Today’s low point for American news media affects all beats -- including religion

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Instead of the usual focus on religion coverage, this Memo scans the over-all news-media landscape as viewed by a newshound of (embarrassingly) long experience.

The Religion Guy, who strives to be non-partisan, believes with others that America’s news media -- in terms of economics and public trust -- have reached the low point of the past half-century.

This affects the religion beat as surely as every other segment of journalism.  

There’s chaos at the storied Los Angeles Times and Newsweek, with other forms of newsroom turbulence that shakes even Gannett’s DC monolith honoring journalism's role in American life.

With GetReligion readers, there’s no need to detail the economic travail and consequent death of countless dailies and magazines, with staff shrinkage for those that still struggle to survive.  Can online ad revenues sustain decent coverage? Will twittery Americans read substantive copy any longer?   

But forget media economics and corporate maneuvers. Worst of all is sagging esteem. Consider TV shallowness and bile, stupendous screw-ups forced by 24/7 competition, and the eclipse of objectivity -- or even minimal fairness -- amid the glut of opinion. There’s also simple bad taste, the StormyDanielsization of daily news budgets.  

In September, 2016, the Gallup Poll found Americans’ trust in the media to report “fully, accurately, and fairly” was the worst since it first asked this question in 1972. Only 32 percent had a “great deal” or “fair” amount of trust, down 8 percent in just a year. A mere 26 percent of those under age 50 felt trust, capping a decade of decline. One year later, 37 percent of respondents thought the media “get the facts straight” but with a worrisome partisan breakdown: 62 percent of Democrats versus only 37 percent of Independents, and a pathetic 14 percent of Republicans.  

However, it was a good sign that less than one-fifth of those of whatever partisan identity or educational level had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Internet news.  

There was much to mourn before Donald J. Trump came down that golden escalator. But his campaign and presidency have produced unprecedented and dangerous hostility of president toward press, and of press toward president. This conflict shapes the media environment at its core.

The mutual slime-slinging is detailed in “Media Madness: Donald Trump, The Press, and the War over the Truth” (Regnery) by Howard Kurtz, the Fox News Channel’s media critic. It’s “Fire and Fury” for newsies, though far more factual and reliable. With unending laments over Trump’s Twitter addiction, The Religion Guy must ask why on earth reputable news organizations allow reporters to expose spleen via tweets, which sullies the important and valid investigative work dailies are doing.

Since much on Fox boosts the political right, note Kurtz’s mainstream news credentials: New Jersey newspaperman, aide to muckraker Jack Anderson, Washington Evening Star (R.I.P.) reporter, decades covering media for The Washington Post and simultaneous hosting of CNN’s “Reliable Sources” media analysis show (which now competes directly with Kurtz’s “Media Buzz” on Fox).

Anti-Trumpers will find Kurtz too kind toward the president, and negligent regarding Fox’s impact. Still, it’s worth mulling his conclusion: In Trumpian times, too many reporters and news executives inhabit a “bubble” where “normal rules of balance and attempted objectivity” are suspended. They see a duty “to push back -- perhaps even push out” this President. As journalists resist normalizing such a presidency, “they have abnormalized journalism. ... Donald Trump will not be president forever, but the media’s reputation, badly scarred during these polarizing years, might never recover.”

A final word for GetReligion readers?

Let's go back to the religion beat and a potential story: Salt Lake City has had strong, long competition between the Tribune and church-run Deseret (not “desert”) News.

That enhances coverage, religion included, but recently entangled these dailies in joint-op intrigue and hostilities depicted in James Ure’s “Stop The Press: How the Mormon Church Tried to Silence the Salt Lake Tribune.” Since Ure is opinionated and publisher Prometheus is anti-religious, reporters will of course seek perspective from the church and the Deseret.

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