How news lost its nerve

There’s an interesting piece in Semafor about the ongoing cowardice crisis in journalism. It’s about the US but many of the problems it identifies are just as  prevalent in the UK.

Of all the issues – fear of litigation in the form of SLAPP suits designed to silence legitimate criticism; fear of losing your job for not toeing the company line; fear of losing access to the rich and/or famous people whose names drive traffic; the lack of money in modern journalism; rich and powerful people wielding social media as a weapon – probably the biggest is the removal of the all-important line between news and money.

At a moment of economic fragility in the media industry, there’s also simply less of an appetite for stories that could damage important business relationships. This has been a particularly challenging balance for glossy entertainment and lifestyle magazines, whose audiences long ago moved online and who now rely heavily on the businesses they cover.

…The new priorities are reflected organizationally. Editors-in-chief at Hearst, Esquire’s parent company, now report up to general managers, whose singular focus is the bottom line. The general manager who oversees Esquire and other fashion publications, for example, came to the company from the marketing side of digital payment company Venmo.

The reason for the long-standing line between editorial and a publication’s funding was to prevent conflicts of interest. A publication that’s financially dependent on the people it’s writing about, whether directly in the form of a business relationship or indirectly in the form of access for future stories, is a publication that is no longer independent; it becomes an arm of PR.