With a bit of embarrassment, I have a confession to make. Back in 2012, I was a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom.” My naïve brain just came off of the disaster that was Occupy and I needed a new focus in life. I’d flirted with journalism as a career path and I was instilled with the belief that, if only Americans had “real” news, things would get better.
Four years after working in the industry, I’ve seen journalism for what it is.
Journalism is a racket. It is not the last line of defense against injustice nor is it the stalwart struggling defender of democracy. It’s a system of lies and cheap thrills that the ultra-wealthy and their venture capitalist firms want people to feel sympathy for so they either pay for their outdated print media or trust the lies on their 24-hour cable networks.
For many, this may have been laid out with the way Sen. Bernie Sanders was treated on cable TV and how beltway reporters sneer at him online. For me, I knew there were problems but I didn’t realize how insurmountable they were until I was fired — twice.
I started off making extremely low wages at a small paper in a rural community. To be blunt, it was bad. Rural America is not for me. Sure, I got to take on corruption that nobody reported on in local government. I was the source of information for everyone and it gave me a small sense of pride despite being miserable from my surroundings. However, my editor and one of the other reporters quit, leaving me to basically run the paper. I often worked 12-hour days and, at one point, worked six days a week for a month. I never got a raise. That paper shut down back in 2018.
I then got an opportunity to work as an intern reporter covering a major state legislature. That work was only covered with a stipend. The paper itself was reeling from layoffs and bracing for more. They were even a union shop but they still couldn’t do much to protect their fellow workers from corporate. I remained optimistic. A year later, they lost more staff and the pro-union editor was forced to step down.
Then I moved to Washington DC to report on weapons. Not only was I bad at the job, it laid bare for me just how corrupt the industry is. Journalists who write about policy, especially defense, are bribed with free lavish meals described as a way for sources to get to know reporters. Added with the general smugness of DC folk, I washed out real fast. I thought I could return to the industry working a normal political beat. I was wrong.
My editor from my last job was more focused on being a king maker and guiding policy than news. I was pushed to do stories so he could cannibalize them for an editorial. My training was delayed because they had to focus on endorsement interviews for a local primary. I had stories held out of fear of advertiser backlash and even was given ad copy to write. My editor demanded more and more out of me all the while I became an often-catatonic, anxiety-ridden mess. To make matters worse, my coworkers were often let go. I was fired after only a few months working there.
What are the two main issues in American journalism? It’s the for-profit model run by billionaires and the culture of journalists themselves.
I will start with the former as it should be common sense. Most newspapers, and virtually all TV stations, are run by mega corporations. They buy up smaller companies, stations and newspapers cheap. True to venture capitalist form, the staff is cut to make budgets shrink. Coverage is less and less about information and more about what sells to consumers.
In broadcast, companies like Sinclair force certain programs to be run to conform to Republican talking points, like a local Fox News. In print, as in my experience, the fear of losing advertisers guides the newsroom as does an editor’s ego. Some use extremely exploitative coverage such as posting mugshots as a way to get clicks. Traffic is the goal, not information. The less said of cable news, the better. It’s so obviously manufactured garbage, one would be a fool to use it as a primary source.
In both print and cable news, an already long working day and an irregular schedule is the norm. In some businesses, there is simply not enough time in the day to get the output demanded, as they don’t allow for overtime. Because of this, I know reporters who work off the clock with no pay just to keep up. It’s absurd to defend an industry that doesn’t care for its workers, no less one that publishes blatant politicized lies.
This ties into my second observed flaw: the culture of reporters. Most journalists are liberals, that should be obvious. But they are some of the most delusional self-important liberals of all time. In journalism, the number one rule is that you must be an impartial observer and either avoid political leanings or hide them. An hour on Twitter shows many do not follow this, at least from the bigger outlets. In my experience a journalist will often chastise another for not being impartial, but usually because their target is more left (read, actually left) than they are. Usually journalists don’t perpetuate a climate of impartial fact gathering, but of a “woe is the world, we are so divided” centrism.
The worst is this attitude of self-importance. Imagine being a worker in an industry that abuses you and yet decide to advocate for this business. Journalists are often pushed, or by their own volition, to beg people to subscribe to their gutted newspapers. Print must be saved, you see, ignoring how owners of groups like Gatehouse or Gannett make millions while their reporters make barely above minimum wage. Did I mention you need a college degree for this line of work? Hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to be a shill for capitalism.
So what is the solution? Fight for nonprofit news organizations. Stop supporting the corporate media. Even if NPR can be detestable, they are better than the trash printed or beamed on your TV screens.
For journalists? Unionize or dump this industry all together. To hell with journalism!