Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols discuss their new book, The Death and Life of American Journalism. They assess why journalism is in crisis, why the conventional analysis and solutions are failing, and how enlightened and massive state subsidies are the necessary and only credible solution.
American journalism is collapsing. Newspapers are laying off reporters at an unprecedented rate as big-city dailies are shuttered. Television newsrooms are cutting back to bare bones as commercial radio news disappears. Internet sites are aggregating what is left of old-media information while producing too little that is new or based on hard digging. Every theory of popular government tells us democracy is unsustainable without an informed citizenry and journalism that monitors the powerful. Yet, credible journalism is disappearing and the capacity to monitor is withering.
Conventional wisdom says the collapse of journalism is digitally driven, that old media just can’t keep up with that which is new and free, and that a Great Recession is accelerating the decline of newspaper advertising revenues. Old media apologists propose to let big media corporations establish a cartel on the web. New media fantasists tell us to simply count on the bloggers to come through.
Robert McChesney and John Nichols reject the convention wisdom. The award-winning authors of twenty books on media and politics demonstrate that the crisis precedes the Internet and the current economic turbulence. Rather, it stems from the hollowing out of journalism under corporate control, which has increased dramatically since the late 1970s. Moreover, they argue, the problem is rooted in the longstanding tension between advertising-supported, profit-making media and democracy-sustaining journalism.
The co-founders of Free Press, the nation’s media reform network, McChesney and Nichols systematically debunk notions that old media firms can successfully migrate to the web or that the blogosphere will magically meet our journalism needs.
McChesney and Nichols argue Americans must recognize that the era of commercial news media is ending and a new system of independent journalism must be created and subsidized by the public if democracy is to survive and prosper. Their riveting historical research demonstrates how the American press system was forged by Jefferson and Madison with government subsidies and policies designed to promote journalistic innovation and competition. It is this tradition we must renew to solve the current crisis for journalism by unleashing a new age of great journalism and enhanced democracy. We can, as Tom Paine put it, begin the world again.
Robert W. McChesney is the Gutgsell Endowed Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2008 the Utne Reader listed McChesney among their “50 visionaries who are changing the world.” McChesney has written or edited seventeen books, and his work has been translated into eighteen languages.
John Nichols is The Nation‘s Washington correspondent and the associate editor of The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin. He has covered seven presidential races and reported from two dozen countries. The author or coauthor of eight books on media and politics, Nichols delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Congress of the International Federation of Journalists in Athens and addressed the 2009 Global Forum on Freedom of Expression in Oslo. Of Nichols, author Gore Vidal says: “Of all the giant slayers now afoot in the great American desert, John Nichols’s sword is the sharpest.”