Freelance journalist Abigail Edge was at an Online News Association conference in Los Angeles in 2015 and found herself chatting with the head of a prominent national trade publishing association. The woman asked where she lived. “When I told her Denver she laughed and said ‘that’s not really America. Only the east and west coasts are America,’” Edge recalls. The reporter found the comment irritating, but says that “it seemed that that attitude was not uncommon.” She often had difficulty getting national media executives and editors to care about stories outside of the coasts and was getting the impression journalism higher-ups considered her choice of home base as a career impediment. Not wanting to ruffle feathers, Edge smiled and walked away.
She wonders whether the woman has changed her attitude. The media’s collective misfire on the 2016 election has led to an acknowledgement of our own “media bubbles”—insular elite worlds in a handful of coastal cities where journalists congregate and lose touch with … everyone else. The bubbles exist, in part, because legacy publications and new digital outlets still rely on a centralized newsroom model that requires editorial staff comes into an office—typically located in the most expensive cities in the nation.
The digital age, rather than fostering a new era of remote work, actually increased our profession’s geographic concentration. One out of every five media jobs was located in New York City, Washington, DC, or Los Angeles in 2014, up from one in eight 10 years prior, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data crunched by The Washington Post. Journalists outside major coastal cities say that the damage of geographic concentration goes beyond a disconnect with swaths of the population. It also contributes to a lack of diversity and may help explain the public’s diminishing confidence in our work.