Chris Hedges, who has appeared on these pages several times recently, casts his eyes on the future of American journalism in this review of The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again, a recently published book by Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols.
While the authors of the book propose a $35 billion government subsidy program to support the dying craft, “paid for by new taxes on consumer electronics, advertising, and smartphones, among other things,” Hedges is much less optimistic, as is esnl.
Here’s some excerpts from Hedges’s review:
We are shedding, with the decline and death of many newspapers, thousands of reporters and editors, based in the culture of researched and verifiable fact, who monitored city councils, police departments, mayor’s offices, courts and state legislators to prevent egregious abuse and corruption. And we are also, even more ominously, losing the meticulous skills of reporting, editing, fact-checking and investigating that make daily information trustworthy. The decline of print has severed a connection with a reality-based culture, one in which we attempt to make fact the foundation for opinion and debate, and replaced it with a culture in which facts, opinions, lies and
fantasy are interchangeable. As news has been overtaken by gossip, the hollowness of celebrity culture and carefully staged pseudo-events, along with the hysteria and drama that dominate much of the airwaves, our civil and political discourse has been contaminated by propaganda and entertainment masquerading as news. And the ratings of high-octane propaganda outlets such as Fox News, as well as the collapse of the newspaper industry, prove it.
Corporations, which have hijacked the state, are delighted with the demise of journalism.
Journalism will survive, but it will reach a limited audience, as the sparsely attended productions of Aristophanes or Racine in small New York theaters are all that is left of great classical theater. The larger society will be deluged with propaganda, spectacle and entertainment as news. Those who carry the flame of journalism forward will live lives as difficult, financially precarious and outside the mainstream as most classical actors and musicians.
The solutions proposed by McChesney and Nichols to save journalism would work if we lived in a culture that placed primacy on truth and beauty. The failure to recognize America’s profound cultural shift into collective self-delusion makes the book stillborn. The authors, who know and understand journalism and the news industry, have a lot to say about the history of journalism and its decline that is worth reading, but their fatal flaw is to propose solutions that are no longer culturally relevant. They grasp the terrible consequences of a culture disconnected from a world of verifiable fact. They admirably look for solutions to save us from a world where opinions and facts are interchangeable, where lies become true. I applaud their effort, but I fear it is too late.