As media companies prepare to cover the US presidential election, they find themselves at the cross currents of several market, political and technological forces that could bolster or imperil their bottom lines. To assess the health of the media industry, Double Take welcomed Martin Baron, former editor of The Washington Post and the Boston Globe and author of recently released ‘Collision of Power: Trump, Bezos and The Washington Post.’

In the face of disruption from artificial intelligence (AI) and political polarisation, Baron believes the way the industry disseminates news may have to change while still preserving independence from those seeking to shape coverage. Baron, who was the Post’s editor when Jeff Bezos purchased the business, worked closely with the tech mogul for several transformative years.

We will be in a constant state of disruption in this business. No question about it. The technology is going to change. Now of course we are grappling with the generative AI, and we will just have to embrace that and expect disruption. But there is something that I think that we need to hold onto that should be an anchor to our profession, and that is the traditional values, traditional principles, traditional practices that we have… there is always pressure in our business from all corners, all institutions and individuals who have power. Government, of course, has tremendous power in our society, but there are other institutions of power as well. Institutions within business, even within the nonprofit sector, and all of them typically try to exert power over the press when it is trying to do its work. Sometimes of course, people have legitimate complaints and concerns, so we have to acknowledge that, but at other times, it is an effort to really shape the narrative or to actually just suppress information.

Martin Baron, former editor of The Washington Post and Boston Globe

Amid this change, in Baron’s opinion, there has been a proliferation of opaque news organisations with thinly veiled goals of advancing an ideology or a politician’s prospects. Additionally, there have been more threats of libel suits against news organisations which can be too expensive to defend for smaller outlets. He posits that it might be time for large news organisations to adopt a more aggressive posture, filing suits against those who malign their intentions in gathering and distributing the news.

Look, I come to this conclusion very reluctantly. News organisations, journalists like me, have been very much opposed to libel suits and things of that sort, particularly since they are often acts of intimidation and are efforts to deter us from doing our job. Sometimes they are justified, of course, because people have been unjustly defamed, but in many instances, they are just efforts of intimidation. But it seems to me that because of this posture, we have made ourselves sitting ducks for people who defame us… And it seems to me, I have come to the conclusion, that the only way to counter that is to strategically file lawsuits against people who are making these kinds of accusations.

Martin Baron

In Baron’s view, news outlets should be more intentional about laying out the evidence behind their reporting and should approach fact gathering with more humility. Thoughtful use of AI could be key, he believes, as misuse of the technology threatens to compromise consumers’ ability to discern truth.

How do we tell what is fact from fiction here? What has been fabricated? What has been manipulated? I think that is going to be a huge challenge. We are already seeing that happen. People are fabricating not only stories, text, but really more concerning, I think, is videos that look to be real, that are not real, audio that sounds like somebody’s voice, but it is really not that person’s voice. So that you can fabricate, you can claim that something is a recording of somebody, but it is really not. Those sorts of things. I think we are going to need a lot… We have not even started on all this. I think that a lot of news organisations are going to have to collaborate with each other, engage in a level of collaboration that we have never seen in our business, which is highly competitive. And our competitive juices are so intense that people do not really like to work with each other, but we need to be able to work with each other and work with each other quickly.

Martin Baron

According to Baron, as traditional media-ownership models are under pressure, it is unclear what future news organisations may look like.

I have come to the conclusion that there is no perfect model of ownership for news organisations, that we should really judge news organisations by the work they do as opposed to the ownership model they have… I encourage that with regard to the Post because everybody is always raising the potential conflicts regarding Bezos. But the fact is, he never interfered in the content of our coverage, never suggested a story, suppressed a story, critiqued a story or anything like that. And we had to cover Amazon, and we did so energetically and aggressively and independently. I think people should just look at that coverage and see, are we doing our jobs the way we are supposed to or are we not?

Martin Baron

To hear more, subscribe to “Double Take” on your podcast app of choice or view The state of the media episode page to listen in your browser.


Jack Encarnacao

Jack Encarnacao

Research analyst, investigative, Specialist Research team

Raphael J. Lewis

Raphael J. Lewis

Head of specialist research

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