The Plank

The Future Of Newspapers


Eric Alterman's New Yorker piece
on the future of the newspaper business appears at first to be nothing
more than the 800,000th story on the imminent demise of print media.
But along the way, Alterman makes a bunch of interesting observations,
and his essay is very much worth reading.

In the central section of the article, Alterman contrasts the ideas of Walter Lippman and John Dewey thusly:

Dewey did not dispute Lippmann’s contention regarding journalism’s
flaws or the public’s vulnerability to manipulation. But Dewey thought
that Lippmann’s cure was worse than the disease. While Lippmann viewed
public opinion as little more than the sum of the views of each
individual, much like a poll, Dewey saw it more like a focus group. The
foundation of democracy to Dewey was less information than
conversation. Members of a democratic society needed to cultivate what
the journalism scholar James W. Carey, in describing the debate, called
“certain vital habits” of democracy—the ability to discuss, deliberate
on, and debate various perspectives in a manner that would move it
toward consensus.


As the profession grew more sophisticated and respected, in part owing
to Lippmann’s example, top reporters, anchors, and editors naturally
rose in status to the point where some came to be considered the social
equals of the senators, Cabinet secretaries, and C.E.O.s they reported
on. . Aside from biennial elections featuring smaller
and smaller portions of the electorate, politics increasingly became a
business for professionals and a spectator sport for the great
unwashed—much as Lippmann had hoped and Dewey had feared. Beyond the
publication of the occasional letter to the editor, the role of the
reader was defined as purely passive.

Then comes the rise of the right (National Review, The Wall Street Journal
op-ed page, Limbaugh). And after that comes the rise of the netroots
left. Alterman defines both of these movements as "Deweyan":

The rise of what has come to be known as the conservative
“counter-establishment” and, later, of media phenomena such as Rush
Limbaugh, on talk radio, and Bill O’Reilly, on cable television, can be
viewed in terms of a Deweyan community attempting to seize the reins of
democratic authority and information from a Lippmann-like

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