I feel like I've been to - and produced - dozens of hand-wringing panel talks on the future of journalism. It's a juicy topic to dig into, despite the obvious frustration hovering every chin-stroking insight lobbed by a media pro: We truly don't know what's going to happen to journalism.
But some of us, some journalists with deep roots in history writing and thoughtful analysis, can at least present what kind of diagnosis that is sickening the world's magazines, newspapers and online outlets. And most recently, that rarity belongs to author Jill Lepore, who just wrote a vital longread on U.S. journalism's many challenges.
The New Yorker feature, in the Jan 28 print edition, takes us back to ye ol' glory days of newspaper competition and one-upmanship (and it was always 'man' back then), but we don't get rocked in a cradle of complacency in Lepore's piece. Instead, we are quickly bombarded with the heady challenges outlined in Lepore's reading of The Merchant of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts.
What I appreciate about Lepore's criticism is how she doesn't let Abramson off the hook, such as when reporters at new media outlets like Vice are seen as "impossibly hip, with interesting hair." Lepore says hold up, holster the snarky sidearm, and recognize what's happening when online publishers begin to even scoop legacy papers: "...there is a changing of the guard worth noting, and it’s not incidental: it’s critical."
Even if you know the story of Jonah Peretti founding BuzzFeed, it's worth poring through Lepore's recounting of the site's rise and pivot, and then pivot again. We've all been reading about BuzzFeed News recently and how Mueller has called out their most recent report on Russia-Trump ties, so Lepore's look back at a Silicon Valley gambit is a lesson for many new media publishers out there.
I care about the future of news reporting, because this industry is too essential to a healthy democracy to see it get crippled at the knees. Layoffs, heady competition from Google/Facebook, mismanagement and partisan politics plague today's journalism space, and Lepore is quick to point out how a future solution can't be read in the tea leaves. Instead, we can learn a quick lesson or two from The Guardian funding itself via philanthropy, for example.
Or take this topsy-turvy fliparoo you might have noticed: "BuzzFeed News became more like the Times, and the Times became more like BuzzFeed, because readers, as Chartbeat announced on its endlessly flickering dashboards, wanted lists, and luxury porn, and people to hate."
Some longreads are well worth the investment in your time, so if you're concerned or at the very least curious about the state of journalism today, Lepore's overview will catch you up...if not freak you out.
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