It seems that reality is yet again living up to our pessimistic expectations. The Washington Post announced that they will run an ad during the Big Game today featuring actor Tom Hanks narration on the importance of a free press. The spot will also feature images of journalists who have faced violence, such as Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed by Saudi Arabia for his critical views of the monarchy this last year. According to Axios, the 30-second spot apparently cost the paper $5.25 million.
“The Super Bowl is a remarkable moment to recognize the courage and commitment of journalists around the world that is so essential to our democracy,” Fred Ryan, the publisher and CEO of the Post said in a statement. “While most Super Bowl ad producers have the better part of a year, we had the lesser part of a week, but with an event this big, we decided to seize the opportunity to make this a milestone moment in our ongoing campaign to highlight reporters’ work and the importance of press freedom.”
This is an incredibly dumb idea.
Clearly, here at Splinter, we support the idea of a free press. We like writing posts online. In fact, we sometimes even believe that it’s important! However, we also know that we aren’t going to convince the masses that what we do matters by getting a guy they saw in a movie to tell them that. We’ve already tried that, multiple times, with bad movies like The Post and pretty good movies like Spotlight. Some people went and saw those films, and they even got nominated (and won) some awards. And yet, journalism is still falling apart.
In the last week, there have been mass layoffs at HuffPost, Buzzfeed, Gannett, Vice, and McClatchy. Maybe some of the money the Post spent on the ad should have been reserved for the Post’s freelance budget, to pay some of the newly laid off journalists for the reporting they so admire.
Another problem with journalism, at the moment, is that the public hates it. According to a Pew survey from last June, 29 percent of adults in the U.S. have almost no trust in the media, while only 21 percent have “a lot of trust.” The president regularly tells his followers that the media is a bunch of evil liars. His followers have picked up on this message by threatening journalists and sending pipe bombs to CNN. In the wake of the recent media layoffs, a coordinated far right campaign emerged to harass the laid off journalists.
This is a problem too big to be fixed by 30 seconds of Tom Hanks’ soothing voice. To save journalism, we will need to think of entirely new solutions to the problems that exist. Writing new laws about the reach of Facebook and Google into the publishing industry might be one option. More public funding for journalism is another. It’s also possible that the future will hold more niche media entities funded directly by their readers or listeners.
One thing we do know about the future of journalism is that collective organizing and solidarity among journalists will continue to be essential as the industry faces attacks on all sides. In that spirit, Fredrick Kunkle, a union leader at the Post, released a statement condemning the money spent on the ad.
It seems that a lot of these problems are within the power of the Post itself to fix! Maybe this inspiring ad should have been directed at the paper’s bosses.
The Post is right about one thing: it’s an extremely dark time for journalists. But you know what won’t help fix that? Another gravitas-filled ode to the news, sending a message to regular people that the media is just self-important and oblivious as they already thought.
Update, 10:09 pm:
The ad is up, and it’s as dumb as we thought it would be. It also seems to be a minute long, not 30 seconds.
According to New Yorker staff writer Isaac Choitner, the ad included clips that featured Fox News journalists. You know, the very people who have bred distrust in the rest of the media.