As The US Press Withers, Glorified Marketing Aims To Take Its Place

from the not-helping dept

More than 16,000 journalists and editors were laid off last year, a tally that excludes broader media jobs and freelancers. While COVID certainly played a role (read: advertisers not wanting the brands to appear in ads next to stories telling people the truth about a pandemic), the layoffs were part of a broader trend in which the unprofitable business of delivering the factual reality (usually) continues to wither on the vine.

Mindless media consolidation has created vast news deserts where local news of any quality literally no longer exist. Incompetent but wealthy new media CEOs, free from anything vaguely resembling accountability, fire their entire newsrooms on a dime at the slightest hint of unionization, a threat that wouldn't be so pronounced if we'd managed to pay reporters a living wage. The US press feels broken, a consensus on how to fix it remains elusive, and bad ideas seem to outnumber good ones by a wide margin.

Into that vacuum has stumbled all manner of terrible beasts, ranging from phony "pink slime" local news, a steady parade of foreign and domestic propaganda artists, and consolidated broadcasters for which truth is a distant afterthought. Just this week, OAN, a "news" channel found on most mainstream cable lineups and pumped into millions of American homes, not only trumpeted the bogus election "audit" in Arizona, it was happily fundraising off of it with zero repercussions whatsoever:

"What’s more, one of those reporters, Christina Bobb, is the network’s most visible correspondent covering the very “audit” that she is helping scare up money for on OAN’s airwaves, while she and the network enjoy unique access to the process where private contractors and volunteers are searching for fraud and have examined ballots for nonexistent watermarks and “bamboo fibers.” OAN has a deal as the exclusive livestream partner for the audit."

At the same time, wealthy individuals and organizations also have an eye on using their vast fortunes to reshape the news industry in their interests. Silicon Valley venture capital giants like a16z have begun building their own news empires to counter what they believe are overly critical media narratives (aka the truth about things like environmental harms, unfair labor practices, and anti-competitive shenanigans). And this week, cryptocurrency giant Coinbase announced it too would be building a new media arm. With a notable caveat:

"Unlike a typical newsroom, that person would report into Coinbase's marketing team."

Granted it's not entirely impossible Coinbase could build a quality news operation, though past efforts like this traditionally haven't gone that well. Without an adequate firewall between marketing and news, you wind up with bungled experiments like Verizon's short-lived Sugarstring news venture, which quickly collapsed after the journalists they hired were banned from writing about issues Verizon clearly had a stake in (most notably, surveillance and net neutrality).

Not too surprisingly, Coinbase's jump into news was met with the sort of skepticism you'd expect:

I spent much of February talking to as many media scholars as I could for a piece on how we fix the country's news and disinformation crisis, and found there's still nothing even close to a consensus on how to proceed. There's not even a real sense among many academics that there's a serious problem taking root. Policy and legislative solutions, many admittedly terrible (fairness doctrine 2.0!), will never survive free speech concerns or a rightward-lurching court system. There's some scattered suggestions (forcing a la carte cable to reduce revenue to dodgy channels like OAN, require more transparency in ads), but nothing that comes close to comprehensive.

That leaves finding ways to creatively-fund and amplify trustworthy news outlets, something that's not really happening at any scale either. Often, it feels like we've found creative ways to fund everything but journalism. White supremacist chat rooms? Check. Hot tub influencers? Sure! Meme-based joke cryptocurrencies? Why not! Gamers watching gamers watching gamers? Of course! Ridiculously speculative blockchain-based art? Yep! Journalism, a purported cornerstone of democracy? Meh. Education? Whatevs.

Instead, the journalism industry seems content to pat itself on the back for reinventing the newsletter for the umpteenth time, as genuine journalism and expertise slowly gets swallowed in a sea of COVID-denying influencers, bullshit-artists, billionaire ego projects, trolling Substack opinion writers, timid "view from nowhere" journalism, and just rank political and corporate disinformation. There's surely a path out from the current US information apocalypse, but it's anything but obvious what it looks like at the moment.

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Filed Under: boosterism, journalism, marketing
Companies: coinbase


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  • identicon
    bob, 20 May 2021 @ 7:09am

    Instead, the journalism industry seems content to pat itself on the back for reinventing the newsletter for the umpteenth time, as genuine journalism and expertise slowly gets swallowed

    I totally agree. The destruction of real news sources is being caused from both internal and external forces.

    My wife used to work as a reporter for a smaller regional paper. The editor sometimes rewrote key sections of my wife's articles to make it appear like there was more controversy and intrigue happening in a story.

    The editor's attempt to appear more entertaining caused a few sources to stop working with my wife for future articles. One source was a small city's chief of police. My wife left the paper a short time later.

    Editor didnt think about long-term costs for a probably near zero short-term gain.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 20 May 2021 @ 7:13am

    I'd be all for it if it concentrated all the crypto spammers into one place, unfortunately it'd be the Epoch times, on the blockchain.

    'This just in: Democrat who wants to stop us stealing your grandma's pension with get rich quick coins plugged by us is in league with satan and eats babies!'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Koby (profile), 20 May 2021 @ 7:23am

    But You Won't Like It

    It sounds like the real complaint is that the traditional news media is losing credibility and viewers, while new conservative networks are growing. The solution now, as it always has been, is Neutral Point Of View.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 20 May 2021 @ 7:32am

      Re: But You Won't Like It

      "It sounds like the real complaint is that the traditional news media is losing credibility and viewers, while new conservative networks are growing"

      Yes, the complaint seems to be that actual journalists who rely on facts and independent investigation are disappearing and they're being replaced by shock jocks and corporate propaganda outlets for whom facts are secondary to what they're trying to sell.

      So, you're kind of right, but really not for the reasons you think you are, and it's not a positive outlook.

      "The solution now, as it always has been, is Neutral Point Of View"

      I'm sure you are stupid enough to believe that the outlets listed are somehow neutral, but as ever, documented reality disagrees.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Koby (profile), 20 May 2021 @ 8:33am

        Re: Re: But You Won't Like It

        I'm sure you are stupid enough to believe that the outlets listed are somehow neutral,

        I realize that they're not neutral. But they are the symptom of the lack of NPOV. If the legacy media continues its bias, the easiest way to eat up a dwindling market share will be counter bias. NPOV for legacy outlets is very difficult for them to do now. But it IS the solution, and the alternative for them is to continue down this dystopian path. Quite a dilemma.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 20 May 2021 @ 9:52am

          Re: Re: Re: But You Won't Like It

          "NPOV for legacy outlets is very difficult for them to do now. But it IS the solution"

          It's really not. When outlets are actually neutral, the Fox / OAN cult whine that they're communist propaganda, and then they're forced to put "raving lunatic who read a Facebook post yesterday" on equal footing to "professional with 40 years of experience in the subject" and come out with "both sides are equal".

          The problem today is that journalists with actual experience and value are being replaced by corporate shills and propagandists in the name of profit, and fake "both sides" arguments take over verifiable reality.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 20 May 2021 @ 10:32am

          it IS the solution

          One person says vaccines, while not perfect, are the best defense against COVID-19 and the best way to get the pandemic under control. Another person says vaccines are tools of Satan, the Illuminati, and Bill Gates meant to control, track, and…I’unno, sterilize millions of Americans.

          Under a neutral POV, the fact-based view is treated as equal to a view based on no facts at all. Under a neutral POV, both sides should — must — be given equal weight or else one side would be “favored” over the other. Under a neutral POV, facts are irrelevant so long as there are “two sides to every story”.

          “View from nowhere” journalism isn’t journalism — it’s a cover for letting bullshit artists get away with their grift under the guise of “hearing both sides”. Fact-based journalism will always be biased…towards the truth, as best as we can discern it. You can’t separate bias from journalism because someone must decide what to publish, what to distill out of the mass of available data, and what facts to check. If you want “neutral” journalism, you’re shit out of luck.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bloof (profile), 20 May 2021 @ 7:34am

      Re: But You Won't Like It

      Who killed the fairness doctrine to make it easier for right wing bullsh*t merchants like Fox news and so on to take over the airwaves with out and out partisan attacks masquerading as news? Wasn't traditions media, big tech ir the left.

      You don't want unbiased news, you've shown tike and time again here you believe anything less than letting conservative lies go unchallenged is infringing on their free speech. The notion of fairness is nothing but a tool for you, something you want from others while never reciprocating, only finding common ground when it can be used to drag people to the right.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2021 @ 8:53am

        Re: Re: But You Won't Like It

        You don't ever get unbiased news.

        What is not pure opinion is curated facts, which may be no more deep than "person X says Y is true". Some of the facts are emphasized, some not. Some of what is reported as facts are objectively true, some not, some only in the correct context - which may or may not be provided, or correctly understood. ("broadband prices are cheaper" - if you look at per byte rate; "broadband prices are more expensive" - if you look at consumer bill for what is considered "marginally acceptable performance")

        And then there are the curated topics. "What is news" always has an "in my opinion" basis. Sometimes instead, a "what the audience asks for" basis.

        And what remains? It is always perceived as biased, in comparison to everything else. Is the dress blue and black? white and gold? All depends on what light you view it under.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 20 May 2021 @ 9:46am

          Re: Re: Re: But You Won't Like It

          No human being is unbiased. A decent news organisation understands that and tries to be as unbiased as possible, but even then organisations have their own leanings, and it's up to the consumer to understand those biases.

          The problem is, too many people either don't know or don't care about the biases as long as they're fed what they already believe, and there's way more money in fake controversy than there is in honest truth.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Baron von Robber, 20 May 2021 @ 7:58am

      Re: But You Won't Like It

      Conservative entertainment networks.....but no news.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 20 May 2021 @ 8:09am

      The solution now, as it always has been, is Neutral Point Of View.

      “This group wants to pass laws that give LGBTQ people equality under the law. This other group wants to pass laws that criminalize LGBTQ people for existing. Being neutral, I must conclude the arguments on both sides are equally valid and equally worthy of the same coverage.” — you, probably

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ben (profile), 20 May 2021 @ 8:22am

        Re:

        That's almost exactly why Brexit and Boris Johnson as UK PM happened.
        The BBC gave in to the 'neutrality' doctrine so wholeheartedly (on some subjects) that poisonous people like Nigel Farage, Boris, Gove (and others) got far too much air time to dunk on "experts" (please parse with air-quotes as added by the above individuals).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      TaboToka (profile), 20 May 2021 @ 9:30am

      Re: But You Won't Like It

      The solution now, as it always has been, is Neutral Point Of View.

      The solution now, as it has always been, is we need to teach kids reading comprehension and critical thinking, so they actually READ the article, understand the author's assertion that NPOV is stupid and contributes to the death of real journalism, and can go from there.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 20 May 2021 @ 8:11am

    All of the main news channels are producing news that is more in line with a soap opera than actual news. Add in guys like Don Lemon and Tucker Carlson and good God... people actually believe what they are spouting. It's brain boogering.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2021 @ 8:59am

    This is what happens...

    when people think advertising is content. It's not content. It's attention theft.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TaboToka (profile), 20 May 2021 @ 9:33am

    Look forward to the past!

    There's surely a path out from the current US information apocalypse, but it's anything but obvious what it looks like at the moment.

    How did newspapers get started in this country (or locally in cities and towns)? Is there any knowledge we can glean in order to create an actual, biased-to-facts information service?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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