The media is getting a terrible rap these days, much of it warranted. In the age where the news cycle renews itself every thirty minutes and the space is crowded with too many platforms and not enough readers, journalists scrabble to get stories out as fast as possible, often resorting to click-bait headlines just to catch enough views to keep an ad agency happy.
The whole system needs desperate reform. Echo chambers abound when readers can swiftly find alternative news sources once their point of view is challenged; such petty entitlement is perhaps the one commonality found on both the Right and the Left today. What a shameful middle-ground indeed.
Having reached over-saturation, many people in the global north have decided they no longer need “the mainstream media”, sometimes just referred to as “the media”. Much as anti-vaxxers have found their space in history as faith in experts starts to fall, journalists face misplaced blame and resentment in nations where the abundance of choice necessitates an umbrella marker: the media is, to us, very real. And because we think it’s not going anywhere, it’s up for attack.
We’ve wandered into deep metaphysical shit, my friends.
Our media needs reform in the same way most other industries do. It is absurd that private individuals own any news sources, or that journalists, who are the gatekeepers of democracy, I promise, earn miserly amounts to chase down vital stories at the risk of never getting to publish them. The risk is mitigated by that same abundance of choice in the global north, but still exists. The solution isn’t Marxist, but rather pretty damn obvious: let journalists own the publications. This would almost completely eradicate conflicts of interests; journalists don’t have friends, they have sources.
But, as with so much these days, because that top 1% who own the papers who own the journalists (yes, precarious job market) are nigh-on inaccessible, it is these journalists who so often face a misdirected public wrath and are subsumed by that bitter term, “the media”. Rather than championing our national and international investigators —who, in the UK and many European countries, don’t answer to government—and working with them to reform what’s broken, we’re slowly eradicating an industry that we cannot live without.
How many of us know what it’s like to be a citizen in a nation of state-controlled media? Or, perhaps worse, a nation where individual politicians own the media? A nation where “independent” is a synonym for “dissident”? I currently work with an independent media team in one of these countries, which runs as a democracy—the opposition party never stood a chance before the creation of these independent teams because the constant stories of corruption, bribery and illegality in government disappeared from the news cycle within hours. It was these independent journalists who uprooted a corrupt leader and paved the way for a decent opposition party. But even now, for those who dare fight for fact, fake names are advisable. The team have, at times, relocated to neighbouring countries to work in safety.
Having media is a blessing; having a tradition and industry so strong that we can refer to it as a real thing is a huge accomplishment. “The media” is not a given in most of the world. Attacking the concept only enhances the risks of unaccountable governance and industry, among many other dangers. Rather, great effort should be made to reform the concrete flaws that rightly distress the public—and the journalists themselves. I would hazard that the biggest flaws are private ownership and for-shareholder-profit models.That “shareholder” bit is important—media cannot and should not survive on grants alone. Just look at the withering academy.
The public ought to work with journalists to uphold “the media” and rightly undermine the private individuals and privately-held publications that only serve to maximise profit margins by selling false information and stirring upset. We rely on our media for our education and, yes, it often fails to deliver in the grips of an neoliberal system that seems hellbent on choking the life out of everything on this planet (but not Mars, right Elon?) As readers we can combat that failure by supporting the publications fighting for fact. However, if, as citizens, we do not also fight for our right to have “the media”, there will be nothing left to read.
Platform investigates our global shit-show and what to do about it. Subscribe to get the newsletter and podcast delivered to your inbox every week.