Two takes on the fate of newspapers


ESSAY: Two media reformers propose $200 tax break for newspaper subscribers; news literacy in schools.

I came across two articles this week about the fate of newspapers:  Clay Shirky's March 13th post, "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable," and John Nichols' and Robert McChesney's recent Nation article, "The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers."

They clumped together in my mind, not because of how similar they were, but because of how different.  Both discussed what was going on with newspapers, and, in a sense, laid out their philosophic stance on it. 

Both agree that 1) the newspapers are in peril, and 2) patchwork efforts such as philanthropy, charging for online content, relying on un-paid citizens, and reader donations aren't enough.  The McChesney/ Nichols article looks for a solution for newspapers by staying within the structure.  These plans might not work, they say, but another plan could.  They think the government could fund newspapers in the same way they fund schools.  They should do this because newspapers are essential for democracy. 

Shirky thinks the structure itself is gone, and thinks solutions are being created, they just haven't come together enough for us to recognize them.  The articles are worth reading as a pair.  When I read this comment by Shirky, I couldn't help but to think of it in conversation with the Nation article:

"When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution... They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it."

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You can view McChesney's giraffe profile here.  Also, Emily Sussman of the Information Valet Project Blog wrote about Shirky in a recent post.