If you’re thinking about going into journalism, think again.
In January, alone, more than 500 journalists were laid off from media outlets including NBC News, Time magazine, Business Insider, and The Los Angeles Times. And that doesn’t even count the nearly 20 journalists who lost jobs this past week when The Wall Street Journal gutted its D.C. bureau—or the roughly 300 who were unceremoniously let go from The Messenger, a general news site that was online for less than a year—on Wednesday.
Whether you work for a scrappy upstart or a legacy media behemoth—the words of Bruce Springsteen are starting to hit home: “These jobs are going boys, and they ain’t coming back.”
Now, to some on the right, these layoffs are evidence of karma—a comeuppance for media elites who have been spreading liberal bias for years. The chickens have come home to roost, so we must “learn to code.” This is a pervasive attitude on the right, as well as among “independent” commentators who believe the old guard must die for something new and better to be born.
Elon Musk weighed in on Monday (before the latest round of firings), writing, “Legacy media controlling what subjects they write about is by far their biggest lie, as they can ignore important matters and inflate minor ones. X enables the people to define the narrative.”
To be sure, the mainstream media deserves some of the blame for losing its audience. But the bigger problem is that we have all been trained to expect this product for free. And 25 years of the internet doing that is truly unsustainable.
This should worry you, irrespective of whether you’re in the industry. In fact, if you care at all about the preservation of liberal democracy (which—let’s be honest—many on the new right do not) then you should see the collapse of the traditional media landscape as a scary development.
Without referees and truth-tellers to hold powerful people accountable, powerful people—bad actors—get away with murder.
As The New York Times’ Ken Vogel noted on Threads: “If you care about good government, you should care about the role of money & lobbying/influence in politics…” Vogel then listed people who appear to be top-notch reporters on such crucial beats, and who are sadly no longer in the business of holding the powerful accountable.
This is troubling, but not surprising. As media companies begin feeling the squeeze, original reporting gets cut. The reason? It’s expensive.
As an opinion columnist, I can churn out copy that gets clicks pretty cheaply. The same could be said for independent social media “influencers.” But consider the high cost of sending reporters to Iowa or New Hampshire to cover a primary (hotel, transportation, food).
Now, imagine the cost of funding news bureaus around the world.
In a sense, people like me are free riders on reported news. And with the rise of the internet, a whole breed of podcasters, YouTubers, and Substack newsletter writers, have joined the racket.
But while some of these same “content creators” are celebrating the MSM’s existential crisis by spiking the ball (“legacy media is dead!”), no one has yet answered this question: If there are no straight news outlets doing on-the-ground reporting, what will anyone have to blog or podcast about?
Again, you can lament the liberal lean of our media, which existed long before Donald Trump came along. But it’s also fair to say that the problem—although legitimate—was sometimes overblown. After all, Ronald Reagan won 49 states and became “The Great Communicator” in a nation with three TV channels, and no blogosphere, Twitter, Fox News, or Rush Limbaugh.
And while it’s easy to recall recent examples of liberal media bias (“war on women,” “what about your gaffes?” and “binders full of women,” etc.), it’s also true that most of the scandals that have hurt Democrats over the years (see Anthony Weiner, Ted Kennedy, Bob Menendez, Katie Hill, et al.) were facilitated by mainstream press coverage. The most prominent example might be Bill Clinton. Although it admittedly took some nudging from The Drudge Report, the media relentlessly covered the Clinton scandal, revealing lots of sordid details along the way.
There’s no reason why solid straight reporting can’t benefit conservatives. But that is fast becoming a moot point.
For many Americans, social media feeds like Libs of TikTok or Occupy Democrats will likely become the new mainstream media. (For some, podcasters like Joe Rogan have already taken on this role.) This is not healthy. It’s also not at all what I signed up for.
Twenty years ago, a conservative who wanted to influence the debate and persuade non-conservatives had little choice but to get involved with the mainstream media, often by offering a conservative take on the stories they were reporting.
In the aughts, I started blogging for Human Events, and then for Townhall.com. Later, I worked for six years at The Daily Caller, where one of our goals was to do independent reporting and force the mainstream media to cover stories they might otherwise prefer to ignore. In a sense, our goal wasn’t to replace the mainstream media, but to make them better.
At some point, a schism emerged on the right between those who wanted to create a parallel infrastructure—and those of us who simply wanted conservatives to infiltrate the media, thereby preserving the institution, by providing some ideological diversity.
My side lost, and the notion of alternative media devolved into an alternate reality. To paraphrase Musk, everyone gets to define their own narrative.
For those who want to expedite this post-modern process, a necessary step involves discrediting and destroying institutions. We are seeing some of that with the new right’s attacks on the FBI, Disney, and the NFL, etc.
But for many on the right, the mainstream media has always been their great white whale.
We are now in the process of losing one of the last vestiges of a common culture—and one of the final arbiters of objective reality. The irony is that so many “traditionalists” and “conservatives” are cheering this development.