Books: The Death and Life of American Journalism

How the government could save the media.

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Until someone comes up with a surefire rescue plan for journalism, pretty much any proposal is worth a listen. Media critics Robert McChesney and John Nichols give it their best with a big, bold idea: Government intervention will save the media. It’s a controversial concept, to say the least. How can journalists act as watchdogs of the very folks who pay to keep their lights on? Instead of proposing direct aid, the authors focus on a broad set of proposals that they argue would keep the press both solvent and independent. These include vouchers for readers to support the online or print publication of their choice, an AmeriCorps program for aspiring reporters, reduced postage rates for periodicals, and tax credits to fund journalists’ salaries. McChesney and Nichols know that not all of their ideas will take hold, but they maintain that if even a few did, the media could become a diverse, thriving mix of reporting and opinion.

The projected price tag to get all this off the ground: Roughly $35 billion, paid for by new taxes on consumer electronics, advertising, and smartphones, among other things. Good luck selling that in today’s financial and political climate. (Can’t you already hear the Fox News headlines about bailing out the liberal media?) McChesney and Nichols do make a convincing case that the costs of saving serious journalism are nothing compared to what will be lost if it withers away, quoting Joseph Pulitzer: “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together.” But we already knew that, right?

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