Two former editors of mine, Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffrey, weigh in with a reality check on the news business, which is a must read. I don’t agree with their contention that the ad-based model is over; it is just shifting dramatically under the pressure of a major recession, to the detriment of just about everyone who makes a living as a reporter. But the rest of their piece hits the mark, including these facts:
In the first half of 2009, 123 TV news shows were canceled, 106 newspapers folded, 110 bureaus closed, 556 magazines died, and 12,000 journalists lost their jobs. These numbers are likely to get much worse.
Their conclusion, which you should really read at length, is just common sense. But it requires a major shift in attitude from the reading public, which may take years to occur.
What it’s going to take is for many more Americans to decide that quality reporting—be it on local school boards or Iraq or climate negotiations—is as vital to their lives as box scores and celebrity spats. As media theorist Clay Shirky recently wrote, “Journalism is about more than dissemination of news; it’s about the creation of shared awareness,” and ultimately the ability to act on that awareness. Because make no mistake: This is a zero-sum equation. Less journalism = less accountability. Corruption, nepotism, cronyism, and propaganda thrive when reporting dies. That’s not a price we’re prepared to pay.