Veteran CNN reporter Jessica Yellin on how COVID19 is changing newsrooms, her Instagram-based news service, and why Fox News isn’t solely to blame for the Untied States of America.
News Not Noise
By Christa Sampson
What happens when the news you consume comes from a live stream vs. the mainstream? There are no special effects. There is no gimmicky headline with accompanying soundtrack. There are no theatrical pauses; no shouting panels with opposing and divisive viewpoints; no blocks of time filled with meaningless information; and no leading questions prompted by what network executives THINK their viewers want to hear.
This week on the show, Alan and Michael speak with former CNN White House correspondent turned independent news source, Jessica Yellin.
Similar to our own Michael Hainsworth’s departure from mainstream media, Jessica Yellin was frustrated with the status quo of news reporting. She knew that she could provide the information that media consumers want in such a way that eliminated the usual side effect of anxiety. Traditional mainstream media thrives on sensationalism. In an April 2019 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Yellin had this to say about what prompted her big move:
I always thought that if we could just do a little bit better job of explaining the basics, you can engage a lot more people in the conversation. Cable news can induce “outrage fatigue” – a lot of the news is indiscriminate with people’s emotions: everything’s a mountain, nothing’s a molehill.
Jessica Yellin came to a point in her career where she realized that the news cycle was driving her and she wanted to take back the wheel. “There is too much information coming at everyone all the time”, Yellin said to Hillary Kerr on the March 25, 2019 episode of Kerr’s podcast “Second Life“. Yellin also recognized that viewers want to be involved and interact with the news, rather than just consume it. This real time interaction just isn’t possible or encouraged with traditional media because it removes the control from the producer of the content. Yellin believes that by giving viewers a voice by being able to comment on what they see and also what they want to see, the content becomes more relatable and authentic.
In 2017, Yellin launched #NewsNotNoise on Instagram. The account has grown to a following of 278K, including some very famous subscribers like Alex Rodriguez, Amy Schumer, Jennifer Anniston and Reese Witherspoon. News Not Noise is as much a news source as it is a community of followers who can subscribe to the daily feed and also have the opportunity to drive the content they see by pitching ideas for future story ideas, topics or guests. This concept of reporters and viewers collaborating as a unit effectively takes the broadcast journalism handbook and throws it out the window; it is social media at its best.
Yellin also wrote a book entitled “Savage News”, a novel loosely based on her own experiences in mainstream media. Released in April 2019, the book tells the story of a female reporter navigating the news media’s gaping gender inequality issues in the #MeToo era while trying to do her job. Like the book’s main character, Yellin herself has endured on-the-job critiques that had more to do with her physical appearance on camera than the stories she was reporting. She did; however, become the first reporter to deliver the news via hologram:
Now more than ever, during a time when we are dealing with a global pandemic, the need for communicating the important facts without the unnecessary fluff is paramount. With the world on lockdown, newsrooms are still churning out information, but the polished production we’re used to seeing, along with the bustling activity in the background is no more. While Michael and Jessica both made their exits from broadcast news very much ahead of the curve, what’s left of traditional media could be the latest corona casualty. When distancing restrictions are lifted, will newsrooms return to pre-pandemic processes or will the industry implode?
Coronavirus is Killing Newsrooms
By Amber Healy
Now that people are home and glued to their TVs and smartphones for the latest information on the coronavirus outbreak, fewer people are employed by newsrooms to obtain and report.
As of Saturday night, more than 400 reporters were either laid off or furloughed in the United States from newspapers alone, with more out of work in digital media, TV and radio news jobs.
The Poynter Institute has been keeping a running tally of the losses, a list it started on April 6. It’s staggering.
The Toronto Star eliminated 85 positions, also just last week, citing a drop in advertising revenue during the outbreak.
It would appear the only news organization not cutting staff now or in the future is the BBC.
The news industry has been in a downward spiral for so long now, talking about it is almost a cliche. But this is different. This is a catastrophic loss at a time when people need good, accurate and well-reported information while they’re in their homes, scared and worried about whether they should go to the grocery store and when they’ll be allowed outside again.
The Death of Local News is Not Underreported
For every international news outlet covering media conferences from national leaders, there’s a town without a newspaper to tell them how to get help. For every latest round of news on unemployment, there’s another reporter filing for benefits because they’ve lost their jobs.
Some might shrug at all this and say that reporters are scum, that this is what they get for peddling “fake news,” but who will be around to call out false information and outright lies, or the profiteering schemes from some in high places who want to benefit from the outbreak while hundreds of thousands die?
“Trustworthy, accurate and local information is now a matter of life and death,” writes Steven Waldman of Report for America and Charles Sennott of The GroundTruth Project in The Atlantic. “Keeping these news sources afloat needs to be part of the governmental and philanthropic response to the pandemic… In this moment, the bottom is falling out economically for local news organizations. Those small businesses in your town that are closing left and right? They are also advertisers for your area paper. And the stock-market collapse that has halved your 401(k)? It’s also devastating the local foundation that funds nonprofit news organizations. Many news outlets are taking down their paywalls to make information on coronavirus more accessible. That decision — although the right one — means lost revenue too.”
Reporters and news outlets in any medium provide a public service, one that’s in greater demand right now than in any reporter’s lifetime going back generations.
Those who still have their jobs are taking pay cuts, or are working without pay, while being asked to do several times more work with fewer resources.
Who’s Asking the Questions?
Have you watched your local news lately? How many anchors are sitting at home? Most of them? That takes resources to set up, to make sure cameras are in place and properly sending video to the control room for broadcast. That still requires producers and editors and technicians. It also means reporters need to be out in their communities, talking to people, exposing themselves, potentially, to the disease.
The Buffalo News has had a long year already. In January, it was announced that the paper was being sold by longtime owner Warren Buffet — he’s owned the paper since the late 1970s and it was the first paper among his holdings — to Lee Enterprises, a massive company that promised it would take good care of the paper and the people who worked there. But word quickly spread that Lee Enterprises is something of a slasher when it comes to newsroom staffing. Before the newsroom’s fate could be determined from that transition, just days after the sale was approved, Lee announced it would be furloughing employees. The Buffalo News Guild, the union representing staffers, fought to try and protect the writers, photographers and editors, but on Saturday it announced it was unable to stop the cuts.
The furloughs will last at least three months and will affect 200 employees. Among the employees to be facing this hardship: The Buffalo News’ longtime Washington, D.C. reporter.
A statement from the Buffalo Newspaper Guild regarding membership’s agreement to furloughs: pic.twitter.com/5la7RIbL8D
— Buffalo Newspaper Guild (@BuffaloGuild) April 11, 2020
If there were ever a time for reporters to stake out their halls of government and demand truth and honest information from leaders, this is it.
The Capital Gazette, a Maryland newspaper where five employees were killed two years ago, offered buyouts to some of the award-winning survivors who are still dealing with the loss of their friends.
Subscribe to a Paper, Save a Journalist
The loss of critical newsroom staff is, of course, happening as we’re all shut down, in our homes. Millions are out of work. We’re all wondering when this will be over, when we can start to get back to something akin to normal. And for most of us, our jobs will come back. Our lives will return to more or less what they were before.
But for local news outlets, there’s no guarantee. There’s no safety net, either. So if you value the information you receive from reporters whose names you know and faces and voices you’ve come to trust, do something to support them.