Trump and Journalism’s Death Spiral


Mainstream American network and print journalism is in a death spiral (First though, this caveat. Journalism is a thousand voices and each voice should be judged individually on its merits). That said, come on people. How can anyone watch the nightly network news, or CNN or read the NY Times and not concede they have declared war on President Donald Trump.

They have reason to be defensive. Trump has launched an all-out assault on their credibility. But their response — to wage a battle to the death attempting to destroy him — makes them even less credible. They should answer President Trump the old fashion way, by being as fair and objective as possible (even if they can’t stand the guy). That is the only way they will restore their tattered credibility.

CNN reporter Jake Tapper looked into the camera and told the president to “stop whining” and get to work. The NY Times printed an opinion piece with a headline questioning if Trump was “a threat to democracy.” Yes, Mr. Trump’s biting personality is unprecedented in the Internet age, but so too is the media coverage. It’s never the media’s job to get back at anyone. At least, it shouldn’t be.

Let’s be clear, I’ve never been blind to the President’s flaws. The adolescent side of Mr. Trump, who spent his first full day in office complaining about crowd size estimates, or spent a week feuding with the parents of a dead war hero, has added a match to the burning hatred that consumes his critics. They have the right to protest from now to doomsday if they wish. But the press should not be part of the chorus. My own local newspaper actually did an editorial asking duly elected Trump delegates not to vote for him.

Media managers used to hide behind the “we have reporting and we have opinion pieces” defense. That line has been obliterated. Reporters routinely opine on the very stories they cover. Many major media outlets have now decided to cater to the audiences that agree with them. For example, imagine the difference in viewership between Fox News and MSNBC. News networks and major papers have become opinion news more than journalism. Mr. Trump has accelerated this death spiral but he did not start it.

Journalism has morphed into something else. The profession’s declining credibility could not have come at a worse time for it. In the 21st century, people are increasingly getting their news from each other, often from friends they agree with on most issues. The truth is nearly every network and every major newspaper has an agenda and none of them is truly objective (C-Span remains a rare exception).

There’s a silver lining. There are still many people in journalism who remain dedicated to the pursuit of the truth. I’ve worked with many of them. They must operate in this difficult environment. It is up to us to get our news from as many sources as possible and reward the ones that do the best job at being fair and objective. We can provide this badly-needed incentive. They are the ones that must survive.

Mark Grimm is a former TV news anchor/reporter, media professor and radio host who runs a public communication business.

Report: Media Future Is Knocking. What’s Your Answer?

New Research Report on News

The bad times for traditional media are getting worse and nearly every citizen is becoming part of the mass communication landscape. The question is, “Are they ready for it?”

A new report from the Pew Research Center reveals newspaper employment is off 30% from its peak in 2000 and local TV audiences were down “across every key time slot and across all networks in 2012.” Average revenue for news-producing stations dropped 36% from 2006-2011.

Ironically, these cutbacks have made traditional media outlets less capable of confronting the very competition that is pulling them under. Instead of providing more in-depth, quality coverage that would give them the edge over the many other information sources, they are doing less. In fact, about 40% of local TV news content last year was weather, sports and traffic. To add insult to injury, the non traditional information producers are getting much better at using technology to circumvent traditional media all together.

Everyone on Facebook is now a publisher. This is enormously good and bad news. It’s good because a few powerful media outlets will never be able to command the attention of the masses again. This is a body blow to media bias because such power can never really be entrusted to any small group. Mass communication today is far more democratic and the diversity of views has expanded beyond our wildest dreams.

And now the bad news. Journalism requires skill. Accuracy, fairness, context, clarity — no one is born with these traits, you have to learn and refine them. The Internet is the “Wild West” of information consumption and it’s hard to locate the good among the bad or to even know the difference if you did.

So what lies ahead for the age of the citizen communicators? That story has yet to be written. We’ve upped the ante on being interesting. Our education system must place more focus on developing communicators who care more about what their audience wants than what they want. Greater skill is needed in story telling. When was the last time college entrances exams tested for that? Concise language and savvy use of visuals are tools that are needed more. And everyone needs a plan on how to be informed. It won’t ever happen by chance.

Those who achieve these skills will own the 21st century. They will have a much better chance at happiness.

As for those in traditional media, the best storytellers will always have an audience. And the gatekeepers…they’ll never have it like they once had.

The writer, a former TV anchor, owns a communications business and is an adjunct media professor.