McBee: Why do we keep doing news?
You’d think we’d learn our lesson.
The print-news industry is a wizened shadow of its former glory. And it just keeps shrinking. “Average weekday newspaper circulation, print and digital combined, fell another 7 percent in 2015, the greatest decline since 2010,” according to the Pew Research Center.
The newspaper workforce is 20,000 positions smaller than 20 years ago, Pew says.
While print ad sales have vanished along with the mom and pop store, digital revenues are up, up, up. Alas, most of that money is going into the pockets of global tech giants. More Pew: “Total digital ad spending grew in 2015 to about $60 billion, a higher growth rate than in 2013 and 2014. But … [most] of the digital ad revenue pie — 65 percent — is swallowed up by just five tech companies.” When I post stuff on The Ann’s Facebook page, Mark Zuckerberg pockets the ad pennies, not us. And he charges us extra if we want people to actually see what we’ve posted.
Meanwhile, many readers (not you, of course; we’re good) either can’t tell the difference between credible news reported in earnest and plain b.s. — or else they just don’t care. That’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s disheartening to see flagrant nonsense flood my social-media feeds — sometimes posted by people who oughta know better. “People like the flavor of bullshit, the aroma,” professional skeptic James Randi told Newsweek in 2013. “It’s very rare that people will stand for a complete lack of bullshit in anything.”
Americans’ relationship with the news might best be described as “It’s complicated.” Most think journalists reduce politicians’ graft and corruption. But most also think we’re biased one way or another. Conservative Republicans especially feel news organizations are out to get their team. That’s another Pew study from July.
Younger adults follow news less closely, trust news less and sense bias more. Those that do dig news tend to prefer it online. You know, where it’s free. To us in the business, that means free of revenue. These readers are our future.
With such a black outlook, why aren’t we joining the professional exodus to the Dark Side of public relations?
We’re pretty hardheaded, that’s for sure. The partners of The Ann ain’t getting rich, but we’re still at it more than six years after we put out our first issue. And while we’ve been plugging away, we’ve noticed others laboring alongside us. Many have just sort of … taken up the mantle. Maybe they felt the daily newspaper wasn’t getting the job done. Some are footloose journalists cast aside by corporate media giants cutting their way to excellence. Some are just citizens who care about certain subject matter and want to keep the record straight.
We’re joining forces with several of them to produce a five-day-a-week email newsletter. We hope you’ll subscribe and make it part of your routine. It’s free. Our main story for the January-February issue introduces you to some of those people and their motivations.
And here are my motivations:
• Journalists like to say democracy will croak without a solid Fourth Estate to keep an eye on the buggers in power. I don’t know whether that’s true; I’m not even sure just how much democracy we have in America, as opposed to plutocracy or oligarchy or gerontocracy or …. An editor can feel pretty useless when he points out in print how corrupt or incompetent some jerk politician is and people just keep reelecting the bastard. But I nonetheless feel strongly that the effort to tell the truth — the good, the weird, the amusing and the awful — is important to the weave of community. That’s not one of those things that’s easily proven; call it an article of secular faith. And maybe those efforts have a little democratizing effect.
• Journalism appeals to my cheerfully at-odds internal politics: a little lefty populism, a little get-off-my-lawn libertarianism. No other institution can embrace that trainwreck.
• I have a chip on my shoulder about people who blame “The Media” for everything that’s wrong. Just makes me bow up and keep at it, even if the news biz does have some serious flaws.
• With The Ann, we set out to prove against all odds that journalism makes good business sense. I’m still down for that fight.