Over this past week, massive changes have again occurred in the media industry.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reduced its "newsroom staff by about one-third." Gannett laid off a total of 225 people employed at its daily newspapers (including The Arizona Republic and The Tennessean). Those not shrinking are selling. Newsweek was sold to IBT Media. The Times Co. sold The Boston Globe. The Graham family sold The Washington Post.
No doubt the Internet and the ever-evolving ways consumers access the news (smart phones and tablets for example) are challenging the advertising model that traditional media have used to operate and turn a profit, but the other serious issue that deserves more attention is the way that sources, namely politicians, choose to "break news" these days.
They don't bother going to the mainstream media. They announce their campaigns through videos on YouTube. They Tweet to followers major events or developments. They air their political thoughts on Facebook. And as journalism researchers have noted, it's the White House that has led the charge on this "sources going direct" front for some years now.
The rationale is simple: more control. Why would presidents choose to have their messages "mediated" when they can talk directly to the people? Or for that matter, why would anyone run the risk of being misquoted or taken out of context when they don't have to?
As problematic, if a president doesn't "go direct," then he tends to "go around." Around tough questions. Around political reporters. Straight to the entertainment talk show hosts. Not only are they more accommodating towards a politician's spin, but as Politico pointed out in their story on President Obama's visit yesterday to "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,"it's a good way to reach "middle America."
There are ample reasons to be pleased that the professional media no longer possess exclusive control over our public megaphone. But, as Nicco Mele explained in "The End of Big," "In the years ahead, the need for honest, high quality, hard hitting journalism will prove greater than ever" and "we don’t know yet whether sufficient resources are in place to enable journalism to fulfill its historic role as guardian of the public interest."
It may be wide-eyed optimism to believe that expensive "public service" journalism might become the focus of the two billionaires who acquired The Globe and The Post (Boston Red Sox owner John Henry and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, respectively), but then again, Gilded Age steel titan Andrew Carnegie "gave away over $350 million" during his lifetime.
It may also be desperation. Our politics are filled with the beginnings of stories that are begging for deeper investigation and more fact-finding. News, not spin or entertainment, need to be revived if our public space is to flourish in this era of Internet democracy.
Let's hope these new media moguls are after more than their own personal entertainment.