The reader becomes king
French billionaire Vincent Bolloré has snapped up media companies and publishers such as Vivendi, Editis and Prisma and has his eye on the radio station Europe 1. He has slashed headcount and budgets, encouraged a debased form of journalism that panders to the far right (CNews) and terrorised newsrooms. He threatens to sue Le Monde diplomatique over its investigation of his African activities.
The harms of media capitalism Bolloré represents aren’t the best indicator of how journalism is being shaken up in the 2020s, though. The emergent force is not shown by infographics of media ownership or a Who’s Who of advertisers, but by editorial management’s swift apologies when readers don’t like an article. The new cornerstone of the press economy is subscribers, long thought of as the spare wheel on the media juggernaut. Their growing influence makes newsrooms reverberate to societies’ grievances and divisions. Even if for now only a handful of titles are feeling it, this reflects a fundamental change.
If private ownership still sets the great Monopoly board in journalism, it is no longer disruptive, as market logic already rules. Though we spend ever more time reading the news on our phones and talking about it, the number of people employed to report the news is dwindling. In France, there’s been a modest decline in the number of journalists (-6% in 2008-19); in the US it has fallen by nearly a quarter. This masks a disparity: US newsrooms have eliminated 36,000 print-media jobs, but created 10,000 in non-print media.
Trying to capture small audiences, the press has gone from selling a vision of reality they perceive to be acceptable to a broad mean, to selling division
The long-prophesied two-tier news environment — rich content for the rich, poor for the poor — is coming into being. It maps onto a landscape of educational and cultural inequalities. The local press, less nimble at (…)
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(2) New York Times, 19 October 2020.
(4) La Lettre A, 30 July 2020.
(6) L’Usine nouvelle, Antony, 17 June 2020; Les Affaires, Québec, 30 June 2018.
(8) Matt Taibbi, ‘The post-objectivity era’, TK News, 19 September 2020, substack.com/.
(9) Nicholas Lemann, ‘Can journalism be saved?’, op cit.
(11) Julia Cagé, Nicolas Hervé and Béatrice Mazoyer, ‘Social Media and Newsroom Production Decisions’, Social Science Research Network, 20 October 2020 (prepublished).