Mateos Hayes Head shot

The concept of a free press unfettered by free speech restrictions is integral to the idea of a democratic republic, but is this concept under threat?

When observing the state of journalism in this country, it doesn’t take long to realize that there is a common trend nationwide. Local journalism is dying.

Famous papers such as the Oregonian are consistently losing the revenue that they require to run and are switching to publishing almost exclusively in digital format. Most, if not all, local newspapers today are owned by one massive parent company.

In fact, almost 90% of all media in the United States, including news media, is owned by just six corporations. Even in Tennessee, both the Knoxville News-Sentinel and the Tennessean are ultimately owned by Gannett, a large media company that also owns USA Today and operates the USA TODAY NETWORK.

New York-based American hedge fund Alden Global Capital owns 50 local daily newspapers in the U.S., and the Washington Post — which itself is owned by Amazon — described it as 'one of the most ruthless of the corporate strip-miners seemingly intent on destroying local journalism.' It, like many other such entities, has engaged in extreme cost-cutting to maximize profits of the newspapers they own.

This has resulted in mass layoffs of staff and has forced the newspapers to become entirely digital, in many cases. Whilst this is often good for profit, it is extremely detrimental for many newspapers.

Converting a paper to an entirely digital edition also implies another ramification that corporate language calls 'curtailing redundancies.' In other words, people who are no longer needed to keep the paper running are laid off.

Often, this means that only the bare minimum of staff is maintained. Consequently, restructuring has gutted many local newspapers. It has led not only to a lack of writers, photographers and reporters, but it has also decimated the integrity of many long-standing newspapers.

Worse still, many of these corporations are trying to make profit the sole deciding force in what gets published and what does not. The focus is increasingly becoming what gets more clicks, more views, more raves. We see this not only in newspapers but also in television news and throughout the internet.

Increasingly, media is calibrated to elicit a strong reaction from its audience, whether it be shock, disgust, outrage or sentimentalism. To this end, parent companies force the few journalists that remain at local papers into ridiculous work routines where they must balance new online quasi-journalism in addition to proper journalism.

For many people in America, this issue may not seem important. Some may even like that the ‘fake news mainstream media’ appears to be fading away. Many of us don’t even read these sources and prefer to rely on Facebook, the Huffington Post, Reddit or other less mainstream publications. However, this is not good news.

While such publications may be more 'relevant' to a young audience or more in line with your ideological leanings, the fact is that neither Huff. Po. nor any of these publications employs correspondents.

By this I mean that no reporter from the Huffington Post is sent to regularly report on, for instance, meetings of a local state congress or senate. No one from Reddit is going to report on city-council meetings in your town.

In other words, by abandoning local publications to their fate under these immense corporations, we are depriving ourselves of the mechanisms by which to hold our local leaders accountable.

Today, we see the effects of this lack of coverage. If you don’t know the name of your local representatives or cannot name policy they enacted, then you are unlikely to find that information in a local newspaper.

This is an especially critical issue when elections hone into view. Knowing the record of your politician and the stances they have taken is so critical to electing people that will best serve a community. And yet, much of this information is often not readily available. To find it, one must engage in extensive research, and for the average person, this is not an option.

Thus, many communities are losing their voice in local and national politics.

We see the consequences of this every day. Every day that a television news story is about cats and not about the Mayoral election in Nashville — yes, one is happening right now — is a day that a local community is badly informed.

There are still scores of local newspapers and news agencies that put out high-quality reporting. The newspapers which I mentioned are still important local powerhouses that play a major role in maintaining that most important column of a democratic republic: a free press. But with every passing year, such powerhouses are diminishing, and those that remain are becoming losing editorial independence inch by inch.

We cannot allow this to happen. It is not only a detriment to those newspapers’ integrity but also to the long-term health of free speech in the US. To allow such superblocks to control American media, to allow independent journalism to suffocate, is to allow many important issues in our country to go uncovered.

Mateos Hayes is a junior majoring in history and minoring in philosophy. He may be reached at mhayes57@vols.utk.edu You can also check out Mateos' blog at https://10rpolitics.blogspot.com/ for further reading.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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