Authors discuss future of journalism

By Stephanie Saviola

With Bankrupt newspapers and an abundance of job losses among reporters, most people have turned to the Internet or blogs to get their daily news. But two men are determined to change that and save the dying journalism industry.

The two authors of “The Death and Life of American Journalism” came to Chicago on March 4 to discuss their book and where they believe the future of journalism

is headed.

Robert W. McChesney, professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and John Nichols, The Nation’s Washington correspondent, spoke to the public and journalism students.

“We won’t talk to you today about journalists or newspapers or media, we are here to talk about democracy,” said Nichols, who is also the associate editor of The Capital Times in Madison, Wisc. “This is a crisis about whether we are going to have democracy in the 21st century because the bottom line is: Without journalism there is no democracy.”

Both of the authors are co-founders of the Free Press, a national, non-partisan organization for media reform. In the book, they discussed old philosophies regarding the foundations of this country because they believe the current media model is broken. The authors discussed their ideas on how to solve the problem of the dying

world of journalism.

“The American tradition of a strong independent press is imperiled,” said Jacqueline Taylor, dean of the College of Communications at DePaul University.

The event was held at DePaul University’s College of Communications, 14 E. Jackson Blvd.

“With useful news for citizens often upstaged by 24-7 coverage of celebrities, we found ourselves grappling with questions on how to responsibly train our students in the digital age,” Taylor said.

The authors said they believe the traditional print media that was first introduced should be re-established in this country.

“The death [of journalism] is not rooted in new technology or from economic turbulence at the moment, but in fact that our media institutions were bought by very large corporations for huge amounts of money and they promised their investors 30-40 percent return,” Nichols said.

In their book, Nichols and McChesney suggest that public subsidies be implemented to create a stronger news outlet.

“The real crisis isn’t about the lack or decline of reporters and newspapers,” McChesney said. “The solution, to be blunt, is there is going to have to be massive enormous public subsidies in the upcoming generation. We are like Dorothy at the end of the ‘Wizard of Oz,’ we just need to click our heels three times and we can solve the problem.”

McChesney said that he and Nichols, discovered through research, that the fourth estate was heavily subsidized by the government for the first hundred years of this country.

“Pain said, ‘We have it in our power to begin the world over again.’ Journalism as we know it is dying,” Nichols said.

They often refer to the ideas of Thomas Pain, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson for a stronger sense of their own beliefs and how to regain control of the news.

“James Madison argued that the first papers to go under [his authority] would be the most dissident papers; and those were exactly the viewpoints that the free society had to cultivate and keep alive,” McChesney said. “You can’t have our system work unless you have a healthy, vibrant, independent press that monitors people in power and gives [the public] the power to govern their own lives.”

Another main topic the authors discussed was the public’s use of the Internet for main news sources, rather then newspapers and the inevitability that technology is taking over.

“One thing technology cannot replace is compensated human labor in news rooms with copy editors and fact checkers,” McChesney said. “The institutional power to generate, not just the respect of people in power but their fear of the people in power, that right there costs money. No one fears a blogger in their pajamas.”

McChesney and Nichol’s book was published in January and the pair has been on a book tour for the past two months to discuss their findings and suggestions for change.

“There is going to be commercial journalism for all of our lives,” McChesney said.   “There will be producing, selling products but it is only going to provide a small percentage of the credible journalism we need to be self-governing and that’s the real problem we face.”