Neal Gabler at Consortium NewsMissing the Biggest 2016 Story

To their everlasting discredit, most of the MSM Big Feet, which is what the late journalist Richard Ben Cramer labeled the self-important, pontificating political reporters and pundits who dominate our press, got it all wrong about Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

That is no small thing when you consider those two are the big stories this campaign season. It’s like a weatherman missing a Category Five hurricane. Of course, if a weatherman had blown that call, he probably would be fired. With pundits, getting it wrong never seems to matter

The most powerful of them – the ones you read, see and hear the most – constitute an elite so far removed that it could only understand us through the most aggressive sympathetic imagination. And that is not going to happen.

For one thing, journalists as a whole don’t look like the rest of America. “The typical U.S. journalist is a 41 year-old white male,” began a 2006 report by the Pew Research Center. When that report was updated in 2013, that typical journalist had become a 47 year-old white male, and the median age had risen not only at newspapers, where one might expect journalists to be aging along with their institution, but also at TV and radio stations and even online news sites. [emp added]

Why might it be expected that the median age of journalists to increase six years in the seven years between 2006 and 2013?  Are mature journalists delaying retirement at a much higher rate than in the past and therefore, there are fewer openings for young journalists?  Possibly, but that wouldn’t account for such a large increase in the median age in such a short period of time.

Are younger journalists being hired at an older age than in the past?  Over the past sixty years that’s undoubtedly true as J-Schools became the feeder stream for new hires.  (Not coincidentially, the quality of journalism has gone down over the same period.1)  But that change pre-dated the period under discussion; although it’s not unrelated.

The death spiral of jounalism is three pronged.  Consolidation mania began in the 1980s, but the speed of it for jounalism increased with the 1996 Telecom Act.  Local newspapers were gobbled up, staffs were cut, and fewer new hires came after that (and only those hired had the right credentials).  Poorer quality meant fewer customers in an industry that had weak revenue streams to begin with.  Then advertising dollars began to disappear with internet adverts and Craig’s list.  More staff cuts followed by lower quality followed by more consolidations (and a few bankruptcies, spin-offs, and reorganizations along the way).

USA TodayGannett offers $815 million to buy Tribune Publishing


The offer price is about 5.6 times Tribune’s estimated 2016 earnings before interest, taxes and other items (EBITDA). Gannett estimates about $50 million a year in “synergies” savings. Gannett owns USA TODAY plus 107 local news organizations including the Detroit Free Press, Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Arizona Republic.

“We believe Tribune shares the new Gannett’s unwavering commitment to journalistic excellence and delivering superior content on all platforms,” Dickey said in a statement Monday.

If Gannett were to complete the deal, it would expand the NETWORK in strategic markets by owning dominant newspapers in major metro areas, such as the Los Angeles Times,the Baltimore Sun, Hartford Courant, Chicago Tribune and the Orlando Sentinel.

Maybe when Gannett, Murdoch, and Bezos own all the news publications, they won’t even have to give lip-service to “commitment to journalism.”  

1 – Journalists such as Pete Hamill and Carl Bernstein weren’t only good at getting the facts but could write.  They developed their craft on-the-job and worked with and for other good craftsman.    

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