Friends tell me mainstream media is no longer objective. For years, I disagreed; I have a master’s from the Pulitzer School of Journalism, Columbia University.
My life has been dedicated to getting the story out, uncovering the dirt. I was trained by the best: Norman Isaacs.
“It’s not easy,” I argued. Most reporters try their hardest to boil complicated issues down to as few words as possible, to inform quickly, roughly — through their eyes, yes — but objectively.
To quote Bari Weiss: “I was always taught that journalists were charged with writing the first rough draft of history. Now, history itself is one more ephemeral thing molded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative.”
I can no longer ignore the narrative, the same one that forced Weiss to resign from the most prestigious newspaper in the world, the building that still gives me chills when I walk by it: the New York Times.
Right after the New Year, I clicked over to 2022 profession predictions at Neiman Lab, the Harvard University foundation that helps us track and define journalism in the Internet Age.
I almost choked:
“In 2022 I hope we embrace the end of objectivity. While it may always be a requirement for journalists to maintain a certain level of professionalism and follow an ethical standard, it is absurd to ask that they erase facets of their identity to report accurately.
“Being subjective to certain matters allows for more substantial reporting and higher community engagement. Leveraging your human experience to connect with sources is a method to create trust within the community you serve as a reporter.
“When journalism begins to accept the death of objectivity, the industry will begin to thrive off relying on organic humanity rather than stiff, rigid and outdated mechanisms.” –Sophia Ungaro, Class of 2021, USC Annenberg.
Accept the death of objectivity?
The news is slanted. When I was at Columbia eons ago all the networks were pretty similar.
Now, we have roped off a conservative section, the liberal section, and the crazy section. Same with newspapers — every publication, every network, it seems, comes with a flavor, their unique way of approaching the news well-seasoned with snark.
So, what is the truth?
Bari Weiss: “Truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.”
The Internet “democratized” the industry. Editors got younger, were paid less, and came in more biased fresh from colleges where they are taught that America is evil.
Shoe leather reporting — getting the story directly from a source, looking into their eyes — gave way to Tweet-trending and aggregation. And email interviews —- much faster than meeting someone for coffee and taking notes, right?
Weiss again: “Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor. As the ethics and mores of that platform have become those of the paper, the paper itself has increasingly become a kind of performance space. Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions.”
No wonder there are wider partisan gaps and diminishing trust in media altogether.
While a Pew report found 58% of U.S. adults say they have at least SOME trust in national news outlets’ information, this is the smallest slice since this question was first asked.
Most Americans say even their own news sources have presented facts that favor one side of an issue or published information that hasn’t been fully verified. And more than a third — 37% —- actually believe information is made up simply to deceive the public.
That’s awful, really. But the bigger question is, why? A lot of it has to do with the business of media itself.
I would like to shed some sunlight on that locally. It’s been a good, long time since any Dallas media dedicated “ink” to self-critique.
For 26 long years, Journalist Ed Bark wrote about local television news for The Dallas Morning News (DMN). In 2000, the Belo Corporation gagged him; he took the “buy-out” and started his own successful website, UncleBarky.com. Unfortunately, Ed retired.
We also want to supply local media history. Dallas wasn’t always a one-newspaper town (as it was recently, before the reincarnation of The Dallas Express). When we moved here in 1980, there was The Dallas Times Herald (DTH) right across from where I worked, and the original Dallas Express operated until the early 1970s.
The Times-Herald, a classic afternoon paper founded in 1888, won three Pulitzer Prizes and two George Polk Awards.
What killed the DTH was television news, reading habits shifting away from afternoon papers, and fierce competition from The Dallas Morning News, which emerged as the victor. Wait, not just victor, crusher.
The Times Herald shut down and the very next day Belo bought the DTH assets for $55 million and promptly scattered them, making damn sure the DMN would be the only daily paper in town.
Thirty-two years later, Belo is fighting for its life to turn itself into a digital beast, the future of all papers. Their influence will continue to diminish.
It seems successful dailies now need a major benefactor behind them to thrive, much like Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, worth an estimated $7 billion, who bought the Los Angeles Times in 2018 for $500 million.
He says he has sunk close to a billion in it but loves it: calls it his family legacy. He plans to turn the LA Times from a newspaper to a multi-media platform.
Though his paper has lost 20 to 30% of ad revenue, they’ve added/hired 140 people.
Same with the Washington Post, which billionaire and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos saved with his $250 million purchase in 2013. The Post has been establishing itself as a major tech innovator over the last few years.
“I think we will continue to see a big shift in who runs newsrooms. While the pandemic had already motivated the older generations to take a step down and allow the millennials to take over how they are run, I think 2022 will continue this trend. […]
“Journalists have adjusted to doing their work from their own homes rather than going into a crowded office. […]
“While many large news companies have started to require a paywall to read their content, I think we will start to see smaller news companies require them as well.” –Annalysa Cowie, Class of 2022 USC
In a word, Substack.
That being said, a couple of times a month we will take a good, hard look at Dallas-Fort Worth (and National from time to time) media from the halls of legacy print to digital. We will highlight (and applaud) innovation, call out hypocrisy and double standards, and introduce newcomers.
We will spotlight the catfights and the incredible competition coming from not just shrinking ad sales, but market share. It’s not a great time to be in media… but maybe, with innovation and an open mind, it is.
We want to engage you in the conversation, so please join in. News organizations are supposed to hold our leaders and our institutions accountable, from the White House to the smallest town council.
As Thomas Jefferson once said, “Freedom will be ‘a short-lived possession’ unless the people are informed.”
Let the process begin.
It’s Time to Pull Back the Curtain on Local Media: A free, thriving, and objective press is the cornerstone of Democracy. Are you losing your trust in local media? Maybe you have seen reporting that was exceptionally well done. The Dallas Express would like to hear about it. Share stories or news tips with us — shoot an email to email@example.com.