I’ve been pondering the relationship between journalism and democracy of late, and so too have the academic commenters gathering at the blog of Social Science Research Council boss, Craig Calhoun.
Calhoun asks the question Sam Zell has already answered — What is the future of newspapers? And when social scientists smell blood, they’re mostly rubbing their hands at the prospect of a fresh cadaver to dissect rather than offering sympathy or solutions.
There’s not much in the comments that regular readers won’t be overly familiar with — foundation-funded journalism anyone? But buried within them is Michael Schudson offering his usual top class, analytical two cents:
I would name two considerations for thinking about the future of news:
- We should give up the notion that we have fallen away from a media-produced unified public sphere in the USA. If it existed, it was for a brief historical moment. Even in the age of Web-based media and cable, we have a more unified national news picture today than at any time in US history before the Kennedy administration. TV network news didn’t have its sacred place in US homes until the early 1960s. The New York Times did not have a visible public presence outside the New York-Washington corridor until the 1970s. NPR and CNN did not exist until the 1970s and 1980s respectively. If there was a golden age of a media public sphere, it had about a 25 year run.
- Meanwhile, these same past few decades have seen a remarkable growth of accountability institutions both in and out of government. In government: growing openness in the Congress and capacity for citizens to monitor legislative action and in the executive the rise of inspectors-general (1978 legislation) who have produced scathing public criticism of executive action (notably the hard-hitting reports of the Dept of Justice IG during the Bush years) that became the subject of scores of front-page stories. Journalists have a lot of high-powered research assistants today! The news media are part of a broad ecology of public information today rather than the lone rangers of truth-telling.
Could it be — here’s heresy for you — that democratic life can be better off with a proliferation of cottage-industry news organizations rather than the preservation of hundreds of news factories?