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The Future Of Newspapers

Eric Alterman's New Yorker piece on the future of the newspaper business appears at first to be nothing more than the 800,000th story on the imminent demise of print media. But along the way, Alterman makes a bunch of interesting observations, and his essay is very much worth reading.

In the central section of the article, Alterman contrasts the ideas of Walter Lippman and John Dewey thusly:

Dewey did not dispute Lippmann’s contention regarding journalism’s flaws or the public’s vulnerability to manipulation. But Dewey thought that Lippmann’s cure was worse than the disease. While Lippmann viewed public opinion as little more than the sum of the views of each individual, much like a poll, Dewey saw it more like a focus group. The foundation of democracy to Dewey was less information than conversation. Members of a democratic society needed to cultivate what the journalism scholar James W. Carey, in describing the debate, called “certain vital habits” of democracy—the ability to discuss, deliberate on, and debate various perspectives in a manner that would move it toward consensus.


As the profession grew more sophisticated and respected, in part owing to Lippmann’s example, top reporters, anchors, and editors naturally rose in status to the point where some came to be considered the social equals of the senators, Cabinet secretaries, and C.E.O.s they reported on. . Aside from biennial elections featuring smaller and smaller portions of the electorate, politics increasingly became a business for professionals and a spectator sport for the great unwashed—much as Lippmann had hoped and Dewey had feared. Beyond the publication of the occasional letter to the editor, the role of the reader was defined as purely passive.

Then comes the rise of the right (National Review, The Wall Street Journal op-ed page, Limbaugh). And after that comes the rise of the netroots left. Alterman defines both of these movements as "Deweyan":

The rise of what has come to be known as the conservative “counter-establishment” and, later, of media phenomena such as Rush Limbaugh, on talk radio, and Bill O’Reilly, on cable television, can be viewed in terms of a Deweyan community attempting to seize the reins of democratic authority and information from a Lippmann-like