Saturday, March 28, 2009

When journalists turn to poor-mouthing: a manufactured crisis

This article is about a manufactured crisis.

The Problem

John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney are a couple of "veteran journalists" who wrote about "The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers" the April edition of "The Nation."

Here is the "crisis" Nichols and McChesney are talking about:
Communities across America are suffering through a crisis that could leave a dramatically diminished version of democracy in its wake. It is not the economic meltdown, although the crisis is related to the broader day of reckoning that appears to have arrived.

Ok, so these two veteran journalists/authors say there is a crisis. What's the nature of the crisis? Read on.

Here is what Nichols and McChesney have to say about the quality of journalism in the United State
We do not mean to suggest that '60s journalism was perfect or that we should aim to return there. Even then journalism suffered from a generally agreed-upon professional code that relied far too heavily on official sources to set the news agenda and decide the range of debate in our political culture. That weakness of journalism has been magnified in the era of corporate control, leaving us with a situation most commentators are loath to acknowledge: the quality of journalism in the United States today is dreadful.

So, these gentlemen claim there is a "crisis" in journalism and the reason is that the "quality of journalism in the United States today is dreadful".

Deceptive Logic

I was not so much surprised as I was deeply saddened to see the type of deceptive logic used by Nichols and McChesney to make their case for what will eventually amount to a government takeover of our newspapers.

According to Nichols and McChesney:
The country's great regional dailies -the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer--are in bankruptcy.


The country's great regional dailies are not in bankruptcy.

The country's FORMERLY great regional dailies are in bankruptcy."

I would submit that in making their case to save the nation's "great regional dailies", Nichols and McChesney have demonstrated the type of subtle bias and dishonesty that is the problem with the big regional dailies, and that is the reason people no longer choose to purchase them, or advertise in them them, and is exactly the reason these papers are failing.

The Solution

Here is the solution to the "quality" problem noted by Nichols and McChesney. I think their solution is crazy, because it rewards failure; but here it is.

The Nichols McChesney Solution:
Let's give all Americans an annual tax credit for the first $200 they spend on daily newspapers.

Interview with Robert McChesney

Question: How many news sources were there when the Constitution was signed?

Question: How many news sources are there now?

Basically there are 1000 times as many news sources in 2009 as there were in 1787.

Question: Why are journalists and (some) politicians trying to convince us that there is a "crisis" in the American news industry?

Here is mystery. If American Journalism is "dreadful", as Nichols and McChesney claim, why reward it with incentives like tax credits to preserve it? Why not just let the market kill it off and replace it with something better?

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