Journalism Isn't Dying
It's returning to its roots
The past few weeks have brought bad news to the hardworking scribes of the news business. Three leading digital outlets—BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post and Vice—announced layoffs that left many accomplished journalists unemployed. The fingers of blame quickly pointed to the great bogeymen of our media age—Facebook and Google—and warned about a threat to democracy. After all, if the most savvy and avant-garde of the new digital journalists can’t make a living, what hope is there for old-school newspapers? To many, the health of our democracy is inextricably tied to the health of our journalism: If the latter begins to die, the former must immediately follow.
That’s a curious sentiment, because if you were to magically teleport the architects of our democracy—men like Ben Franklin or Samuel Adams (newspapermen, both of them)—to today, they’d find our journalistic ecosystem, with its fact-checked both-sides-ism and claims to “objectivity,” completely unrecognizable. Franklin wrote under at least a dozen pseudonyms, including such gems as Silence Dogood and Alice Addertongue, and pioneered the placement of advertising next to content. Adams (aka Vindex the Avenger, Philo Patriae, et al.) was editor of the rabidly anti-British Boston Gazette and also helped organize the Boston Tea Party, when activists dumped tea into Boston Harbor rather than pay tax on it. Adams duly covered the big event the next day with absolute aplomb. They’d have no notion of journalistic “objectivity,” and would find the entire undertaking futile (and likely unprofitable, but more on that soon).
If, however, you explained Twitter, the blogosphere, and newsy partisan outlets like Daily Kos or National Review to the Founding Fathers, they’d recognize them instantly. A resurrected Franklin wouldn’t have a news job inside The Washington Post; he’d have an anonymous Twitter account with a huge following that he’d use to routinely troll political opponents, or a partisan vehicle built around himself like Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire, or an occasional columnist gig at a less partisan outlet like Politico, or a popular podcast where he’d shoot the political breeze with other Sons of Liberty, à la Chapo Trap House or Pod Save America. “Journalism dying, you say?” Ben Franklin v 2.0 might say. “It’s absolutely blooming, as it was in my day.”
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