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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/25/18

These Are the Worst of Times for American Journalism

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This is not just a New York City problem, however, this is an American problem. A decade ago, in what was not a particularly great time for the newspaper industry, newsrooms employed more than 71,000 people. Today, they employ barely 39,000. And, as author Thomas Frank says, "The newsroom layoffs never end." The key word there is newsrooms. We're way beyond silly debates about "old media" and "new media." Some of the biggest online news operations in the country are owned by downsizing newspapers like the Daily News.

While digital utopians imagine that online journalism will fill the void caused by newspaper layoffs, that has never been the case. In fact, as the Pew Research Center notes, "Newspaper layoffs have far from abated in the past year, and digital-native news outlets are also suffering losses."

According to a fresh analysis by Pew, "At least 36 percent of the largest newspapers across the United States -- as well as at least 23 percent of the highest-traffic digital-native news outlets--experienced layoffs between January 2017 and April 2018."

There are still great journalists out there. There are still "scoops" about Trump's tantrums (if not his tax returns). Working journalists keep working. But their numbers are dwindling in the cities and the countryside. The trend lines are disappointing. The arrows are veering downward.

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It's a national pattern. It's got something to do with the rise of the Internet and the digital age. But it's got something more to do with profitable media conglomerates seeking to secure bigger profits by kicking journalism to the curb. Tronc may not be any good at running newspapers, but as the Poynter Institute noted in May, "despite the sweet payouts to top executives, stop-and-start efforts at digital transformation and some disastrous leadership bungling at the Los Angeles Times, Tronc is the rare newspaper stock that has held its value and actually increased share price -- for the year to date and also reaching back a full year."

The CEOs do not care. But we should. The shredding of the Daily News should serve as a wake-up call. There really are things that can be done to rebuild newsrooms and renew journalism. Bob McChesney and I have written at length about the necessary steps -- investing in public and community media, realizing the potential of the Internet with full net neutrality, establishing programs to fund the positions and projects of young reporters, and creating new tax policies to sustain and encourage not-for-profit news-gathering. But the first requirement is one of recognition. It begins with the understanding that "the market" is not working. Journalism's future remains in the grips of the hedge-fund profiteers and bumbling corporatists who had been killing the craft by slow cuts and are now killing it by fast cuts.

Frank reminds us that because newspapers still tend to set so much of the news-media agenda at the local, state, and national levels, the essential step is to understand that the crisis of newspapers and newsrooms threatens not just journalism but democracy.

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"I hope people recognize what's being lost," says Frank, a writer who relishes the printed word even as it fades away. "But, honestly, I'm not sure it will happen in time."

He's right to worry. These are not, as the pep squad imagines, "the best of times and the worst of times" for journalism. They are simply the worst.

Copyright - 2018 thenation.com -- distributed by Agence Global

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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