I read a fascinating article by Joshua Benton on NiemanLab.org about how the Internet is pushing the American news business to New York and the coasts. “Rather than creating geographic diversity, digital news has pushed the industry into a few tight clusters. That has real impacts on the journalism we get.” Here are more highlights from his piece:
“Let’s start by thinking of the pre-web news business. Physical distribution of newspapers and over-the-air distribution of TV signals meant location was all-important for daily news. Journalistic talent was arrayed to match, with substantial newsrooms in every city.
“Digital changed that. Think of the most prominent digital-native news companies, like Vice Media, BuzzFeed, Business Insider, Gawker Media, Mashable, Vox Media — all of them are in New York or D.C. (Vice adds a sort of geographic diversity by being in Brooklyn instead of Manhattan, I suppose. But you could still visit a dozen of them without your Uber bill climbing too high.) There are smaller hubs in the Bay Area (for tech reporting), Los Angeles (all about video), and even Miami (for Spanish-language and Hispanic-targeting media), but the increase in concentration is unmistakable. Journalism jobs are leaving the middle of the country and heading for the coasts.
“This won’t come as a shock to anyone who’s studied cluster theory, the idea that industries naturally tend toward concentration in one or a few places — think autos in Detroit, oil in Houston, or music in Nashville. Small geographic advantages start to snowball; companies that want to work with the big players naturally want to be near them, and talented people know that, if they want to do interesting work, they’d best go where the innovation is happening.
“So if the news business is becoming even more centered in New York, what sort of impacts would that have on our news? For one thing, you’d expect it to make the media more liberal — culturally and politically. Journalists don’t like it when conservatives point out that they, as a group, lean farther left than the country as a whole. But you don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to believe it: College-educated liberal arts grads who live in cities — a group most American journalists fit into — are more liberal as a group than the American median. And those who live in New York or San Francisco are going to be more liberal as a group than those in Cincinnati or Knoxville.
“America is a big, highly distributed place. Our democracy is structured around cities and counties and congressional districts and states. Our media used to be too. As an industry, it’s our responsibility to make sure we don’t become too myopically focused on a few square blocks in Midtown Manhattan.”
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