Stop the Press
Do you know the difference between news and clickbait?
By Liam Chan Hodges, Franklin and Marshall College
Terms like “fake news” and “alternative facts” have been used with increasing frequency over the past year, both of which highlight the crisis that America is teetering on the brink of—the collapse of journalism.
News companies have been accused of party bias, ulterior motives and political agendas. As a result, the American people have begun to trust less and less of what they read. With the average American obtaining the vast majority of their news from the internet, it has become increasingly difficult to sort through the clickbait to find real content.
The line between entertainment and news has become increasingly blurred, making the truth about even the most prevalent issues difficult to find. Not only has it become harder to find the truth, but the sheer number of outlets makes it harder for news organizations to reach interested and engaged readers.
Like any business, news organizations must generate revenue, an already difficult job that has been made increasingly difficult by a sharp rise in competition. In the modern world of internet media, journalists must generate views in order to gain profit, and with so much competition, an entertaining article may be of far more economic valuable than a truthful one.
Of course, the question can be asked: Who cares? As a reader, why would I not want access to thousands of news sources, many of which are far more entertaining than some boring bullshit newspaper? After all, entertainment is valuable in its own right. Not every publication needs to be void of bias and filled with naught but cold, hard facts. I will be the first to tell you that there is a very important place for Op-eds and arguments in the world of media.
However, unbiased news is by far the single most valuable form of informative publications. You need only turn your attention to the quasi-democracy spread throughout the globe to see how frighteningly true this fact is.
If there is one thing that every one of these false democracies have in common, as well as those countries that have chosen authoritarian regimes and have not made an attempt to claim such a title, it is the complete and utter oppression of the press. Of course, to say that the American government is repressing its press would be idiocy. Though the current president has made it clear that there is no love lost between he and many of the nation’s leading journalism publications, he has thankfully done nothing from the administrative end to hinder the freedom of the press.
Though, the sad truth is, if the government wanted the press to be crippled, it wouldn’t be hard at this point. Newspapers, the icons for reliable news, are all but extinct. There is no longer a market for news; rather, there is a demand for entertainment, a demand that is being met with vigor. So, the questions remain. Who is to blame, and how can this pressing issue be addressed? Blame is a tricky thing to place, because journalism is both a marketable commodity and an incredibly important public service.
In a capitalist society, those ventures that are no longer viable quickly vanish. However, you cannot in good conscience allow journalism to fade into obscurity without fear of crippling American democracy. So, is it the fault of the people? After all, the same people who are sick of biased news and adulterated facts are the same people who no longer buy newspapers. Many daily publications have gone out of business, and even the giants of the industry have had to switch to hybrid methods of distribution, shying away from print and turning instead to online outlets.
Is this sudden lack of interest in newspapers simply the result of a new generation, with a shorter attention span and a distaste for the “archaic relic” that is printed word? Or, is this decline a result of a complacent industry, a model of news distribution that has been around for centuries that grew lazy and did not change with the times, only to get caught with its pants down as the world evolved around it?
Whatever the reasons, the outcome is all too clear, and the outlook is all too bleak. Americans want entertainment, and news companies are all too willing to give it to them, so long as it keeps them afloat. So, what is the answer? How can students attempt to turn the tide and right the sinking ship of journalism? One potential answer could lie in the field of nonprofits. If selling the news is no longer profitable, then perhaps the answer is to no longer seek to turn a profit.
This solution would also allow for more unbiased and even-keeled news organizations. Of course, the issue with nonprofits is that donors would influence the content that is published. If a certain well of individuals donate vast sums of money to a nonprofit news organization, there’s a good chance that the stories may lean toward the donors’ viewpoints.
This can be averted the same way that all bias is, though, through harsh criticism and watchful eyes. Though the idea of nonprofit news sources is far from a perfect solution, it is a step in the right direction.
I don’t have the answers for the looming issue of a dying press. But, I do know that it is an issue that must be addressed by those who hold democracy dear, for there can be no true democracy without a strong and resilient press, and in America, the press is dying.
So, for all the students out there who can write but are fearful of joining the sinking ship that is journalism, do not turn your back just yet. Journalism is about to evolve completely, because it will have to, and the resulting outcome is sure to be interesting.