Todd Gitlin, who teaches journalism and communications at Columbia University, is the author of The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left, Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives, and many other books including, most recently, Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street.
It’s Dumb Journalism, Stupid
Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com
Everyone knows this story, though fewer and fewer read it on paper. There are barely enough pages left to wrap fish. The second paper in town has shut down. Sometimes the daily delivers only three days a week. Advertising long ago started fleeing to Craigslist and Internet points south. Subscriptions are dwindling. Online versions don’t bring in much ad revenue. Who can avoid the obvious, if little covered question: Is the press too big to fail? Or was it failing long before it began to falter financially?
In the previous century, there was a brief Golden Age of American journalism, though what glittered like gold leaf sometimes turned out to be tinsel. Then came regression to the mean. Since 2000, we have seen the titans of the news presuming that Bush was the victor over Gore, hustling us into war with Iraq, obscuring climate change, and turning blind eyes to derivatives, mortgage-based securities, collateralized debt obligations, and the other flimsy creations with which a vast, showy, ramshackle international financial house of cards was built. When you think about the crisis of journalism, including the loss of advertising and the shriveled newsrooms — there were fewer newsroom employees in 2010 than in 1978, when records were first kept — also think of anesthetized watchdogs snoring on Wall Street while the Arctic ice cap melts.
Deserting readers mean broken business models. Per household circulation of daily American newspapers has been declining steadily for 60 years, since long before the Internet arrived. It’s gone from 1.24 papers per household in 1950 to 0.37 per household in 2010. To get the sports scores, your horoscope, or the crossword puzzle, the casual reader no longer needs even to glance at a whole paper, and so is less likely to brush up against actual — even superficial — news. Never mind that the small-r republican model on which the United States was founded presupposed that some critical mass of citizens would spend a critical mass of their time figuring out what’s what and forming judgments accordingly.
Phi Beta Iota: Members of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists are not included in the above. Indeed, it could be said that most US journalists desperately want to investigate and report the truth, but their editors and owners will not let them. This is why the emergence of the alternative media, long is gestation, is being accelerated by the Boston false flag bombing and the clear and present danger of an FBI totally co-opted by those who serve special interests instead of the public interest. The “middling” media (Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, The Nation) play an important role but do not have a coherent analytic model nor a means to detect and challenge every lie as it comes forth. What we find most promising is the emergent convergence among the alternative media, Crisis Mapping and humanitarian open source technologies, the national dialog and deliberation movement, collective intelligence, open space, and the concept for public intelligence in the public interest. In brief, Epoch B, triumph certain.