When I read the Vanity Fair article, Is the Newspaper Endorsement Dying? and similar articles elsewhere, I was sad, but for a slightly different reason than one might think.
“Alden Global Capital—the second-largest newspaper publisher in the country—began adopting a new endorsement policy. ‘[The Boston] Herald stands for the people, not pols,’ read the headline of the Herald’s editorial, which went on to announce that the paper would stop endorsing candidates in presidential, gubernatorial, and Senate races…” Now, there may well be endorsements at the more local level.
“Earlier in the piece, the editorial staff offered some context for the decision. ‘As America’s political divide continues to deepen, the role of traditional news media as impartial providers of a common set of facts is more vital than ever,’ the editorial began, citing the ‘increasingly acrimonious’ nature of public discourse ‘with misinformation and disinformation on the rise.’
“At this particular moment, the [Hartford] Courant added in their editorial, the ‘partisan selection” inherent to endorsing political candidates “is counterproductive to achieving the essential goal of facilitating healthy public debate and building trust in our journalistic enterprise.'”
Other newspapers are cutting back as well. It may be “prudent” not to offend their shrinking customer base. Indeed, “a committee of editors from Gannett newsrooms nationwide [recently]… recommended the company’s papers avoid making endorsements in [statewide] races… ‘Readers don’t want us to tell them what to think’ and ‘perceive us as having a biased agenda,’ the committee said… citing editorials and opinion columns as not only ‘among our least read content,’ but a ‘frequently cited reason for canceled subscriptions.'”
A friend of mine pointed out that writer David Simon, way back in 2009, “expresses fears for newspapers’ future and accuses media owners of contempt,” some of them rightly so. Ultimately, he was making a case for online paid subscriptions, which has had mixed success.
More pervasive in the years since is the cult of personality that has become more important than real news. In The Hollywood Reporter, psychotherapist and media theorist MJ Corey views the cultural sway of the Kardashians. ‘There is a sadomasochistic element to the way they put themselves out there.’ The sociologists and philosophers who have foundationally influenced your thinking on media — Jean Baudrillard, Marshall McLuhan, and Daniel Boorstin — spoke a lot about the acceleration of media, spectacle, and the creation of the self.”
Another Hollywood Reporter story, this by Keli Goff, suggests Trevor Noah’s “decision to leave his Comedy Central show — and the continued decline of late night it signals — back to the politician who first eschewed legacy media,” Sarah Palin.
“Palin’s [Katie] Couric interview became fodder for memorable sketches on Saturday Night Live, but the fallout also led to the political divide that defines media consumption today. Palin wrote off the press as condescending, mean-spirited, untrustworthy, and out to get people like her (non-elites who would rather hunt than read.) People who saw themselves in her began to write the press off, and the rise of social media finally made it easier for them to do so.”
Some papers, including the Albany Times Union, want to push back. Editor Casey Seiler noted, “To be clear: The editorial page doesn’t direct news coverage, and it isn’t beholden to opine only on topics the Times Union’s reporters have covered.” Knowing Seiler somewhat, I’m willing to take him at his word.
But many folks do not. They perceive the mainstream media – or “lamestream media,” as Palin called them, as intrinsically unfair. There was a recent poll that was conducted by the New York Times indicating that the Republican generic House candidate had a 4-point edge over the Democrat. This was a straightforward story unless you read right-wing media, which I do. Newsmax indicates that EVEN The New York Times had to ADMIT that Democrats were losing. A very different spin.
Even a decade ago, people would share with me some info nuggets. I’d ask the source; they’d say Facebook or Twitter. “But what SOURCE, not the platform?” Even then, it was a struggle to get my point across. Now, what Kim Kardashian tweets about is treated the same as, and indeed is followed far more closely than, actual news on the legacy media. And THAT makes me sad.
Still, I always try to find hopeful signs. The New York Times notes that this week, October 24 to 28, is Media Literacy Week. The article Teenagers and Misinformation: Some Starting Points for Teaching Media Literacy – the link SHOULD be available to you – has lots of useful information. “Five ideas to help students understand the problem, learn basic skills, share their experiences and have a say in how media literacy is taught.”
Number 3 is Learn from teen fact-checkers, specifically “the MediaWise Teen Fact-Checking Network, which publishes fact-checks for teenagers, by teenagers. According to the site, the network’s ‘fact-checks are unique in that they debunk misinformation and teach the audience media literacy skills so they can fact-check on their own.'”
Some of this, I would think, is common sense. Mike Caulfield, “a digital literacy expert… has refined the process fact-checkers use into four simple principles:
2. Investigate the source.
3. Find better coverage.
4. Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original context.
Otherwise known as SIFT.”
Even adults could make of the methodologies described in the article.