Media conglomeration spurs unethical journalism. Corporate-controlled journalists are unable to objectively cover the world while protecting the reputation of their parent companies. Independent journalism is the only way to ensure true transparency and impartiality.
Let me explain.
Five months ago, I was hired by CBS News as a fact checker for "CBS This Morning." I spent 10 hours a day verifying every word of scripts before they aired. I pointed out each factual inaccuracy, missing source or misused terminology. Though tedious, this job was crucial in the era of fake news and distrust of mainstream media. Superiors frequently commended my work performance and expressed gratitude for my role.
Last week, I was laid off.
I was told the layoffs were due to the combined impact of the recent Viacom-CBS merger and COVID-19. The merger strategy involved hundreds of layoffs to drastically reduce costs in the name of long-term growth. COVID-19 exacerbated the degree of these reductions. On a call with the "CBS This Morning" staff, an executive rationalized the layoffs. To my surprise, they displayed a shocking lack of transparency.
They would not disclose how many employees were laid off. They would not answer how the layoffs were distributed within each news show. When employees asked why no pay cuts were made within the entire corporation, we were told pay cuts were not seen as a “viable option.” When disgruntled employees pushed for accountability, they were mollified with empty explanations. This opacity counters the very journalistic practices CBS News strives to uphold.
I was an hourly paid employee who received no health benefits or paid time off. I was laid off making $20.51 an hour, while ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish made no reduction to his estimated $31 million salary.
Further, I was a fact checker. In the era of fake news, the mainstream media has a responsibility to ensure it doesn't contribute to the spread of misinformation. Yet ViacomCBS was willing to sacrifice a fact checker and risk factual inaccuracies to save $20.51 an hour.
Being 23 and losing my first job out of college in the midst of a pandemic was devastating. The fact that I genuinely loved my job made it worse. Hearing that dozens of dedicated journalists were tossed aside at a time when reputable journalism is needed more than ever, while not a single corporate executive took a pay cut, is just wrong.
Journalism is rooted in transparency and honesty. Journalism is a mouthpiece for the individuals who have been beaten down and betrayed by corporate America. Am I naïve for assuming news organizations hold themselves to the same standards in which they scrutinize others?
Real news cannot be produced when journalists are at the whims of soulless corporations. By owning news outlets, media giants silence criticism against them by preventing their own employees from reporting on the company’s actions. Journalists are unable to operate with complete transparency and objectivity if they cannot investigate the very organization that pays their salaries.
How can "CBS This Morning" produce their weekly unemployment segment without acknowledging that ViacomCBS contributed to hundreds of those numbers with no executive pay cuts?
By owning news outlets, conglomerates muzzle journalists.
This is not about the hardships of my individual layoff, but rather, about the information we consume and the organizations we rely on to educate us. And it is not a criticism of the "CBS This Morning" team. I have tremendous faith in the journalistic integrity of all my colleagues at the show. They produce fantastic, reliable, thorough news. I trust the content they produce will still be meticulously verified by the remaining fact checkers.
However, I no longer trust that ViacomCBS recognizes the value of journalism. Its lack of investment in CBS News will undoubtedly degrade the content quality over time and drive away the industry’s most talented. To the parent company, CBS News is the same as its other brands — MTV, Comedy Central or Nickelodeon — just another means of generating a profit. It is unable to distinguish that a news division, unlike entertainment brands, has an ethical responsibility to inform the public and combat misinformation. The willingness to kick news employees to the curb in the midst of a global pandemic, election cycle and national race riots demonstrates either the corporation’s naivety or indifference to its journalistic responsibility.
Don’t buy a national news network if you don’t want to have that responsibility.
Layoffs in general are awful. Avoidable layoffs in any industry are particularly difficult to comprehend. Corporate greed, lack of transparency and dehumanization are prevalent in nearly every workplace — no matter where they occur. But when these tenets fund journalism, corporations stifle the watchdogs we trust to expose such injustices.
Massive corporations value profit over people. They should not control our country’s journalists. Independent journalism is the only means to ensure objectivity. We have staked our faith in corporations to oversee some of the most trusted and widely distributed news. It is likely impossible to uproot the conglomerations already deeply embedded in the system. However, there is still time to prevent further mixing of journalism and profit-hungry media moguls.
Innovative digital news sites and podcasts are being snapped up by media giants as we speak. To anyone complicit in this predation: I urge you to reconsider.