I think the writers' perspective may be wrong. If you move the failing newspaper business from the center of the universe out to the periphery, as just one symptom of a larger disease, a much different picture comes to mind.
Last week David Brooks at the Times rather appropriately argued that the USA was the world's first "commercial republic." It was a simple lens to place in front of myriad disconnects we have come to accept without rigorous questioning. Are we really the democracy we pretend to be? Or, isn't it far more likely we are just an experiment in commercial development?
For more than fifty years a sensible majority of the public has wanted some form of universal healthcare. We still don't have it. Think of all the variety of administrations we've had since Truman. Don't you think there is something fundamentally challenging about beliefs in this republic? Too often we seek intellectual solace and comfort in romantic Founding Fathers historical dialogue. This merely serves to blind us ever more to the reality that evolved--Brooks's commercial republic.
In the commercial republic, then, CableNews, OctoMom, weather obsession and CNBC-style hype is precisely what you would predict from the model. In the commercial republic, Judith Miller and the NYT hyping the Iraq war is exactly what you'd expect to see. And closing down newspapers as unprofitable businesses would be no different to anyone than stopping production of the horseless carriage once the automobile was established.
Be very careful about advocating government involvement and subsidy of newspapers. They will be all too happy to accommodate. Think of the raw insanity of subsidizing the growing foodstuffs in Iowa to be used as automobile fuel in a world of starving people, and you will see how cleverly government-backed newspapers will fit the model.
Your documentation of the fall of journalism and newspapers is perfectly correct. It is your context that is dead wrong, and your cure. Let's make an attempt to look at this as an opportunity for correction, and see what might develop. First, this and the financial collapse, and the globalization collapse, might be signs that the commercial republic is a failed idea, an experiment gone horribly wrong. Maybe this leads to an entire re-boot of democracy. Messy, contorted, filled with missteps, but still a redefining moment?
How much more advertising can a person absorb in a day? Will expanding Cable to 10,000 channels really improve anything? How much more junk can people store in their home-warehouses before finding the total emptiness of this life? How much more job insecurity and outsourcing are people willing to accept? What if this whole thing just folds back on itself and collapses because "it" simply becomes a mirror which everyone sees into?
This moment might be the perfect moment to help the system crash and take part in a reset. The perfect time to stop romanticizing about Founding Fathers' long lost dreams and get with what really "is" and deal with it accordingly.
Mar 22 2009 - 10:59am