This was the year the media itself became the story.
We used the same lede for last year’s edition of this piece, but 2016 was nothing compared to 2017’s craziness. This year the media world took on an openly hostile presidential administration and sexual harassment scandals, all while facing layoffs, buyouts and other seismic shifts in the journalism landscape.
The biggest fireworks occurred in the White House. Press Secretaries Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders frequently clashed with reporters, and their gaffes became front page news. Spicer coined the term “Holocaust centers” and hid in the bushes to avoid the White House press corps, while Sanders made headlines over both policy issues and pie.
Their boss, President Donald Trump, also raised hackles when he tweeted that the media was “the enemy of the American people.” Both journalists and politicians bristled at this attack, and they educated the president about the dangers of journalism using the hashtag #NotTheEnemy.
There were huge scandals in individual newsrooms, none more so than The New York Times. Despite record digital subscription growth, the paper was forced to make a lot of cuts on the print side to offset falling ad revenue. Early this year, the Times instituted buyouts meant to streamline the editorial process, and also removed the public editor position.
One of the areas cut most drastically was the Times copy desk. The team revolted, claiming they were treated like “a diseased population.” Times employees actually staged a walkout in support of their colleagues.
Some Times staffers did leave voluntarily, particularly on the cultural side. Book critic Michiko Kakutani and theater critic Charles Isherwood both bade farewell to the paper this year. Isherwood’s departure in particular was seen as a commentary on the declining importance of theater criticism in print media.
The people the Times did hire raised quite a few eyebrows. Conservative climate change denier Bret Stephens joined the paper’s opinion page, causing many readers to cancel their subscriptions and climate researchers to accuse the Times of “anti-scientific propaganda.” The paper was further accused of coddling conservatives after it ran a sympathetic profile of a neo-Nazi.
A woman named Contessa Bourbon also caused a lot of trouble for the Times this year. She never worked there, but for four years she claimed she did. She interviewed ambassadors and Cabinet secretaries, ignoring several cease and desist letters from the Times. So last month, the paper sued her.
Other print media outlets saw huge changes as well, especially magazines. Several legendary editors left their posts this year, including Vanity Fair‘s Graydon Carter and Glamour‘s Cindi Leive. Condé Nast, which owns both magazines, laid off dozens of people last month to cut costs. It also reduced the frequency of several of its print publications.
Many online newsrooms were also cut, none more dramatically than DNAinfo and Gothamist. The two sites merged in March, and the editorial staffs decided to unionize later in the year. But conservative billionaire Joe Ricketts, who owned both sites, didn’t like that idea. He shut the sites down last month.
Online media did get some good news at the tail end of the year, when former Gawker staffers launched a Kickstarter to save the site. We’ll find out early next month if their bid was successful.
And as always, the year’s most dramatic media scandals occurred in the world of TV news. As Fox News worked overtime to fluff the president, it also grappled with the death of founder Roger Ailes. The network’s top personality, Sean Hannity, also made headlines for supporting Roy Moore—advertisers like Keurig dropped him over this, leading to an epidemic of smashed coffee machines.
Megyn Kelly may have left Fox, but she had trouble shaking off some of the network’s ultra-conservative hallmarks. One of the first guests on her Sunday night NBC show was Sandy Hook truther Alex Jones, while the first week of her daytime talk show also spawned daily controversies.
But Kelly found her footing reporting on the year’s biggest media story (and biggest story in general): the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault. She was especially candid about the actions of her former Fox News co-worker Bill O’Reilly, who left the network in April over sexual harassment allegations. O’Reilly claimed he was the victim, but Kelly countered that he had “shamed” women into “shutting the hell up.”
The O’Reilly allegations were just the tip of the iceberg. In the last months of 2o17, over 100 men were accused of sexual misconduct—and many were from the media world. Here are just a few of them:
- Movie producer Harvey Weinstein
- Morning show hosts Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose
- New York Times White House reporter Glenn Thrush
- Radio host Garrison Keillor
- NPR executive Michael Oreskes
- WNYC hosts John Hockenberry, Leonard Lopate and Jonathan Schwartz
The women who told their stories about these media heavyweights and spawned the #MeToo movement were named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. They were collectively known as “The Silence Breakers.”
Will more media titans be exposed in the coming months, and will the industry be able to deal with the many sea changes ahead? We’ll find out soon enough.