The Digital Age has transformed the traditional media landscape. The so-called Fourth Estate is reeling. Thousands of journalists have lost their jobs. Newsrooms have shrunk. Beats have been eliminated. Bureaus have closed. Many important stories are given short shrift or not covered at all. Investigative journalism may soon be an endangered species. City hall and statehouse coverage has been particularly hard hit. Large parts of the country are served by one or no local newspapers. Internet giants like Facebook and Google, swimming in cash, run stories from hard-working reporters without offering fair compensation. It's a brutal scene. An uninformed or half-informed citizenry undermines democracy. Craig Aaron of Free Press warns, “There are incredibly important decisions being made in Washington that shape the future of media. But they’re being done without the public’s involvement or consent.”
Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web, once described the internet as a "permissionless space for creativity, innovation and free expression." In the early days, you may recall, the internet was also called the “information superhighway.” It would be open, free and with no advertising. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Tech giants like Facebook and Google control a huge percentage of traffic on the internet with algorithms designed with just one priority in mind: make that cash register ring. In turning the internet into an ATM machine the tech giants have amassed huge amounts of personal information about you. They know your likes and dislikes. Right now, Facebook, with billions of users, is mired in controversy. Its platform has been a forum for polarizing content ranging from hate and bigotry to misinformation and human trafficking. Calls are getting louder and louder for meaningful regulation.
With few exceptions the corporate mainstream media operate within very narrow parameters. In one corner you have MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and in the other you have Fox’s Sean Hannity. And they do present contrasting views but the boundaries of discussion are limited. Certain topics are taboo, such as U.S. imperialism or really existing capitalism, not the wonders of the free market propaganda we're bombarded with. Deep institutional structures are never the focus of attention. Here and there people make mistakes and are called out. And tactics and policies are criticized but the overall framework of power remains intact and unchallenged. The corporate mainstream media fulfills its role as a cover for a system that is clearly failing for the many but benefits the few. But there are alternatives to the BS.
Craig Aaron is the director of Free Press, a non-profit organization dedicated to safeguarding Net Neutrality, defending public media and sustaining quality journalism. His articles have appeared in The Guardian and The Progressive.
Janine Jackson is FAIR’s program director and producer/host of FAIR’s syndicated weekly radio show CounterSpin. She contributes frequently to FAIR’s newsletter Extra!
Jeff Chester is Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), a Washington, DC non-profit organization, advocating for citizens, consumers, and other stakeholders on digital privacy and consumer protection online. CDD led the campaign for the enactment of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, COPPA.
Jeff Cohen founded Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) , the New York-based media watch group in 1986. He was founding director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, where he was an associate professor of journalism.
Kathryn Montgomery is Professor Emerita at the School of Communication at American University and Research Director with the Center for Digital Democracy. She is the author of Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet.