Monday, April 06, 2009

What 'the collapse of journalism' means

In The Nation, Robert McChesney and John Nichols call the fading of great American newspapers "the most serious threat in our lifetimes to self-government and the rule of law as it has been understood here in the United States."

(Meanwhile, Forbes reports today that journalism is still a popular college major, despite diminished job prospects. Maybe those grads hope to find a new way to be the Fourth Estate online, if not on paper. It has some faculty feeling existential.)

Nichols and McChesney have a book coming out in the fall, titled Saving Journalism: The Soul of Democracy, but they give away good chunks of their argument in The Nation article.

While enthusiastic about ProPublica, Talking Points Memo, the Huffington Post and regional online journalism projects with non-profit funding, they call those "mere triage strategies."

Instead, they argue that newspapers' corporate owners carry much of the blame for the demise of professional journalism, and call for fourth-estate funding by the other three estates:
"Only government can implement policies and subsidies to provide an institutional framework for quality journalism... Fortunately, the rude calculus that says government intervention equals government control is inaccurate and does not reflect our past or present, or what enlightened policies and subsidies could entail."

Among those subsidies would be funds for community and public broadcasting and for high school and college papers, along with free postage for publications that limit their ad revenue to 20 percent of the budget. Such journals (hmm, like The Nation?), they note, often do "investigative, cutting-edge, politically provocative journalism."

I'm going to read more of that article later... maybe even buy their book and revive my Nation subscription. But I won't hold my breath about the chance of getting that batch of subsidies through Congress in any big hurry.

Surviving in Roanoke

Meanwhile, back in the cold world of capitalist free-enterprise journalism, here's a business-watcher with a list of 10 Newspapers That Will Survive The Apocalypse

Nicholas Carlson, who covers media and advertising for Silicon Alley Insider, says "his guy" in the newspaper-investment biz has the Roanoke Times on his survivor list.

I guess that's good news for the unwrapped fish of the New River Valley, even if Carlson does use an anonymous source and spell the name of the city "Roanake" at one point:
Our guy likes almost all of Landmark Communications papers in Virginia. They're in isolated, steady markets without a lot of overlap. The Roanoke Times is a 'good product,' a "community type paper.' Roanake is the kind of place where if the car dealers start selling cars again, they'll start taking out ads in the local paper again.

On the story's opening page, Carlson says:

Our guy is convinced that underneath the mess, there are plenty of local newspapers that, after cutting newsroom bloat and R&D costs, would be plenty profitable. He says these local newspapers just need to stop "spending on trying to find their way out" and 'instead run their current good business.'
"What does our source think of newspapers on the Web? Not much. He says local papers should have a Web site run by two people that links to international and national news and keeps all local content behind a pay wall or off the Internet entirely.

Speaking of surviving the apocalypse, Tim Thornton, an award-winning environmental journalist and the first Roanoke Times reporter I've had as a guest speaker in class, just got the ax... a bit mysteriously.

The many words of support in comments on those two NewRiverVoice stories about his departure, and elsewhere, should make Tim feel at least a tiny bit better.

The comments also include links to last fall's item on the paper in the Columbia Journalism Review. It ran with the provocative headline "Something's Rotten in Roanoke." CJR's story had several readers leaping to the paper's defense; so far none of the comments I've read about Thornton's case have taken the newspaper managers' side.

No comments:

Post a Comment