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The impact of the government shutdown on the media industry

Whether it’s coverage or a direct impact, the media industry is feeling the weight of the government shutdown.

Smithsonian Magazine deputy editor Terence Monmaney noted in an email response that the effect on his newsroom was minor, merely making it harder to reach sources and colleagues who are being kept from going to work because of the shutdown. But according to Poynter.org, journalists dealing in government data found they can no longer download files, which is hampering progress on projects. NPR data journalist Matt Stiles told Poynter that he was unable to get diversity index scores because the Census Bureau had closed.

TV mergers also took a hit with the FCC’s shutdown, which has stalled billions of dollars, the Wall Street Journal reported. Mergers that could possibly be affected include Gannett’s purchase of Belo, Tribune buying Local TV and Sinclair’s takeover of Allbritton Communications.

Meanwhile, there has been plenty of criticism directed at the media’s coverage of the shutdown. Kelly McBride from the Poynter Institute shook her head at the media’s lack of depth in their reporting. “Don’t call it an impasse, or a stalemate, or a standoff,” she wrote. “Yes, it’s a shutdown. But accurately describing how our government arrived at this point requires more than one word.” Her main point being that when a government shuts down, it’s the journalism community that should be holding them accountable. So far, critics say the media isn’t doing their job. Dan Froomkin from Aljazeera America argued recently that journalists aren’t reporting what actually happened preceding the government shutdown:

“But the political media’s aversion to doing anything that might be seen as taking sides—combined with its obsession with process—led them to actively obscure the truth in their coverage of the votes. If you did not already know what this was all about, reading the news would not help you understand.

What makes all this more than a journalistic failure is that the press plays a crucial role in our democracy. We count on the press to help create an informed electorate. And perhaps even more important, we rely on the press to hold the powerful accountable.”

At NPR, a page has been dedicated to monitoring bias in coverage of the shutdown, featuring a podcast and comments that echo Froomkin’s sentiments. “I think they are portraying the story as a fight between two equals in the dems and the repubs because that is their audience. In other words, they don’t want to offend half their audience by taking sides…they are giving the audience the news that they want,” wrote one commenter.

As we head into day four of the “standoff,” as so many journalists are putting it, no doubt the media industry will continue to feel the impact and pressure of expectation.


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