Book's Reviews > Merchants of Truth: The Business of Facts and The Future of News

Merchants of Truth by Jill Abramson
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Merchants of Truth is a disturbing read.

The subtitle, “The Business of News and the Fight for Facts”, succinctly describes the takeaway from this 545 page book. And the first sentence of the book’s blurb warns that it is not a simple read: “The definitive report on the disruption of the news media over the last decade.”

Respected and experienced journalist Jill Abramson tackled this complex issue through exploring four major media organizations in depth: BuzzFeed, VICE, New York Times and Washington Post, plus a single chapter on Facebook’s role in digital publishing.

The effect of that disruption is the collapse of local newspapers across the country with thousands of journalists out of work. The business model for printed newspapers relies on advertising to cover the costs of producing a daily paper. Two things destroyed the efficiency of that business model: advertising moved to the internet (think Craigslist) and the younger audience prefers the emotionally based news accounts offered by digital publishers like BuzzFeed, VICE and Facebook.

The BuzzFeed story starts with the background of Jonah Peretti, providing, in detail how it all began. The same approach is used for VICE, starting with the college graduation of Shane Smith.

The single chapter on Facebook is painfully informative, segues into a section on Breitbart and then identifies BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman as the reporter who, in 2014, detected what he called fake news “defined as 1) an that item traded on the appearance of legitimate journalistic authority and 2) it did so for financial gain.”
According to Ms. Abramson the digital publishers continue to research how to most effectively manipulate readers’ emotions to their financial benefit.

The chapters on the New York Times and the Washington Post focus on how they managed their failing business model as digital overtook the news media and how the moves they made are working today. The print publishers walk a tight line between maintaining professional journalistic integrity while trying to improve their financial results using digital to distribute news.

Merchants of Truth is a hard read. While the writing is clear the information is simply overwhelming, and the content is dense.

Don’t let the almost excessive details provided by Ms. Abramson obscure the bottom line here: factual news is an endangered species.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
February 19, 2019 – Finished Reading
February 20, 2019 – Shelved
February 20, 2019 – Shelved as: non-fiction

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