Saving journalism

By ADAM BOCKLER ’11

Journalism desperately needs a new source of funding in order to save the industry, according to a nationally known professor and former journalist. Dr. Bob McChesney thinks the federal government should add $35 billion to the budget to subsidize the press.

“To say that journalism is in a crisis is banal,” McChesney told a packed Horowitz Auditorium in October. “We already know that.” 

Addressing the students, he said he believed Bradley graduates would have had an easier time finding a job in journalism during the worst of the Great Depression than they would today. McChesney cited the Pew Research Center’s 2010 State of the News Media report when he said original reporting in the United States has been reduced by more than 30 percent in the last 10 years, and more than 70 percent since 1990. To help illustrate this point, he said the fleet of reporters who previously covered Springfield now “could probably fit in Tony Soprano’s limo.” The Gutgsell Endowed Professor at the University of Illinois worries that journalism will become more about celebrities, inane scandals, car crashes, and debating the intelligence of what a politician said. In other words, he said the journalism of the future would be “a lot of nonsense and junk.”

The problem with journalism, McChesney said, isn’t on the scale of AIDS or climate change. “This is just a political issue,” he said. Pointing to a study published by The Economist, McChesney said and the European Journalism Centre confirmed that four of the top five most democratic nations in the world received press subsidies: Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, and Denmark. Additionally, McChesney suggested that every American receive the option to channel $200 a year to any nonprofit news medium of her or his choice. He also argued that two of America’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, believed in the Post Office’s subsidization of news by mailing newspapers for free.

A theory exists that “the same Internet that killed our journalism is going to wave a magic wand over it and give us a brand new journalism,” McChesney said. “That’s not going to happen.” Going back to the Pew study, he said researchers found a decline in news resources starting in the 1980s. Relying on the Internet is not a functional way to make a living, according to McChesney: “‘Citizen journalist’ is just another way to say ‘unpaid journalist.’” 

In light of the Occupy Wall Street movement, McChesney urged the students, faculty, members of the media, and the general public to “yell, scream, (and) let them know you’re unhappy.” He said the same people who are perfectly content with a journalism-free environment are the same people who oppose reform. “It’s people like you who are going to make reforms happen,” McChesney told audience members. “If they’re not concerned about you, then you’re not yelling loud enough.”