The Dark Age Of Journalism

Mar 27 2013 @ 10:40am

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Finally, a handful of journalists are beginning to tell the truth about the accelerating fusion of journalism with advertising:

One could say, “Oh, magazines. That industry has always been a brothel.” Which is true – although not of the news and public policy segments. And one could say, “Tut tut. TV was whoring itself to audiences long before anyone ever uttered the words ‘click bait.’” Which is also true.

The problem is, it is decreasingly useful to separate these industries by medium. Text, audio and video are rapidly converging. As journalism brands grow to look more like one another, we are seeing unmistakable signs of publishers slouching toward an ethical lowest common denominator.

Anyone who cares deeply about quality, independent journalism should pray for paywalls and other subscription models to take hold. Because in the world of the smart and the desperate, desperate always has the last word.

I was particularly taken by the remarks of this commenter, rebutting the argument that all this change is inevitable. It isn’t. And the change is not a new way for journalism; it’s euthanizing its critical, independent role in a democratic society:

You don’t think it matters that the industry that is responsible for the dissemination of information is increasingly ceding editorial control to PR firms simply to stay afloat?

Democracy is a market in which politicians design policies to get votes. Like any market, it relies on information and signals being reliably transmitted from producer to consumer and vice versa. In a situation where the producer can effectively block the signals that actually their policies are designed simply to siphon wealth from everyone else into the pockets of the rich, what do you think happens to that market? Yep, that’s right, you get a choice between red, blue and yellow versions of producers all with the same agenda.

We are reaching a point at which there will be many fewer actual media companies, and more and more companies which learn to mimic what used to be journalism in order to sell their products. We’ve gone from advertizing supporting journalism to journalism supporting corporate propaganda. At the rate we’re going, as the line between church and state is deliberately blurred by desperate media companies, we may end up with a handful of actual independent online magazines and newspapers and a vast industry of corporate propaganda designed to look like the real thing. If we’re lucky.

(Photo: one of Tom Scott’s Journalism Warning Labels)