Washington Post columnist Perry Bacon Jr. argues that “journalism may never again make money, so it should it focus on mission.” As a news junkie, this saddens me. I am afraid Bacon may be correct in his assessment. But I also remain hopeful about the future of journalism, especially after learning of the work of Steven Waldman and the Rebuild Local News Coalition.
Here is a taste of Bacon’s piece:
We are in the middle of one of the worst times for the news business in my lifetime. The local newspaper industry has been collapsing for two decades, since the internet began siphoning revenue from print advertising. National print journalism and television were doing a bit better and then had a resurgence during Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and presidency, which captivated the country and alarmed left-leaning Americans. But the Trump Bump went away after he left office. Web traffic and TV audience data suggests Americans are much less interested in news about Trump’s latest presidential campaign compared with his runs in 2016 and 2020.
And it’s now clear billionaires aren’t a panacea for the news industry. The Post’s owner, Jeff Bezos, and other super-wealthy individuals who have purchased news outlets haven’t been as successful making money in journalism as in their other businesses and have cut staff to minimize their losses.
Put all that together and you have layoffs happening throughout the journalism industry (Business Insider, the Los Angeles Times and Time magazine just in the last week) — even as the U.S. economy is strong and Trump is back in the news.
The journalism industry itself and the public need to fully embrace a shifted landscape. The era when many news outlets were also successful businesses is over — and might never return. Foundations, wealthy individuals, average Americans and even local and state governments, much more than in the past, are being asked to subsidize news outlets through subscriptions or donations. Public radio stations holding fundraising drives used to be an anomaly in an industry largely funded by advertising. But in the future, it is likely that lots of news organizations will essentially be charities, asking rich people and also you to help them provide a critical service that the market won’t support.
So what kind of journalism should Americans be willing to fund? Three kinds in particular. Government and policy news, particularly at the local and state levels; watchdog journalism that closely scrutinizes powerful individuals, companies and political leaders; and cultural coverage, from important books and movies to faith and spirituality.
Why those things? They capture the major crises in America: the antidemocratic drift in the Republican Party; the growing, often-unchecked power of corporations and the wealthy; the rampant homelessness, drug addiction, declining life expectancy and other problems affecting America’s less fortunate; the increasing effects of climate change; and a decline in connection and community as Americans navigate a world full of social media but lacking religious congregations and other community-based groups.
Read the entire piece here.