Friday, March 20, 2009

Newspaper industry calls for its pound of flesh.

Both renowned journalists and initiators of a campaign to save the news, John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney dive in to the disintegrating world of journalism, and shine the spotlight on an industry in desperate need of relief. They illustrate the crisis as larger than simple economics, suggesting that the death of journalism as we know it could threaten the very foundations of our democracy, and that fiscal governmental intervention is critical to its survival.

I found this article on the connexions.org homepage news feed, and felt it to be a timely, balanced, and in depth account of an urgent issue we cannot afford to ignore.

Nichols and McChesney paint a bleak picture of a world without our current conception of journalism, one where major cities can ill afford to support a daily newspaper, and magazine and network news operations struggle to maintain a bare-bones staff of reporters. They explain that modern day media has become increasingly commercialized and profit centered, and warn of a small community of giant media corporations that could one day control the press. In such a world, the propagation of corporately influenced values and pursuits would be unopposed by competing viewpoints, leading to a dangerously one-sided report of critical news and information.

Nichols and McChesney fear we are headed in that direction, and highlight the neglect, if not the looming neglect, of local and public government, state institutions, and matters that concern us around the world. Without a healthily balanced press service, they point out that state and government officials can work without public scrutiny or accountability for their actions, hailing our press service as the “ essential nurturer of an informed citizenry.”

Tracing the origins of journalism’s decline to the 1970s, long before the Internet and the economic collapse that many believe to have caused it, Nichols and McChesney posit that we must address the core issues that precipitated our current crisis. Due to a spike in corporate ownership and newspaper consolidation, they write it became increasingly important to appease investors. This lead to a book balancing act where journalists were cut and news bureaus were shut down to maximize returns, driving a wedge between us and the “rich mix of international, national and local news coverage” that, while far from perfect, gave journalism its vibrancy in the 1960s. The watered-down state of today's journalism is thoroughly uninviting, and is at risk of losing our attention, especially that of young people, whose involvement in today's discourse is so critical to our future.

Moving forward, Nichols and McChesney advocate for a revision of public policy concerning its approach to the press service. They suggest it is time to set aside our fears of government intervention and learn to ignore our belief that the free-market solves all problems. Arguing that government subsidies not only run rampant in today’s media, but that they helped to establish the press service in the first place, Nichols and McChesney lobby for progressive changes to our public policy and subsidy mechanisms to rescue the ailing industry. For example, they propose an indirect subsidy where citizens would receive a tax credit for the first $200 they spent on daily newspapers. Readers would have both incentive to buy and the freedom to choose their newspaper, so that no one paper would receive the subsidy directly, giving all viewpoints an equal opportunity of receiving support.

All in all, Nichols and McChesney call for a thorough revision of today’s press structure, and advocate for a systemic change from the ways of the past. Their assessment of the situation is well-informed, accurate, and realistic, and sheds some much needed light on one of our society's staple industries that continues to unravel in front of our eyes. They champion us to address this crisis as we would the threat of terrorism, or financial or environmental collapse, and to lobby the policy makers who represent us. And rightfully so. The democracy we have worked so hard to build is facing a potentially devastating threat; we must do everything at our disposal as a people to protect it.Link

Check out the full article on the connexions.org news feed by clicking here.

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