“We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” — Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis
On a crisp November day in 2014, as I hustled through Boston’s Downtown Crossing at rush hour, I got a call that would change the course of my career: I was offered my first full-time journalism job, as a tech and startups reporter for a local online outlet called BostInno. When I look back on that moment and recall the dizzying rush of excitement that set in, I see an idealistic young woman who has yet to understand the way the media machine really works. I wish I could somehow temper her expectations. I wish I could protect her from the crushing disappointment that comes with realizing this industry she’s chosen isn’t what she naively thinks it is.
Not too long before I was hired, BostInno had been acquired by American City Business Journals, the largest publisher of metropolitan business newsweeklies in the U.S. In my early conversations with colleagues, it was apparent they were still adjusting to post-acquisition life. Sure, there were perks that came with being acquired — but the pressure to hit lofty traffic goals meant writers now had to prioritize certain clickbaity stories over others. Moreover, I distinctly remember a fixation on quantity. Writers were expected to churn out at least three or four stories a day in an effort to reach as wide an audience as possible, which frustratingly, meant we often didn’t have time to cover complex topics in the depth required. Our experience, as it turns out, is not exactly a unique one.
In a recent survey I conducted, 60% of journalists said they’d worked for a publication that got bought by a larger company while they were there — and 40% of that group admitted to witnessing negative changes in their job expectations or work environment after the acquisition.
If you examine the history of countless media mergers and acquisitions over the last several decades, you’ll come to an unsettling discovery: local, independent outlets are dying out in droves. The result? The vast majority of the news you digest is tailored to serve the interests of corporations and their leaders, rather than citizens.
The Great Media Consolidation continues:
– NYT buys The Athletic
– BuzzFeed buys Complex
– VOX buys GroupNine
– Axel Springer buys Politico
– Dot Dash buys Meredith
– Minute Media buys Player’s Tribune
What’s next? https://t.co/P435ij5Zxc
— Cristian Nyari (@Cnyari) January 6, 2022
It may go without saying, but the media plays an almost nauseatingly prominent role in our everyday lives, especially here in the United States. In fact, Americans spend an average of 12 and a half hours per day consuming news via the television, Internet, newspapers, magazines, and radio. The media molds our society in a myriad of ways. It tells us which world events deserve our attention. It has the power to affect what we buy. In shaping our opinions on everything from immigration, healthcare, education, and the environment to individual political candidates, it can also have significant sway when it comes to elections. Studies have shown that media coverage sometimes has a strong impact on criminal court decisions, particularly for violent crimes. And by influencing consumers and investors, our current 24-hour real-time news cycle can impact our economic climate, driving the market values of certain industries and companies (this is known as “the CNN effect”).