The Loss of the Trade Press Covering the Media Industry in D.C.: Why it matters

This week we learned that the long-time reporter covering the cable industry in Washington, D.C. for the industry “trade” publication Multichannel News had lost his job.  Variety also closed its DC bureau in December.  Hollywood Reporter doesn’t have its veteran DC reporter.  Adweek/Mediaweek/Brandweek no longer have a regular person based in Washington.  There’s been consolidation at Ad Age and TV Week as well, with one journalist now responsible covering issues for both publications.  We understand there has been some belt-tightening also at Broadcasting and Cable.

These D.C.-based reporters played an incredibly important role–not just covering their own industry for insiders, but providing people like myself (consumer and public interest advocates)  real insight into what the industry was actually saying and doing.  I know many of these journalists–they are fine reporters who did their work seriously.   I imagine reporters working for trade publications covering other industries have also lost their positions.  The losses in the daily print press are frightening.  And so too is the decimation of the cadre of trade journalists covering the media and entertainment industry. Trade reporters are a crucial part of the journalistic ecosystem–their loss is another indication of how the entire journalistic enterprise is collapsing.  It cannot be replaced solely by bloggers.  It takes real shoe “leather” and digging into the facts on a daily basis they helps keep an industry accountable–and the public informed (including industry insiders ).

We have longed urged officials in the Newspaper Guild and academic journalists to call for congressional hearings into the plight of journalists and newspapers.  Sadly, they did not act to, for example, have Congress and the states implement the many common sense recommendations made in 2001 by the writers of Taking Stock: Journalism and the Publicly Traded Newspaper Company.  The American public needs to understand what the loss of reporting institutions means for the country’s democratic future.  And we should enact new laws and regulations which help save what is left,  allowing those who really care to own and operate these outlets.  And we require new policies which can help spur the emergence of a new generation of sustainable digital news services.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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