Is Media Dead? Andrew Sullivan Discusses Journalism of Today

In the late
1950s, American journalist and social critic Vance Packard warned Americans
about the advertising industry’s insidious manipulation of them in his
groundbreaking work The Hidden Persuaders.
British author, blogger and editor Andrew Sullivan carried that torch into
Claremont McKenna College’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum on Sept. 30, describing how
social media and advertising have, together, all but gutted journalism.

Although best known for his blog, the
Daily Dish, Sullivan has written for a number of publications, including The New Republic, The Atlantic, New York Times
Magazine
, Time and The Daily Beast. He has written four
books and edited two others.

Sullivan wasted no time jumping right into
the night’s topic: the future of the media. Lamenting the loss of language’s
“beautiful essence,” he declared, in no uncertain terms, that nothing is
original anymore. Advertising is now part of, and often dictates, editorial
content, rendering it void of journalistic integrity. In fact, Sullivan referred
to today’s media as “the bullshit that is journalism.”

Many found Sullivan’s blunt opinions
refreshing and liked that he did not attempt to make excuses for a bad
situation. Unlike many in the field of journalism, Sullivan did not feel the
need to cling to traditional print media.

“It was very relevant,” Karan Saggi CM ’14
said. “The speaker touched on different means of media but focused on digital
media, which, as we all know, is extremely relevant to the current and upcoming
generations.”

Sullivan was open about his views on journalism, both positive and negative, and attendees appreciated his transparency when discussing his own work. 

“Andrew Sullivan’s honesty about his
journey in journalism was fascinating,” Aviva Bhansali CM ’17 said. “It’s not
everyday that we get to hear someone be completely open about his or her best
and worst experiences.”

Sullivan wasn’t afraid to touch on
non-traditional forms of news, either. Social media constituted a large part of
the famous blogger’s speech and, judging by the audience’s reaction, attendees
found his unique take on the various functions of different websites
interesting.

“We most times expect a speaker to bring
in a predictable idea, but this was a point of view that was completely out of
the box,” Saggi said. “I never expected to hear something unconventional about
the websites I use on a day-to-day basis. Sullivan’s now made me think. ”

Many trendy websites contain a feature in
which a particular post can be shared, but prevents users from visiting the
homepage of the site or even knowing the name of the website as a whole. Such
technologies result in a decline in interest in any other subjects mentioned on
the site, decreasing the website’s overall value. 

“Buzzfeed, which is one of the most
prominent and popular websites, isn’t really in the old-fashioned, adjacent
advertising at all,” Sullivan said. “Instead, it is a website where the
original stories live next to the promoted advertisements engineered by an
in-house laboratory for building advertisements that will go viral.”

Sullivan’s similar thoughts about the
ramifications of such popular websites were disheartening but eye-opening for
many students.

“I was a great fan of all the Buzzfeed
links and would also only click to see the trending news topics on Twitter or
on Facebook,” Bhansali said. “I never thought of how the host websites were
losing out because of this. I can see how news and magazine webpages
would lose out as most of us would only like to read about the latest
developments or what we’re interested in. But I guess that’s the habit of most
people.”

Sullivan’s interactive and engrossing
presentation included stories of his initial writing days that gave the
audience insight into the world of journalism. Having been a writer for almost
two decades, he compared the state of the media across different time periods. The media not only plays a role in promotion, he argued, but also in changing the economic model of
an industry.

Major publications used to rely on their
established journalistic integrity to uncover important validities and would
generate revenue from readers willing to pay subscription fees in order to
access such sources and from companies offering ad revenue to take advantage of
public interest. In today’s world, the industry faces a much different, and
less respectable, model due to social media.

“The fundamental model now is based on
advertising: to make articles sound as interesting as possible to generate more
page views and clicks from Facebook users and the like,” Nadeem Farooqi CM ’15 said.

A particularly insidious form of advertising has now become dominant:
“sponsored content.” Such a form of advertising, Sullivan explained, blurs the line between
advertising and editorials. Now, the articles are advertisements.

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