Journalism is being eaten alive by opinion; Why the media’s disastrous misreporting of Covington still stings. Also, your opinions always turn out right, while the facts you uncover by reporting don’t always support your opinions.
If you’re a journalist in 2020, you could fill several thick notebooks with the reasons you have to be scared, demoralised, beaten-down, disillusioned… really, insert any negative emotion you can imagine. These are terrible times for this line of work, especially in the United States.
The field is being hit with wave after wave of contraction, and local and regional newspapers are dying to the point where all that’s left, with the exception of a handful of the biggest cities, is a giant news desert dotted with tiny puddles. Countless layoffs have ravaged the industry, leading to many heartbreaking cases of journalists being marooned, midlife, in an unforgiving labour landscape.
My theory is that “Learn to code,” a meme often hurled at laid-off journalists by Twitter trolls, cuts particularly deep because of how neatly it capture the sheer desolation that engulfs journalism’s professionally dispossessed. I’m sorry to be a professional chauvinist, but there issomething unique about what we do: it requires such a specific skillset, and, when done right, it feels so meaningful and serves an indispensable societal role.
But not everyone recognises that; we’re easy to hate. So there they are, those faceless online hordes, thrilling at the idea of us having to chase employment in another field — a field in which, in the very best-case scenario, we’ll somehow succeed in beating out countless energetic 22-year-olds for a chance to work for an on-demand dogfood-delivery app destined for bankruptcy three months post-launch.
And yet, despite the profound structural emergency engulfing my field, I’d like to victim-blame just a little. My desire to do so stems from the fact that we just passed the first anniversary of the Covington Catholic High School debacle in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. It was genuinely one of the worst, most embarrassing recent moments in professional journalism, and there was never any real reckoning among those who screwed it up. Would such a reckoning save the industry? Of course not. But if we don’t grapple with what the Covington debacle revealed about where journalism is right now, we won’t have much worth saving, anyway.
In January of last year, you might recall, someone posted a short video of what appeared to be a group of jeering, cheering white kids — some in pro-Donald-Trump MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) hats — surrounding an older Native American man banging a drum in front of the Lincoln Memorial. These, it was quickly revealed, were students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, in town for the anti-abortion March for Life. The Native American man, it turned out, was a longtime activist named Nathan Phillips.