Shed No Tears for the Media

Fake news. Shrinking revenues. Vanishing jobs. Oh, woe be journalism. Oh, woe to be a journalist.

Oh, spare me.

It is true that many talented journalists, including friends of mine, are looking at a gloomy 2017. Overnight, many lost their jobs when Al Jazeera America closed up shop. Washington, D.C., lost a great outlet recently with the shuttering of the local news website Borderstan. Local television seems to be as much about cutting costs as about journalism lately.

The going will be especially tough for those who got started during the golden age of journalism, who trained for a career with the legacy media, the holy grail of which was “objectivity.”

Even for some with a consistent paycheck, like the Washington Post’s media columnist Margaret Sullivan, the goal is extremely conservative: Don’t let the sun go down on Journalism (initial cap intentional), as still taught in J-schools across the country. Sullivan missed the point when she proffered her solution to fake news — for Facebook to hire dinosaurs like herself to help “police” what is real and what is fake.

I might point out how quickly you, Ms. Sullivan, forgot the “fake” news peddled by the New York Times about weapons of mass destruction that help dash us into invading Iraq. Who was policing that? Besides, wouldn’t legacy journalists deciding what is worthy and unworthy be just a step short of a journalistic inquisition?

But mourn not for journalism.

First, the upside. The Washington Post announced it is hiring 60 new journalists for video and investigative work. The New York Times is pioneering new video work. Facebook, while a venue for fiction, is also jamming real information down people’s phones.
Also, forget not ProPublica, BuzzFeed, Politico, Quartz — let alone such outlets as the Counted and D.C.’s own DC Witness (of which, in full disclosure, this writer is the publisher) — that in most cases did not exist and in many cases were inconceivable barely a decade ago. Plenty of great journalism is happening out there.

But, most of all, mourn not because the sad reality, whatever your politics and sense of doom, is that President-elect Trump is good for journalism. It is a great story. He is the gift that keeps on giving.

For progressive publications like the Washington Monthly and Mother Jones, a Trump White House is the best news in years, financially speaking. (Conservative publications are likely in for a rougher time with their side in absolute power.) As one editor told me at the time of the divisive election of President George W. Bush: “I am ashamed to say that what I believe is a disaster for the country is great for my publication.”

As for all the journalists who fear that reporting on the new president somehow risks “normalizing” his politics or behavior, I detect a waft of hypocrisy. What happened to your vaunted “objectivity?” Rather, I ask: Where is “The Colbert Report” when you really need it?

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