28 Jan Journalism Needs a New Headline
Thoughts about the “crisis” in journalism leapt to mind when I read that the Newseum, the media museum with a platinum location on Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, was forced to sell its building due to finances. Mind you, the general decline of both the news business and the journalistic ethic in general has been a long, slow-walking story. But the real story actually lurks beneath the superficial statistics, as stunning as those numbers may be.
For instance, from 1990 to 2016 the number of reporters placed in America’s newsrooms plummeted more than 50%. During that same time period a record number of print newspapers and magazines have either folded or were forced into mergers to survive. Much of this decline is due to the digital revolution. That same 26 year time frame closely mirrors the explosive growth of the World Wide Web, something that, by 1994, was already coined as “the information superhighway,” creating a powerful web competitor to existing print news organizations, not only in news, information and opinion content, but swallowing up advertising revenues as well.
Journalism professionals like Steven Waldman, a friend and colleague in matters of media policy and press freedom, have touted some practical suggestions. Waldman has been seeking ways to strengthen the press from the bottom-up, by reinvigorating local news reporting. More to the point, in a controversial op-ed in the New York Times in 2017 he challenged Silicon Valley to fund traditional journalism programs. Facebook obviously got the memo. This month Facebook announced a $300 million investment in journalism projects, including primers showing reporters how they can better use web tools, and a pledge to place 1000 journalists in local newsrooms.
Is all this a worthy media rescue effort, or just shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic? It could be the latter, if the most fundamental press problem – the skewed bias of Big Media – continues to be ignored. The left-leaning worldview of reporters, editors and journalists in matters of politics and social/cultural values is now so evident, and so established by numerous studies over the decades that it is beyond debate.
Over the last ten years I have kept a log on the bewildering and unfair vitriol levied by major press organizations against two groups in particular: conservative politicians and conservative Evangelicals. I had a chance to touch on that subject when I was invited years ago to testify before the Federal Communications Commission during its proceeding on the future of media in the wake of the digital revolution. I appeared before the FCC representing the National Religious Broadcasters, an Evangelical broadcasting association, pointing out the abject lack of collegiality and respect given by Big Media to Christian media groups, even those that had won awards and other recognitions in the world of professional journalism.
I am not sure that a vigorous partnership between Silicon Valley and mainstream media will do anything but further entrench the biases of both groups. When Facebook’s CEO told Congress that the big tech giants are “extremely left-leaning,” it was an admission based on years of evidence, as Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Google and others have censored, blocked, and disadvantaged conservatives who voice opinions on matters of politics, social values, or faith. There are occasional glimmers of hope, though. The only reason I was given the slot to plead my case before the FCC was because its consulting advisor on the project, Steve Waldman, a professional journalist who even despite his honest disagreements with me on numerous issues, had the integrity to hear from the other side.
So, I wait, and hope for the day that things might begin to change in the most fundamental way in the world of journalism. Perhaps with a headline like this: Press Admits its Bias – Will Report Objectively Anyway.
Craig Parshall is a constitutional attorney, a Special Counsel to the Washington-based ACLJ, and a fiction author of 13 suspense novels.