Mild Sauce

Op/Ed • DNAInfo Closure, Local News Landscape Reflects National Scene

It’s been weeks since Joe Ricketts made the decision to shut down local news outlets DNAInfo and Chicagoist in response to both staff’s decision to unionize, and the effects are being felt almost immediately.

In the wake of the closure, many stories that had been championed by the outlet and its talented team of writers have since fallen by the wayside in a city that once again operates under the dwindling duo of news pillars that once propped the city up as one of the great news towns in the country. Yes, the Sun-Times and the Tribune are still operating, but the former has survived on a lifeline of wire re-runs courtesy of the Associated Press while the latter just sold its namesake building to make way for the all-important Chicago Condo. It’s sad times to be a fan of journalism in a city that once boasted no fewer than five dailies. The skeletons of those outlets are faintly visible amongst the glass-laden facades that have been laid over their corpses, small signs and engravings the last clue to the fastidious writing and reporting of a generation gone. While the failures of the Sun-Times and Tribune were easy to overlook at a time when DNAInfo could be relied on to do the heavy lifting on breaking and local news, in it’s absence it has become increasingly frustrating for citizens to get well-reported stories in their periphery.

Moreso than simply being an inconvenience, the loss of the consistent news production provided by DNAInfo and Chicagoist focusing on a wide-ranging scope of local happenings from new shop openings to some of the earliest reports of police-involved violence also carries with it larger political consequences that are only beginning to be realized.

In many ways, what’s happening in Chicago is a microcosm of the scene playing out on a national level. Across the country, the value of what was once considered a simple idea has spiraled into a pervasive argument that threatens to jettison us ever closer to the realizing the fictional world Luke Wilson navigates in ‘Idiocracy’. While the tributaries feeding into the ocean of our current misinformation age go back well over a decade, efforts to undercut the trust and objectivity of accredited news outlets has increased tenfold in the age of Trump.

While Obama didn’t dive into choosing sides in the mediascape during his presidency, he certainly nodded in favor of what seemed to be common sense, only deriding reports that were too far-fetched or obvious in their intentions. You know, things like him not being born in America. Trump, however, has slowly but surely burned bridges with almost every media organization other than FOX and Breitbart News, run by his former chief strategist. The effect has been a top-down condemnation of one our country’s founding principles that has threatened the very core of how we operate as a society. A couple of years ago, Fox News was the outlier, rolling out a lineup of overstuffed, faux-sensitive white men and women willing to fit their “aesthetic” while spouting off whatever ridiculous news piece they could use to further their individual agendas. Today though, the outlet is still hugely relevant, even in the wake of sexual assault cases against Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. It has Trump and the systemic undercutting of journalism that’s occurred prior to and during his administration to thank for that.

This past week, Trump took things even further by literally tweeting his opinion on accredited news sites. While in the current climate it may pale in comparisons to similar remarks disparaging Gold Star families, women, and just about everyone else, it’s important to note the impact of a sitting president dictating which sources citizens should get their news from. In a country founded on the ideals of not only democracy, but a free and independent press, the affront to what is widely considered the fourth wing of the government, the people’s only true check on the power of those in Washington D.C. is an attack on the basic foundation that America was ever great as a result of.
Drawing a line from national happenings to local developments is fairly easy too. The family of Joe Ricketts not only owns the Chicago Cubs, but also have been well-documented as publicized Trump supporters. Like a bright red bogey amidst the blue sea that encircled Chicago on Election Day, the family has quietly asserted the tenants on Trumpism (see those glass buildings on Clark?) while selling themselves as true Chicagoans who care about the city.

In reality, the closing of DNAInfo was an underhanded jack move made by a silver-spooned Nebraska native. More than that, it was a political move. Ricketts has been in the publishing game for a minute now, long enough for sure to understand the economics of running a news organization in the modern age. Despite that, he cited financial reasons in the wake of employee votes to unionize, this from a man worth just north of $2 billion.

Defending his decision Ricketts said, “I believe unions promote a corrosive us-against-them dynamic that destroys the esprit de corps businesses need to succeed.” This opinion ended local news for some of the country’s biggest markets without even an attempt at compromise. Regardless of his reasoning, the closure has shuttered local news in cities such as Washington D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco and more. While the conversation on national outlets and publications continually descends into fractionalized garbage, it has been the strength of local news that has carried the torch forward for the discipline and kept news in general humming, as John Oliver has perfectly pointed out. DNAInfo and it’s sister-sites did much to pace the conversation of police-involved shootings, government corruption, controversial housing practices and many more topics that affect the everyday lives of Americans. While it’s left to be seen if Kim Jong-Un will shoot a missile at the U.S., the decision of an added income tax in your county is definitely going to affect your check next month. Trump and those around him know this and their reach goes further than many of us realize at times. While so many focus on the stories of Russian interference and increasingly idiotic comments from the Commander-in-Chief, we also miss out on the fact he’s been approving judges across the country like crazy while newsrooms that would normally report on the sort of thing are gutted by his cronies.

This week, a woman approached The Washington Post claiming to be a victim of Roy Moore. Without diving too deep into the story itself, the paper (through careful reporting) came to the realization that the woman worked for a right-wing think tank who’s mission it is to spread false stories to those in the media with the intention of catching them once they report on the fake news. Project Veritas was the organization behind that, and if you think it stops there you’d be sorely mistaken. We’ve taken for granted the work of journalists and the role journalism plays in this country for the last decade, choosing instead to believe the ramblings on our timelines. If we continue to do so, the powers that be, both near and far, will only continue to make the progress we’ve long feared.