plan, would be led by hedge fund Chatham Asset Management LLC. They would operate McClatchy as a privately held company. More than 7 million shares of both publicly available and protected family-owned stock would be canceled.
Chatham Asset Management, a $4.3 billion hedge fund, owns the National Enquirer.’
Not only has the business model changed for newspapers, legacy companies carry large pension obligations that eat into cash flow and profits. McClatchy’s qualified pension covers more than 24,500 current and future retirees — many retired blue-collar workers who manned printing presses or loaded newspapers onto delivery trucks — supported by fewer than 2,800 active employees.
Between 2006 and 2018, McClatchy’s advertising revenue fell by 80 percent and daily print circulation fell by 58.6 percent. While the company has worked over three years to achieve a more sustainable 50-50 split of print vs. digital advertising, those gains couldn’t outpace the approaching pension and debt obligations.’
‘McClatchy owns 30 newspapers in 14 states. The publisher’s origins date to 1857, when it began publishing a four-page paper in Sacramento, California, following the California Gold Rush. That paper became The Sacramento Bee. McClatchy’s headquarters remains in Sacramento.’ [AP]
- The Fresno Bee, Fresno
- Merced Sun-Star, Merced
- The Modesto Bee, Modesto
- The Sacramento Bee, Sacramento
- The Tribune, San Luis Obispo
- Bradenton Herald, Bradenton
- El Nuevo Herald, Miami
- Miami Herald, Miami
- Ledger-Enquirer, Columbus
- The Telegraph, Macon
- Idaho Statesman, Boise
- Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville
- The Wichita Eagle, Wichita
- Lexington Herald-Leader, Lexington
- Sun Herald, Biloxi
- The Kansas City Star, Kansas City
- The Charlotte Observer, Charlotte
- The Herald-Sun, Durham
- The News & Observer, Raleigh
- The Beaufort Gazette, Beaufort
- The State, Columbia
- The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island
- The Sun News, Myrtle Beach
- The Herald, Rock Hill
- Centre Daily Times, State College
- Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Fort Worth
- Bellingham Herald, Bellingham
- Tri-City Herald, Kennewick
- The Olympian, Olympia
- The News Tribune, Tacoma