RIP US media as we knew it

Jonathan Make
5 min readMar 2, 2024

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Cheyenne, Feb. 24 — I keep telling myself that I got out of journalism just in time. I had given it one last shot by moving my family across the country to return to local news, while my wife went all-virtual in her own trade publication job. And then several months later, I decided I had enough, and I left the media industry on the day before the midterm elections of 2022.

I could write an entire post about the jobs I did after leaving the local newspaper. (Indeed, I have written many.) That’s not the point.

The point is that, as bleak as things looked in many communities for local news in the winter of 2022–23, they have only gotten worse in the 15 months since I hit the escape button. From my navel-gazing perspective, things are looking even more hazy for the career prospects of the average journalist in the U.S. I’m not the first to observe that with this latest round of layoffs, it really feels like we have crossed (another?) Rubicon.

Watching from the sidelines, I cannot comprehend the scope of job cuts that have hit all types of journalism organizations in the last several months. Places that I never thought would resort to mass layoffs have done so. I can think of very few newsrooms that are truly ‘safe’ from job cuts, often done indiscriminately rather than surgically.

No sub-sector of the news media has been spared, from what I can tell. From respected trade publications (Law360, to name one), to local news (many, many newspapers), to digital-native organizations (Buzzfeed and Vice Media, among many others) to some of the most elite jobs in U.S. journalism like the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. Anyone who has been following the news about the news can probably name many publications that have slashed staff.

Addicted to rubbernecking

Cataloging the carnage isn’t the point. Plenty of skilled media observers have done a much better job of that.

The point of this missive is that, at some level, I am addicted to watching the job-loss train wrecks pile up.

I had thought that when I resigned from my local paper, only nine months on the job as the No. 2 editor, I wouldn’t look back. There was too much to keep me occupied, what with my new careers in railroading, delivering the U.S. mail, and, now, working on communications at a federal agency. There were too many volunteer opportunities to take up my time, whether at my congregation, at the local animal shelter, or completing a citizen’s academy at the local police department.

Lately, I catch myself spending too much of my free time — and even some of my spare time at work — reading about the latest job reductions, the latest mini-scandal in U.S. media, the latest prognostication of doom and gloom. I have always believed that, if I can know what is knowable about a given topic, I can come up with some solutions. These days, I know that simply isn’t true — and it probably never was.

That’s why I have held off writing this post. I have no grand plan to fix the industry I worked in for 30 years — from high school onward.

Industry prospects

More and more, I feel I have precious little insight to offer. About all I have is my own past experience, managing to always keep just barely ahead of the commercial pressures threatening to swamp the industry, rendering it closer to regurgitation than to critical inquiry. Yet the more I observe what is surely the permanent killing off of so many positions, held by so many smart people, the more I wonder if my professional experience is even applicable to anything these days.

When I left my longtime job at a trade pub in D.C. in February 2022, I felt like there were still some prospects in the industry for your average hack. Myself included. By the time I left journalism entirely in November of that same year, I hadn’t even bothered to apply for any other jobs in journalism. That was how sure I was there was nothing to find, not without uprooting my family yet again. When I went to work for the railroad in Wyoming, I didn’t look back much at my previous career.

Or so I thought.

These days, one of the last things I do at night is read about the destruction of journalism as we know it thanks to places like CNN’s media newsletter, Poynter and CJR’s daily roundups, and the media ‘sections’ of major news organizations. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I often read about — or at least think about — the current plight of the industry. When I wake up in the morning, I am usually faced with some form of reporting on the latest problems. And by the time I start work for the day, I have almost certainly read some report or other about the latest unfortunate events.

This is obviously not healthy. Part of writing this is for me to recognize that I’m solving nothing, no matter how closely I follow these depressing events. All I can do is focus on my actual job, and all the other things in my life worthy of sustained attention.

Even if I can follow my own advice (and writing this is surely a way to hold myself accountable), I still can’t stop wondering what more I could have done to help from inside the industry. I thought I had done my part over the years. It just wasn’t enough.

Step by step

Reconciling myself to this situation isn’t easy. I pledge to take it one step at a time, and I hope this blog post represents a step on my way to letting go of what I have no control over.

I’ll still spend way too much money and time reading way too many news articles about, well, virtually any subject. I just need to stop reading so much about my old industry.

With the present economics, level of business-side acumen, and mostly, the level of interest among Americans to pay a reasonable price to be reasonably informed about their world, I’m not sure there is anything obvious to be done on a broad scale. Sure, there are plenty of successes — including some newer business and nonprofit models — but these only make a small dent in resurrecting the media industry as we used to know it. And no doubt, specialized journalism that is often funded by expensive subscriptions paid for by big employers will continue to thrive in some quarters.

It’s just not enough to prevent more train wrecks.

Bottom line: If you’ve read this far and care about being properly informed, subscribe to something. Your favorite magazine. Your local newspaper, even in a diminished form. Donate to public broadcasting and to other nonprofit media. Keep reading — and caring — while you still have choices in what media you consume.

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Jonathan Make

I work at USPTO but my views only here. Buff about good journalism, writing, art & culture. Heart my wife, son & pets.