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After abandoning its working-class roots, the news business is in a death spiral as ordinary Americans reject it in growing numbers.


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Law & :liberty

Over the course of my career at three magazines, two newspapers, a financial wire, and my present job as an investigative reporter, I have taken a particular interest in media criticism. It’s not remotely an exaggeration to say that through an assortment of columns, editorials, magazine features, and books, I have written several hundred thousand words on the topic. There is much to be said for why the media is terrible, and believe me, I’ve tried to say it, mostly to frustrating ends.

The few worthwhile media critics that don’t reflexively blame the death of the industry on readers who have the temerity to vote the wrong way often do little more than bash the media for their relentless partisanship. That’s a valid complaint, yes, but pointing out that The New York Times is essentially just a Democratic super PAC that sells ads has been done ad nauseam and gets us no further in solving the problem.

I have a shelf of books on the media that can be divided evenly into these camps, and so I had ample reason to approach Batya Ungar-Sargon’s book, Bad News: How Woke Media is Undermining Democracy, with trepidation. So it is very relieving that Bad News is something different and far more penetrating—the book’s key insight is that the media’s problems stem largely from issues of class, even if the problems are outwardly manifested as political and cultural extremism in the news. Journalism used to be written primarily by the working class for the working class, but as the industry shrinks, it has become ensconced in an elitist bubble that serves the interests of its corporate owners and distribution channels controlled by Big Tech. This renders it incapable of accurately describing, much less diagnosing, the problems faced by working-class readers, leaving the news business in a death spiral as ordinary Americans reject the media in growing numbers.

Almost any journalist old enough to remember when their profession wasn’t a wasteland of listicle sweatshops will acknowledge there’s been a massive cultural shift in newsrooms in recent decades that rarely gets commented on. I started in journalism in the late 1990s. Back then prominent members of the newsroom’s old guard still drank at lunch and smoked in the office—but they were more transgressive in an important regard: They were all working class, or at a minimum, possessed working-class sympathies. An editor I was lucky to work with early in my career, John Corry, started his multi-decade career at the New York Times as a copyboy on the sports desk where he made $25 a week on the side by supplying bookies with the scores of late ballgames by phone, before working his way up the Times’ masthead. “Mild raffishness, moderate dissoluteness, and minor deviancy were tolerated and tacitly encouraged at the Times, and this fact helped breed allegiance to the newsroom,” Corry writes in his memoir, My Times.:snip:

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