CJR: “Now is the time to move on from Trump and address journalism’s greatest challenges.”

From a cjr.org post by Kyle Pope headlined “An industry in flux”:

In 2016, Donald Trump offered an uneasy reprieve; the more the press obsessed over him, it seemed, the higher the number of viewers and subscribers. The “Trump bump” brought news, and how it’s made, to the center of public interest. Some of the benefits—felt mainly by the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC—trickled down to local newsrooms, but not enough. Through the Trump years, America’s newspapers continued to suffer. For every happy quarterly earnings report at a cable network, a community lost a star reporter, or an entire newsroom….

Once January arrives and Trump leaves the White House, it’s likely that the subscription surges and record viewership enjoyed by the biggest newsrooms during his tenure will begin to recede. “MSNBC and other outlets that thrived on resistance to Mr. Trump may see their audiences fade,” Ken Lerer, a veteran media investor and adviser, recently told Ben Smith, of the Times. The audience for Smith’s paper will also “cool off,” Lerer predicted. Most news organizations have little budgetary slack, which means that this painful year may soon turn over into another….

A few key ideas emerge. First, the rise of the individual and the decline of institutions. Many of us would love to work for a big, stable company with hefty benefits, but companies like that don’t exist much anymore in journalism. Those that do are often beset by the troubles of any American institution—racism, sexism, inequity. Lately, more journalists are deciding to go independent. As Clio Chang reports in her profile of Substack, the result is a proliferation of emerging voices, who sometimes earn paychecks that dwarf what they could have made in a newsroom. But opportunity is never universal, as Chang writes; the people succeeding on their own are largely those who already rose to prominence within existing systems—on Substack, the most popular newsletters are primarily by conservative (or otherwise contrarian) white men. The same people tend to be the most comfortable working without a net.

We also need new ownership models. First came the news conglomerate, then the chain, then private equity and hedge funds. All are now struggling. The coming years will bring experimentation and new overlords. Some of the emerging power brokers have made themselves known, as Savannah Jacobson outlines in a graphic. “The media industry’s shift, from an advertising-based business to one reliant on subscribers and benefactors, has critical implications for the form and veracity of coverage,” Jacobson writes. “In looking at who is investing in what, we can observe what seems most promising—and what risks sacrificing journalistic independence.” Nonprofits will play an ever-increasing role, and the notion of public funding for journalism—enjoyed, in the United States, by PBS, NPR, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—now looks increasingly appealing. Abe Streep profiles John Rodriguez, a local publisher in Pueblo, Colorado, who made the case to his town’s leaders that if journalism is a public service, it ought to be publicly funded. (“This isn’t just about news,” Rodriguez wrote them in an email. “Local media also drives the local economy.”) We can expect worker-owned projects like Defector and Brick House to proliferate, though we’ll never entirely lose the hedge-funders….

The Trump era has tested, and largely broken, the idea that any newsroom, and indeed any reporter, can remain removed from the news. That may well be for the good, a shift toward transparency that acknowledges people’s subjectivity. At the same time, we’ve seen outlets publishing more commentary, as Adam Piore writes in his piece about the business of opinion journalism, led by the New York Times. “News is commoditized; outlets are desperate to stand out; opinionated analysis has become a crucial value proposition,” Piore finds. Sometimes, opinion writers establish deep connections with readers, enticing them to pay for news; other times, when the takes are incendiary, offensive, or baseless, they have the opposite effect….

Now is the time to move on from Trump and address journalism’s greatest challenges. And so, as the most noxiously anti-press government in American history begins to wind down, our reinvention starts. The revitalization of the press is sure to consume the nation—as it will be both covered and lived by the people who chronicle it.

Kyle Pope is the editor in chief and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review.

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