John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney’s April 6 “The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers” drew much mail, expressing an array of opinions. Readers thought the article “wonderful,” “insightful,” “sad, frightening and deeply important.” Many agreed that newspapers must be saved for the health of our democracy. But there was also a “let them die” crowd: “by the time I remove the advertising, fliers and useless information from my newspaper, there’s nothing. I’m tired of being left with stacks of recycling”; “the death of newspapers will save our forests and reduce global warming”; “why should we [subsidize] papers that feed us only what the wealthy want us to see?” One reader suggests we should just say, “Ave atque vale.“ —The Editors
Your cover story is the most important I’ve read in years. Anyone concerned with the future of democracy should heed its call. A minor quibble: the authors say they are enthusiastic about Wikipedia. The New York Times has revealed that Wal-Mart and ExxonMobil had a field day manipulating Wikipedia articles about themselves. In an article in the Pulitzer Prize-winning (and endangered) Rutland Herald, I showed how the industry turned a Wikipedia nuclear power article into a PR piece. For information on an effort to keep high-quality local journalism alive in northwestern New England, go to eeshawilliams.blogspot.com.
Saxtons River, Vt.
As a journalist and freelance writer, I know all too well about the crisis in journalism. I have seen the demise of so many publications for which I once wrote (some cited by the authors), I’ve stopped counting them. A newspaper for which I’ve been a regular columnist for eight years recently informed me that it could no longer pay me. I am now donating my work there because I have a lot to say and a following that likes me to say it. One paper has just informed its columnists that we are being cut by three monthly columns a year.
As a lecturer in sociology and ethics, I work hard to instill in my students an understanding of the critical role sound independent journalism plays in a democracy. I’m not sure they–iPods and cellphones in hand–get it; they are certainly not reading newspapers or magazines regularly.
So I like some of the suggestions offered by Nichols and McChesney with regard to engaging youth in the Fourth Estate. At the same time, I doubt there will be much public enthusiasm for government intervention or “bailouts” to the tune of $60 billion over three years. Nonetheless, I hope the article makes its way into the hands of folks on Capitol Hill. At least some of them will be interested in the notion of a “free press ‘infrastructure project'” in the interest of “an informed citizenry, and democracy itself.”
I find myself in a dilemma. Though I am in the demographic that is gaga over the Internet, I am less than enthused with the content and the delivery mechanism. Sitting in a comfortable chair with a bendable print copy in my hands that does not pop advertisements directly into my face is much more desirable than what’s on my computer. Nevertheless, I do receive most of my news on the Net. My dilemma, though, is an economic one. I feel it is more of a necessity to have the Internet than it is for me to subscribe to my favorite newspapers and magazines. Were I to lose my job, I would be in a much better position to get a new one using the Internet than a newspaper. I have a limited income, so my only choice seems to be to stick with the Internet (and the added benefits of e-mail, etc.), rather than pay for newspapers. I hate to think I am contributing to the demise of good journalism. I know it is probably too late to overhaul this behemoth, but there has to be a better way.