Rebuilding Media

This article was originally published by Campus Progress, an online magazine for the Center for American Progress.

In the face of a rapidly changing industry, two books offer bold visions of what the future of media could look like.

The final edition of The Ann Arbor News, which ceased operation last year after almost 200 years in print. (Flickr/banlon1964)

There can be no denying that the state of the news media today is a full-blown crisis. Newspapers, now working with a broken economic model, are clearing out newsrooms with layoffs at a rapid rate, closing foreign andWashington bureaus, and spending less on investigative reporting. Cable news is dominated by Fox News Channel whose viewers are shown to be grossly misinformed while most TV channels focus on horserace political coverage (often with the help of corporate lobbyists serving as analysts) andtrivial entertainment issues. Freelancers are paid less than ever—if at all—and prospective young journalists attending college and graduate school, while not abandoning the craft, are facing a frightening landscape to carve out careers in the field.

Often books about the state of media focus on how to tweak the economic model to save media we have. Two recently published books, however, look at ways to create media that is focused not on making journalism profitable again, but rather, on making journalism the valuable civic tool that is required for a functioning democracy.

Robert McChesney and John Nichols in The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again make the case for significant public intervention in the industry, which they argue can sustain wide-ranging, editorially independent outlets focused on producing quality journalism, not on making a profit. Meanwhile, Jessica Clark and Tracy Van Slyke, in Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics through Networked Progressive Media, focus on sustaining and improving upon what has been a rare media bright spot in recent years: The rise of a community of progressive media outlets that have shown a remarkable ability at bringing like-minded activists and writers together to make change. While each book has a different focus, both offer bold ideas as to how media can thrive.

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