I’ve not only been a journalist for the past 65 years not counting being my college newspaper’s editor (see photo with my staff), I also taught journalism to undergraduate students at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. Students such as successful Hawaii journalists Jade Moon, Howard Dashefsky, Keahi Tucker and Dave Reardon.
I believed in it, fought those who tried to curtail the free press, battled those who tried to curtail access to public information, and was a stalwart First Amendment supporter.
It never occurred to me that American journalism might fade or be listed as “the enemy” by the President of the U.S.
Or that Princeton University’s magazine should find it necessary to front-cover an edition questioning The Future of Journalism.
Yet here we are. Journalism jobs disappearing, journalism pay staying too low to attract the best, newspapers fast closing, and the White House trying to rouse the public to burn our house down.
What the hell happened?
First, journalism was never perfect. It was often too sensational. It frequently didn’t fact-check its facts. It practiced jingoism and contributed to the Spanish-American War. Too many reporters had too little liberal arts education so they’d understand the big picture.
We set ourselves up as punching bags for the Donald Trumps of the world and the dictators.
Michael Goodwin of the New York Post complains that “The Washington press corps is covering one of the largest, continuing stories in recent history the same way it has covered the Trump administration since Day One. The formula is simple: Whatever the president does is not just wrong, it’s borderline evil. Details at 11.”
There’s some truth there. Trump has a hard time ever getting a good review, even when he’s pardoning a turkey for Thanksgiving.
But he brings much of this on himself by always going nuclear against the press. Recently, he attacked the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post while taking a question from a small, far-right, conspiracy-oriented cable news channel, which he praised as “very good.”
“They treat me very nicely,” Trump said. The cable news personality said major newsrooms had teamed up with the Chinese Communist Party, Islamic radicals, Latin gangs and drug cartels to attack Trump.
Trump then boasted that he had canceled the White House’s subscriptions to the country’s major newspapers. “It amazes me when I read The Wall Street Journal, which is so negative and The New York Times, I barely read it. We don’t distribute it in the White House, and the same with The Washington Post.”
Okay, so the press certainly is the enemy at the current White House. But how about with the general public, and can it keep alive in this age of social media and digital news as the favored choice of young Americans?
The statistics are not good. Much of the public attitude toward the press is not good. Revenue is scarce. Now the corona virus 19. I recently was laid off along with other paid columnists at MidWeek, Hawaii’s weekly journal owned and published by the daily Star-Advertiser.
The digital Honolulu Civil Beat has a beating heart because it is owned by the billionaire Pierre Omidyar and it gets revenue from reader-donors by being a non-profit — not by ad sales. But I doubt it would survive with its current staff numbers if it did not have Omidyar’s bank account as a backup. The print papers of Oahu Publications (Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii Island) do not have that.
A third of America’s largest newspapers have laid off staff, but then a quarter of digital sites without something similar to Civil Beat’s backup have done the same.
Journalism is on a respirator.
The New Yorker’s Jill Lepore writes:
The newspaper mortality rate is old news, and nostalgia for dead papers is itself pitiful at this point, even though, I still say, there’s a principle involved. “I wouldn’t weep about a shoe factory or a branch-line railroad shutting down,” Heywood Broun, the founder of the American Newspaper Guild, said when the New York World went out of business in 1931. “But newspapers are different.”