Opportunity amid mainstream journalism’s decline

With news organizations crashing and burning everywhere, John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney say it’s time to start building better media. They propose, among other ideas: heavy government investment in public media, subscription subsidies, and postal reforms.

composingWhat they don’t advocate is “going backward.” Bailing out big chain-owned newspapers shouldn’t be an option, they write in the April 6 edition of The Nation.

“The old corporate media system,” they write, “choked on its own excess. We should not seek to restore or re-create it. We have to move forward to a system that creates a journalism far superior to that of the recent past.”

Government intervention, they say, becomes the only vehicle for providing “an institutional framework for quality journalism.” There is a certain logic to this argument. As they point out, the current “economic downturn did not cause the crisis in journalism; nor did the Internet.”

The decline, they say, can be traced back to the 1970s when media conglomeration took off in earnest. The policies that deregulated transportation, banking, and communications; crippled public education; hastened urban sprawl; twisted tax policies; and hobbled the bargaining power of labor all accelerated the consolidation of economic power in the United States.

printing1Major media organizations not only adjusted to those changes, they embraced, legitimized, and — for a time — profited from them. News organizations that tailored their content and distribution to meet advertiser objectives all but ensured they would become captives of powerful special interests. That’s why the decline of the “corporate media system,” no matter how painful to thousands of dislocated workers, spells opportunity not calamity.

McChesney is a research professor in the Institute of Communications Research and the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Nichols is the associate editor of the Capital Times of Madison, Wis.