It's become a common mantra among the print-media dinosaurs that if the "iron core of information" (i.e. newspapers) becomes extinct, then democracy would become dramatically diminished and the new media bloggers, aggregators and Web columnists would have nothing to say.
That's the despairing premise of Alex S. Jones' new book, "Losing the News: The Future of the News That Feeds Democracy." Jack Shafter calls Jones out on it in a piece on Slate, asking Jones to prove how failing journalism necessarily leads to failing democracy:
The "exact nature" of the loss to society if quality journalism expired, Jones writes, would be "unclear," which is a very large hedge. Perhaps Jones never chalks his cue and lines up the quality-press-equals-a-vibrant-democracy shot because it's impossible to make. Democracy thrived in the United States in the 1800s, long before the invention of what we call quality journalism. Between 1856 and 1888, when most newspapers were crap and controlled by, or beholden to, a political party, voter turnout hovered around 80 percent for presidential elections. Compare that with the 55.3 percent and 56.8 percent turnouts in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.
I won't accuse quality journalism of poisoning the democratic impulse, but as long as Jones is going to hedge, I will, too. Could it be that deep-dish reporting that uncovers governmental malfeasance and waste -- the sort of news Jones and I prefer over fluff, sports, bridge columns, and comics -- doesn't promote activism or participation? Could it be that such exposés end up souring the public on democracy and other institutions?
Even Jones concedes that only a sliver of a quality newspaper -- about 15 percent-- contains the "iron core" news he finds so important to democracy. Other papers, like, say, the Reading Eagle, are dominated by "crowd-pleasing soft news, features, comics, gimmicks, editorials, entertainments, amusements, and such."
In that case, shouldn't voter turnout be skyrocketing in Berks?