As the year draws to a close, we’ve been treated to the usual December deluge of lists summing up the best and biggest of the past 12 months. One such list I always find interesting is the Oxford English Dictionary’s crowning the word of the year. This year’s defining word, or phrase, is “goblin mode,” which describes a broad pandemic-era apathy to, among other things, industriousness at work, cleanliness of body and home, and clothes featuring buttons.
Which words and ideas have defined the year in media? Here’s my contribution to list season:
The tendency of people to seek out news that confirms rather than challenges their beliefs predates 2022, but falling trust in the media, a stubbornly polarized cable news landscape and the persistent debates surrounding cancel culture suggest it’s here to stay. On the bright side, there’s CNN’s commendable, if sloppily executed, pivot back toward objective news reporting
As so many legacy and digital news platforms continue to teeter on the brink of insolvency, a number of talented journalists are going free agent and becoming self-proclaimed creators on Substack, TikTok and other platforms.
I worry that this trend could compound the problem of reporters valuing their “personal brands” over their work. And I wonder how investigative journalism can thrive without the deep pockets of a major organization. However, there is potential for smart commentary to thrive when thoughtful writers are freed from word count limits and newsroom politics.
Gannett, the country’s largest newspaper chain, last week announced yet another round of layoffs that will cut 6% of its US media division. When it comes to local news, good news is hard to find. As The New Yorker Editor David Remnick bluntly put it at a recent media roundtable, “The press landscape we have now is insufficient.”
There’s no doubt about it: the rapid spread of communities without a single news source is a threat to democracy. Corruption rots away at town halls and city councils that do have journalists holding them to account. Without a watchdog, civics can only deteriorate further.
The OED defines the phrase of the year as “a type of behavior which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.” It may seem like a lighthearted selection. With all that’s going on in the world, a decline in sartorial standards and workplace, or work-from-home, formality shouldn’t cause grave offense. Also, “going goblin” can be interpreted as a rebellion against consumerism as well as a return to pre-Covid norms that perhaps could be done away with, e.g. poor work-life balances or slavishly attempting to live up to unattainable, unstainable lifestyles projected on social media.
Still, the essence of goblin mode, or giving up, should furrow some brows. A big business buzzword of 2022 was Quiet Quitting, or the satisfaction with putting in the bare minimum at work. In a sense, there’s nothing wrong with this per se. If an employee is doing what’s expected of him on the job, he can’t really be faulted for not going the extra mile. But I wonder if putting in minimal effort isn’t just the product of burnout or corner-cutting, but a surrendering to dissatisfaction and a sense of being stuck in an unfulfilling job or career. Given that Quiet Quitting coincided with the Great Resignation and low unemployment in America, such widespread ennui and refusal to overcome it is concerning.
As for my antidote to goblin mode in the media, I’d encourage at least a partial return to working amongst peers in a newsroom!
It’s been a year of big media mergers, acquisitions and stunning changes of the guard. The Warner Bros. Discovery merger has led to chaotic changes at CNN. I’m optimistic that network CEO Chris Licht can right the ship, but the tides remain disconcertingly choppy. Optimism wouldn’t describe my mood toward Twitter in the wake of Elon Musk taking over, which has led to increased hate speech, user discontent and a sharp turn away from kind leadership.
I’m withholding judgment on the news last month that Bob Iger would be returning to lead Disney after Bob Chapek’s tumultuous two-year tenure. Iger’s 15-year leadership of the Mouse House included its seismic acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox. But the behemoth he returns to faces new challenges, including a streaming ecosystem brought back down to earth, eroded movie audiences and a recession that could ding theme park attendance.
Iger’s return has and will probably continue to delight the creative teams that chafed under Chapek’s centralization of decision-making power. I’ll be more closely following his success in navigating a humbled streaming marketplace whose health is central to both entertainment and the news media’s future.
While the worst of Covid appears to be mercifully behind us, the pandemic lingers. Extreme weather has been normalized. Faith in institutions is scraping the bottom. And added to the world’s worries in 2022 was the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the worst inflation since the 1970s.
A feeling of permacrisis is understandable, but it needn’t lead to despondency. I wish that in 2023, crises ebb and a degree of hope is restored. And that the media, and a renewed public faith in it, plays a hand in lifting the mood by speaking truth.