This will not be a popular thing to say — and it’s not an easy thing to say — but we need to have mercy for the media. But it needs to be said because the media — like any other institution — is composed of people, and unless you understand the situation of these people, you can’t understand why they do what they do.
Is the media generally left-leaning? I’d say that’s a fair assessment. That’s not a conspiracy, that’s the nature of the sort of folks that have generally decided to go into the media over the last two or three decades. Rather than just hunting after the facts of a story, we have the Baby Boomer/”All the President’s Men” generation — determined to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.
They also come for the most part out of universities and journalism programs stocked with left-leaning professors (also a function largely of who decides to seek higher education as a career), and from urban centers which often have left-leaning politics (partly a function of who lives, willingly or unwillingly, in urban centers, and who heads to the suburbs or the country).
Thanks to Woodward and Bernstein, and journalists’ education and social circles, many mainstream reporters see Christians, conservatives and Republicans as the windmills they must tilt against. This is not universally true, but it’s true too often.
But, here’s something else to consider. This may be a cause for glee for many, but the world is crumbling out from under the mainstream media’s feet. Once upon a time — even before the mainstream media was leaning left-of center — journalists had a measure of security and insularity. Within their newsrooms, with unions negotiating their wages and editors protecting them from the business side of the news, they had a solid base from which to launch investigations and attacks against the powerful.
You could do a Pulitzer Prize-winning ten-part series on corruption or homelessness, or take down a politician or a corporation, knowing that your job was not in immediate peril because there was no money to pay your salary. Major-newspaper journalism was a solid middle-class job, with benefits and a wage that enabled you to raise a family.
Wrapped in the cloak of the First Amendment, and with a relative measure of job security, you could swing out at the evils of the world.
With the advent of Craiglist, the classified-ad business — the last major financial underpinning of newspapers — was knocked out. A structure that once seemed impenetrable is now falling to bits before our eyes. You can say it’s no more than is deserved, but the fact is, without a watchdog media, our democracy is in trouble. The only thing worse than a slanted media is none at all.
This is no one’s fault, it’s just the forward march of technology, but it’s had a devastating effect. The bulk of the institutional memory of many newspapers has been hollowed out, as veteran reporters are laid off for the crimes of being too expensive or not digitally savvy. Those replacing them live by clicks and likes and shares, and it’s unlikely they’ll ever have the time or inclination to dig as deep as their predecessors.
Online sites are starting to unionize, mostly because their writers are underpaid and overworked, as the relentless 24/7 news cycle — and the merciless, unblinking eye of analytics — eats up material and spits out anything that won’t grab immediate attention. Rather than a carefully prepared meal, we’re being fed fast food and sugary snacks, just to keep the machine running.
The future of thoughtful, long-term investigative journalism is in serious doubt, unless some way can be found to fund it. Near as I can tell, very few have figured out how to make the numbers work.
So, along with a continuing incoming stream of left-leaning reporters, spawned by the same journalism schools (which now have a number of laid-off reporters as adjunct teachers), we also have a general degradation of the profession of journalism as a viable career.
There are right-leaning, nonpolitical and Christian publications and sites that are surviving — and a few mainstream ones, like The Wall Street Journal, which has always considered itself worth paying for — but without a solid financial model, reforming the media that most people use for their news seems an insurmountable task. I couldn’t, in good conscience, encourage a young person to go into journalism today, unless they had another source of income or a way to get good benefits.
(And, let’s be clear, the right-leaning, nonpolitical and Christian outlets are also composed of people, meaning they’re just as prone to error and excess as anybody else.)
We definitely need a more balanced and inclusive — not just by racial or sexual identity, but by philosophy and political viewpoint — media, but to get that, we need a viable media, period.
So, as you complain about the generally pathetic state of news coverage, have some pity for those who are making it. They’re still our brothers and sisters, they have families, and their world is evaporating.
It’s hard and terrifying for them, and it’s no good for us — just look at what’s replacing them.
So, here’s a prayer to St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalism:
Dear St. Francis de Sales:
Pray for those who cover the news, in print, online and on television. Pray that a way can be found so that they make enough money to support themselves and their families, that they are truthful and fair, that they pursue goodness and honesty in all that they do. Pray they have courage and fortitude, that they are not blinded by any kind of bias, nor refrain from seeking the facts out of any fear or prejudice. Pray that there is grace and beauty in all they create, that it honors the dignity of all persons, and always promotes the causes of mercy, peace and true justice.
Through Christ Our Lord,
Images: Wikimedia Commons