The End of Media, Chapter 1: How it used to be
This is such a worthy area to explore. All of our organizations and institutions that are concerned with “communication” must now think hard about what happens post mainstream media. That’s a scary thought because there was a beauty to reaching large groups of people efficiently, and with something approaching “facts”. The “gatekeepers” also did fairly uncontroversial things like cover the courts and city hall and junior hockey. I learned at the Bar Association conference last week that the Supreme Court sometimes can’t get a single person to cover important decisions. They actually pitch decisions to outlets.
Meanwhile, some types of social media are also dying, or are no longer purveyors of news.
I also remember when the press galleries were a unified force. There was no divide and conquer because we all followed (and made) the same set of rules. It was us against them, on behalf of our readers/viewers/listeners, period - no matter who was in power. Oh sure, there were left or right leaning columnists, but leg/parliamentary reporters didn’t hang out with them. We all camped outside the door of the same minister who was under the gun on any given day. When he/she came out, the competition was for who would get the best/first question in (and later who could get the story out first/best) but really we were all in it together. More memory lane nostalgia, of course. But I recall how it worked - in one powerful respect. They knew they had no real choice but to answer our questions.
Thank you for this. Can’t wait for Part 2. You may cover this in a future part, but I wonder if one of the consequences of the slashing of newsroom staff is a loss of valuable mentoring - formal & informal. In my business, if I’ve picked up any skills (opinions vary!), many of them came from being in the room with senior, experienced people while they did their jobs. Even if they weren’t formally teaching, I got the chance to see what they did & how they did it in the real world. I’ll never denigrate the value of the education I received at school, but learning from the day to day work my mentors did, was & is priceless. I can’t imagine it’s that different in the media business, and its loss to the next generation would be profound.
You gave us lots to mull over, Paul. Coming to terms with a new reality.
We appear to be living through a cultural revolution. Not one intentionally created, but with the available technology, it evolved. How we learn about the happenings in the world around us is becoming more contrived, in that we are told only what the bearer of information wishes to impart. There is no intermediary to interpret and question further.
Something you may touch upon in another submission is the generational divide. Seniors such as myself still prefer news in print, but gradually find ourselves going to our laptop for the latest news and commentary from the standard news sources of journalism and television network news.
Our children may use singular themed Podcasts, YouTube and Twitter as their news source, while the grandchildren only look to be entertained. and ignore news altogether.
Of these three generations, I suspect it is the seniors who are more likely to find their way to the Voting Station on election day. However, soon our children will be tomorrow's seniors. Any wonder voter turnout is declining!
Now I want to read The Gazette's 1986 review of Aliens...
Important to remember Ripley didn't just climb into that thing out of the blue - she did have a Class 2 rating....
Old Media was parked for more than a century at the crossroads between not Knowledge, but Information and Commerce. Knowledge it seems to me is a barely trodden foot path leading off Information boulevard. And wisdom? Who the hell knows how to find that...
You write as if there's something wrong with disintermediation. I'm happy now to be rid of the burden of picking through all of the hidden agendas and commerical bullshit that used to interfer with my gathering of "intelligence." Subscribing directly to your newsletter, supporting your good writing and thinking, seems to me, an improvement. I like that my money is going directly into your pocket.
Good stuff. I can see why we might be nostalgic for a closed door session between serious journalists and political figures. A major deficit that I see today is a real lack of serious questioning in the various political media scrums and TV interviews. Over and over again, idiots get away with saying idiotic things, and are not openly challenged.
Seeing Mendocino running like a deer from the hounds of the press was so exceptional that it was news in itself.
Something has changed in the quality of the intermediation that has accelerated the decline of the big national newspapers. It is not just the economics.
After all, I and many others are shelling out to read Mr Wells and others, so maybe we just needed to be presented with a better product...
Our house still get printed newspapers. We grew up with The Gazette in the morning and The Montreal Star in the afternoon. Disinformation is a a buzz word now and the culprit as far as I am concerned is the lack of transparence and truth from our leaders. Looks like the first word a politician learns is PIVOT. Nobody answers a question, nobody is in charge.They are all spin masters and take the citizens for fools. There could still be great journalism if we let the reporters really report and let the reader decide what's there for him/her. Too many writers are just editorialists with which side the paper leans. We need more freedom of expression..not less.
Of COURSE we need full-time people who do nothing but study public affairs. It's like the old union joke: "Labour needs to organize, because Management will organize us, if we don't". The individual has no power to follow the "organizing" of their lives done by full-time professionals. It's like asking weekend players to beat an NHL team. We need pros on the people's side, who work full-time at watching governments and Boards of Directors that rule us.
Both academia, and the Courts, have these elaborate procedures for getting (eventually) to the Truth with a capital-T, nailed down by peer review, testimony, forensics. Good journalism has always emulated both, since it started. Getting testimony nailed down, get forensics, have peer-review: journalism comes from what professors and judges learned over centuries about getting past lies.
One wonders what academia could do to produce journalism. "The Peer-Reviewed Journal of Public Affairs"? I can't help but notice that a LOT of money has piled up in college trust funds; maybe Harvard could do the Harvard Crimson - national affairs edition. Or maybe academia - in the form of high schools - could start doing journalism "courses" where the students get credit for sitting in on, oddly enough, those dull school board meetings - automatic A to the kid who spots a scandal.
All I know is that I'm currently dropping $540 on PostMedia, $220 on Patreon, $66 on The Tyee, $70 on The Guardian, $70 on the CNO, and $170 on multiple substacks.
I've kind of got to subscribe to Moscrop, too, but that's getting towards $100/month for journalism. If everybody did this, there would be no problem, no? At least I'm not part of it.
A promising start to a mightily important and timely story, coming as it does while two heated media rivals try to hammer out the biggest single newspaper conglomerate this country will ever see. From Keith Davey to Pablo Rodriguez, government has tried to “fix” the problems of ownership concentration and the collapse of a sustainable revenue base. I hope you’re planning on exploring those doomed efforts.
Great article! Love the insight and nuance into the breakdown of the power of traditional media.
I look forward to the rest of the series
I enjoyed this article and can relate to many things that were pointed out, especially the decline in local news coverage.
In my backyard, a “license to print money” TV station has shuttered, the two local radio stations don’t bother much with on the ground news and sports coverage and the daily newspaper is owned by a media consortium which stuffs the dwindling pages with Coles Notes condensed versions of provincial, national and international news and sports that was produced in a factory grinder elsewhere. All in all, its pathetic.
Our economy is booming and businesses have a need for advertising but not near enough to support a thriving TV, radio or newspaper operation. If it wasn’t for social media spreading local stories (usually dire or sad news of some sort), it would be hard to know what is happening in our neighborhood.
Communications from politicians seems much more about manipulation than persuasion. The reasoning and facts behind a position are rarely revealed.
Well written and great read as usual. We have E subscriptions to The Star, Globe, and NYT, Wells, and the TV news channels, and public library memberships. I like to think we are well informed but at the end of each day. However, the price of access will likely see us unsubscribe to some of these forums this year. Our local media is no longer a dependable source of information so we dropped that subscription last year. End result we often know more about the political antics in Ottawa and Washington than we do in our own city. Perhaps one solution is to ban politicians and their boys and girls in short pants from using social media.
Imagine cutting off Paul Martin Sr in the middle of important gossip!