By JE Sved on April 5, 2017
RICHMOND, VA (Herald de Paris) — ¬†I seem to have to do this every year, now. ¬†This year, I write my annual State of the News Media with more urgency than ever. ¬†For the past nine years, I have discussed “The Shift” that has been ongoing in our business since about 2005, when I saw the senior staff at the San Francisco Chronicle – the very people who hired me at that venerable newspaper – ushered out the door in favor of low-paid, “Content creators.” ¬†I have discussed what a fine run the printing press has had since Gutenburg first set up shop, and how the digital age did not herald (Pun intended) the death of readership, but that the traditional print media was slow to adapt. ¬†Indeed, resistance has been futile.
In reviewing my past versions of this soliloquy, I have to say – I was spot on. ¬†People in the newspaper business are fond of saying that people don’t read anymore. ¬†Quite the contrary. ¬†Readership may be down on printed media, and it may even be down a little on desktop computers, but readers are alive and well on mobile devices. ¬†Mobile readership of the Herald de Paris and across the planet is off the charts with growth. ¬†In our own metrics, more people than ever are reading our pages, staying on our website longer, and clicking through to read other content more frequently than ever before. ¬†Our Twitter impressions on single Tweets are into seven figures, and some of our Tweets have been re-Tweeted the world over by more than half a million people.
With this kind of growth, imagine my dismay when earlier this week, the once venerable Richmond Times-Dispatch announced the layoff of 33 more members of their newsroom, some of whom had been at the TD since the early 1980s.
This shouldn’t be.
From the standpoint of audience, shrinking any newsroom is the wrong approach. They should instead be re-thinking the newsroom. If any newspaper is still trying to survive on print ad sales in the blossoming of the digital age, they can not survive. Balancing the books in the news media is like dieting – you can reduce calorie intake or increase activity to burn fat. Both work. A newspaper can increase multimedia coverage and opportunities or they can reduce overhead. When they choose the latter, they decided their people were more expendable than their property holdings, they embark on a short-term solution that any media outlet will likely come to regret.
In what may well be the most important and pivotal political climate of any of our lifetimes, the United States – the entire world – needs the strength of a free and altruistic press to maintain the balance morality and the will of the people, and the whims of the misguided. ¬†“In an age of pervasive video content,” Dan Rather recently wrote, “There remains an enduring power in the written word.”
The problem is, World War III may well be upon us. ¬†We may not recognize it as such as it is being waged with words, not with weapons, but it is, indeed, upon us. ¬†Perhaps we should call it Word War III. ¬†Let me put it in other words: ¬†Fake news; plagiarism; the proliferation of “News” sites you never heard of speaking authoritatively but who are either proliferating erroneous content, or are allowing untrained writers to pose as professional journalists. ¬†Would you let any guy with a sharp knife take out your gallbladder? ¬†No. ¬†You would go to a trained professional. ¬†So, too, you should pay very close attention to where you get your news and information from.
The Herald¬†has run a column periodically for more than 8 years called, “Fired across the Bow.” ¬†When we find news sites plagiarizing our news stories we call them out on it by name and in print. ¬†It sickens me that we have to do this, but sometimes you have to take a stand.
Unfortunately, this is where it gets worse. ¬†Who have we been firing across the bow at most often these last couple of years? CNN, who seem to be hiring anyone with a laptop to write their content, then publishing it on the internet without bothering to vet it first. ¬†This is not to say that their broadcast news is any better, or that they are alone. ¬†CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and others seem more interested in their ratings, so they can grab their share of the advertising dollars by hocking erectile dysfunction medication ads, than in doing what journalists are supposed to do: ¬†REPORT THE NEWS. ¬†Instead, they grandstand a growing number of analysts whose only agenda seems to be to inflame the on-air debates in order to create conflict for the viewers. ¬†This is not journalism, this is reality television.
Let me put it another way. ¬†With all respect to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, on what planet is the daily White House Press Briefing on CSPAN the most entertaining programming on television?
Meanwhile, we regularly beat them to breaking stories by as much as three hours.
If you don’t believe me, listen to Michael Levine, the Beverly Hills PR Guru. ¬†“There‚Äôs no filter,” Levine said. “Any jackass in pajamas can put together something that looks professional, then go out there and say whatever they want. ¬†What‚Äôs going on is really anonymous sabotage, and everyone has 24/7 access to participate. ¬†Right now, the world is dangerously distracted; people are masturbating digitally, and acting with vapid inanity.”
Masturbating digitally. ¬†That would certainly explain all the erectile dysfunction ads. ¬†Our¬†news media are supposed to be here to serve as the filters, not the crap flowing downstream. ¬†At the Herald de Paris, we vet everything. ¬†We won’t even review a hotel without sleeping in their beds ourselves. ¬†Why? ¬†Because all we are interested in is reporting honestly, and with integrity. ¬†If we can’t confirm a story we don’t run it. ¬†We consider that our responsibility, and it is a responsibility we take seriously.
“The great thing about ‘alternative facts’ is that you can just make them up to suit your needs, with no need for research or verification,‚ÄĚ said Richard Tofel, president of ProPublica. ¬†Over the years, we have come to understand¬†ProPublica as our brothers and sisters in arms, because they share our ideal that reporting the news honestly is something we do in the public trust, and that trust is important to us.
What is the current state of the news media? ¬†Dire. ¬†But as Word War III rages on, the sad fact is that many of the wounds of this clash are self-inflicted by a news media who have forgotten words like honesty and integrity and trust; they have forgotten that news is not meant for Neilson ratings; they have put profits ahead of their First Amendment duties.
The Herald de Paris is not going to quit. ¬†We will continue to advance; to take hill after hill in this war until we win the battle; to report the news as it happens and when it happens in a fair and balanced manner. ¬†We are professional writers and journalists, and we deliver the news. ¬†We will never try to make it, or to steer the opinions of our audience. ¬†It wouldn’t be right.
I invite you, my colleagues, to join us. ¬†Write a comment below and tell us who you are, where you are a news journalist, and make a public pledge to uphold honest, fair, and balanced reporting of the news.
I dare you.
JE Sved, Publisher
Herald de Paris