Tags: Brookings | Profitable | News | Media

Brookings: Free Society Needs Profitable News Media

By    |   Sunday, 19 October 2014 07:37 PM

The great media institutions that the United States has depended on for news of the world may not survive, thanks to technology that has weakened their foundation, according to the Brookings Institution.

In an essay entitled “The Bad News About the News,” former Washington Post editor Robert Kaiser writes for Brookings that a free society is at stake if the news media fall apart.

He noted the nation’s founders, including First Amendment author James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, who said he would choose newspapers over government if forced to make a choice between the two, understood that core principle.

Nevertheless, Kaiser noted traditional news outlets are hemorrhaging revenue as their advertising life-blood flows to the likes of Facebook and Google, which present news only by linking back to the news outlets they are disintermediating.

News outlets are cutting back on journalists and other staff, resources, bureaus and their coverage so that America has less of an inkling than ever about what is changing its world.

“One immediate effect of all these changes and cutbacks is that there's no paper in America today that can offer the same coverage of its city, suburbs, and state that it provided 20 or even 10 years ago, and scores of city halls and state legislatures get virtually no coverage by any substantive news organizations.” TV and radio outlets have cut back similarly, he noted.

“Overall the economic devastation would be difficult to exaggerate,” Kaiser said. “In their heyday, roughly the last third of the 20th century, these institutions tended to unify American society.”

Kaiser turned to Paul Star, a distinguished Princeton scholar, for the most concise view of the matter: “By undermining the economic basis of professional reporting and by fragmenting the public, [the digital revolution] has weakened the ability of the press to act as an effective agent of public accountability. If we take seriously the idea that an independent press serves an essential democratic function, its institutional distress may weaken democracy itself. And that is the danger that confronts us.”

According to Kaiser, the fragmentation of news media today is just a symptom of a broader fragmentation of society. The problem is that if people on the right watch only Fox News and people on the left watch only MSNBC, perhaps no middle or consensus arises. “So ‘the news’ that once helped unify the country is now just another source of division,” he said.

Kaiser said some hope exists from nonprofit journalism such as that provided by Pro Publica, or from rich businessmen who feel like subsidizing the news at a loss, as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has done in his purchase of the The Washington Post.

He concluded great news media’s survival could even depend on the barons of Facebook or Google, who could decide their own self-interest depends on reviving the institutions that once played a powerful role in helping the United States find common ground.

Capital New York said that in remarks this week at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, New York Times deputy digital executive editor Ian Fisher said the newsroom had begun to adjust to a less endowed reality.

"I don't want to say we've gotten used to it," he said, "but there's also some level where people understand that we're not the institution we used to be."

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The great media institutions that the United States has depended on for news of the world may not survive, thanks to technology that has weakened their foundation, according to the Brookings Institution.
Brookings, Profitable, News, Media
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2014-37-19
Sunday, 19 October 2014 07:37 PM
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