The Reduced Reach of News

The current state of the world has reduced the reach of news. News organizations have less ability than ever to track developments that will be affecting us, and what insights they do have are mostly not reaching readers who could use the information.

The decline in the ability to report news that matters is more than the decline in the status of news reporters. Much has been said in many places since the mid 1990s about how little reporters are paid and how few reporters there are. The days when the local newspaper of a small city could empty multiple full-tine reporters ended around 2005. Newspapers now give the illusion of a news staff by reprinting each other’s stories and by getting most of their local content from a network of low-paid and unpaid freelancers.

Where there are reporters, the workload is so heavy that they have little time do any real research. Reporters, under at least as much time pressure as their readers, are forced to make snap decisions about the merits of a story. With little time to ask questions, reporters are relying more than ever on superficial signs of importance such as large buildings, a long history, and measures of economic power. Most of the changes that are creating the world of the future will not be found in these places.

Meanwhile, it is harder than ever for consumers to get their hands on the news. The daily newspaper that could be bought on any street for 10 cents or one dollar half a lifetime ago is no longer a thing. Newspapers today are priced like paperback books, a speculative investment for the reader who might or might not find any relevant news in any given issue. Online news subscriptions run in the neighborhood of $100 a shot, and the well-known difficulty of canceling is a deterrent to most potential subscribers. The decline of content in the news subscriptions is another factor. One could easily spend $5,000 a year on a suite of news subscriptions and still miss the most important stories because of how few stories any single news outlet can generate over the course of a year.

There was a time when readers could get a sense of the news in social media, but this is no longer reaching many people. The deluge of fake news at Facebook was a factor in its slow fade. Threats of violence against those who read the news at Twitter are a factor in that platform’s downward spiral, Arbitrary algorithmic censorship of the news at YouTube and other platforms has discouraged most viewers from trying to find news there. If the presence of a word like “count,” “distortion,” “infection,” or “intervention” is enough to get a news story suppressed, then how much news is actually getting through?

Even imagining that all of the above could be solved for, there is a new kind of quiet surrounding much of the world’s future-facing work. In general, the people creating something new in then world don’t have a way to get attention anyway, but if they did, they would mostly choose to let it pass. Anything new is bund to undercut something that already exists. If you are creating something new, there is little incentive to telegraph your arrival years in advance and drum up the resistance to your new ideas. As an author, I am part of this too. When asked about what books I am writing, my answer is likely to be a bland, “I hope to have more books in the future,” unless the writing and design for a book are completed and I have a guess of the release date.

Changes on both sides of the news equation can be traced to the increased concentration of wealth and power in the last half century. News is increasingly a tool for the powerful to use against everyone else. Advertisers have less interest in news going out to ta mass audience now the half of consumer spending power is concentrated in the hands of a few thousand people. Workers seek to work in obscurity for as long as they can to avoid the attention of the billionaires who pay for social media violence and the news stories that seek to discredit anything new.

Where news cannot help us, we are left to fall back on word of mouth and intuition. Both tell us that changes are on the way at all times and that everything that seems so important this year will eventually fall away — the opposite of the message we get from the news.

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