At one time, this type of medium was the only source of news for most people (Wikimedia Commons).

Some signals of a major change in media are as simple and minor as this: Twelve or more positions were recently eliminated at CNN. Others are as complex and major as a collapse of ad sales and profits at the New York Times.

Skinny: The Internet and the many new media that burgeon around it have eliminated the role of the gatekeeper—the person in print, radio, or TV—who had special equipment to tell us the news.

Anyone with a cell phone can do that today. Some better than others, to be sure. But the cost or difficulty of the equipment is no longer a barrier. So the iconic media we grew up with are now looking for a new role.

Here are some predictable results:

– Huge media mergers mean that surviving traditional media are a few big voices with little competition. Big megaphone, small thoughts? 

– It’s no secret that journalism has generally been leftwing (or liberal or progressive, if you like).

But decades ago, that didn’t matter as much. When traditional media were the only source of serious news (for example, during the Cuban missile crisis or John Kennedy’s assassination), they had to report the news everyone needed to know. They would, of course, show plenty of bias—but mostly in the themes of accompanying stories. Now that we can find out news from around the globe in seconds, there is much less onus on journalists to behave responsibly. So the rest of us must test more critically what we see and hear even in the headlines.

– Censorship becomes more fashionable, thus more easily justified. As Sharyl Atkisson, who left CBS after two decades, puts it,

… journalists today seem to have far less authority than they did 40 years ago.

“I think that we’ve gone backwards since that time when we really felt empowered as journalists,” she said.

Attkisson speculated on how the Nixon controversy would have been handled in a world filled with today’s television and social media obsessions.

“Nixon would basically refuse to turn over tapes to Congress, his aides would refuse to testify to Congress or would take the Fifth or would lie to Congress with fair amount of impunity,” she said. “Woodward and Bernstein would be controversialized on social media by special and political interests. … Then at the end Nixon would go on a popular late-night comedy show, during which time he would humorously refer to his attackers as people who were political witch-hunters who believed in Area 51-type conspiracy theories.”

So today’s censorship isn’t the church saying we mustn’t read or think that; it’s TV types telling us it isn’t cool. That’s far more effective for shutting down thought.

Of course, one additional outcome is that traditional news media will – “cool” or not – start to sound very tired, compared to, say, Woodward and Bernstein. Just for example,

The industry’s median age has increased from 32 to 47 in the last three decades, during which time the age of the typical American went from 30 to 37. The Atlantic

In short, young people are not signing on, so new ideas or approaches will likely be in short supply.

So where does that leave the rest of us? Increasingly, we must turn to new media to understand the world. Good judgement is needed, but the reassuring news is that if we have reason to wonder, we can quite easily find alternative sources. Either way, the days of the “paper of record,” have, it seems, gone where paper tends to go.

See also: Noble words with insidious new meanings (In practice, accountability journalism has often meant open instead of barely concealed partisanship. Increasingly, media refuse to cover both sides of an issue—say, climate change—or even to allow dissenting comments because they claim to already know who is right on the facts.)


Are traditional media dying? Who will they take down with them?


Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...