Journalists in Utah and elsewhere face uncertain future

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See also: How does freedom of the press apply on the BYU campus?

Editor’s note: Reporter Emily Andersen is a journalism student at BYU with a personal and professional interest in the world of journalism and freedom of the press.

Jody Genessy had been working for the Deseret News for 26 years. He got the job when he was still in college and had hoped to spend his entire career there. Genessy said over the years people have asked him why he didn’t try to move on to bigger news organizations, but Genessy said he loves Utah, and he loves the Deseret News.

That’s why it came as such a shock when, on Oct. 26, he was laid off along with six other journalists.

Genessy’s experience has been a common one among newspaper journalists this year. According to a Washington Post article published in April, even though readership at many newspapers is going up, ad revenue is going down since the companies that normally purchase ad space are struggling in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Genessy said even though he was surprised to lose his job, he understands why the Deseret News had to make that decision.

“It’s kind of in survival mode. They had to pick and choose and it’s unfortunate that it was me, but, you know, sometimes tough decisions have to be made. I mean better writers than me have been laid off at different newspapers around the country,” Genessy said.

The Deseret News announced the layoffs at the same time it announced it would be ending its joint operating agreement with the Salt Lake Tribune. Both Salt Lake newspapers will be moving from daily print editions to weekly print editions starting in January.

Newspapers have been losing revenue for years as more and more of their content moves online, but the effects of the coronavirus pandemic have pushed many papers over the edge. Genessy said he is worried about what will happen if news companies don’t find better ways to monetize online news without losing their audience because it could mean many of those companies are no longer able to produce news.

“I think we’ll always have freedom of the press and freedom of speech. The problem is that we’re going to have to rely more on people, probably public relations and public affairs officers, giving companies’ versions of the story. I think you’ll still have the freedom of the press, you just won’t get the full truth,” Genessy said.

BYU School of Communications Director Ed Carter said one of the reasons traditional news organizations are struggling in the current online world is because a lot of people only read or share news they agree with, even when it comes from sources that aren’t reputable.

“I think part of the responsibility of anybody who takes on a role to provide news and information is to do it responsibly. Unfortunately, there are people out there who I don’t think are trying to get at the truth in good faith efforts,” Carter said.

“They’re just trying to do propaganda and disinformation, and we have to deal with that because there’s even First Amendment protection falsity at times. But it’s our job as consumers and citizens to weed through that.”

Carter said the abundance of false information has caused a lot of people to distrust professional journalism. He said especially during the Trump administration it has become more and more common for journalists to be portrayed as the enemies of the people.

“Reporters and journalists are sometimes targets, which is unfortunate. They should be protected and allowed to do their job. They’re not there to do anything harmful and so they should be left alone,” Carter said.

As for Genessy, he said he may not keep working as a journalist. Since the journalism job market is struggling so much, he said he will be looking for more jobs in public relations and marketing positions.

“It’s interesting. I thought I would be sadder or madder or whatever, but I'm actually taking it in stride. I'm just, you know, it is what it is,” Genessy said. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed that journalism will find its way through this dark time for the industry because so many valuable journalists and great writers have lost their jobs and that's kind of sad, but hopefully they'll find a way.”
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