Saturday, November 28, 2020
News + Politics Fear -- and hope -- for journalism

Fear — and hope — for journalism

So many bad things happening to local news media -- which is why we are trying to make a difference.


So many bad things are happening in the journalism world this week, I barely know where to start.

Let’s consider the Sacramento Bee, long one of the most respected newspapers in the state (although now, like many dailies, much diminished.)

Actual fake news: Campaign consultants are paying to place stories in bogus publications that appear legit.

The Bee, according to the Newspaper Guild, is now proposing to link the pay reporters get to the number of clicks their stories attract.

The Sacramento Biz Journal talked to the Bee’s editor:

Lauren Gustus, editor of the Bee, said in an email that the paper’s effort is more nuanced.

“The suggestion that The Bee is tying journalists’ pay to clicks is inaccurate,” Gustus said. “We are proposing performance metrics that measure readership and engagement to better serve our communities. This is a concept both parties agreed to in prior sessions and is one component of a comprehensive performance management process that measures performance against standards and goals.”

But that sounds exactly like what the Guild is worried about.

Reporters at respectable news organizations never have to worry that their stories aren’t click-bait. If they did, all we’d ever read is celebrity gossip the only newscasts would be cat videos.

And imagine if your boss got to decide whether you cover a tedious but important public meeting or a story about some celebrity’s sex life – and the one you get assigned impacts your paycheck.

It gets worse:

Mother Jones just reported that Facebook intentionally changed its algorithm in 2017 to reduce the number of people who are directed to left-leaning news sites. That cost MJ between $400,000 and $600,000 a year.

It affected us, too – page views dropped when the new algorithm took over. But I never thought it was a specific political policy.

And this: The New York Times reports that a right-wing operation has started more than 1,300 local news sites (and some print publications) that sound and look like legitimate newspapers – except that the articles are placed by GOP political consultants who pay the papers to write nice things about their clients and bad things about opponents.

All of this adds up to an alarming pattern.

One of the reasons we started 48hills was to have an independent progressive daily news outlet in San Francisco. I hoped, and still hope, that our community-supported model would be duplicated in other cities, that this could be part of the future of local news.

And everything I see says it’s more important than ever.

Our annual gala is Thursday starting at 7. If the presidential debate is driving you crazy and you can’t stand it anymore, swing by. Or join us when the debate is done, there will be plenty left.

Your support keeps us going. Thanks, always.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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