News is a business. Does this leave communities out of the loop?
While the pandemic has been difficult for the news industry, mainstream newspapers have seen their revenues and membership decline over the past decade. According to the Pew Research Center, newspaper advertising revenue in 2020 was estimated at $ 8.8 billion, down 29% from 2019 – and down 82% from 2000, when it s ‘amounted to $ 48 billion. Analyzing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Pew calculated that newsroom staff numbers were 30,820 in 2020, down 56% from 2004.
As money tightens in the news industry, there are many communities that professional journalists do not write about. “There have just been places in the United States that have never really been considered viable news markets,” said Nikki Usher, professor of media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in an interview with Marketplace Kimberly Adams. “It doesn’t mean that these communities don’t have news, but the kind of news that we tend to think of as professional news and information just hasn’t existed in these places, or these places have been tremendously. underfunded. “
In his book “News for the Rich, White, and Blue: How Place and Power Distort American Journalism”, Usher examines how problems in the news industry affect who is able to make the news and how they do it. To listen to Usher’s radio interview, use the media player above. In the excerpt below from the second chapter of the book, Usher describes how the loss of income of a major metropolitan newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, resulted in the actual displacement of the newspaper’s headquarters.
the Chicago TribuneThe Tribune Tower was built as a cathedral for journalism. In 1922, Colonel Robert R. McCormick organized an international architectural competition with a prize of $ 100,000 to solicit plans for “the most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world”. Today, the 236 entries from twenty-three countries are still instructive at a time when classical architecture, art nouveau and then futuristic art deco fought for supremacy. McCormick chose to go classic (or neo-gothic). The exterior of the Tribune Tower, with its flying buttresses and gargoyles, resembles Notre Dame and has 149 stones from monuments around the world, including the Great Wall of China, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Parthenon and the Taj Mahal. It is supposed to represent the Tribunedomain of – the world. McCormick had nicknamed the Tribune the “largest newspaper in the world,” a slogan that ran into the modern era on the banner of the printed newspaper and still serves as letters of appeal for what was once Tribune– owner-owned radio and broadcast stations.
The foyer is reminiscent of Westminster Abbey, replete with marble floors, vaulted ceilings, stained glass and a John Ruskin quote etched into the floor, as well as lines by Samuel Johnson, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Daniel Webster on the importance of journalism for society engraved in the cement walls. Dark brown wood the color of church pews adorns the wall behind the security desk, which is flanked by a map of North America with a three-dimensional topography that is said to be made of plaster and American currency; above the map is a superb clock with Roman numerals depicting a bas-relief of crests, small figures and interlocking ivy. Behind the security gates are decorated elevators, once supposed to separate the advertising and business floors from the newspaper’s editorial and production floors, so that business engagements don’t interfere with editorial judgment. As the Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Blair Kamin put it on his tour to me: “You walk into the cathedral of a free press, the rectory of Midwestern conservatism. “.
But in 2018, Tribune employees were forced to pack their bags and move from those headquarters on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile a few floors away from the Prudential Building, named after the insurance company. The newspaper’s parent company, Tronc (renamed to signal a digital future), had sold the building as part of a cost-cutting measure. the Tribune faced a host of challenges common to other Goldilocks newspapers, but it had also suffered from particularly dysfunctional mismanagement over the past half-decade. Following the purchase of the company by Chicago businessman Sam Zell, there was bankruptcy, a sexual harassment scandal in the c-suite, and excessive compensation from executives who funded projects. private jets and sports tickets for the first time, but also resulted in job cuts in newsrooms.
In March 2018, I visited the headquarters just before the move. Near Kamin’s office were at least four completely empty cubicles; around the newsroom were other empty cubes, but in many cases their former inhabitants had not bothered to dispose of the rubbish of papers and files amassed during a career as a journalist. The space was dark, with poor overhead lighting. Even though it was a day after daylight saving time had “come on,” the digital clocks around the newsroom were still an hour behind. For an industry plagued by news, let alone being the first to break news, neglected clocks struck me as a particularly noticeable sign of the state of disrepair. Later that day, Kamin took me to a hidden balcony, where reporters could look past the gargoyles, the sentries above their city, reinforced by thirty-four floors above, and see people. about the size of a point walk below. Now these journalists were expelled from their cathedral.
Even as newspapers lose power, perhaps paradoxically, this institutional decline actually reifies the separation between journalists and the people they cover. Newsrooms remain places of power, even as journalists lose their authority over the scene, including their own physical workplaces. Those who have access to and enter the newsroom can shape the cover we see; those who pay for the news will increasingly determine where journalists direct their scarce resources. And as journalism jobs become increasingly precarious, newsrooms are becoming bastions of privilege, making it harder to sustain or advance any significant gains in diversity and inclusion. As newspapers fail in the marketplace, the current logics of the information market risk exacerbating existing inequalities in who and where they are covered.
Extract of “News for the rich, whites and blues: how space and power are distorting American journalism”Copyright (c) 2021 Columbia University Press. Used by agreement with the publisher. All rights reserved.