A new year typically means a blank slate. But to me, 2021 is like a dry erase board that has been used one too many times. No matter how hard you scrub with your eraser, the faded images and text still linger, even when you write over it. Yes, we have a new president heading into office and a vaccine for COVID-19 is here, but the lasting effects of 2020 will remain for quite some time. So, how can we solider on?
Last month, I wrote about saying good-bye to 2020. This month, I want to say hello to 2021 with some lessons I feel the media industry learned over the past 12 months and some predictions for what lies ahead.
Transparency. Now more than ever, people are searching for facts. It’s true that the attacks and anti-press rhetoric used by President Trump and his supporters has caused harm to the integrity of journalism, but the media has started to take steps to fact-check in real time and call-out falsehoods and lies when they are spouted on live television or social media. In 2021, it’s time to go back to explaining how things work instead of focusing on individuals who want to hog the spotlight.
Self-Care Takes Precedence. Between covering a global pandemic, social unrest in the streets and a heated political season, journalists were overloaded in 2020. In addition, they worried about furloughs and job loss as the industry took a massive hit in revenue. Journalists take great care of their stories and subjects, but they hardly take a moment to care for themselves. In October, I had the privilege of moderating an America East virtual panel about how journalists can effectively manage trauma. Mental health shouldn’t be treated as a taboo subject within the industry. The sooner we embrace self-care as a priority, the sooner we can better our employees.
News Isn’t About One Platform. For more than a decade, media analysts have projected the demise of print. This past year, the COVID-19 pandemic only seemed to accelerate that prediction as more local newspapers reduced their print days and focused more on their digital presence. Publishers are finally accepting the fact that it’s fine for their content to exist on more than one platform. Even here at E&P, we’ve embraced podcasting and videos. In addition, we also saw the rise of journalists move to their own platforms like Substack to build their own brands. I don’t believe print will completely vanish, but I do see more publishers concentrating their efforts on other platforms, such as video, audio and email newsletters.
More Diversity. We still have a long way to go, but more journalists of color are rising to positions of power and that’s a good thing. Just this past year, the Miami Herald named Monica Richardson as its first black executive editor in the paper’s history; Gabriel Escobar of the Philadelphia Inquirer was promoted to senior vice president and editor, making him one of the highest-ranking Latinos at a U.S. news organization (Escobar also appears in this issue, speaking about how the Inquirer covered this past election); and longtime media executive Paul Pham was named general manager at South Florida Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel. Newsrooms are also making it a priority to cultivate and recruit diverse voices, creating positions focused solely on diversity and equity.
Fighting Back. Whether it comes to slaying the tech giants, the media is fighting back. In Australia, legislation was introduced that would make Google and Facebook pay news organizations for the content they use in their newsfeed and search engine. Here in the U.S., the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, “would provide a limited safe harbor for news publishers to collectively negotiate with Facebook and Google for better business arrangements,” according to the News Media Alliance. We also saw Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey have to answer to Congress about their content moderation practices, how they collect and use data, and consumer privacy. I expect to see more regulation as Big Tech faces a reckoning that has been long overdue.
Nu Yang is editor-in-chief of Editor and Publisher. She has been with the publication since 2011.