The Death and Life of American Journalism

On Friday afternoon I attended a talk by well-known media scholars and activists Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols. They discussed their new book The Death and Life of American Journalism (Nation Books, 2010). The program was sponsored by Fordham University’s Donald McGannon Communications Research Center and the Bernard L. Schwartz Center for Media, Public Policy and Education.

During the speech, the two proposed a bold strategy for saving journalism. First, Nichols began by reminding many of us what we already know: journalism is in serious crisis. It’s not just the demise of newspapers themselves; it’s a crisis of information. He laid out some pretty bleak statistics about the crisis in 2009: 140 newspapers closed last year; nearly 1,000 news-related jobs are lost per month. And although the internet has been very promising in terms of creating a robust blogosphere, it has not been able to fill the gap as credible news organizations fail to inform our citizenry and the model of commercial-supported advertising crumbles. They also reflected on ensuring free press protection with respect to the First Amendment and reminded us that there were many subsidies to the burgeoning print press of this country’s young nation under our Founding Fathers.

But it wasn’t all depressing! They did provide ideas that can help us overcome this problem, all of which are further outlined in the book which I definitely recommend reading. Some of the ideas mention include a national NewsCorps program (similar to AmericaCorps), and the hybrid L3C (low-profit limited liability company) model. For a more in-depth analysis of what that model entails, click here. All of these will take public subsidies, the two approximate that these could total $30 billion a year. It may seem like a high number, but the cost of losing an informing citizenry is too high not to at least further investigate their idea. The future of our democracy may depend on it.

It was an interesting mix of people, although given the location; I’d guess that at least ¾ of the audience was journalism students, from Fordham, Columbia, NYU and CUNY. Also, there were many supporters of Free Press there, McChesney and Nichols founded the national media reform organization, in 2002/2003 to further investigate this crisis. No doubt they will be extremely active as they pursue some of these national reforms over the upcoming months.