If you haven’t already, please read Part I before reading this piece. It provides an abbreviated history of journalism as we have come to know it and presents the issues discussed in this part. You can find it here.
Perhaps this is due to falling standards, which can be traced back to the concentrated staffs of many news sources. One of the places at which this problem is most evident is at the Advocate. The year that we won the Pacemaker, every person on the staff, from the editor-in-chief on down to the staff writers, such as myself, had an opportunity to write, or work on, the month’s feature stories. That caused people to be more passionate about their work, and it resulted in more interesting, and in-depth, stories. The year after, though, more writing responsibility was stripped from the writing staff and placed on the already busy editorial staff, a structure that has remained in place today, for both the online and print editions. The need for writers, then, was significantly lessened, as a single writer could easily handle at least two or three of the sidebars that we were assigned to. Therefore, many writers either quit writing for school publications altogether or moved to the school yearbook, a far more collaborative project, or were turned away due to the incredibly exclusive hierarchy of the paper’s leadership. These departures, or exclusions, led to (relatively) lower quality work and a decrease in unique ideas and perspectives, leading to some grumblings from current students about the Advocate’s limited scope, especially recently, in the light of the Presidential election. There is another side to this coin, as well—decreased investment in journalism has forced news sources to concentrate their staffs, preventing them from being as effective in their coverage as they could be. This is more prominent than the Advocate example—since traditional journalism isn’t as financially rewarding as some other mediums, and because of the decreased circulation of many traditional-based journalistic sources as people search for as much free news as possible, many magazines, newspapers, and websites are forced into major budget, and therefore, staff, reductions. Within the past couple of years, a major sports-and-media website, Grantland, and many prominent newspapers, such as the Tampa Tribune, have been shut down on account of these things. A more recent, and less dramatic, example of this popped up at the end of November, when the Florida Panthers hockey team shockingly fired their head coach, Gerrard Gallant. No specific details came out about the shocking decision until the following afternoon, though, because the papers that covered the team didn’t have the money, or motivation, to send their writers to Charlotte to cover the team. In this modern age, the idea that we couldn’t have crucial details on such a big move virtually immediately came as a huge shock, and the lack of money to have a full-time hockey beat writer caused many to have to wait longer than they wanted to.
All of the that previous criticism of the straying from “traditional” journalism, considering that this post is supposed to be in support of it, is somewhat hypocritical, considering that this blog, and blogs in general, are taking away some of the audience that would typically be buying, and reading, those older sources of journalism (more on that later). As such, to draw in those audiences, these places have tried to hire more blogger-style writers to maintain their readership. These other writers either don’t take the time to properly edit their work, ditch prose for more “engaging” content that turns into a hot mess, and drastically stretch facts, misinterpret them, or ignore them altogether, often leading to some unbelievably biased news. Doing these things has caused the journalism field to drastically decrease in quality. An example of the first point is my school’s own Babson Free Press, which has both a print copy and an online copy. The print copy comes out too infrequently to evaluate, but their online site is highly representative of a lack of editorial focus. None of the featured articles that it covered the last couple months, on the election or other topics—most of which are laced with numerous grammar errors, which is a common theme with many “newer” journalists, or are opinion pieces that have no business being counted as “news” for a school paper with a deep history—can be found without some digging. The Free Press is not alone in its manipulation of journalistic details—“news sources” on both sides of the aisle have also put a stain on the journalism through their perpetuation of “fake news.” The usual suspects were involved in the advancement of these false stories—Fox News regularly pushed anything that seemed to bolster Donald Trump’s agenda, while the Huffington Post did the opposite, while ending every one of their articles on Trump with “Editor’s note: Donald Drumpf regularly incites political violence, and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther…”— yet even traditionally unbiased papers like The Washington Post fell victim to “fake news” (their involvement is detailed here). One of the most prominent of the places pushing fake news is the infamous Breitbart. The site generates hundreds of clickbait articles every week, coming up with fantastical ideas about the failings of liberals based on some faint rumor that may have been emanating from Washington. Their frequent perpetuation of white supremacist ideals certainly doesn’t help, either. Another one of those sources is every millennial’s favorite website, Buzzfeed, for which my girlfriend and I hold a very guilty pleasure. The site fashions themselves as “the leading independent digital media company delivering news and entertainment to hundreds of millions of people,” and to an extent, that is exactly what they are. But to claim that much of the things that they consider “news” is an embarrassment to the industry—the site has things like this and this filed under their news section. All of these mistakes, and egregious failings of journalistic integrity, combine to keep the legitimacy, and popularity, of the evolving journalism field level lower than what it could be.
Come back on Monday for the conclusion of this series of posts!