The Collapse of US Media Is Accelerating Our Political Crisis

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by Chris Hedges, The Unz Review:

A third of all US newspapers have permanently closed, the industry is hemorrhaging reporters, and private equity and Big Tech are to blame.

Yet another wave of media layoffs is putting hundreds of journalists out of work across some of the largest major news outlets in the US, including CNN, the LA Times, Vox, Business Insider, CNBC, Garnett, and others. In an already-grim media landscape that’s been decimated by decades of tanking revenues, this latest round of cuts raises serious questions about how the loss of so much journalism will impact our society. Newspapers closed at a rate of 2.5 per week in 2023, up from 2 per week in 2022. 3,000 of the US’s 9,000 newspapers have permanently closed, and since 2005, two thirds of all journalists have lost their jobs. Pulitzer-winning reporter Gretchen Morgenson joins The Chris Hedges Report to discuss the crisis in media, partially covered in her book, These Are the Plunderers: How Private Equity Runs—and Wrecks—America.

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TRANSCRIPT

Chris Hedges: The media landscape in the US is collapsing as journalism outlets at the national, state, and local levels close or gut staff. One-third of the country’s newspapers have shut down and two-thirds of its newspaper journalists have lost jobs since 2005. An average of 2.5 newspapers closed each week in 2023 compared to 2 a week in 2022. The decimation of local news outlets is even worse, where papers are closing and layoffs have been nearly constant. In the last two decades, nearly 3,000 of the country’s 9,000 newspapers have closed, and 43,000 newspaper journalists have lost their jobs.

The bloodletting is only accelerating. Business Insider is eliminating 8% of its workforce. The Los Angeles Times recently laid off 120 journalists, more than 20% of the newsroom after cutting 74 newsroom positions last June. Time magazine has announced impending layoffs, The Washington Post at the end of last year cut 240 jobs, Sports Illustrated has been gutted, and CNN, NPR, Vice Media, Vox Media, NBC News, CNBC, and other organizations have all made huge staff cuts.

The newspaper chain, Gannett, which owns USA Today and many local papers, has cut hundreds of positions. The latest round of layoffs comes on the heels of the worst job cuts in the journalism sector since 2020 when the COVID crisis saw some 2,700 jobs eliminated. The consumption of news and entertainment by the public in the digital age has turned many of the traditional media platforms into dinosaurs. But as they disappear, so does the core of journalism and reporting, especially investigative reporting. Digital platforms are with a few exceptions, not sustaining repertorial coverage, certainly not on the local level, one of the fundamental pillars of democracy.

Advertising dollars which once sustained the media industry have migrated to digital platforms where advertisers are able to target, with precision, potential customers. The monopoly that the old media had connecting sellers with buyers is gone. Social media and search giants, such as Google and Meta, snap up media content for free and disseminate it. Media outlets are often owned by private equity firms or billionaires that do not invest in journalism but harvest and hollow out the outlets for short-term profits accelerating the death spiral.

Journalism at its best makes the powerful accountable, but as media organizations decline and news deserts expand, the press, increasingly anemic, is also coming under attack from political demagogues and sites masquerading as news platforms, fake news, misinformation, salacious rumors, and lies fill the void. Civil society is paying the price. Joining me to discuss the crisis in journalism is Gretchen Morgenson, a senior financial reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit. She previously worked for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times where she won a Pulitzer Prize. Her latest book is These Are the Plunderers: How Private Equity Runs and Wrecks America.

All right, so let’s start when we were both young newspaper reporters. As I said before, I don’t want to begin this discussion by not acknowledging the faults of the commercial press, of which there are many; You and I come out of it. In my book, Death of Liberal Class, I quote Sydney Schanberg, who also won the Pulitzer in Cambodia, people can see that story in the movie, The Killing Fields. He had a great quote, he said, “We may not have always made things better, but we stopped things from getting worse.” And I thought that was a nice summary. But like you, I’m terrified of what’s coming. And that loss of reporting, however constrained it may have been, is absolutely deadly to civil society and our democracy.

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