We cannot sit by and allow corporations, billionaires, and demagogues to destroy the Fourth Estate
Walter Cronkite once said that journalism is what we need to make democracy work. He was absolutely right, which is why todays assault on journalism by Wall Street, billionaire businessmen, Silicon Valley and Donald Trump presents a crisis and why we must take concrete action.
Real journalism is different from the gossip, punditry and clickbait that dominates todays news. Real journalism, in the words of Joseph Pulitzer, is the painstaking reporting that will fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption, [and] always fight demagogues. Pulitzer said journalism must always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty.
When we have had real journalism, we have seen crimes like Watergate exposed and confronted, leading to anti-corruption reforms. When we have lacked real journalism, we have seen crimes like mortgage fraud go unnoticed and unpunished, leading to a devastating financial crisis that destroyed millions of Americans lives.
Real journalism requires significant resources. One reason we do not have enough real journalism in America right now is because many outlets are being gutted by the same forces of greed that are pillaging our economy.
For example, two Silicon Valley corporations Facebook and Google control 60% of the entire digital advertising market. They have used monopolistic control to siphon off advertising revenues from news organizations. A recent study by the News Media Alliance, a trade organization, found that in 2018, as newspaper revenues declined, Google made $4.7bn off reporting that Google did not pay for.
At the same time, corporate conglomerates and hedge fund vultures have bought and consolidated beleaguered local newspapers and slashed their newsrooms all while giving executives big payouts. Gannetts proposed merger with Gatehouse Media, for instance, will consolidate hundreds of publications under one mega-corporations control and slash $300m worth of synergies which is often corporate-speak for layoffs. Matt Pearce, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, notes that the new Gannett/Gatehouse chief executive is getting $4.5m in bonuses and stock just for walking in the door.
The result of these trends has been the decimation of journalism. Over the past 15 years, more than 1,400 communities across the country have lost newspapers, which are the outlets local television, radio and digital news sites rely on for reporting. Since 2008, we have seen newsrooms lose 28,000 employees and in the past year alone, 3,200 people in the media industry have been laid off. Today, for every working journalist, there are six people now working in public relations, often pushing a corporate line.