In CivCon we deal with a lot of fast-moving topics and issues. But, I can’t think of any more in flux than the future of the news media. Nor as vital. A healthy press is one of the linchpins of our democracy, as Thomas Jefferson and countless others since have said. Yet, even before the rise of Donald Trump and the unprecedented challenges he presents to the institutions and underlying conventions of journalism, the mainstream media (MSM) was in crisis.
As is common knowledge, the century-old basic business model of journalism (especially print but also other formats) has collapsed. The Internet drained away news companies’ advertising revenue and new competitors emerged to razzle-dazzle away the public’s attention and dim its desire (and willingness to pay) for hard news. The big MSM companies reacted by massively consolidating and moving into cyberspace as best they could. But, it hasn’t been enough to halt the downward slide of the industry. Pre-Trump and depending on who you asked, the big issues that threatened the news media’s future included:
- The basic 20 year-old failed business model problem.
- Concentration of Media ownership (now AT&T wants to merge with Time Warner).
- Print journalism’s dim future, especially newspapers.
- Fragmentation of the news audience.
- Rise of social media and personalized news feeds, which have turned passive news consumers into active distributors and producers of news.
- Shift to and concentration of power away from traditional content providers (like TV networks & newspapers) to new “platform oligopolies” (like Facebook, Google, and Twitter).
- Next generation issues, like those associated with the “Internet of Things,” wearable devices, and other future transformative technological change.
Now, of course, we can add at least two more problems arising from our last (so to speak) election: President Trump and fake news. In the campaign, Trump played the MSM like a fiddle, garnering virtually 24-hour a day coverage. Nobody had ever hacked the Media like this. And, he routinely threatened reporters and media companies. Trump is all but sure to use govt power to bend the news media to his will. There is even talk that “Trump TV” will be created despite his victory, so we may soon have a news network that’s literally loyal only to the President! More broadly, Trump’s presidency poses unprecedented challenges to long-established MSM conventions of neutral reporting of a shared objective reality.
Second, we have the emerging problem of fake news. Fake news is outright false propaganda disseminated by groups hiding their true identities and allegiances. Its purpose is to undermine public confidence in any and all other news. From Breitbart and Info Wars to Russian government news trolls, this poison has always been around, but its impact might be very large in a socially networked world.
Gee, where to start? Fortunately for our discussion, I think many of these problems are related. The MSM is consolidating because even the biggest players need to control content, distribution, and users’ personal information to survive. They’re easy to manipulate because they are financially unstable. Fake news works so well because social media let anybody be their own producer and distributor of news. Etc.
Here are some readings on some of these big, crosscutting problems in journalism these days and some musings on what the future holds. On Monday I will take the first five minutes or so to connect a few of these dots so that maybe we can focus right off on the fundamental problems. We have several journalists in the group, so I will then ask them for their thoughts to start the general discussion. I’ll see you on Monday.
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
The crisis today –
- “The State of the News Media 2016.” An annual Pew Center report. Recommended: Summary + fact sheet on your favorite subtopic.
- Newspapers are dying but the news will survive them.
- Social media: Some key points re their use.
The rise of fake news –
- Russia hacked our election! (h/t John M.)
- Trump voters buy into a lot of fake news.
- The challenge to the news media and to Facebook in particular. Recommended.
Journalism in the Age of Trump –
- Yes, the news media elected Trump. Recommended. Optional and extra fury/anguish here.
- As thanks, he’ll try hard to intimidate and silence our free press.
- Maybe this would help.
The Future of news –
- Facebook, Google, Twitter and other big platform companies will determine the future of news. Recommended.
- A radically different future is coming. Recommended.
NEXT WEEK: Is worldwide democracy inevitable?