When I graduated college, my dream job was to be the theater critic for the New York Times. My life has taken so many turns since then it seems hilarious to me now. Within a year of graduation, I was done with that dream, and applying to grad school. I quickly realized that my path to this career would be mostly taking unpaid internships, and relying on my parents’ money. Several of my fellow editors at my college newspaper chose this path. The other option was marketing work, pitching publications blindly, or writing on spec. Even then, many of those options didn’t pay.

I quickly realized that, in order to have the easiest path to enter the media world I grew up idolizing, I needed to expect not to make money working what was essentially a full time job.

I was majorly struck by a recent twitter thread by Alec Karakatsanis on the discrepancy between the mainstream media’s focal points vs what actually constitutes a threat to society. His main argument is that what mainstream journalism considers a threat reflects the interests of the rich, and what actually threatens most people, not large corporations, is buried:

It’s hard to think of something more important than understanding the information-spreading apparatus that creates this gap between perception and reality.

He asked a lot of good, provocative questions about why this is, without needing to provide an answer:

Are there professional economic incentives, racial and class biases, and jingoistic ideologies that shape *what harms* to *which people* count as important enough to be breaking news, or news at all?…

What role does corporate ownership and consolidation of media companies play in determining what is covered and how urgently it is covered?

Karakatsanis is approaching the issue from a top down level. My experience, which goes hand in hand with this, is bottom up. Is the barrier for entry to journalism so cost-prohibitive that only the children of the rich and the ruling class can afford to enter it?

The publications themselves, despite what they often preach in their editorial content, aren’t practicing it. Ever since Vice‘s bombshell expose on the unpaid internship structure of the left wing media, these publications have implemented half-measure after half-measure that ignore the main issue: for a job like this, people need to be paid, and paid comfortably.

As my colleague at LexBlog Alec Downing noted, journalism is a  brutal enough job on its own. There’s a ton of burnout, and people from marginalized and underrepresented groups are often the first to leave when things get tough. Publications’ declining ability to pay the people doing the worst entry level work leads to it essentially being a futile enterprise. The only way to really survive, or, heaven forbid, eventually thrive, is to have money from your parents. With the corporate consolidation of mainstream media in recent decades, this isn’t simply a crying shame. This is by design.

The  last 24 hours must have been fun day to be a headline writer for major newspapers in America. Just look at these juicy headlines:


The New York Times:

The Boston Globe:

The Washington Post:

Look at that image placement! I have a hard time imagining a design editor of the Washington Post not audibly laughing when deciding exactly where to crop Marc Zuckerberg’s chin.

It’s only natural that the tone of the coverage from national newspapers, whose influence has been decimated by social media in the past 15 years, would implicitly, and in some cases not-so-implicitly (that chin!), turn to snarkiness. Snarkiness is the route the powerless tend to take when their influence is small and their voice has been marginalized. As NYMag’s Adam Sternbergh put it in 2008, when we first started the debate over online snarkiness:

Snark, irony’s brat, flourishes in an age of doublespeak and idiocy that’s too rarely called out elsewhere. Snark is not a honk of blasé detachment; it’s a clarion call of frustrated outrage.

The major newspapers listed above, which honored that doublespeak and idiocy for far too long, were some of the subject of snarkiness.

The difference is that these major newspapers aren’t powerless here, or blameless. For decades, their coverage has transformed into a desperate attempt to play towards being “factual” and “fair”, despite the fact that one side has completely abandoned the factual and fair. There are now over 15 cycles of college graduates who are intelligent enough to see that, for instance, normalizing Nazi sympathizers, being owned by the tycoons you’re supposed to be covering critically, giving credence to human rights abuses, and exploiting your own labor in the process, aren’t exactly good faith behaviors.

I’m old enough to remember how news coverage was handled right before social media emerged. I was an editor of my college newspaper from 2006-2007, just as social media’s influence was skyrocketing. I didn’t know at the time just how awful a dirge on society social media would become. But I had a front row view of where mainstream media coverage was failing, and where social media and new media was able to fill the gaps (remember the coverage cycle of the John Edwards scandal? I sure do).

So yes, the past 48 hours are a huge loss for Facebook in particular and social media in general. But let’s not pretend there are any winners here.