Media isn’t dead, but our approach is
author: john loeppky | editor-in-chief
Media isn’t dead, but our societal approach to how it’s funded is.
BuzzFeed recently laid off hundreds of employees because they didn‘t meet their revenue projections. I wouldn‘t consider myself a communist (newspaper affiliation aside), but those jobs didn’t go away because folks can’t write, or because there’s no market for that work. It’s simply because the revenue statistics didn’t sway investors’ fancy.
This hints at why media entities are struggling – and not just the tried and true behemoths, but the new media all-stars as well. Old metrics are being used to rationalize archaic decisions with new media entities. The media landscape has radically shifted, and viewers are looking for nuanced work from a variety of sources, even just anecdotally. BuzzFeed, Vox, or Vice isn’t going to give you that. Sure, the media creators might be younger, their ideas might be marginally more progressive, but their structures are just hierarchical and just as quick to fall.
It’s no wonder that the aforementioned behemoths (Hi, CNN, we see you there) make nonsensical, long–term decisions such as hiring an old Trump crony to edit presidential political coverage instead of slimming down. Even movements by these companies that aim to skew lower and more progressive – the hiring of Casey Neistat’s company Beme, for example – now stink of failed acqu–hires as opposed to legitimate investment in new forms of journalism. Beme got swallowed, and BuzzFeed is too obsessed with projections.
A quick note: this is all very easy for us to say here at the University of Regina. We have a staff of 17 working part-time on a paper that publishes 24 times a year. I do not have management experience at anywhere close to that scale, nor can I fathom the weight of those profit and loss statements. That said, the approach taken by all smaller media companies needs to be factored in by these giant media monsters. The perceived decrease in quality print journalism in the western world can be directly traced back to the media moguls and conglomerates snapping up every masthead for profit. Postmedia has gone so far as to make almost every website in their array look the same on the web while hacking and slashing the budget for journalists, in favour of $5 million being paid to CEO Paul Godfrey (reporting from The Halifax Examiner).
Is there a distrust of mainstream media? Absolutely. Not to put any blame on the consumer, but we need to diversify where we get our news from. This is not a new problem, but gone are the days when folks like Fox News on the right or the Independent on the left even claim to cover both sides with any real gusto. The idea that good journalism is innately pure and bias-free is a fallacy. The BBC has an agenda, unstated or not. So does CNN, and so does every blogger trying to fill the gap. We need to diversify, diversify, diversify.
There are definitely media out there to avoid. Goodloe Sutton of Alabama, who, as reported by a multitude of outlets, called for the Klu Klux Klan to “ride again” in his local newspaper would be one (he has since been replaced). Not all media is created equal, but all are flawed and our public imagination needs to remember that.
Let’s take, for example, my Carillon email inbox. I consistently get CUPE emails (no surprise there), endless invites to events (thanks, folks), and I also always get media interview invites for Conservative MPs. If I only ever reported on CUPE releases (pro–union as they are) or obsessively interviewed Andrew Sheer about his pipeline stance, I wouldn’t be doing my job. I have the same responsibility as a consumer that I do as a creator.
I think we all have that responsibility. We’re university students; most of us are more progressive than those we grew up surrounded by. Those who we view as having “outdated” points of view often used to be progressive themselves and they have spent years being called out rather than being “called in,” both inside and outside of media. Large media outlets have polarized us precisely because it benefits them financially. Fox News and CNN pander for the same reason Trump does, and the same reason the democratic candidate (inevitably) will. However, we have to remember that media literacy, such as I’ve seen so wonderfully delivered by the folks over at Briarpatch during RPRIG’s Generating Momentum Camp, is a vital skill in the current day.
This year, we have had a number of lawsuit threats and URSU on record gaffes.. In my time at the paper we’ve had a death threat and numerous letters from angry university administrators, as well as a host of frustrating comments from our readership filtering into my inbox alongside the affirmative support from many. Point is, you can’t be all things to all people, but you can stand by your principles as a media organization.
All layoffs at BuzzFeed, Vice, or CNN tell me is that the north star for mainstream media (of all types) is the almighty dollar. We can and should do better, because polarization has led to the horrific false news problem on social media propagated by those savvy enough to know an exploitative opportunity when they see one. Fair play to them – falling afoul of human decency isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, but it being so blatant and public certainly is.
In short, read, read, and read again. Read more than the headlines and get engaged with media organizations, such as ours, who are fundamentally interested in highlighting a diverse set of voices.