The Death of Journalism is the Death of a Healthy Democracy

Conglomerates are to blame.


Cartoon by Kimberly Ramirez

Journalism is meant to keep the populace informed and educated, but also hold individuals who have been put in power accountable for their actions. With this responsibility on the shoulders of reporters, the press is considered the fourth estate of government and vital to a healthy democracy. It is their duty to unbiasedly report the truth.

Unbiased reporting is almost dead. Independent news publications are few in and far between today’s media landscape the populace doesn’t look towards their local papers, and news programming to get their information. They are turning into major news broadcasts and publications to stay informed.

This is a problem because all major media outlets are owned by conglomerates. A conglomerate is a multi-industry corporation, which means that at the end of the day mass media outlets like FOX, CNN, ABC, MSNBC are owned by conglomerates first, and foremost a business.

The biggest concern of these mass media titans at the end of the day will always be about profits. As a media outlet your profits are measured by ratings and traffic to the website generated by clicks on stories. The most effective way to maintain a large profit margin in these areas as a news station and publication is through yellow journalism.

For those unfamiliar with the term yellow journalism it refers to stories that embellish and crudely exaggerate facts, focusing on the melodrama a story can generate amongst the readers in order to yield the most profits through clicks and viewership. What this type of journalism does is take the focus off of the truth and put it on profits, essentially killing journalism.

We can thank Hearst and Pulitzer for this method of journalism due to their fierce rivalry in the 1980s.

It is ironic that the highest award a journalist can earn for their informative work is called a Pulitzer when Joseph Pulitzer is one half of the duo responsible for yellow journalism, which is responsible for sparking the progression that is resulting in the death of honest informative journalism.

Knowing now that all of the major media publications are focused on the bottom line, it is no shock that they streamline stories that feed into a developed bias which their readers and viewers have. This is what is killing  journalism. Unbiased reporting is unheard of as these titans pump out pieces that lean into their developed dominant narrative. If they don’t do this and it causes a drop in profits, the reporter loses their job or the business model fails.

This standardization of journalism is causing many reporters to become dissatisfied and switch fields in order to escape.

In a piece published on written by Laura Hazard Owen, a fellow digital journalist, Luis Gomez conducted a poll. 58% of 160 colleagues had left in the last three years between 2016-2019, and 45% had worked in the field for over 10 years. Another journalist, Adam Kress, writes why he left in his piece on WordPress titled “On Leaving Journalism: Why I Couldn’t sell Myself on the Profession Anymore.” Kress was a veteran of journalism having graduated from the program at Arizona State Univeristy and held a full time editor and reporter position for 15 years. He talks about how the main reason behind him leaving were the layoffs of personnel without warning, as well as the fact he was “getting bored.” The news became repetitive over time, and after a few years of implementing some great digital tactics, the company had stagnated in that area. “My hands were tied when it came to trying anything truly new or different,” he wrote.

For many finding this out about the field they are pursuing in college might be alarming. It might even convince those to switch fields, but to those brave enough to take on the challenges that pursuing a career in this field will bring to you–you are the solution to the problem. The only way to bring back the integrity that journalism had in the past is for the next generation of journalists to focus on the truth, and not let ourselves be distracted by our own biases or emotions. At the end of the day we have a job to do for our country as the fourth estate. It’s time we earn back that right to be able to call our field by that title, and all of the weight and responsibility that comes with it.