The media today: Press challenges beyond Trump and finances

A continuing and seemingly inevitable financial decline along with a lack of trust fed by White House attacks have been the focus of concerns about the state of journalism. But two recent stories demonstrate that journalists and editors are also struggling to deal with legal challenges and safety concerns.

In her Sunday column for The Washington Post, Margaret Sullivan raises the issue of “the Gawker effect.” Sullivan examines why three separate media organizations declined to publish Jim DeRogatis’s shocking story about R&B legend R. Kelly and the young women allegedly under his control. The story eventually found a home at BuzzFeed.

Gawker, of course, was forced into bankruptcy after losing a lawsuit brought by Terry Bollea (known professionally as Hulk Hogan), that was secretly financed by billionaire Trump-backer Peter Thiel. As DeRogatis talked with outlets about getting the Kelly story published, “Gawker came up in a lot of those conversations,” he told Sullivan. “Nobody wanted to take that risk.”

Sullivan concludes that fear of a Gawker-like fate “can result in self-censorship at any stage of a story’s development, maybe before it ever gets out of a reporter’s notebook, or in the hour before planned publication.”

The issue of self-censorship also surfaces in a story about the real-world effects of online harassment that Carlett Spike and I reported for CJR. In talking with journalists who had received death threats, had their addresses posted on social media, and had watched their families targeted, we heard a lot about resilience in the face of intimidation, but also admissions that there are times when some writers think twice about whether a story is worth the abuse.

“The internet is real life, and things that happen on the internet have real-world consequences,” BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel told us. “That’s been true for years, but the toxicity of the current political climate combined with the speed and volume at which things are happening makes it especially volatile right now.”

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.