A pet peeve among journalists is when people ask, “Why isn’t the media covering this?” about a topic that every major media outlet in the country has, indeed, covered with multiple articles.
I could write an entire column about why the “if anything important happens I’m sure I’ll see it on social media” method of news consumption is a terrible way to stay informed on matters of actual importance. But today, I want to talk about the times when people are right about something not being covered by journalists.
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, from 2008 to 2019 news media outlets shed 23% of their newsroom jobs, from 114,000 reporters, editors and photographers/videographers down to 88,000. Newspapers were hit hardest, dropping from 71,000 journalists to 35,000.
These layoffs all happened before the pandemic, when ad revenue plummeted sharply and thousands more were laid off. Most of the remaining journalists have had their pay cut this year, either through wage cuts, hour reductions or monthly furloughs. Some newspapers have closed altogether.
(As a side note, this is why you should trust someone who says “the media” is profiting off the pandemic as much as you should trust someone who doesn’t know the difference between a steer and a bull to explain ranching to you.)
Thousands of missing journalism jobs mean thousands of stories that aren’t being told. Those of us left simply can’t be in three places at once, and often find ourselves weighing whether the public will be better served if we pursue a story that will take 12 hours of work or write 12 stories that each took one hour.
John Oliver, in his comedy news show “Last Week Tonight,” did a great segment in August 2016 explaining how newspapers are the bedrock of the information economy. Other places people get their news — radio, television, social media, blogs and late night shows, including “Last Week Tonight” — are often repackaging or building on news that was first discovered and reported by newspaper journalists.
Hasan Minhaj, in his show “Patriot Act,” this June did a segment in which he explained how local newspaper are “unmatched” in certain areas, including exposing sex offenders. Examples he cited included the Boston Globe‘s uncovering of the Catholic church’s handling of priests who molested children, the Harrisburg Patriot News breaking the story of Jerry Sandusky, the Indianapolis Star exposing Larry Nassar, and the Miami Herald‘s work uncovering the crimes of Jeffrey Epstein.
Much of the Hermiston Herald and East Oregonian‘s reporting may not have the same national significance, but over the years we have provided a wealth of information to this community about what is going on in local government that has gone way beyond what people can learn from reading press releases on social media.
Even if you aren’t a fan of the Hermiston Herald or East Oregonian, I can promise you that if we went away, we would not be replaced by a news source of better quality. Some towns that have lost their newspapers are now relying on social media rumors and gossip among neighbors to know what is going on in their community. Others are being covered by low-quality clickbait sites written by people from out of town, or insidious new “pay for play” sites that are disguised as objective local news but are actually run by political operatives or corporate public relations firms, as recently reported by The New York Times.
Usually when a newspaper position is gone, it’s not coming back. But I am optimistic about the work EO Media Group is doing to rebuild our revenue streams that took a hit in the spring. I’m grateful to work for a family-owned company that cares deeply about preserving news coverage in Oregon communities, rather than one of the hedge funds that have been buying and gutting newsrooms to squeeze out whatever short-term profits they can.
This country needs newspapers. Don’t count us out yet.