In 2020, at Idea Grove, a PR and marketing firm’s blog, Jarrett Rush asked a title question, “What will the media landscape look like in five years?” Four of those five years are up so we can fairly assess two of the predictions:
Twitter is going to continue to explode as a hub for media ‘pre-reporting.’ Many reporters vet SMEs and story ideas through Twitter already, but as traditional forms of media continue to die out, we will only continue to see growth in nontraditional platforms like Twitter. – Mary Brynn Milburn
Well, something like that did happen, sort of. Elon Musk bought Twitter, changed its name to X, revealed all the government-directed censorship that previous management co-operated with, and made it a go-to platform for news that mainstream media often tries to bury, now widely hated and feared among the tech elite.
“Over the next five years we’ll start to see the rise of the billionaire-funded newspaper. The few news outlets that are able to survive the next few years of industry turmoil will find themselves bailed out by the Jeff Bezos’ of the world who see journalism as yet another philanthropic endeavor. Although this will solve their financial woes, it will bring new tension to their editorial independence and call into question the level of scrutiny they bring to their coverage.” – Liz Cies
That certainly happened. Billionaires have been “scooping up” publishers in recent years but that has not stopped the bleed of red ink, as we shall see.
The new landscape will be much leaner
Vox laid off another 4% late last year. Mid-January, Conde Nast’s fashion doyenne, Anna Wintour, laid off the entire staff of music publication Pitchfork. Last week, Business Insider announced plans to lay off 8% of its workforce.
Small fry, you say? Mere boutique markets drying up? Well, you know there is blood in the water when Sports Illustrated laid off most of its staff and the Washington Post proceeded with plans to axe 240 despite a walkout. Similarly, the Los Angeles Times experienced its first work stoppage in 142 years as 100 employees walked out, protesting imminent staff cuts.
So make the taxpayer fund journalism?
The drive to make the taxpayer fund journalism continues to gain momentum; see, for example, the trial balloon sent up by a journalism prof last August at Scientific American: “Journalism is a Public Good and Should be Publicly Funded.”
An intermediate position for mainstream media is to seek donations from philanthropic foundations, as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune is doing. The “Strib,” as it is known locally, identifies this approach as “the growing trend in journalism.” Of course, it wouldn’t be a growing trend if journalism could still be positioned as necessary rather than needy.
Mistaking effects for causes
When assessing why it is happening, pundits sometimes mistake effects for causes. The left-wing bias of the MSM is widely admitted but that is surely partly an outcome of the desire to be rescued and a left-wing government is far more likely to volunteer.
Similarly, at The Stream, Mark Judge says bluntly, “It’s not just the bias. It’s the incompetence. Too many journalists, even the ‘veterans,’ are simply bad at their jobs. In no other profession can such blunders result not in pink slips but promotions.” Yes, but a dying industry doesn’t hire or promote out of the top drawer. It retracts key elements in stories, quietly settles defamation lawsuits, and awards top prizes for exploded stories. Of course, public trust is plummeting.
The actual cause is quite simple. The internet enables people to get a great deal of news free, destroying the advertising business that supported legacy media. That change will not reverse itself and people will find ways around censorship. Increasingly, the media that survive will be small, lean, mean, focused, and very important to the people who fund them. The success of Substack, where journalists curate their own writing for their subscribers, pay-to-play talk radio, and YouTube video subscriptions are the way of the future. By contrast, direct government funding for legacy media — as in Canada — amounts to creating a very expensive museum that will go rogue at times, causing a disproportionate amount of trouble relative its usefulness.
You may also wish to read: Veteran news hound: Why not to trust mainstream media anymore. Matt Taibbi and Douglas Murray’s resounding triumph in the Munk debates sheds light on why mainstream media are dying. Because media today overwhelmingly cater to specific demographics, getting the story right matters much less than telling people what they want to hear.