Depressed journalists are depressing nation
I am far more pessimistic about our political system than most Americans. At the same time, I am very optimistic about the future of our nation. That may seem like an odd combination to some, but I am optimistic because I recognize that Washington, D.C., does not lead the nation.
National leadership flows from everyday Americans who work hard to support their families and build their communities. New technology is empowering them in amazing ways. Smartphone owners today have more information, entertainment and communications capability in the palm of their hands than the richest 1 percent enjoyed just a generation or two ago. So, why is everyone so pessimistic? Partly it’s because our economy is going through a transition and transitions are tough. They create winners and losers. Even though the next generation will be better off because of the transition we are enduring, it’s not a pleasant experience for many living through it.
However, the pessimism is overstated, and a big part of the blame comes from the fact that elite journalists are on the losing side of the digital revolution. For most Americans, the rise of new voices and new sources of information available whenever they want it is a great step forward.
For journalists, though, it has been a disaster. Newspapers, TV station audiences and jobs are all disappearing. This has a major impact on their worldview. In any industry, people who work at firms that are laying people off tend to believe the economy is struggling. Those who work at firms that are hiring tend to believe the economy is doing better.
So, for established journalists, the perception of the digital revolution is clouded by the fact that it destroyed their way of life. They see negatives more than positives, and their reporting reflects this. Like an unhappy person who makes everyone around them miserable, journalists are spreading pessimism.
Importantly, the loss felt by journalists is about more than money. It’s a loss of influence and prestige. Before the digital era, TV anchors and big-time newspaper reporters had a monopoly over news coverage that could not be challenged. Alternative views could not be heard, even when the journalists were wrong.
That came to an end just over a de- cade ago when Dan Rather reported a hit piece on President George W. Bush based upon fraudulent documents. Before the digital era, that story would likely have survived and might have even altered the 2004 election.
But in the new era, traditional journalists were no longer the only game in town. Bloggers did the fact-checking that CBS had failed to do. Eventually, the network had to pull the story and Rather was pushed out of the anchor chair. The legacy media outlets had lost their monopoly, and elite journalists have never recovered from the shock.
When the history of this era is written, this media transition will be hailed as a great success. Bloggers and the early citizen journalists will be seen as key players in breaking down privileged monopolies to democratize the news. The increased sharing of multiple perspectives and community vetting of stories will be seen as a great service to the nation.
That doesn’t make it any easier for traditional journalists. But it’s a reason for the rest of us to be more optimistic.