Tag Archives: decline

The Death of Journalism?

I just read a very upsetting post on the website of Triple Canopy, a very interesting online mixed-media journal.  On the site I found a link to a talk given by Roger Hodge, a friend from my college days who had a mercurial rise at the tender age of 37 to the editorship of Harper’s Magazine.  I was very happy for him, particularly since I remember a conversation when he was thinking of moving out to Arizona to edit some sports magazine.  Of course, I was also pretty envious.

Roger ascended into what passes for the stratosphere in media circles four years ago.  Watching his presentation at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, I learned that he’s recently been given the sack.  I’m terribly sad for him, although I imagine he’ll land on his feet given his eminence as an ex-editor of Harper’s.

In addition, however, Roger’s talk suggested that we should all we worried about the state of journalism.  According to Roger, his recent fate is indicative of and of a piece with the broader decline in journalism.  As he puts it, journalists made the terrible mistake of training their readers to expect writing for free, and now their occupation is disappearing since there are no viable sources of funding.  Roger reels off some hair-raising statistics, including the fact that circulation is down 20% over the last two years at all the magazines that allow auditing, and that’s on top of a 10% decline the previous year.  This terrible collapse began in earnest, Roger argues, in 2006.

It’s not clear what the solution is.  Even someone in such a powerful position as Roger, editor at one of the two or three most significant venues for serious long-form journalism in the U.S., seems to have no answer.  In fact, not only does he have no answer, but he seems incredibly, painfully pessimistic about the future.  Efforts by newspapers and magazines to set up paywalls are doomed, he argues, since people are now habituated to reading journalism for free.  The only way journalists can survive today is by writing books, one of the only forms of writing which people are still willing to buy.

Given this situation, it seems to me that institutions like universities are going to be one of the only sources where support for journalism is going to be found – at least in the U.S.  The goal in the long term should I think be to push for state subvention along the lines of most major European nations, even if this seems like a pipe dream in this haven of neoliberalism.  Without such a step, the danger is that journalists are going to become like poets in the U.S. today, whose vocation is no longer viable economically and who are totally dependent on teaching in academia in order to survive.

Anyway, here’s Roger’s talk:

For a far less pessimistic take, check out this interview with the editor of The Guardian, a paper which is held in a trust and is therefore subsidized.

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The End of Work(fare)

I just came across two really powerful accounts of the crisis of our times.  One was an article in the New York Times that discusses the record setting numbers of long-term unemployed, people who are, according to the article, likely to remain unemployed despite the uptick in the U.S. economy.  The article cites some really shocking statistics:

During periods of American economic expansion in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, the number of private-sector jobs increased about 3.5 percent a year, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by Lakshman Achuthan, managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute, a research firm. During expansions in the 1980s and ’90s, jobs grew just 2.4 percent annually. And during the last decade, job growth fell to 0.9 percent annually.

“The pace of job growth has been getting weaker in each expansion,” Mr. Achuthan said. “There is no indication that this pattern is about to change.”

In the face of this long-term structural decline of decent work, the already weak U.S. social safety net is coming undone, leaving many thousands of previously middle class people – who are now unable to find any kind of work, let alone well-paid work – on the edge of homelessness.

The other piece was an interview with journalist Seth Wessler, who’s just written an article for the ‘zine Colorlines about how poor women in Hartford, capital of America’s insurance industry, are forced to sell their food stamps at dimes on the dollar, in order to get money to buy shoes for their children.  What was really amazing about the interview, broadcast on Democracy Now, was that it was followed by commentary by a local community organizer who worried that Wessler’s muckraking piece was likely to spark not sympathy from those in power but more scapegoating of the poor.

But sympathy may be a red herring.  As Terry Eagleton puts it (in a very different context): “The idea that lack of sympathy springs from lack of knowledge is a typically liberal mistake.  It is a matter of structures, not just of sympathies.”  What the poor need now is some viable counter-power to the unchecked and baleful power of the rich.  A bread riot or two wouldn’t hurt either.

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Filed under class war, Uncategorized