The highest quality types of media coverage are increasingly “about the elites, for the elites”, and everyone is suffering.
Usher says changes in America’s media must be seen against the backdrop of the country’s political polarization and social inequalities. As the media searches for subscription dollars against advertising dollars, the content and coverage is skewed in favor of affluent, urban customers who are willing to pay. Further, she says, “Institutional journalism is a white institution. And when audiences are imagined, especially those who pay, those audiences are imagined as white.”
So these are the rich, white parts of its title – but what about the blue? She said blue is the most complicated because big newsrooms don’t see themselves as liberal media. “But the people who still trust American journalism are overwhelmingly liberal,” she said. Countless Republicans have disconnected – abandoned – from the mainstream media.
So, Usher says, whatever the intent, the type of information that is rigorously sourced and carefully edited, the type that comes with accountability and peer admiration and award eligibility, is the “news for. the rich, the whites and the blues “.
Location and power
I’ve known Usher for almost a decade. In fact, I was one of the subjects of her first book, The New York Times Researcher’s Perspective, in 2014. Usher is now an Associate Professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. and Principal Investigator at the Open Markets Institute. , and The Times also appears in his new book. She says the Times “global ambitions” are a “survival strategy” to gain more and more subscribers.
It happens in the “place and power” part of the subtitle of his book. “You have to think of the place in terms of geography, but also in terms of the privilege and the type of experiences journalists have,” Usher says. “Reporters sitting in New York and DC have a really different focus on what it means to think about key issues in America.”
Usher in Illinois had a very different experience with the pandemic than I had in New York. But this is just one example among many. Consider how the record-breaking heat in the northwest was capped compared to a standard tropical storm along the east coast.
A “disaster” of trust in the media
When talking about local news, Usher tries to distinguish between what’s worth saving, like hungry reporters at city council meetings, and what isn’t, like greedy landlords. She points out that the deaf national coverage of local issues is a formidable drag: “If the national media are the only news media capable of surviving – and continue to cover places with which they have limited knowledge, in this way it will sounds really inauthentic to the people who live there – so you’re sort of setting up an even worse type of disaster for a media trust. “
This is all linked to a phenomenon that some subscribers to this newsletter have noticed: as more pay walls protect primary sources and expensive news to produce, more casual consumers end up reading regurgitated, aggregated, no. sourced. Hyper-partisan and hateful content thrives in a world where the more expensive news is “for” the rich, the Whites and the Blues.
There is still a lot of “free” information available, but “you have to work a lot harder to find really high quality information,” as Usher commented to me after recording the podcast.
When there is a deficit of original news, there is tons of news. And no one really benefits from it except the speakers and the people who own the platforms they speak on.