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Charlie Munger on journalism: 'We have suffered a huge loss here'

Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charlie Munger provided new perspective on how the role of local newspapers and traditional newsrooms are increasingly being replaced by untrustworthy voices.

"We are going to miss these newspapers terribly," Munger said at the Daily Journal's annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday. “Each newspaper... was an independent bastion of power. The economic position was so impregnable… and the ethos of a journalist was to try to tell it like it is. And they really were a branch of the government —they called them the Fourth Estate, meaning the fourth branch of the government. It arose by accident. Now about 95% of [newspapers are] going to disappear and go away forever. And what do we get in substitute? We get a bunch of people who attract an audience because they’re crazy."

Local newspapers are vanishing across the country: Nearly 1,800 U.S. newspapers have closed since 2004 and more than 100 newsrooms shuttered since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Berkshire Hathaway sold its newspaper business in 2020.

U.S. newsroom employment fell 26% from 2008 to 2020. (Pew Research)
U.S. newsroom employment fell 26% from 2008 to 2020. (Pew Research)

That decline — increasingly replaced by social media, digital media outlets, and celebrities with massive reach — seems to be affecting the quality of information being consumed by the public.

"When we analyze disinformation trends in the United States," Microsoft President Brad Smith said this week, "we are seeing that the content is being consumed at a disproportionate pace in the parts of the country that have seen newspapers disappear."

'We have suffered a huge loss here'

Munger asserted that while trusted newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times will survive, some of the newer media outlets are telling people what they want to hear rather than actual facts.

"I have my favorite crazies, and you have your favorite crazies, and we get together and all become crazier as we hire people to tell us what we want to hear," the billionaire said. "This is no substitute for Walter Cronkite and all those great newspapers of yesteryear. We have suffered a huge loss here. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s the creative destruction of capitalism, but it’s a terrible thing that’s happened to our country."

CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite ran from 1962 to 1981. (Source: screenshot/CBS)
CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite ran from 1962 to 1981. (Source: screenshot/CBS)

One prominent example of this trend is Christopher Ruddy, CEO of the media outlet Newsmax and a confidant of former President Donald Trump, stating in November 2020 that "people want something that tends to affirm their views and opinions."

Newsmax, which amplified Trump's false allegations of election rigging and voter fraud related to the 2020 presidential election, issued a retraction and apology in response to a defamation lawsuit brought by a Dominion Voting Systems employee. (Dominion is also suing Newsmax, accusing the outlet of defamation for “spreading misinformation.”)

Public sentiment towards the news outlets is also near all-time lows. A Gallup poll from October 2021 found that 29% of the American public has "not very much" trust in the media while 34% have "none at all." At the same time, just 7% of adults have "a great deal" of trust in the press.

“This is not good for our republic,” Munger said. “I don’t have the faintest idea what to do about it.”

Just 36% of the American public trusts the media either a great deal or a fair amount. (Chart: Gallup)
Just 36% of the American public trusts the media either a great deal or a fair amount. (Chart: Gallup)

Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at adriana@yahoofinance.com.

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