Back in the 1960s and 70s, the media was referred to as ‘The Fourth Estate’. The media played a role as a check and balance against government abuse of power, corruption, and overreach. The media was an integral part of any healthy democracy.
The old mass media companies prior to the information age, now referred to as the legacy media, carried a reputation for hard headed journalism, which exposed scandals without fear or favour. Walter Cronkite was an icon of creditability and trust in the media. The spirit of journalistic purity was symbolised by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s expose of the Watergate break in and subsequent cover up.
Journalism was once a career many aspired to as a noble profession, embedded with ethics and a sense for telling the truth. Some journalists became legendary, after rigorous years of apprenticeship involving hardship and dangerous assignments, where their lives were sometimes at risk. There was a distinct career path, beginning as a junior reporter, beat journalist, investigative journalist, to correspondent, columnist, through to editor. However, most of this generation of modern journalists are long gone.
The fall of nobility
Over the last three decades the craft of journalism has been losing integrity. This has become much more rapid over the last few years. Mainstream media jobs have disappeared, as local and beat journalism has waned, which was once a traditional training ground.
Journalists have been forced by their employers to create stories from narratives. Facts now play a secondary role in the creation of ‘propaganda’ pieces. Very few journalists questioned the narrative of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ before the invasion of Iraq. No journalists questioned the narrative of governments during the Covid pandemic, and very few are willing to critically examine the narrative of climate change. The same is occurring over the Russo-Ukraine conflict. Tucker Carlson’s recent interview of Russin President Vladimir Putin was ridiculed by the mainstream media, rather than being seen as important piece of journalism capturing the Russian side of the story.
Most journalists working toady in the mainstream media are acting for partisan interests. Some use the word ‘presstitute’ to describe the profession today.
The symbol of today’s discredited media are the Pulitzer prizes given in 2018 regarding Russian election meddling awarded to the New York Times and Washington Post, which was later found to be a complete hoax.
What has destroyed traditional journalism?
With the concentration of media ownership over the last couple of decades, organization rationalization has drastically reduced the number of jobs available.
Various media groups have pushed their own editorial lines. This has led to polarization of the media, across a spectrum of bias.
The release of the ‘Twitter files’ exposed the close relation ship the social media platform had with the various security agencies in the United States. Other disclosures around the world have shown that governments had been leaning on social media platforms to censor criticism. There is no question, governments have (and are) working in collusion with the major social media platforms.
Organizations like the Public Media Alliance have developed a front against what they define as ‘disinformation’ among its members, which include the ABC and SBS (Australia), CBC (Canada), Mediacorp (Singapore), Thai PBS (Thailand), BBC (UK), and PBS (US). In addition, media organizations receive funding from corporations, such as Pfizer, which restricts open reporting. The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation gave out grants to media outlets like The Guardian in 2020 to support ‘global health’ reporting.
All of the above has drastically limited the freedom of journalistic expression, where journalists themselves are discouraged from reporting what they believe to be the truth, against narratives their employers support. As a consequence, many talented journalists have sort more lucrative jobs as publicists, speech writers, and political secretaries.
Investigative journalism is a dangerous occupation. According to the International Federation of Journalists, 120 journalists died on the job in 2023. Most of these have been in war zones. The institutional attacks on journalists are symbolized by the incarceration of Julian Assange at HM Prison Belmarsh in London, since 2019, while fighting extradition to the United States on charges of espionage. The defamation, libel, and Official Secrets Act are used to persecute journalists. Investigative journalist Clare Rewcastle-Brown was recently sentenced to two years jail in Malaysia in absentia for defamation.
Finally, the rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) is drastically destroying journalism. We are now at the point where some media organizations are creating content through AI, dispensing with journalists all together. This saves media companies paying out massive salaries for journalists, with the AI creation of content from desktop resources.
Impartial reporting is dead
Journalistic ethics have been forcibly dropped with the rise of the media as a propaganda tool. Objectivity and the facts have fallen victim to self-serving narratives.
Objective reporting has been replaced with ‘ego-journalism’, where news is replaced with opinion orientated commentary, where presenters become ‘brands’ in their own right. These platforms are being used to used to attack and ridicule political figures, in a way that would have not been acceptable a generation ago.
It’s much easier (and cheaper) to espouse narratives than undertake hard investigative work. Good investigative work is often suppressed by social media censorship in a number of ways. This includes the inability to post certain articles, de-amplifying posts so few read them, modifying algorithms so posts wont show up in search results, labelling an article with so form of pseudo ‘fact check’, or deplatforming a person outright.
With a concentrated media and less journalists, there is less coverage of a number of issues, leaving large gaps in news coverage, especially local news. Specialist journalists are now few and far between, as senior journalists are often sacrificed for juniors on much lower salaries.
Traditional journalism is quickly dying, as is the media’s ability to act as a check and balance of government.
A new era in journalism
However, the above doesn’t mean that journalism is totally dead. Journalism is taking on a new form through independent media. The recent Tucker Carlson interviews of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin clearly show the rising influence of independent online journalism, much to the dismay of the legacy media. More people are heading across to alternative media, leaving the legacy media in large numbers.
Many journalists from the legacy media are jumping across and creating their own independent organizations, using multiple online platforms to get their material out to consumers. They utilize YouTube, Rumble, X (Twitter), Spotify, and Substack. New organizations like Public (Michael Shallenberger), and The Free Press (Douglas Murray), have their own research and production staff, collecting revenue through paywalls.
Many new sites open each month, but few find themselves sustainable. There is a lot of experimentation going on with developing specialised newsletters, videos, and podcasts, where consumer monetary support deems them viable.
There are dangers that many independent platforms are propagating opinionated current affairs. However, this style brings in the numbers and revenue. There is also a danger that some of the platforms these independent journalists use, might be purchased by corporations that censor content.
There is a solution
The legacy media became concentrated, which fostered fragmentation through those who didn’t want to be part of the system, or left the system altogether. However, these independent platforms, some small and others not so small are competing for the same potential consumers. A single consumer only has a limited amount of money they are prepared to spend on news and opinion. They must choose very selectively, as its not practical to subscribe to multiple independent platforms.
The solution could be the amalgamation of independent platforms into consortiums, where consumers pay one subscription for access of a group of independent sites. This would not be too different than subscribing to Netflix, Disney, or Prime for movie content. Such a s consortium approach will strengthen the power of independent content producers, and make independent journalism accessible to more consumers than at present.
These consortiums or networks of independent journalists, packaged around anchor sites is the next logical step in the growth and sustainability of independent journalism.