Hamilton Nolan’s New York Times op-ed piece is a perfect example of journalistic blinders, and why the profession collapsed as badly as it did. Right off the bat he makes an erroneous declaration that needs further examining:
Reporters, for all their flaws, tend to understand what’s happening in their own newsrooms. It’s their job to try to see things clearly.
No, they don’t.
They do not know what is happening in their own workspaces.
How do I know?
Because I was a journalist whose beat was covering the business side of journalism.
Journalists were blindsided so many times by what happened to their own newsrooms:
- Jayson Blair, Jack Kelley, Stephen Glass, and slew of others scammed their bosses with their persistent lying. Don’t Believe It!: How lies become news will give you everything you need to know about how often reporters got away with it, and the editors, producers, colleagues — and fact-checkers never saw it.
- When I began working as a Canadian correspondent for Presstime magazine, newspapers were changing hands more often than they were changing their underpants — I would interview someone who was a reporter, editor, or even publisher, and they would have no idea that the paper where they were working for would be sold to another company. Some found out thirty minutes before the press release came out…and in one case, the reporter heard the news when a radio reporter called him to ask him about a sale he never knew was going down.
- The shenanigans of Conrad Black and David Radler ended up with both men serving time in prison. Were they exposed by the journalists who worked for them? Not at all. They had no clue.
- If reporters knew what was happening around them, their products wouldn’t be suffering such horrendous circulation and ratings slides. They would know what they were doing, and not pull a Hillary Clinton of blaming the whole world for their losses.
I could add another hundred points to this list, but they would all make the same point: that journalists are without a clue. Do not start an op-ed piece kissing up to a group of people who have had dope slaps and hard kicks to their backsides due for a very long time.
And what journalists do see affects only them: that people are angry at them, and they are losing their jobs as a result. They do not see why people are angry at them. Sure, they will proffer a pathetic Mary Sue reason: we are covering the truth and people can’t handle it, but that is mere ego-protecting. They do not know how many times they have cost people their lives, for instance. They have ruined lives. They told people to trust Great Men who turned out to be swindlers who cost the economy billions of dollars.
They see that it is not fun to be a journalist anymore. They aren’t the cool kids people are kissing up to — heck, even their own nation’s president thinks they all suck. What journalists didn’t get was that Trump’s declaration that the press is “fake news” (which is not as wrong as people think) was not just part of an election, but a referendum on the media, and when the votes were counted, the media lost.
The Times op-ed piece is an attempt to mask oblivious panic, but the long and the short of the piece is simple: billionaire owner buys up a few unimportant, but posh online news outfits and indulges them for a few years. They are never profitable. Workers decide to unionize, and billionaire owner shuts unimportant and unprofitable vehicles down.
Even the author of the piece concedes the point:
The company never made money before it was unionized, but more important, the new union hadn’t made a single demand yet.
He doesn’t get it: these unimportant and unprofitable outfits were not bought to be important and profitable news sites. There were other motives for the purchase that depended on keeping things the status quo — and said owner wasn’t actually investing any love and belief in these ventures. Once a single factor upped the cost, the owner merely cut his losses. When news outfits bleed money, ridding them by selling them is not going to happen. The New York Times bought the Boston Globe in 1993 for $1.1 billion, but sold them in 2013 for $70 million. If something as established as The Globe cannot muster a decent amount, online sites should not pretend they are worthier than the old guard.
They are based on the Internet, meaning their existence is fleeting and fragile. Couple that with the fact that journalism itself is no longer a robust entity, and those in the profession need to see that pointing fingers of blame to their masters is not going to solve their implosion.
The piece reveals a willful blindness to the severity of the situation:
The careers of most journalists feature constant uncertainty and heartbreak, interspersed with periods of life-affirming work that you hope make it all worthwhile.
There is no place for hope when vigilance and strategy are required. To this day…to this very day, journalists cannot navigate in their own reality. They do not know how to deal with their wealthy masters. They do not know how to survive in their own business. They have no viable strategy, and worse, keep doing the same thing but expect a different outcome. Journalists who unionized are no better off than those online publications who haven’t, which is shocking.
How can that be? How could there be no signifcant difference in their fortunes?
Because something else is destroying that profession and preventing it from recovering. Unionizing residents in a graveyard is not going to magically bring them back to life, kids!
But until reporters stop kidding themselves that they have a clue, nothing will change and their fortunes will continue to crumble.