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Chris Hedges On ‘The Death & Life Of American Journalism’

February 27, 2010

By Chris Hedges

Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols in “The Death and Life of American Journalism” argue correctly that the old models for delivering the news are dead.

They see the government as the savior of last resort.

book cover

The authors cite the massive postal and printing subsidies that lasted into the 19th century as a precedent for government intervention.

And they propose building a new generation of journalists and publications from new government subsidies and from programs such as their suggested News AmeriCorps, which would train the next generation of journalists.

The authors offer a series of innovations including “citizen news vouchers” and low-cost, low-profit newsrooms.

They write: “The government will pay half the salary of every reporter and editor up to $45,000 each.

Assuming most daily and weekly newspapers go post-corporate and employment returns to the high-water mark of two decades ago—the latter is a very big assumption, we know—this would cost the state $3.5 billion annually.

If employment stayed at current levels it would run half that total. Newspapers that benefit from these subsidies would also be prime candidates for News AmeriCorps rookie journalists.”

As utopian fantasies go, this is pretty good.

But it ignores the critical shift within American society from a print-based culture to an image-based culture.

It assumes, incorrectly, that people still value and want traditional news.


They do not.

We have become unmoored from a world of print, from complexity and nuance, and with it information systems built on the primacy of verifiable fact.

Newspapers, which engage rather than entertain, can no longer compete with the emotional battles that hyperventilating hosts on trash talk shows mount daily.

The public, which has walked away from newspapers, has embraced the emotional carnival that has turned news into another form of mindless entertainment.

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