In the early days of The Week, we splayed out a smorgasbord of daily newspapers on a long rectangular table in the center of the room. In addition to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, the staff sifted through the Miami Herald, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and several news magazines in our quest for tasty articles to curate for our readers. For a news junkie, the array of fine reporting, writing, and news presentation on that table was thrilling — tangible proof of the vital role journalism plays in our democracy. That was two decades ago, before Google, Facebook, and the internet laid waste to print newspapers and magazines. Now many of the websites that replaced them are also struggling and dying. As Elon Musk gloated last week, the implosion of "legacy media" is a boon for unfiltered, user-generated sources of information like his X, which "enables the people to define the narrative."
Ah, yes — "the narrative." How liberating to be freed from the fusty standards of evidence imposed by journalists, scientists, historians, and other obsolete sources of authority. The mainstream media, for example, would never have told you that Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce, the NFL, and the deep state are conspiring to deny Donald Trump a second term. That narrative may be easy to laugh off, but in the Disinformation Age, millions of citizens have adopted equally nonsensical beliefs about vaccines, election fraud, Jan. 6, climate change, gun violence, Ukraine, and the "Great Replacement" conspiracy — with much graver implications. Expertise, evidence, and nuanced perspective are out. Now you can get alternative facts and tribal dogma from simpleminded podcasters and TikTok influencers, rage-aholic cable TV hosts, and reactionary billionaires. Dead and dying newspapers aren't coming back, but we need to think more carefully and critically about what's replacing them.
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