Posted by: bburatti | October 22, 2011

Neoliberalism and Media

Robert W. McChesney traces the evolution of the American press from the Progressive Era, marked by a plethora of newspapers, to the contemporary period of media consolidation. He concludes at each stage that a capitalistic system of journalism is incompatible with a healthy democracy.

The neoliberal philosophy that society is best based on profit drives our media system. Historically, wealthy individuals owned newspapers and used the publications to espouse their conservative views. The trend toward journalism supported by advertising drove alternative papers from the left into near extinction. As early as 1919, Upton Sinclair pointed out the conflict between journalism and commercialism when he called it, “publicity in return for advertising. “

The rise of “professional journalism” spawned reliance upon government officials and PR firms as primary sources. Relaxation of ownership regulations in the 1980’s led to massive reporter layoffs and the expectation that newsrooms perform as profit centers. According to radical media critics, our contemporary press is primarily a conservative tool that advances the business interests of its owners. These conditions led to the failure of both print and broadcast media to vet the rationale for the invasion of Iraq.

Instead of offering a viable alternative to corporate media, the internet provided another platform for media giants. The web still remains unregulated compared to other media and offers potential for entrepreneurs to utilize digital technology for competitive forms of journalism. Yet the issue of Network Neutrality is one of the greatest threats in our time to the unfettered access to information.

Questions for discussion:
1. How has “professional journalism” led to the decline in political discourse in America?
2. What events would need to occur to create a populist demand to change our media system?
3. How sound is the argument that regulation threatens the First Amendment rights of media corporations?
4. How could the notion of “paid journalists” be supported in a financial model?

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