"We often talk, and I often talk, about how important it is to have a viable media system for democracy. But I think what we often forget is you need to have democracy to have a viable media system. If you change the media system but you a depoliticized population, they won't really care. What we desperately need is to have social justice and equity in addition to changing the media. We have to have a viable democracy that can take advantage of a quality media. And I think there we have to remember that the battle for media reform is always a much bigger battle for justice, and for freedom and for democracy."
Robert McChesney, in Nov. 8, 2003 talk at the National Conference on Media Reform, Madison, Wis.
Photo Linked From: http://amarillo.com/images/062604/18422_512.jpg
Robert Waterman McChesney is a tenured professor in the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois, and the most recognized advocate of what is know as the U.S. "media-reform" movement. He is a prolific scholar and writer on U.S. media history and regulation and the principal organizer of two land-mark media-reform conferences, in Madison, Wis., in 2003 and St. Louis, Mo., 2005, which drew 1,700 and 2,000 people respectively.
Journalist Michael Stoll of the Grade the News project, wrote in a May, 2004, profile that McChesney started Northampton, Mass.-based FreePress.net, a not-for-profit aimed at spurring grassroots activism, to demand change in media regulation. "Mr. McChesney, often hailed as a successor to the Berkeley-based journalist, educator and media critic Ben Bagdikian, is one of the nation's leading media reformers," Stoll wrote.
In a Public Broadcasting Service documentary and elsewhere, he alleges symptoms of what he sees as a crisis of the U.S. media: a decline in hard news, the growth of info-tainment and advertorials, staff cuts and concentration of ownership, increasing conformity of viewpoint and suppression of genuine debate.
Academics at the 2005 St. Louis conference organized by McChesney's FreePress group proposed several ideas for media reform.
"Ideally what were looking for in the final analysis is a system where the commercial sector is much more competitive, much more localized and decentralized, and where also we have a much stronger and more vibrant non-commercial, non-profit sector " and a diverse one," McChesney himself told attendees at the 2003 conference.
McChesney is viewed with suspicion by some elements of the U.S. political right, such as David Horowitz, and from a distance by mainstream media. The 2003 and 2005 conferences were largely ignored by major newspaper and TV outlets. McChesney's central thesis is that regulatory policies dating from Colonial-era postal subsidies to modern-day rules of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission have create conditions which initially fostered a diverse press but now lead to consolidation. He argues these policies can and should be changed, and that failure to do so will erode participatory democracy.
The WikiPedia biographical web page for McChesney describes his background as follows: "McChesney was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He, along with John Bellamy Foster, studied Political Economy at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA under Dr. Alan G. Nasser. In his early years, he worked as a sports stringer for UPI, published a weekly newspaper, and in 1979 was the founding publisher of The Rocket, a Seattle-based rock magazine which chronicled the birth of the Seattle rock scene of the late 1980s and 1990s. McChesney received a Ph.D. in communications at the University of Washington in 1989. From 1988 to 1998 he was on the Journalism and Mass Communications faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison."
March 18, 2009. McChesney and John Nichols article in the Nation: "The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers." It includes a long overview of how newspapers have reached this state, then lays out their vision for the future. Rather than patched together efforts of micro-payments, philanthropy, and volunteers, they advocate government support:
"But in a time of national crisis, when an informed and engaged citizenry is America's best hope, $20 billion a year is chicken feed for building what would essentially be a bridge across which journalism might pass from dying old media to the promise of something new. Think of it as a free press "infrastructure project" that is necessary to maintain an informed citizenry, and democracy itself."
To read more on this, see this essay by MGP's Bill Densmore. It includes an abridged version of their article, and a link to a dissenting opinion.
AUDIO: A 2005 audio interview with McChesney at DIYmedia.net: