The death of journalism

August 9, 2016 • 9:30 am

I’m on the road today (or rather, on the rail), so enjoy this video of John Oliver on the latest issue of “Last Week Tonight.”  Oliver, the true heir of Jon Stewart, demonstrates with his characteristic excitability why real journalism is dying.

And we know that’s true—at least in the United States, for many journalistic “aggregator” outlets don’t charge for access, relying either (like PuffHo), on writing slaves who get nothing but publicity for their contributions (or so I was told when HuffPo tried to exploit me), or on ad revenue. Either way, the market for serious, decently-paid journalists is dying, and when it’s gone, we’ll have clickbait and endless Kardashiana as our daily fare. The New York Times will be the last credible paper in America.

But I fulminate; let John Oliver say it in a much funnier (and more informative) way:

Curiously, this video was highlighted at PuffHo, which apparently didn’t even look at the first minute of Oliver’s rant, which includes this bit made into a screenshot:

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 3.13.57 PM

h/t: Barry

40 thoughts on “The death of journalism

  1. NYT has some serious credibility issues after I saw this in the Top Stories this morning; “Parents of 2 Americans Killed in Benghazi Attack Sue Hillary Clinton”… because, e-mail server.

    Apparently they needed some Clinton bashing to fill the space in between the Trupomania they usually fill their front page with. The opportunity to get e-mail and Benghazi into one article was just too juicy to pass up.

    Sorry, off topic, but this needed a rant.

    1. What’s more interesting is that the “lawyer” “representing” the parents is none other then Larry Klayman, deemed by Ed Brayton to be the worst lawyer not named Matt Stever. The chances of this one not being thrown out after the judge has a big horse laugh in his chambers are slim and none and slim is already on the bus headed out of town.

      One has to feel sorry for the parents who were undoubtedly conned into this lawsuit by Klayman, who should long ago had his license to practice law revoked.

      1. He’s also the lawyer suing Obama for being black. There might be more nuance to it than that, but it was hard to see it past the absurdity of it.

        1. One of the glories and pitfalls of the Western legal system – and above all the US one – is that anyone can sue anyone else for anything, no matter how ridiculous.

          For a plethora of amusing examples, may I recommend the legal blog ‘Lowering the Bar’?


  2. Very good piece and also true. Without newspaper journalism we will have nothing and it is going fast. TV news went to hell long ago and soon journalism as a career will go the same way. Then we can all walk around with our latest smart phone and look really stupid.

  3. Add the death of journalism to a host of other societal structures in America that are dead or dying: the middle class, unions, infrastructure, fair elections, a working Congress, a good K-12 education for all citizens, free speech, sane gun laws, rationalism. To me, the future of America is looking pretty grim about now.

  4. I’ll note that a Basic Universal Income would solve this problem very nicely. Give everybody enough money to pay their bills, and those with a passion for journalism will be able to do good reporting without having to worry about whether or not they’ll be able to make their own rent payments.

    …of course, it would cause a massive shift of power and influence away from the current 0.001% and towards those with actual skill and dedication, which is why we’re not likely to see anything like this in reality….


    1. I’m an egalitarian; but this sounds a little romantic.

      This basic income thing will likely happen at some point; probably when human labor has no value anymore because machines are much better at our jobs.

      But at that point also most humans are totally useless and in the long run the target-audience for news about homo sapiens will probably become much smaller.

      But maybe future robots might prove me wrong and find a use for journalism 🙂

    1. Federalize it and make everyone pay for it in a tiny tax increase. Pass laws as necessary to reinforce freedom of the press from government interference.

      1. That’s the specific answer to the specific problem.

        The general answer to the general problem is the basic universal income. Everybody gets paid (by the government) a basic amount enough to pay for a modest-but-dignified lifestyle, including rent and food and medical expenses and utilities and clothing and transportation to work and the like. Whether or not they work or sit at home all day staring at the boob tube.

        Anybody who wants more than the basic is welcome to work whatever job, with progressive taxes coming out of that paycheck.

        Anybody who’s satisfied with the money but wants to do something more personally rewarding with their time — such as investigative journalism — is free to do so without worrying about how to pay the bills.

        Done right, it acts like a turbo button on the economy. You get lots more money going ’round and ’round at the bottom, creating lots more demand for products and services. The wealthiest get a smaller percentage of the pie, but the pie grows a lot bigger.

        Of course, today’s wealthiest measure their worth not in terms of how much they have but by how much more miserable everybody else is compared to them, so there’s that barrier that’s not likely to come down any time soon….




        1. I also like the idea of a basic universal income, but at this point there would be too much resistance to get it passed. Too many would see it as a combination of giving money to lazy people and communism.

          Government paying for good journalism can and does work. The most viewed TV channel in NZ is owned by the government and there is no interference in their content, which includes their reporters investigating and criticizing the government. In fact they’re often the ones who break stories critical of government.

          We’re not the only country with independent state-funded media but of course there are many countries where it isn’t independent too. I can see that getting it past a US public with little trust in government integrity could be difficult as opposition would focus on the many bad examples of state media.

          I think the importance of good journalism to society is a reason for more of it to be government funded, and I would support my taxes being spent on it as long as the model we currently have of it being fully independent is maintained.

          1. The Republicans killed publicly-funded broadcasting in the States, in all but name. Resurrection is as politically unlikely as basic income here. Or, for that matter, a real health care system (as opposed to the insurance racket now legally mandated).



          2. The first time I heard basic universal income put forth as a serious proposal it was by George McGovern as the 1972 Democratic candidate for president. The next time, it came from the libertarian right, from Charles Murray, as a proposed alternative to the modern welfare state in his book In Our Hands.

            Although the proposal has yet to make its way into mainstream policy discourse, this gives a sense of the broad political range where the idea’s been knocking around. And it seems likely to gain steam, since it provides a pragmatic solution to many of society’s ills. Indeed, if I were a betting man — and I am — I’d be willing to wager my first basic universal income check on the eventual adoption of some form of basic universal income … er, well, you know what I mean.

        2. Ben, in the universal income system how do you see the nasty jobs being executed, or the mundane jobs? Selling peas and carrots no longer has appeal if there is no reward.

          Your introduction of this idea is my first exposure, so I have a lot to learn of the concept.

          1. That’s one of the great things about the system — it lets good ol’ capitalistic supply-and-demand do its thing.

            Damned few people actually want to go out in the fields and pick strawberries all day long. But those who do so are doing it because it’s their only chance to get paid _some_ money (too often less than minimum wage because of their immigration status).

            With basic income, nobody’s going to pick strawberries for fun. So agribusiness will have to actually pay people enough money to entice them to pick strawberries. If that means $20 / hour to harvest strawberries, great! If you yourself wouldn’t pick berries for less than that, why should you expect others to do so merely because it’s their only way to feed their own families?

            Obviously, that means the price for a pint of strawberries would go up…but that’s okay. For one, it means that the hidden externalities are no longer hidden, and the consumers are bearing the full price for their consumption. But the only way the system could work in the first place is with a much more progressive tax code…resulting in no more mega-craptastic-giga-brazilianaires but huge numbers more ordinary millionaires and literally zero poverty. People would eat just as many strawberries as always…because the agribusiness companies couldn’t afford to pay a single CEO as much as the combined income of ten thousand strawberry pickers. And remember that CEOs don’t actually eat ten thousand times as many strawberries as a single worker….




            1. I really like the basic income idea Ben Goren. I’ve seen many people discuss it over on my side of the atlantic as well.

              The thing that many people forget is that consumers need money to consume.
              I remember watching a documentary about Walmart, and other american businesses, paying their employees such ridiculously low wages that they’re not able to buy stuff from the company.
              By paying their employees such low wages, companies are shooting themselves in the foot.

              I think the economy would still go around even if everyone got a basic income.
              People don’t only want the basics, they want the newest iphone and the newest flatscreen tv.
              So most people would still be willing to work. Not to mentiom that even most of the people on welfare today quickly find out that staying at home all day is damn boring.
              I know many people are desperate for a job even though they can survive on welfare over here.
              There are often more than 100 applications for simple cleaning or grocery jobs.
              Most human beings want to work. It’s no fun to sit around all day alone when everyone else is gone.

              The most I’ve managed without a job has been six months. At that point I was ready to jump off a balcony out of sheer boredom.
              So I’m not worried about everyone sitting at home if they get some form of citizen pay. I might be wrong of course, but it would be worth a try at least.

              1. “By paying their employees such low wages, companies are shooting themselves in the foot.”

                – Even Henry Ford realized that low wages had this side effect. I think now his equivalents don’t care because the credit card and such have been invented …

            2. Hmm, much to contemplate. It’s compelling for sure. I need to learn more because there is obviously much to it, or SHOULD be much to it to cover all contigencies.

      2. That is pretty much correct. Not sure it all has to be federalized but we the people and tax payers will need to support the Newspaper business if we want to have one. Going back about 150 years ago I believe it was in some areas. Public support of the business was considered essential even then. I wonder what happened to that? Oh yeah, free enterprise, big business, no regulation please, etc.

    2. Buy good (or at least, acceptable) journalism and know why you’re doing it.
      Corollary : let them know why you buy their product and when you think they’ve transgressed your boundaries. Silence equals acceptance.

  5. Who finds he NYT credible? They have been nothing but a government propaganda and clickbait outfit for years now. Don’t believe anything they write unless independently verified.

    1. Oliver and, I assume, his writers. (Not looking to detract from John Oliver’s own performance, which is masterful).

      Whoever put together that bitingly satirical spoof movie ad was a genius. Not only witty, but it tied in perfectly with John’s monologue.


  6. this video was highlighted at PuffHo, which apparently didn’t even look at the first minute of

    … and this surprises you , why?

  7. The New York Times will be the last credible paper in America.

    The ‘New York Times’ credible? Ok, if you insist. 🙂

  8. I really love John Oliver intellectually.
    Many of his videos are quite strange to me however because they take up US issues.
    Particularly one I watched about american police and one regarding abortion clinics were shocking to me and difficult to believe, but as far as I understand it was all true.

    This video is unfortunately not as shocking to me, and seems to be quite accurate regarding journalism in most countries, not just USA. It’s sad that it will end up that way. The mock movie trailer at the end was all too accurate. It’s always bothered me how the important news are covered under hundred of articles about funny-looking cows, celebrity marriages and Trumps hair.

    We as consumers, are responsible for this.
    I personally am completely uninterested in celebrities and various animal stories, but by scrolling through the newspaper, I’m still giving them ad revinue and making it seem as if I endorse what’s there.
    Don’t know how to fix it. Even the articles that requires you to pay are just more of the same so throwing money at them doesn’t seem to work.

    1. Do you suppose (he says with an evil grin) we should stop looking at the kitteh pictures on WEIT?


      1. I already scroll past those. They don’t interest me, but if other people enjoy it, I don’t mind.
        This is a blog after all, not a newspaper.
        I think we should expect more from newspapers and journalists considering they’re supposed to give us actual news and function as our eyes and ears when it comes to politics.

        1. I was only being half frivolous. PCC has lamented that his serious scientific posts don’t get nearly as many comments as his clickbaity ones.

          However, PCC isn’t dependent on clicks for revenue and his kitteh posts don’t impede his serious ones, so my implied parallel is inaccurate.


          1. I suspect part of the issue there is that most of the science posts are about issues that I don’t consider myself to have an informed opinion on – the most I could contribute to the discourse would be “that’s interesting, didn’t know that.” I generally don’t think that to be worth a post, and I suspect a number of readers approach the science posts similarly.

            But we’re all equals when it comes to sharing cat stories, or arguing philosophy or politics.

            1. I have the same feeling. I’m just not knowledgeable enough to say anything on most of the science posts. The post about politics or relgion however are more open for discussion without having to have years of biology studies behind you.

          2. doesnt mean people aren’t reading them – political stuff is inherently commentish because deal directly with Human Behaviour – but science stuff is just as interesting and probably even more important. Also only people with science background likely to feel comfortable commenting even though Jerry presents it to be understandable by the general reader

  9. John Oliver is a wonderful successor to Jon Stewart. Stewart was a wonderful straight man to the antics of the supporting cast, and Oliver was one of the best- the most “rational” of the cast, and arguably the most influential of the post-Stewart group. Also, whatsisname Stephen Colbert and his parody of conservatism.
    But don’t overlook Samantha Bee and her very funny political outrage- currently my favorite.

    1. I’m not that familiar with these types of shows, beyond John Oliver.
      Is Colbert the guy that so successfully parodied conservatives that many conservatives thought he was on their side?
      I remember hearing something about him being the ultimate Poe.

  10. Do not fall into the trap thinking that the Oregonian is a totally good newspaper! Their editorial staff have been pro-republican and AGW denialists for many years. Despite claiming that they were not going to cover AGW this year(!), they keep printing opinion pieces from AGW denialists, some of whom are known (at least within the scientific community) as crackpots. They have also been spending a lot of time attacking public education (some criticisms are warranted, but many are not). They REALLY want a republican governor for Oregon
    and have been VERY pro republican all the way back to and including Reagan.

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