The New Yorker uses the slogan, “The best writing anywhere, everywhere.” That’s quite the statement, and while everyone has a right to his or her own opinion in evaluating the publication’s work, there is something unique about The New Yorker that is unlike almost any other media outlet today: it allows its journalists to tell interesting stories without, as former writer Calvin Trillin states, requiring its reporters to use a “nut graph” — the opening paragraph of the story that tells the reader why it is important. This practice left writers to do what they do best, telling stories without restriction.
But good journalism seems to be fading in today’s media culture.
So I’ll say it: Good journalism still matters. It’s always mattered, and that hasn’t changed. I figured I should take a moment and hammer that point home, making my opinion clear, mostly because recently, it seems, the profession has been taken for granted.
Back in late April, ESPN announced the layoffs of 100 of its employees, mostly writers and TV analysts. You could look at the move as being a business decision, that the bottom line just didn’t reach expectations, but the disappointing part about it all is that many of those who lost their jobs were genuinely good sports journalists. But these are the people whose salaries had to be cut to make room for the large salaries of the colorful TV personalities — the “talking heads” — that have now become the face of the network.
It’s a disturbing trend that has become too familiar in today’s media culture. Good journalism is taking a backseat to big television personalities. Not only ESPN made cuts this past year, but so did Sports Illustrated and USA Today. Here in Michigan, even my hometown Detroit News and Detroit Free Press were not immune to the layoffs, offering buyouts to members of the editorial staffs for their resignations.
The shift has been happening for years. People aren’t getting their news from hard-hitting journalists anymore. The local channels are shrinking, while the national media conglomerates continue to grow. People don’t rely on their city papers to become informed, but rather by the likes of CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, which is a dangerous trend in itself. What happens to the power that those media outlets hold once they have monopolized the industry? It almost seems that if a news company doesn’t have a TV affiliate, it is only a matter of time until it meets its demise. Basically, newspapers — whether with physical or digital distribution.
And what about the writing itself? This is another issue with our society. Our attention spans are shrinking. We depend on bold headlines, quick TV news segments or 140-character tweets to keep us informed, and then we make assumptions based on that minimal knowledge on hand.
There is a little optimism, though. There are still publications like The New Yorker who cherish the craft of writing. And now, in the sports world, there is a digital media company called The Athletic, a subscription-based organization that is committed to longer, more detailed and impactful stories, rather than clickable headlines.
So now let’s do our part, okay? To appreciate good journalism. To support the craft of storytelling. To truly understand when we are becoming informed or when we are only being exposed to the tip of the iceberg.
Maybe then, and possibly only then, we can reverse the trend.
If you have a moment, I think it will be worth your time to listen to Calvin Trillin speak about his life as a writer: