What is it with New Year’s resolutions? I never make ’em, which means I never have to worry about breaking them. But that doesn’t mean that turning the calendar page doesn’t move me to daydream a little about what could be, especially in journalism.
We enter 2022 dancing on an inflection point, a tightrope, a fault line: pick your metaphor. I could explore plenty of perilous angles here—climate change, COVID, the fascist persistence of The Big Lie—but instead I’d like to reflect on the state of the media at large.
And so to start, I’m going to get a bit contrarian. Many cite the disintegration of mass media as a ground zero concern. But how is that possible when there’s more media to consume than at any point in recorded history? We can’t keep up. So in one sense, the greater issue involves the multiplication and splattering of information, a firehose of what you could call “massive media.”
In light of this, resolutions alone can’t cut it. What we need instead are New Year’s Revolutions, which imply not an individual’s withering will power in the face of frosted donuts, but rather a concerted effort to help change conditions for the better. Without posing as the Swami of Smart Solutions—I have a whole year’s worth of columns to do that—I’m going to focus on three areas where the dream could in fact take a turn towards reality. Areas where you, I and Qwoted can help.
1) Student journalists need mentoring.
Once upon a deadline, newsrooms were like the Italian bodegas of the Renaissance. I’m old enough to remember; the Philadelphia Inquirer of my cub reporter days was staffed by editors and staffers who cared just as much about passing on their wisdom and best practices as beating deadline.
The decimation of newspapers and their online equivalents circa 2022 means that before you finish this column, more institutional experience will walk out the door of your local newsroom, never to return. And with COVID-19 looking a lot more like COVID-22, some of our most promising scribes, photographers and investigators now work at home, talk to Zoom screens and hunger for connection.
Qwoted’s Media Advisory Board spent a good part of 2021 looking at how we could expand the services we offer journalists. My hope is that this could be the year we pair up with college and J school programs to pair up those eager to learn with veterans desirous to teach. We can’t let the best practices of old turn into fodder for facetious media memes.
2) Community journalists need resources and exposure.
It’s easy to forget, even easier to plead ignorance to, how certain news stories of national and international importance break at the local level. I can’t think of a better example than with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, whose death in February 2020 was all but forgotten until Larry Hobbs, a writer and reporter at The Brunswick News in Georgia, turned his attention to it. Without Hobbs, there’s no conviction of the three mole men now facing sentencing on Jan. 7.
For every intrepid reporter like Hobbs, scores and scores more lack the funding, tools and time to get these kinds of stories into the spotlight. Money is so often hard to come by in these instances; journalists across the board are an underpaid lot. But could they be granted access to costly tools such as LexisNexis or crime databases? Or connected to student reporters who could serve as valuable researchers and interns? If there’s failure here, it is only a failure of the imagination.
3) Social media needs policing.
The bold revelations of Frances Haugen have done little to stop Facebook’s tyrannical march, as in Tyrannosaurus rex. Yes, Meta’s stock is down nearly 13 percent since Haugen went public with her documents in the Wall Street Journal. But we’re also taking about a company that sometime in 2022 will likely hit $1 trillion in worth. Think about that. A trillion dollars. Companies with that much filthy lucre aren’t used to letting little things like, oh, election lies, hate speech and teenage depression get in the way of a Meta good time.
Because the media’s attention span is so short—and social media has usurped traditional media for far too many—the hammer needs to fall on Facebook and its ilk repeatedly, incessantly and persuasively. Mark Zuckerberg isn’t about to police his company any more than confess that he swiped the idea for Facebook from some Harvard classmates. I’d love to see the Journal perform the same feat with Facebook that it managed with Theranos, thanks to the stellar, courageous work of John Carreyrou.
This is not just a matter of forming a Facebook beat, by the way. It demands following the lead of Haugen’s verifiable documents to the doorstep of an irresponsible company that has already inflicted great harm on a nation’s democracy and collective mental health. Nor can Congress be counted on to step in here.
It’s not just another big story we’re talking about, either. Rather, it’s a chance for the news media—doing what it does best—to shine light on the evils of a pseudo-media outlet that refuses to stop doing its worst.
Whatever is to happen in the year ahead, we must focus not on why things are impossible but rather how we can turn these possibilities into realities. I’m including myself in this, or course. I have to. After all, if I were to judge myself on the ability to resist a quadruple chocolate doughnut, I’m not fit for resolution or revolution … and arguably, just not fit.