On Nov. 2, the CEO of DNAinfo and Gothamist, Joe Ricketts, announced he would be shutting down both sites dedicated to local journalism. Ricketts claimed the move is due to a lack of economic success. However the announcement comes just one week after the combined newsroom of DNAinfo and Gothamist revealed plans to unionize. This episode is further proof of the deterioration of journalistic institutions and the need for more independent and publicly funded journalism.
The top priority of any good news source should be to report on stories that affect their readers. DNAinfo and Gothamist provided cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco with hyper-local, neighborhood-level reporting. Both sites did top-quality work, covering topics like crime and real estate development. Their objective of course, according to Ricketts, was always to make him and investors more money.
The sad fact is Ricketts did exactly what he was supposed to in this system. DNAinfo and Gothamist gave their readers quality journalism on stories that mattered, but they were unable to turn a profit. The only smart business decision for Ricketts to make was to shut down. The internet and other technological advancements involving breaking news have made traditional print journalism financially obsolete. Local newspapers around the country are shrinking and disappearing as local news falls by the wayside to the more attractive national news.
The national news reporting that is actually able to make a profit most often comes in the form of cable news. Networks like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC have seen their popularity rise since the launch of CNN in 1980. This is not a good trend for the American news consumer.
In 2016, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC reported a combined revenue of over $5 billion, according to Pew Research Center. There is already so much money tied up in cable news, and the network executive’s thirst for more profits cannot be quenched. The only way for these networks to keep making more money is to make sure viewers keep tuning in by airing entertaining stories with no news value. They are sacrificing editorial quality for more entertaining stories that have less actual impact on the viewers’ lives.
One striking example of this is CNN’s coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that disappeared without a trace in March of 2014. Understandably, this was a shocking incident that deserved coverage when it happened.
Following the spike in ratings, CNN provided almost around-the-clock coverage on the topic for over a month. In that time, there were plenty of other stories that had more impact on their viewers, which CNN chose to ignore in favor of their missing plane coverage. CNN received criticism for their over-coverage, but did not care as long as viewers tuned in.
This is why the need for publicly funded journalism is now so important. Journalists are society’s watchdog. Without the strong reporting of independent journalists our democracy could come apart at the seams. If we do not act now, all news will become fluff pieces used to distract us from unjust actions taking place behind the scenes.
Outlets such as PBS and NPR are already funded by public grants and member station dues. They are able to report on actual news stories that directly affect the viewers rather than producing more entertaining content with little substance. Unfortunately, it is not enough. Quality news reporting is rapidly deteriorating in this country. We all suffer because of it. The U.S. needs to invest in more publicly funded media to preserve the arts, education and investigative journalism.
Photo provided by Michael via flickr