We have been discussing the rapid decline of American journalism. As news organizations adopt echo and advocacy journalism as models, the public has lost faith in the media as a source of information. This is coming at a time when journalism professors are arguing for the abandonment of objectivity as the touchstone of the journalism. The result is the death of American journalism as reporters frame the news to reaffirm their own views or that of insular groups. That decline is reflected in chilling detail in a new Gallup poll.
The poll found only 21% of respondents said they had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers while only 16% of respondents reported the same of television news. Not surprising, Congress fared even worse with just 12%.
What is interesting is that media figures do not appear to care about their destruction of their own profession. The public now ranks the United States as dead last in terms of trust in the media. Yet, reporters continue to saw on the limb upon they sit. The reason is that such echo journalism works for them even if it destroys their profession. Many journalists have advanced on the new model of advocacy journalism. Many others have been intimidated by the treatment of those who have voiced dissenting views. They are not going to stick their heads up when others have been decapitated for speaking up.
Cable networks has always leaned left or right. However, now networks and newspapers are openly biased in framing their coverage. With the reduction of faith in the media plunging downward, these companies could see the value in returning to objectivity and neutrality. The problem is that the journalists themselves are now asserting advocacy journalism as a moral or normative imperative — and few editors will risk confronting such bias even if they were inclined to do so.
We have have been discussing how writers, editors, commentators, and academics have embraced rising calls for censorship and speech controls, including President-elect Joe Biden and his key advisers. Even journalists are leading attacks on free speech and the free press. This includes academics rejecting the very concept of objectivity in journalism in favor of open advocacy. Columbia Journalism Dean and New Yorker writer Steve Coll has denounced how the First Amendment right to freedom of speech was being “weaponized” to protect disinformation. In an interview with The Stanford Daily, Stanford journalism professor, Ted Glasser, insisted that journalism needed to “free itself from this notion of objectivity to develop a sense of social justice.” He rejected the notion that the journalism is based on objectivity and said that he views “journalists as activists because journalism at its best — and indeed history at its best — is all about morality.” Thus, “Journalists need to be overt and candid advocates for social justice, and it’s hard to do that under the constraints of objectivity.”
What is interesting is that this fundamental challenge to journalistic values is not being widely discussed. For those of us who have worked for decades as columnists and in the media, the growing intolerance for dissenting views is stifling and alarming. Hannah-Jones has been a leading voice in attacking those with opposing views. A year ago, the New York Times denounced its own publishing of an editorial of Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) calling for the use of the troops to restore order in Washington after days of rioting around the White House. It was one of the one of the lowest points in the history of modern American journalism. While Congress would “call in the troops” six months later to quell the rioting at the Capitol on January 6th, New York Times reporters and columnists called the column historically inaccurate and politically inciteful. Reporters insisted that Cotton was even endangering them by suggesting the use of troops and insisted that the newspaper cannot feature people who advocate political violence. (One year later, the New York Times published a column by an academic who has previously declared that there is nothing wrong with murdering conservatives and Republicans).
Critics never explained what was historically false (or outside the range of permissible interpretation) in the column. Moreover, writers Taylor Lorenz, Caity Weaver, Sheera Frankel, Jacey Fortin, and others said that such columns put black reporters in danger and condemned publishing Cotton’s viewpoint. In a breathtaking surrender, the newspaper apologized and not only promised an investigation in how such an opposing view could find itself on its pages but promised to reduce the number of editorials in the future.
One of the writers who condemned the decision to publish Cotton was Nikole Hannah-Jones. Hannah-Jones applauded the decision of the Times to apologize for publishing such an opposing viewpoint and denounced those who engage in what she called “even-handedness, both sideism” journalism. Opinion editor James Bennet reportedly made an apology to the staff. That however was not enough. He was later compelled to resign. Not only has Hannah-Jones spread bizarre anti-police conspiracy theories, but she is one of the most prominent figures pushing the advocacy journalistic model. Nevertheless, she was offered a chair at North Carolina and accepted a chair at Howard University.
My greatest concern is this trend in academia. It is enormously popular for faculty to support the new model of advocacy journalism. It leads to publication and speaking opportunities. It is a type of woke journalism. To oppose it is to risk your own standing as an academic and the opportunities that allow you to be intellectually active. So the downward spiral continues. The media becomes more and more openly biased as new reporters are trained as advocates. The fact that fewer and fewer people are reading such reporting is immaterial. Eventually, if this trend continues, the media will be reduced to speaking to itself and small groups of ideologically hardened readers.
54 thoughts on “Gallup Poll: Only 21 Percent of Americans Trust Newspapers”
I’m a retired former professional journalist. The standard career path: start at a small paper, work your way up to a big-city metro, and (in my case) to a national paper. In the last half of the 1980s, I had White House press credentials. After about a dozen visits to the press room, including that auditorium you see on TV, I decided that nothing but stenography and TV acting happened there, so I spent my time elsewhere.
So the “good old days” were far from ideal. Still, there were some guardrails embodied in the standards taught in journalism schools and enforced by editors. Those guardrails are now gone, and the public knows it. We’re back to the journalism that prevailed before the Civil War, when all newspapers were explicitly partisan and there were no agreed-upon standards. That changed with new technology and the growth of a middle class, which put advertising in the driver’s seat. They wanted to sell stuff, and to do it they needed to reach the widest audiences. The objectivity-seeking model, and the separation of fact and opinion, was born.
Fast forward to the 1990s. The first body blow was EBay and Craigslist; they quickly took the classifieds, which were 40% of ad revenue. Then Google, Facebook and others took the display ads. Today, all that’s left is grocery ads (typically on Tuesday or Wednesday) plus the “pre-prints” stuffed into the Sunday paper. Today’s metro dailies lose money four or five days a week, which explains why some big cities (soon to be most) have “dailies” that print three times a week. Staffs have been cut to the bone. Paper and ink circulation is, at most, one-quarter of what it was.
The response, the digital subscription, is very weak beer. It doesn’t even replace traditional subscription and single-copy revenues, which were never important by themselves but existed primarily as a device to show circulation (audited by the Bureau of Audit Circulation) to advertisers that paid on a “cost per thousand readers” basis. Digital subscriptions have a critical downside. They directly tie revenue to reader sentiment. The cost of switching is low — just a click to cancel. Even IF the NYT wanted to return to its prior standards, its readers would never let them.
Also, the shift to digital, especially when accompanied by the abandonment of standards that kept readers who disagreed with a newspaper’s editorial page subscribing anyway, is having the effect of turning newspapers into mere websites with no more credibility than other sites. The more they depart from the old rules, the lower their credibility sinks. Digital is thus a way station on the road to oblivion. And that’s not going to be reversed. The economic pillars that supported the old standards are gone, never to return.
I am a believer in capitalism, I figure when this starts to hurt the pocket books of the big boys all of this will end. Now it may take some time but it will happen and the so called ‘journalist’ can apply as conservatives because they are all actors as far as I’m concerned.
This guy is perhaps informed, but most certainly politically biased. The only people he criticized are “the Left” and the only person he directly praises is a prominent traitor who makes his career of lying fro serve and to obtain power.
Not once does he address Fox “News” and the billionaire-funded right-wing echo chamber.
Unfortunately, this article is just another subtle defense of right-wing whining.
That is because you aren’t looking at the big picture, but breaking everything up into small pieces. The left news media had total control. That meant there was money to be made on the right or in the center. That is what capitalism is all about. If you want to use one word to define what economics is all about, concentrate on the word scarcity.
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