Fordham Hosts Authors for Discussion on “Death and Life” of Journalism

Robert McChesney and John Nichols Outline the Issues Facing the Newspaper Industry and Offer a Strategy that They Believe Will Save Journalism in America


Published February 18, 2010

2009 was a bad year for the economy, but it was even worse for the newspaper industry, according to two media experts who recently spoke at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC).  One hundred and forty newspapers closed and an average of 1,000 employees a month were laid off in the past year alone.  Co-authors of the book The Death and Life of American Journalism, Robert McChesney and John Nichols outlined the issues facing the newspaper industry and offered a strategy that they believe will save journalism in America in a presentation before a group of 100 students and faculty on Feb. 5 at FCLC.

Journalist John Nichols began the discussion by talking about the causes of what he perceived to be the “death” of journalism. According to Nichols, journalism in America today is viewed as a business, and this is one of its major problems. “It is not about the business; we believe it is a discussion about democracy” he said.

Nichols also pointed out the dangers of the influence of public relations in our media. “PR is propaganda. Bottom line: it is not journalism,” he said.  He also expressed fear that those in power will end up in control over the information we receive. If journalism continues in this direction, he said, “Big Brother wont be watching you; you will be watching Big Brother.”

According to McChesney, advertising has become a major influence in journalism and now constitutes up to “60 to 90 percent of the total revenue” of the print media industry. However, media supported by advertising has recently decreased and suffered. “Advertising no longer needs journalism,” McChesney said. Journalism can no longer rely on revenue through advertising or revenue through circulation, and as a result, the whole business model must change for journalism to continue to exist. In order to change this, we must understand journalism “as a public good” not as a market or a “providence of business” said McChesney.  According to both men, by subsidizing uncensored news outlets, journalism can be revived.

In order to make any necessary changes, the government’s involvement is crucial, but this makes many people apprehensive.  It should not, said McChesney, citing successful precedents in countries such as Germany and Norway.  Fixing this problem starts with “increasing coverage on the local level” and creating more jobs for journalists, McChesney said.  Fewer people are choosing to study journalism for fear of not having a job, so more jobs must be created to prevent the loss of “an entire generation of journalists.” McChesney advocated creating placement programs  for the journalism profession, saying that new journalists could be sent to journalistically under-served areas.

In the speech, sponsored by the Bernard L. Schwartz Center for Public Policy and Education, both men said that they remain hopeful about the future of journalism.

“This is not the end of journalism, but the beginning, not the death, but the rebirth,” Nichols said.