Robert W. McChesney is a professor in the Department of Communication at the University
of Illinois, and listed by the Utne Reader as “one of the 50 visionaries who are changing the world.” John Nichols is one of the old-fashioned journalists who has made his way as a blogger and is associate editor of
Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin). Both these men have paid their dues to the system known as journalism, and the mega-system called “the media.” They have written a book with an intriguing title and a radical proposal. As the title indicates, they do not believe that journalism as we know it is dead.
Nor do they think it has been or ever will be buried by the Internet.
If you think about it, as this book challenges you to do, the Internet does not discover news or make news. It merely shuffles it along in a trajectory that always begins with traditional news sources. The
Internet is not a reporter on the scene; it is a carrier of news already produced at and near the scene. The
Internet takes no photos, files no stories. It rehashes. It serves a useful purpose by doing so, and at this time it appeared to begin to replace newspapers because its scope is grander, its reach farther, and its costs lower to perform many of the same functions of newsprint.
The man on the street has not yet realized what he is missing as newspapers slowly drop from sight. He is missing locality and community, the “coffee house” aspect of news-sharing.
McChesney and Nichols believe that American journalism isn’t dead yet (as the old song says, "it's only a-sleepin'") and may be slowly wafting toward a sea change. They advocate for community-level subsidies of news-making that would serve the public good and be worthy of their price tag. They state that news has always been subsidized, and that capitalistic incursions into news “markets” have the potential to weaken as much as strengthen the media. Their suggestion will resonate with those of us who cherish the news and don’t mind paying to have it included in the yearly tab that we already pay for safety and schools and roads. It is less likely to spark interest in the other camp, those who feel we have been taxed enough, taxed out of our gourds with little communication from the taxers and little return for our contributions.
The authors state clearly that America was founded on a subsidized press, not a market-based one. “The idea that Americans should simply roll the dice and hope rich people would find it profitable to produce the journalism required for a constitutional republic to succeed was simply unimaginable in the days when American was conceived and formed.” One way that early news media were subsidized was through lower postal rates for newspapers. The notion that a subsidized paper is a “bought” paper is no truer, after all, than its opposite proposition – that a free-market press is impervious to forces that seek to sway and slant the message.
This book will interest those who have a stake in the future of journalism, and that should include all thoughtful Americans at this critical juncture.