Business models imploding, newsrooms gutted, content outsourced, Donald Trump, "fake news," sex harassment, bankruptcies, ethics transgressions, declining public trust, reporters beheaded, a premium on being first not being right, increasing public ignorance, Hulk Hogan, more Donald Trump, magazines dying, Facebook and Google gobbling up ads, local government coverage atrophying, Michael Wolff, overseas coverage waning, and media nonprofits going poof.
If you've covered media for the past two and a half years, calamities could be all consuming. You felt part disaster relief specialist, part medical examiner, and part cultural archaeologist sifting through ruins.
Yet, like the U.N. humanitarian aid worker dispatched to one catastrophe after another, you persist and find the glimmers of hope. They are abundant, as made clear Thursday in tracking down smart folks (not hard when stuck in midtown Manhattan traffic) with a simple question: "What's one reason you are optimistic about the media future?" Fighting another trend, no unnamed sources were allowed.
Chuck Todd, NBC News: "I’m optimistic about the next generation of journalists for two specific reasons: 1) Sheer numbers. Millennial interest in journalism is way up. The perception of the power of media has helped. The greater the numbers, the greater the opportunity is to make sure the best and the brightest make it into journalism."
"2) Millennials want to believe they can make a unique difference themselves (however one defines that) and that entrepreneurial mindset should work well in journalism. As we figure out what 'media' looks like in the next two decades, millennials will shape it in ways that, I think, will be in the name of the greater good."
Kathy Kiely, journalism professor, University of New Hampshire and longtime Washington reporter-editor: "Donald Trump, God bless him, has made journalism cool again. For the last 10 years or so, I have felt like a reverse Paul Revere, shouting to everyone and anyone, 'The newspapers are going! The newspapers are going!' Finally I feel like people are listening — and beginning to think about what we can do about it. Thank you, Mr. President."
Bob Cohn, president, The Atlantic: "The media business may be troubled and the public bitterly divided, but the work of our best journalists — to learn the most knowable version of the truth and share it with the public — is impressive and inspiring. And readers respond. They don't want cat videos and slide shows. The data show that the stories they read and share are the ones that represent our finest work."
Kevin Merida, editor, The Undefeated: "We are in the greatest period of storytelling experimentation in the history of our profession. We are producing some extraordinary work, and captivating audiences with it in new ways. The marriage of technology and journalism, or technology and content broadly, has never been better. And the talent that's emerging? Whew! As good as it's ever been."
Dan Rosenheim, news director, KPIX-TV (CBS), San Francisco: "Donald Trump — who may, albeit unintentionally, remind people that reliable, informed news coverage is invaluable."
Alex Witt, anchor-reporter, MSNBC: "I am cautiously optimistic about the reach of the media via the wide array of traditional and social media platforms. I’m optimistic because traditional media is still holding those in power accountable. But the caveat is the fear of abuse from non-traditional actors, who have access to some of the same tools and potential reach, yet fail to uphold even the basic standards of truth."
Brian Stelter, CNN: "I see lots of reasons to be optimistic. Among them: A renewed interest in how we do what we do. Every time the president cries 'fake,' it's a chance for us to explain how real news is reported and published. Every time he claims we make up sources, it's a chance to describe the vetting process. Hopefully our explanations help people feel more involved in the news. No, it's not going to gain everyone's trust, but it's going to help."
Maria Henson, Pulitzer Prize winner and associate vice president, editor-at-large and journalism lecturer, Wake Forest University: "I am resolutely hopeful when I hear from my college students a comment such as this: 'What I have learned and seen inspires me to stand behind the media in trying times. The First Amendment has always been important, but now it seems as necessary as the air we breathe.' "
"Don't count out our young people. Every day more of them understand what's at stake."
Jon Steinberg, founder, Cheddar (a great financial and cultural news service that partners with Vanity Fair): "That from small seeds can grow mighty oaks to take on incumbents. Look at BuzzFeed, Vice and Vox. Look at Cheddar and Tastemade. Entrepreneurs and artists can create and win in media even against giants!"
Bruno Cohen, retired former CBS executive and local station general manager: "The thing to understand about the current state of journalism is that everything is going to be okay. We’re still in the initial stages of the influence of digital technology, so we are experiencing all its attendant disruptions without much perspective. There’s probably another 5 or 10 years of chaos to go. By then, the public will be so tired of noise, of advertising posing as news, of bad players abusing their access to social platforms, of lies empowering anyone audacious enough to tell them — that there will emerge a viable demand for sources with integrity, for branded content that can be trusted."
"When the coal miners are still not employed and can’t get health care, when employers can’t fill open positions and their business suffer because the can’t find hard working immigrants to do the work, when mothers and fathers start believing their daughters about what really happened at school and at work, and when the water in your own home turns out not to be drinkable — that’s when branded, credible content becomes essential. And people will demand it. A business model will form around that demand. And good journalists will be needed — badly needed."
"There is no more powerful force on earth than good storytellers. They will prevail."
Dana Perino, Fox News host-analyst: “If you look at media consumption, across the board on all platforms, people are hungry for news about their government — a more informed public is a good thing.”
Steve Brill, journalist-author-media entrepreneur: "1) The world is so complicated and troubled that the world needs good, reliable information and sooner or later the world is going to realize it and somehow be willing to pay for it."
"2) The amazingly smart, determined kids I teach at Yale who want to fill what is bound to be the demand for their work. (See #1.)"
Malcolm Moran, former New York Times reporter and the director of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis: "The absolute, non-negotiable commitment to getting it right on the part of students operating under pressure. I saw it up close, on a daily basis, in the coverage of the Sandusky scandal. I see it again in the coverage of Larry Nassar’s crimes and the fallout at Michigan State and beyond."
"I see it in the eyes of students when they discuss the relationship between the media and the White House. The most committed of the students understand the damage that can be done by a lack of precision and effort. They also understand the fulfillment that comes with getting it right."
Ron Fournier, publisher-editor, Crain's Detroit Business: “What makes me hopeful for the future is what scares me about the present: Change. Massive, mind-boggling economic, technological and demographic change that is transforming and upsetting the lives of Americans faster than our social institutions are able to adapt."
"That combination of personal change and institutional malaise is what creates anxiety and anger, and what fuels political populism. Why does that make me hopeful? Because the last time our country experienced this scale of social change, a new breed of journalists took advantage of new technology and created a new business model. They were called Muckrakers. Journalists like my hero, Ida Tarbell. What makes me hopeful about the future is that the present is ripe for the rise of young Muckrakers.”
Nicholas Quah, founder and writer of Hot Pod, a newsletter on podcasts: "I love what the crew at Hearken are doing. The premise, to begin with, of letting the audience be the assigning editor, is so simple but utterly sublime, and it opens up a wide universe of potential editorial products. I also really admire the technical challenges of that specific company; how do you build products driven by that spirit? It's a problem in search of a solution, not a product in search of a problem, and the fact that they're working at it gives me so much hope that media entrepreneurship can be thoughtful and awesome."
Julia Keller, Pulitzer Prize winner for feature writing, author and former Chicago Tribune reporter-critic: "Human curiosity has been the driving force behind all progress. The will to know — to understand, to analyze, to comprehend, to discover — always, in the end, beats ignorance and complacency. Someone, eventually, will figure out a sustainable economic model for media companies to thrive. Because, to paraphrase Flaubert: Media, c'est moi."
Michael Tackett, political writer, New York Times: "Journalists now have a renewed sense of mission and readers have a genuine desire for facts and understanding."
So that's it for the week and my tenure at Poynter. Under Neil Brown, the new head of Poynter, there's a reappraisal of strategy and economics and one result is elimination of my position. But it's been a wonderful opportunity to pass along great work like today's Washington Post obituary of community activist-turned-take-no-prisoners journalist Nicholas von Hoffman. And my gratitude abounds for your loyalty (and attention to detail that sometimes surpassed my own). I also thank our canny and sophisticated co-hosts at Vanity Fair.
You can reach me at email@example.com. If you have any Poynter-related matters from here on in, Neil is firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll continue writing politics and policy at U.S. News & World Report and hopefully announce my next chapter shortly.
As for the family weekend (a surprise topic of reader engagement all this time: parent-teacher conference, soccer and basketball practices Friday; choir, math tutoring and a soccer game Saturday; and a 7 a.m. soccer game Sunday, then a birthday party, basketball game and, of course, the Super Bowl (go Eagles!). And the game will conclude my three-week cleanse via a shot of Jack Daniels, decent red wine and the potato chips I've miraculously avoided with Teutonic self-discipline that would make my late German immigrant dad proud.
And, too, there'll be a night's sleep Sunday. That means no 4:55 a.m. Central wake-up Monday to watch "Morning Joe," "New Day" and, surely to their chagrin, "Trump & Friends." Well, life does entail trade-offs. Cheers, and thanks so very much.
Note from Poynter
We would like to thank Jim for his efforts these past two and a half years. He has created a dialogue with many, many readers, and we're committed to sustaining that relationship.
The digital staff at poynter.org will be curating this newsletter going forward. You'll see that the format will change a bit, but it will still have a comprehensive range of media news, trends and just plain good journalism we'd like to recognize.
Feel free to send us your feedback at email@example.com.