2
0
1
9

We are all actors in the running rampant of political theater

“What we’re building is a journalism for journalists and we will ultimately feed ourselves to the gullet, becoming the harbingers of our own end.”

Black holes. Found all over, these invisible gaping maws, demiurgic functionaries of our universe, have a deceptive impresence. They are space stalkers known to sometimes rupture the calm of nothingness by ripping passing stars in half and scattering their remains. Ever loyal to the cycles of life and creation, we understand new black holes as emerging from this debris. Supermassive black holes — believed by astronomers to be located in the center of every galaxy, like our Sagittarius A* — are black holes of the largest order. Monster masses of consumption, their presumed but otherwise imperceptible locations are betrayed by their voracious appetites — growing by accretion (i.e. gravitational attraction of yet more matter). The diffused material and gases sucked into their gravitational pull make up the “churning, hellish, hot-and-cold gas storms” that spiral toward an awaiting orifice. This cosmic omen was recently rediscovered by scientists to be not merely orbital, but more like a fountain: a constant stream of cold gas sinking toward ingestion. Some of that gas gets superheated by its proximity to the hole and spit back into space where it either escapes as a sort of centrifugal flare, a divergence, or “still in the thrall of the black hole’s gravity, curves back around and re-enters the falling stream.” And so it is that the supermassive black hole comes to be both a terrific destructive force and the artificer of new life and worlds. In 2019, this is our departure point.

In recent years, we as an industry have witnessed and been played by nothing less than the real-time collapse of the political scene (a slow disintegration over a much longer stretch of time than we’re willing to admit, now made more visible by its acceleration). What we are left to navigate now is the running rampant of political theater, and we’re all actors. In other words, the capital-E-“End” Luke O’Neil convincingly illustrates in his prediction of our ghastly fate is, for me, not quite here but absolutely within reach — arm’s distance, even.

Let me explain. As journalists, we’re all already writing on the ruptures we are experiencing all around us: the shattering of our national and local politics, breakdowns in discourse and extreme polarization, technological advancements versus legitimately frightening impediments, international interferences, the total overgrowth of social media, the rise of misinformation, mistrust, general discord, and what the implications are for our flailing industry, evermore poor in both cash and confidence. In his book released earlier this year, The Counterrevolution: How Our Government Went to War Against Its Own Citizens, lawyer and Columbia professor Bernard E. Harcourt lays out how a counterinsurgency-theory-based government, radicalism, a paramilitarized politics (and I would argue optics) and the pacification of a people have all worked together to create the state we’re in. In short, we are living in what Jean Baudrillard called the “irruption of the obscene,” what Alexis de Tocqueville predicted could become the “Tyranny of the Majority,” what Siegfried Kracauer in a 1927 assessment of the spread of photography via the newly emerging American magazine industry referred to as an “assault” “so powerful that it threatens to destroy the potentially existing awareness of crucial traits.” “Never before,” he wrote,” has an age been so informed about itself, if being informed means having an image of objects that resembles them in a photographic sense…Never before has a period known so little about itself.”

In 2018, we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing these societal disfigurations to varying degrees and with more or less colorful words than these thinkers used. But with unprecedented mutations of the real, thanks to our voracious, internet-enabled cycles of information dissemination and consumption, there is more danger and are higher stakes for us all. It’s a sign of the times we’re in when the most simple and complete understanding, as I see it, of what we as journalists are today navigating can be found on the wall of Walt Disney World’s Splash Mountain.

On a recent day trip to the Magic Kingdom, I boarded a log and bobbed along a creek, through a “dark ride” (believe me, a double entendre that will throw any mouse-seeking child) following a trickster tale on the dangers of a hare leaving home to chase adventure. When the hare returns, having realized he should have never ventured out of his patch, his lesson has been learned and the words scrawled along the walls to welcome him home read: “It’s the truth. It’s actual. Everything is Satisfactual” — the inherent warning here being that the truth is malleable — in post-modern terms, the truth is legion, they are many and they are subjective (ie. #speakyourtruth) — and that’s dangerous. The tricksters will lure you into danger any way they can. Our collective works over the last couple of years, and many of the predictions here, say it for themselves. We’ve addressed the tricksters, grifters, swindlers, dumpster fire-starters, cheats, and the violent confusion between real and unreal as we struggle to swim against a rip current in which nothing is fact and everything is Satisfactual — what I will henceforth call the utopia of carefully fortified “social media cocoons” of like-mindedness and delusion distillation. We’re swimming against the rip current in a sea of global disruption and, amidst all that disruption, we are counting on traditional, ineffective means for staying afloat, like using Cheerios as lifesavers after a shipwreck. The current state of our every day and its potential worsening — whether you call it a circus, alternative fact, an unreality or, simply, the “end” — has formed a behemoth supermassive black hole, and we as the “Fake News” horsemen are the diffused material churning wildly in the “hellish hot-and-cold gas storms” at once wielding the power to feed or betray our fate. But our appetite, both as a people with a ravenous hunger to consume everything all the time and as newsmakers with a hunger to feed the 24/7 machine that will satisfy this demand, will grow the hole and spell our end.

In our current state, the place O’Neil calls the last remaining source of local news — neighborhood-based Facebook groups — is actually not a place that will be either for questions about what night of the week allows for street parking or whether or not rumors about “the mayor’s horse-fucking dungeon” are real, but both simultaneously, because we can no longer delineate what is legitimate and what isn’t, where truths and tales come from or where to go with them. The lines and sources and realities have been blurred, information made true to satisfy what we want to be true — “alternative facts,” “Satisfactuals.” Absurdity has set in and we are all the cow being thrown across the sky in Twister. It’s a climate that calls for Baudrillard’s fatal strategy, a self-destructive reimagining of our industry, an astronomical apoplexy that spits our particles away from the black hole, out into space, and into a different course where we might enter into a new gravitational pull and form the basis of a new world.

How we do that will be up to all of us. But before we can call for a new relationship with consumers through experimentation within technology and business strategy, using keywords like “transparency” and “truth,” we need to renegotiate these notions, our relationship to them and how we can use them to forge a new path. We have to explode our conventions, transcend the moment as journalists by taking ourselves less seriously and allowing for the exploration of cross-disciplinary possibilities that go against tradition. No one believes we’re following in the steps of our news press forefathers anyway, so why not step out and reinvent while we can? Break the apparatus for the sake of a clean slate. Become the vessel for a destruction of and solicitation for meaning according to our new context. Think local news anew with spatial journalism, be confrontational, complicate narratives, and mostly, get your hands dirty. We’ve sterilized our industry beyond functionality and we’ve lost credit because of it. I for one am working through a new photographic language in an effort to practice what I preach — a project called Masters of the Screen as a “fatal strategy” that uses image manipulation to illustrate a breaking of the information apparatus and confront viewers with a deliberate, anamorphic media Troxler Effect, forcing them to recognize the subtle violence of the screen and urging them to look beyond it.

However you do it, choose to unsettle a part of the industry, be the centrifugal divergence, for the survival of the whole. We need to stop pretending the changes aren’t happening all around us and won’t need to happen among us — that we’re not puling toward the hole, not the log headed for the 52.5-foot drop before coming around through the trickster tale again — because what we’re building is a journalism for journalists and we will ultimately feed ourselves to the gullet, becoming the harbingers of our own end. These are the stakes. And when the apocalypse does come, I actually do hope to evade the blast and “live rummaging among the ruins,” because the scavenger that I am is also the catalyst of my journalistic impulse, and those of us left to rummage will build the new world from the rubble.

Rebecca Lee Sanchez is a multi-media journalist and PhD candidate in philosophy and media at the European Graduate School.

Darryl Holliday   Let’s talk about power (yours)

Andrew Donohue   Voting rights becomes the new climate change

Candis Callison   Learn from Indigenous journalists on covering climate change

Elva Ramirez   News — but make it cinematic

Angilee Shah   The year news orgs say “yes” to real leaders

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Local news isn’t where you thought it was

Jenée Desmond-Harris   It finally sinks in that some people aren’t white

Monique Judge   Committing to the truth, calling out lies

Dan Shanoff   Bet on sports gambling

Cherian George   Fake news wins in Asia

Johannes Klingebiel   We all grow hooves

Tushar Banerjee   Interactive ads will be the new face of display advertising

Simon Galperin   After capitalism’s fire, journalism’s secondary succession

Sarah Stonbely   Mapping the local news ecosystem — with scale but detail

Colleen Shalby   Representation becomes more than a talking point

Joshua Darr   The nationalization of political news will accelerate

Rick Berke   The year of loyalty

Adam B. Ellick   Video forensic reporting goes mainstream — and local

Errin Haines Whack   Say it with me: Racism

Steve Myers   From trying to cover it all to covering what matters

Matt Skibinski   Quality and reliability are the new currencies for publishers

Pablo Boczkowski   Reimagining the media for post-institutional times

Sarah Alvarez   Simplify and redistribute

Alexandra Borchardt   Newsrooms need to build trust with their journalists, not just the audience

Jonas Kaiser   Catching up with “Neuland”

Mandy Velez   Putting the social back in social media

Tyler Fisher   This is journalism’s do-or-die moment

Elizabeth Jensen   Going where the Acela can’t take you

Mandy Jenkins   Fight the urge to run away from social media

Whitney Phillips   Our information systems aren’t broken — they’re working as intended

Kawandeep Virdee   Media wants to take care of you

Kristen Muller   Local news fails — in a good way

Angèle Christin   Algorithms and the reflexive turn

Robert Hernandez   Racists and sexists get replaced

John Garrett   You can’t raise prices forever

Nico Gendron   Reaching Generation Z beyond the coasts

Millie Tran   There is no magic — you’ve got this

Mike Isaac   The old exit doors for digital media companies are closing

Michael Grant   More newsrooms experiment their way to success

Jesse Holcomb   We’ll get better at making the case for local journalism

Seth C. Lewis   The gap between journalism and research is too wide

Amy King   We should listen to the kids (especially on Instagram)

Thomas Hanitzsch   The rise of tribal journalism

Mat Yurow   Content competition from the tech companies

Kate Myers   Journalism continues to be bad for democracy

Laura E. Davis   More access, but not that kind

Matt Karolian   Publishers come to terms with being Facebook’s enablers

Tamar Charney   Seriously: What do you do for people?

Elisabeth Goodridge   Yes, they signed up — but our job’s not over

Rachel Davis Mersey   Local news goes minimalist

Axie Navas   The traffic hunt, CMS battle, and magazine identity crises loom

Nicholas Jackson   More transparency around newsroom decisions

Tshepo Tshabalala   Ahead of African elections, unlock partnerships with fact-checkers

Celeste LeCompte   Local news needs local conversation to survive

Claire Wardle   Forget deepfakes: Misinformation is showing up in our most personal online spaces

Bill Adair   Another year fighting Trump’s falsehoods

Heather Bryant   We are responsible for how we use our power

M. Scott Havens   Time to swing for the fences

Hossein Derakhshan   The news is dying, but journalism will not — and should not

Julia Rubin   Meeting people where they are

Kevin Douglas Grant   A year to embrace journalism as public service

P. Kim Bui   The misfits become the bosses

Jennifer Dargan   You don’t build diversity through one-off training sessions

A.J. Bauer   The coming splintering of conservative media

Alberto Cairo   A year of uncertainty and confidence

Reyhan Harmanci   Selling more stories to Hollywood

Borja Bergareche Sainz de los Terreros   Entering a more balanced era

Jeremy Gilbert   AI finally becomes helpful

An Xiao Mina   The death of consensus, not the death of truth

Efrat Nechushtai   Journalism wants to be your friend, not your teacher

Joe Amditis   Give the audience a seat at the table

Jared Newman   AI-generated fakes launch a software arms race

Nikki Usher   Three ways national media will further undermine trust

Elite Truong   What do we owe the next generation?

Gabriel Snyder   Journalism doesn’t fit well in a funnel

Zainab Khan   Publishers whose products can stand up to social media giants will win

Talia Stroud   Engaging people across lines of difference

Francesco Zaffarano   Towards a rethinking of journalism on social media

Andrew Ramsammy   The great re-pivot to audio

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Readers are only getting started

Frank Chimero   Leave the phone at home and put news on your wrist

Knight Foundation   A year of local collaboration

Mario García   The rise of content “pilots”

Taylor Lorenz   Personal branding is more powerful than ever

Eric Nuzum   The year of the DIY podcast network

Salem Solomon   Correcting our corrections

Joanne McNeil   Building a digital hospice

Raney Aronson-Rath   We learn “digital” doesn’t have to mean “short”

Kelsey Proud   Journalism becomes the escape

Dheerja Kaur   A focus on problems, not platforms

Carrie Brown-Smith   Advocating a healthy civic life is no journalistic crime

Charo Henríquez   Pivot to journalism

Rishad Patel   A design system for responsible publishing

Bill Grueskin   Toward a symphony model for local news

Soo Oh   Just showing our work isn’t enough

Manoush Zomorodi   Tech will do for information overload what it did for mindfulness

Stephanie Edgerly   It’s time to understand the un-audience

Logan Molyneux   Seeing social media for what it is

Zuzanna Ziomecka   News leadership gets an overdue upgrade

Josh Schwartz   A pullback from platforms and a focus on product

Cătălina Albeanu   Being responsible for what we don’t know

Justin Kosslyn   Text hits a tipping point

Winny de Jong   Data journalism goes undercover

Cory Bergman   Journalism as a technology service

Kjerstin Thorson   Time to get mad about information inequality (again)

Pia Frey   You can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis

John Saroff   The pivot to reader revenue’s unintended consequences

Almar Latour   Reported facts, weaponized in service of action

Tim Carmody   Unlocking the commons

Geetika Rudra   The year of actionable (local) journalism

Andrea Faye Hart   Doing less harm, not just more good

Rebecca Searles   From silos to Swiss Army knife teams

Callie Schweitzer   The rise of the conveners

Sue Robinson   Reporters go on the offensive

Simon Rogers   Data journalism becomes a global field

Craig Newmark   The end of “loudspeakers for liars”

Kainaz Amaria   We consider who’s behind the camera

Libby Bawcombe   Haikus of the news

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   A more sincere definition of “community”

Adam Thomas   In Europe, foundations invest in news

Alexandra Svokos   Good luck convincing us millennials to pay

Rachel Glickhouse   Newsrooms will prioritize audience needs

Eric Ulken   The year you actually start to like your CMS

Chase Davis   We can acknowledge what we don’t know

Francesco Marconi   The year of iterative journalism

Emma Carew Grovum   The year of the loyal reader

Ariel Zirulnick   Participation gets professional

Ole Reißmann   The rise of vertical storytelling

Glyn Mottershead and Martin Chorley   When a tech company pulls the plug on your story

james Wahutu   Think 2018 was bad? Wait until you see 2019

Peter Bale   Venture capital runs out of patience

Matt Waite   “I went to Node.js because I wished to live deliberately”

Alexis Lloyd & Matt Boggie   The year product leads media

Zizi Papacharissi   Old interface, say hello to the new interface

Mike Rispoli and Craig Aaron   Government funds local news — and that’s a good thing

Jeff Chin   We detox from Chartbeat

Don Day   Timewalls and other reader revenue experiments

Matthew Pressman   The battle over objectivity intensifies

Carolina Guerrero   Spanish-language audio blows up

Michael Rain   The year of the culturally relevant curator

Jonathan Stray   More algorithmic accountability reporting, and a lot of it will be meh

Steve Henn   Smart speakers get smarter

Sue Cross   Return of the water cooler

Seema Yasmin   We will create our own spaces

Nisha Chittal   The homepage makes a comeback

Brian Moritz   The subscription-pocalypse is about to hit

Renan Borelli   Developing loyalty means developing your talent

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting is media’s slow food movement

Linda Solomon Wood   The year of the climate reporter

Mike Caulfield   Ditch the media literacy cynicism and get to work

Jonathan Gill   Publishers build a common tech platform together

Meredith Artley   Huge demand for…anything but politics

Ruth Palmer and Benjamin Toff   From news fatigue to news avoidance

Alyssa Zeisler   We expand what (and how and who) we serve

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   The most beautiful sentence in 2019 is “No.”

Marie Shanahan   Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms

Shannon McGregor   More bogus embedded tweets in our stories

Gideon Lichfield   Goodbye attention economy, we’ll miss you

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   A long, slow slog, with no one coming to the rescue

Stefanie Murray   Local news wakes up and starts collaborating

Rodney Gibbs   A bright — and young — year for audio

Jim Friedlich   Meet Citizen Kane 2.0

Sarah Marshall   A return to destination journalism

Annie Rudd   A more intimate aesthetic of politics — on Insta

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Podcasting battles East Coast bias

Greg Emerson   Power to the user

Heather Chaplin   Agree we’re partisan — for the democratic system

Jack Riley   Facebook refugees, from ad revenue to news habits

Cristi Hegranes   A year to invest in the security of local journalists

Jean Friedman Rudovsky   Cross-newsroom collaborations strengthen communities

Cindy Royal   For journalism curriculum to change, its faculty needs disruption

Rebecca Lee Sanchez   We are all actors in the running rampant of political theater

Ernie Smith   The year we step back from the platform

Ståle Grut   A new dawn for 3D tech in journalism

Dave Burdick   Seeing our blind spots

Heba Aly   The rise of international nonprofit news

LaToya Drake   Listen up: New stories, new storytellers

Julie Posetti   The year of the fight back

Mariana Moura Santos   From pageviews to impact

Steve Grove   A reckoning for tech’s work with news

John Biewen   Podcasts keep getting better

Shalabh Upadhyay   A culture clash on India’s growing Internet

Moreno Cruz Osório   Damaged credibility and a new threat in Brazil

Nathalie Malinarich   Video — yes, video

Elizabeth Dunbar   Local reporters reflect on what’s not important

Ben Smith   The pendulum starts to swing back

Rubina Madan Fillion   Fighting the reality of deepfakes

Jesse Brown   Canada’s subsidy for news backfires

Joel Konopo   Influencers become the new liberated power in Africa

Ben Werdmuller   The platform tide is turning

Hearken   Pivot to people

Umbreen Bhatti   The story doesn’t end for the people we quote

Becca Aaronson   From bridge roles to product thinkers

Peter Cunliffe-Jones   The focus of misinformation debates shifts south

Carl Bialik   Fatigued news consumers will pay more for less news

Renée Kaplan   Our future could lie within our own organizations

Christa Scharfenberg and Vickie Baranetsky   The year of the lawsuit

Lauren Katz   Community becomes a core newsroom value

Victor Pickard   We will finally confront systemic market failure

Masuma Ahuja   Make foreign coverage less foreign

Adam Smith   Platforms will have to help rebuild trust in news

Robin Kwong   Tech shouldn’t be the only field pollinating “news nerds”

Frank Mungeam   Tonight at 11: News, sports, and climate change

Patrick Butler   Measuring impact will increase audience trust

Kyra Darnton   A shift to depth in video