Self-styled saviors of journalism John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney packed the fourth floor of Powell's last night for a signing and lecture on their new book The Death and Life of American Journalism.
I don't really go in for most Future of Media discussions but and Nichols and McChesney started out proclaiming that they were not at Powell's to "bemoan the state of media", which I appreciated. They also gave out the buttons advertising their group FreePress.org and made available corporate media warning stickers you're supposed to slap on the sides of newspaper boxes owned by media giants. Pretty hip for a pair of middle-aged white guys.
You can read the pairs' 5,000 word article in The Nation summing up how they think America's media system should change, or just get the gist from my following bullet points, which are peppered with Nichols and McChesney's fiery quotes from last night.
• American media is in crisis not because of the recession or the internet but because of big profit-hungry corporations who bought up papers and radio stations across the country and slashed costs by consolidating or getting rid of newsrooms.
• Some stats about "American Media in Crisis": Every month in 2009, 1,000 people were laid off from newspapers, leaving only 46,000 journalists working in newsrooms today. We're all doooomed! One hundred and fourty papers closed in 2009 and a lot of those left open are packed with schlock. In the 1980s, there was a 1:1 ratio of PR folks to journalists. Now that ratio is 4:1. When the earthquake struck Haiti, only one American reporter was stationed on the island.
• BUT: "This is not a moment of loss, but of radical transition. Your public involvement will decide whether we enter a golden age of new media or the most dangerous propogandistic moment in American history."
• American citizens and the gov't should start considering a free, critical press as a public good and pouring far more federal money into it (while not censoring content). Federal politicians should expand investment in local community broadcasters, ramp up the money for student media in schools and buy up failing papers, turning them into nonprofits.
Would federal journalism subsidies and a newspaper bailout improve American media and democracy?