Dan Gillmor (previously) writes that journalism is at a crisis point, as authoritarian politicians (including, but not limited to, Trump) step up their attacks on the free press, even assassinating their sharpest critics.
In this world, it's not enough to simply condemn the autocrat. The free press has to be partisan for its own existence, to set aside competition and collaborate to investigate and unpack the complex circumstances that are demonizing the truth and demolishing the institutions that seek and spread it.
Gillmor uses large, collaborative consortia like the ones that brought us The Paradise Papers and The Panama Papers as examples of what he has in mind, but even bigger and longer-lasting, more ambitious.
It won't be easy, Gillmor writes, but it's the best shot the free press has of surviving the new era of corruption and autocracy.
Yes, each of these broader topics has been covered. But there's been little or no effort by journalism to put them front and center on the public agenda where they belong, and to put them in full context — showing the forest and the trees. The traditions of "competitive" journalism, combined with the shrinking resources news organizations are able to deploy, have turned so much of our news into a blizzard of quick hits and near-identical clickbait. (Slightly rewritten versions of other people's stories is a bane of the new world of journalism. So is needless duplication of effort, such as having hundreds of reporters show up for made-for-TV events. News organizations should routinely collaborate on pool coverage — much more than they already do — to free up reporters to do real reporting.)
The kinds of collaborations I'm talking about would be difficult to set up and manage, to put it mildly. Certainly the international consortium proves it can be done brilliantly on certain kinds of stories. Can it be done right on the bigger and broader ones? Why not at least try?
This kind of effort would do best with some outside funding — for startup costs, management, researchers, accountants, lawyers, etc. — in addition to the journalism provided by the news organizations. Hello, foundations and philanthropists (Ford, MacArthur, Knight, Omidyar, et al): This is in your wheelhouse.
Dear Journalists, The War on What You Do Is Escalating [Dan Gillmor]
(Image: Olivia Chow, CC-BY)